Georgian Bay Islands National Park

Length of stay: 1 day
Visited: August 2023

Georgian Bay Islands National Park is located in the largest freshwater archipelago in the world and is the smallest national park in Canada. It contains 63 islands that are scattered around the southeastern part of Georgian Bay. The largest of the islands is Beausoleil Island, which was protected for its rich ecological diversity. The southern end of the island contains dense deciduous forests while the northern end features rugged granite outcrops of the Canadian Shield.

The only way to reach Georgian Bay Islands is by boat. The park operates a boat shuttle service, the DayTripper, which runs between Honey Harbour on the mainland and Beausoleil Island, which contains camping, hiking trails and other water-based recreational activities. The Daytripper is only meant for day-use visitors though and overnight campers are required to have their own boat or hire a water taxi.

There are two routes to choose from for the DayTripper: Cedar Spring at the south end of the island and Chimney Bay at the north end. We opted for the northern part of the island as it is reputed to be more rugged and contain some of the best hiking trails in the park. We reserved our spot on the shuttle boat in advance, as space is limited and there is only one time slot available each day (from 1:00 to 5:30pm) for Chimney Bay.

The park operates its own dock in Honey Harbour where we were able to park our car and check in at the kiosk. You’re supposed to arrive 20 minutes prior to departure to check in, but due to heavy traffic, we were cutting it pretty close and showed up about 10 minutes in advance. No worries as we were able to sign our waiver, use the pit toilets and make it to the boat with a few minutes to spare.

Once we climbed aboard and put on our life jackets, our boat captain provided a brief overview of what to expect on the ride over and went over the safety protocols. Once we hit the water, he went over the history of the national park and provided some fun facts about the area. Along the way, we passed several cottages scattered around some of the other islands, as well as a lot of other boaters. Overall it took us about 15 to 20 minutes to get to Chimney Bay.

We climbed out at the dock and were greeted by a Parks Canada guide who provided an overview of the trail system, along with the different types of plants and animals that we might find throughout the island. He then brought us to an access point to the trail system and offered a guided hike of the Fairy Trail. We’re not a fan of group hikes, which typically go at a much slower pace. Since we only had four hours before we had to catch the return boat back, we wanted to make the most of our time.

We started with the Cambrian Trail (2.0km loop, rated moderate). The first stretch follows along several granite outcrops of the Canadian Shield to the shore of Georgian Bay. Since much of the path follows along the rocks, the trail is signed with tall metal posts with a yellow marker on the top to help with navigation.

The trail then leads through the forest, parallel to Little Dog Channel. Given all the rain we’ve had recently, there was a plethora of mushrooms everywhere. There were a few muddy patches, but for the most part, the trail was in good condition.

As we were nearing the end of the trail, we stumbled upon a Massasauga rattlesnake, which is the only venomous snake found in Ontario. They are generally found by the Great Lakes area, typically along the eastern side of Georgian Bay on the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario. We heard its rattle before we saw it as it was camouflaged pretty well in some nearby shrubbery beside the trail. We gave it some room and walked around it.

The trail connects with the Fairy Trail (2.5km loop, rated moderate), which is reputed to be the most popular trail on the island. The path weaves through the forest, passing Goblin Lake and Fairy Lake. There are also a few access points to the shore of Georgian Bay, including Frying Pan Bay and Honeymoon Bay where one of the campgrounds are located.

Along the way there were a few interpretive signs that provided more information about the history of the area, including about the Indigenous people who would travel around Georgian Bay and the Muskoka region to trade their furs for supplies with the European traders. Frying Pan Bay was used as a stopover and a resting place before the Indigenous made the long journey home.

By the time we wrapped up our hike around Fairy Lake, we still had just over an hour until we needed to return to the dock at Chimney Bay. We decided to go on another short hike. Starting at the Rockview Trail (signed with green markers), we hiked for about a kilometer before turning off at the Portage Trail (300 metres one-way, signed with white markers). Except we took a wrong turn on what we thought was the Portage Trail, but was really some sketchy path that quickly disappeared. The mosquitoes here were relentless, which forced us to retreat. This was probably for the best as we realized that the proper turnoff was just ahead.

The Portage Trail connects with the Massasauga Trail (signed with purple markers), which we followed for about another kilometre back to Chimney Bay. We then followed the signs for the Daytripper back to the dock. Since we were a few minutes early, we sat along the rocks, took our shoes and socks off and dipped our feet into Georgian Bay. The water was frigid, but it felt refreshing.

Once our boat returned we climbed aboard. We had the same boat captain as before who took us the longer way back to Honey Harbour, going through Little Dog Channel this time. We hopped in the car and began the two and a half hour drive to return home, taking the back roads this time to avoid the highway traffic.


107 thoughts on “Georgian Bay Islands National Park

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It was quite an adventure just to get to the national park, which only added to the experience. Even though it’s relatively close to cottage country, it surprisingly wasn’t very busy. It was a wonderful way to spend the day (despite the heavy traffic to get to the harbour).

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      When we got off the shuttle boat we received an orientation about the trails and island, including about the massasauga rattlesnake and how to identify what it looks like and it’s warning signs. It sounded like a very angry buzzing bee. We heard it before we saw it, which I was thankful for.

      • Diana says:

        Huh, I’m not sure I would have equated a buzzing sound with a snake. Good to know. And glad you heard it first, that’s always much preferable to the alternative.

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        No kidding. If the Parks Canada guide didn’t give us a heads up about the sound, I would have just assumed we had stumbled upon a bee’s nest … which is also very terrifying.

  1. Monkey's Tale says:

    A rattlesnake! Yikes! We avoided Manitoulin Island because we were told there were a lot of snakes on it. The scenery is lovely but I think I’d be too much on edge!! Maggie

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I’m not a fan of snakes either. It’s too bad you skipped Manitoulin Island though as it’s one of my favourite places in Ontario. We went a couple of years ago and didn’t encounter any snakes, just lots of lighthouses and beautiful scenery. But apparently the massassauga rattlesnakes are common there as well.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words. I’ve lived in Ontario my whole life and this was my first time visiting Georgian Bay Islands National Park. It’s a relatively small park, but there’s a decent variety of hiking trails on the main island. It was nice to scope it out for the afternoon and who knows, maybe we’ll try camping here in the future.

  2. leightontravels says:

    What a beautiful island! Well, you kept your cool around the rattlesnake better than I would’ve. I’m not a fan of group hikes either. And given the limited time you had on the island, going off on your own makes perfect sense. Love all the names of the lakes, trails and bays.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Beausoleil Island isn’t very big, but it sure packs a punch in terms of how many trails there are. We only had enough time to explore the northern part of the island, but I guess this means we’ll just have to return at some point to see what the south side is like. I’m really glad we had a warning from the rattlesnake as it was camouflaged really well. I’m sure the group hike would have been very educational, but going off on our own was a better way to explore more the landscape.

  3. Ab says:

    Oh I’m so glad you got to visit this beautiful place. We usually go every summer of every other summer with my cousins and it is so beautiful. T loves it there and just aces the Cambrian trail and we always make a joke out of the two gays guys hiking the Fairy trail.

    Honey Harbour is so beautiful with its rock formation that it’s always worth a repeat visit. But yes, the mosquitoes are relentless!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We’ve been meaning to visit Georgian Bay Islands for awhile now, but I’m glad we waited until later in the summer as the mosquitoes have been awful this year. I can only imagine how much worse it would have been if we came earlier in the season. I can see why you come here so often. We only had enough time to see the northern part of Beausoleil Island, but this means we’ll just have to come back sometime to explore the southern part. And that T sure has a sense of humour!!

      Have a wonderful Labour day long weekend. We’re currently in the Yukon and are loving the scenery.

      • Ab says:

        Can’t wait to see your Yukon recap.

        We had a lovely weekend in Killbear and got back last night. Summer just flew by!

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        Thanks! We’re here for another week before we need to fly back home.

        Glad to hear you made the most of the long weekend and spent some time camping. I know what you mean, it’s hard to believe that it’s already September!

  4. Vanessa says:

    Thanks for sharing! I actually had no ideas that there were some hiking trails in Georgian Bay Islands NP! This definitely sounds like an interesting day trip!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      This was our last national park in Ontario to check off our list. I don’t know why we waited so long to visit as it’s reasonably close to where we live. We only had enough time to explore the northern section of Beausoleil Island, but there are plenty more hiking trails on the southern side.

  5. Lynette d'Arty-Cross says:

    I haven’t hiked in the Georgian Bay area for such a long time now, but your photos are very representative of the countryside (including how bad the mossies can be!). Great photos.
    I hope you’re feeling well, Linda. Cheers.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I’m such a fan of the landscape around Georgian Bay and can easily see why the Group of Seven spent a lot of time in this area. I’m glad we finally visited this national park and checked another one off our list. The mosquitoes have been relentless this year, so I’m really looking forward to the fall when the weather is cooler and the bugs are less aggressive.

      We’re actually in Yukon at the moment and are absolutely loving it here. We spent the past four days at Kluane National Park and Reserve and are now in Whitehorse for the day, moving onto Dawson City tomorrow.

      Hope all is well with you and that the air quality has improved in BC.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I’m not a fan of snakes, but it was pretty neat to come across the massasauga rattlesnake. They aren’t found in too many places in Ontario and their populations are declining. I’m sure glad we heard it before we saw it though as I wouldn’t want to get too near!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I’m sure the group hike would have been very educational and interesting, but I just can’t stand large groups of people. I had no regrets going off on our own as we got to cover more distance that way. We’ve had a lot of rain here in southern Ontario this summer, which has been great finding mushrooms along the trail. But it’s also encouraged the mosquitoes. I’m so glad autumn is approaching and the bugs are becoming less aggressive.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      You can definitely camp on Beausoleil Island. We actually passed a few of the campgrounds while hiking some of the trails in the northern section of the island. There’s a lot of boats that moor overnight here too. We were only visiting for the afternoon, but we might just have to return at some point to see what it’s like to stay overnight.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Ha, I feel like we have such similar experiences (and travel interests)! I’m not a fan of snakes, but I appreciated the encounter given how they’re a rare sighting and aren’t found in many places in Ontario. The one we encountered at least gave us a warning, which sounded like a very angry buzzing bee. Otherwise I would have missed it completely.

  6. Linda K says:

    What a great adventure for a day out. Love being on the water and you got the best of both worlds with that and hiking some trails 🙂 Good thing you gave that snake lots of room…yikes!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We’ve been meaning to visit this national park for awhile, especially given how it’s reasonably close to where we live. I’m glad we finally made it happen. I’m such a fan of the scenery along the shores of Georgian Bay. There’s always something so relaxing about being by the water. As you said, it was also nice to enjoy some of the hiking trails as well. While I’m not a fan of snakes, it was neat to see a massasauga rattlesnake given how rare and elusive they are. I’m just glad we heard it beforehand so we could give it plenty of space to walk around.

  7. babsje says:

    Beausoleil Island is a true gem! Honey Harbour, as well. I’m glad you posted this one, thank you for your photos and commentary. You brought back many fond memories. I learned to scuba dive there as a teenager. Exciting but cold waters!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words and for leaving a comment. I’m such a fan of the scenery around Georgian Bay and it’s always nice to check out a new park, especially one that’s on an island. I applaud your efforts to learn to scuba dive in such freezing cold waters! At least the visibility there is good. We learned to scuba dive in St Martin and have tried diving in Tobermory once, and that was good enough for me. I can’t handle the cold!

      • babsje says:

        You’re welcome and yup – that water at Beausoleil is very very cold. Now St Martin would be a definite treat. I enjoy reading all of your wandering posts and that one brought up lovely memories of 15 or 16 year-old me. Thanks again.

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        You are too kind. Good to know that there is diving around the Georgian Bay Islands. We haven’t been diving since before the start of the pandemic and have been eager to dip our fins back in the water. But I much prefer warmer waters!

  8. Bama says:

    Encountering a venomous snake during a hike? Yikes! It’s good that you heard its rattle, so you could give it a wide berth. Speaking of archipelago, every time I hear that word, I always think of places like my home country, or the Philippines, or Japan where the islands are surrounded by the sea. Of course Canada has so many islands too, but I’m particularly intrigued with the fact that Georgian Bay National Park is part of the world’s largest freshwater archipelago.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Snakes are not my thing. I’m sure glad we heard its rattle, which sounded a lot like a very angry buzzing sound, otherwise I would have missed it entirely. Ontario actually has the largest amount of lakes within Canada and has some pretty amazing islands. We’ve visited the shores of Georgian Bay a number of times, but this was our first time exploring the islands. It’s always nice to check off another park from our list. Overall it was a fantastic day trip.

  9. Thattamma C.G Menon says:

    Earth wonders 🌹🙏👌so wonderful photography of gorgeous nature and the written lines
    So glad to read as well 😍👍🏻✍️👏the hard rocks, calm bay shore ,the rare mushrooms ,
    green trees full of refreshing with joyful moments 😍👌🌸 have a lovely weekend my friend 👏

  10. kagould17 says:

    An interesting day for sure. These island parks are a treat. They stay pretty pristine given the limited access and protection from Parks Canada. Some beautiful walks there Linda, but plenty of feeding opportunities for hungry mosquitoes. Thanks for sharing. Have a great Sunday. Allan

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Georgian Bay Islands was designated a national park nearly a century ago, but it’s too bad that the government only protected a small fraction of the islands. As we approached the main island where the hiking trails are located, we passed by a few of the surrounding islands that are not part of the park system, and they were filled with a lot of private cottages. There was also quite a bit of boat traffic on the water. Either way, it was a unique experience and we had a wonderful time exploring another one of Canada’s national parks.

      Enjoy the rest of your weekend. Hope the air quality has improved. It was very smoky when we arrived in Edmonton a week ago. We’re currently in Whitehorse and are heading to Dawson City later this morning.

  11. Mike and Kellye Hefner says:

    What a fabulous outing! Water, forest, beautiful trails…what more could one want. Your national parks do a wonderful job of trail marking and boardwalks. We can’t wait to visit them one day. Safe travels!

  12. wetanddustyroads says:

    I always like to see mushrooms in the wild (but not snakes)! And I love the names in your post – Honey Harbour, Frying Pan Bay, Honeymoon Bay and Fairy Trail 😊. Beautiful photos!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Ha, same! I’m such a fan of all the different types and colours of mushrooms. We’ve had a very rainy summer, which has been fantastic for seeing mushrooms along the trail. I know what you mean about the names of some of the bays and trails on the island, which make it all sound very enchanting.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I’ve always wondered about the people who participate in those types of group activities and tours. I’m sure the guided hike would have been interesting, but I’m glad we ditched it as we were able to cover way more distance and avoid the crowds.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It was a fun outing for a day trip and a great way to explore a new national park. At first I was a bit worried that half a day wasn’t enough time, but after hiking for a few hours, I was pretty happy with the boat shuttle timing! And yes, I’m glad that rattlesnake gave us a warning!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I don’t like snakes. I don’t think many people like snakes. I’m glad this one at least gave us a warning so we could easily avoid it. I’m also happy that we weren’t camping here overnight!

  13. jmankowsky says:

    Another lovely tour. You are so calm! A rattlesnake? Oh, well, just give it space… I think I’d like to have you around in a crisis! Just wondering: What would have happened if you missed the ferry back?

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment. I’m really glad the rattlesnake gave us a warning before we passed by it, otherwise I would have missed it completely. It sounded like a very angry buzzing sound, which I wasn’t expecting. If we missed the shuttle boat, we could have called a water taxi to come collect us, but there are no guarantees. Needless to say, we made sure to keep an eye on the time!

  14. grandmisadventures says:

    I just love those rocky shores by the water and the trail throygh the trees. But hard pass on running into a poisonous snake! That would have me running as fast as possible in the opposite direction!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I’m such a fan of the scenery along Georgian Bay with all the rocky outcrops and windswept pines. It was quite the surprise to come across a massasauga rattlesnake on the trail. I’m glad it made a sound so we could spot it and avoid it!

  15. Bernie says:

    Some interesting names for sure. Seems like a short time span that the boat gives you, especially for the length of the summer day. As per usual you guys made the best of it. Holy smokes about the poisonous snake.😬

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I know what you mean, you could easily spend the whole day (or more) exploring the main island. It’s funny because I think we spent more time in the car to get there and back than we did on the island, but that was largely because traffic was awful (which is usually the case every weekend in the summer). It was pretty wild to come across a massasauga rattlesnake on the trail. I’m just glad we didn’t accidentally step on it!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Ontario is only home to one type of venomous snake, the massasauga rattlesnake. And it’s only found in a small area of the province. Go figure we come across one of these while hiking at Georgian Bay Islands National Park. I believe dogs are allowed on the main island, but they have to be kept on a leash. That’s exciting that you’re considering coming to Canada next summer. There are so many great options to choose from from the east to west coast (and everything in between). We’re currently in the Yukon at the moment and are having a wonderful time.

  16. Rose says:

    What a wonderful outing! 63 islands sounds like a lot of opportunities for adventure. But yikes about the snake. Always love reading your outdoor stories and seeing your photos. ❤️

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Oh I know. Only one of the islands, Beausoleil Island, is developed and has campsites and hiking trails. But it would be neat to paddle around some of the other islands to check them out. There’s quite a bit of boat traffic in the area though, which we weren’t a fan of. It was wild to come across the massasauga rattlesnake while on the trail. I’m glad we had an orientation beforehand where our Parks Canada guide talked about this particular snake and what it sounds like when it’s giving a warning, otherwise I would have just assumed we’d stumbled upon a bee’s nest (which also wouldn’t have been fun to step on)!

  17. Lookoom says:

    I didn’t know how the visit to this park was organised. I generally prefer to be on my own, like when I visited Manitoulin Island, in the same region.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The only way to visit Georgian Bay Islands National Park is by boat. Parks Canada offers a shuttle boat service, but it’s quite limited. We wanted to explore the northern part of the island and there’s only one time slot per day. The other option is to hire a boat taxi or take your own boat. My biggest concern though was about how much boat traffic there was. I much preferred Manitoulin Island which seems more laid back (plus there’s a lot more to see).

  18. Book Club Mom says:

    Such a calm description of encountering a rattlesnake, but I guess that’s the way to be, right? I recently disturbed a garter snake while I was weeding – I was calm on the outside but jumpy on the inside!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Let’s just say that I’m glad it gave us a good warning with its rattle, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have been so calm! It didn’t help that I was walking first either. I was pretty eager to move around it and continue onwards. I’m not a fan of snakes in general. Good for you for remaining so calm while coming across a garter snake when gardening. I would have probably called it quits!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It’s always fun to explore a new set of trails, especially when it involves a boat ride just to get there. It was quite the surprise to come across a massasauga rattlesnake as they are quite rare and aren’t found in too many places in Ontario. I appreciated the warning sounds otherwise I would have missed it entirely. I wouldn’t want to accidentally step on one of them!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It was a fun little adventure just to get to the island. It’s too bad the boat shuttle service is rather limited, but in some ways it’s probably better as it meant that it wasn’t very busy.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I’m such a fan of the exposed areas of the Canadian Shield in this region of Ontario. The rocky outcrops and ledges were actually pretty grippy and easy to walk along, but I can imagine they would be slippery when wet.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words and for leaving a comment. It’s been fun to explore more of my own backyard. There’s certainly no shortage of beautiful parks and hiking trails in Canada! We actually just got back from a two and a half week vacation in the Yukon.

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        It was amazing and easily one of the most scenic drives we’ve taken. It’s a great way to enjoy the wilderness and see the wildlife. We also lucked out with the weather and mainly had blue skies and sunshine. Hope you’re able to make it there someday. Linda

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It certainly was a fun day trip. It makes me wonder why I took so long to visit this national park considering how it’s reasonably close by. It was quite the surprise to see a massasauga rattlesnake along the trail. Let’s just say I was pretty happy not to be camping here!

  19. rkrontheroad says:

    How fun to explore the islands and nice that a shuttle is provided. The park sounds so interesting with so many little islands. I’m wondering if it’s considered the smallest park because of the actual area on land? I hiked the cliffs along Georgian Bay years ago. Beautiful country.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Georgian Bay Islands is an interesting national park. It’s neat how the only way you can access it is by boat. The Parks Canada shuttle only goes to Beausoleil Island, the largest island in the park, but it would be neat to explore or paddle around some of the smaller islands as well. You’re right, the size of the park is based on the actual area of land on the various islands combined, which is why it’s so small.

  20. BrittnyLee says:

    Whoa !!!! A rattlesnake ?!!! That’s scary. I’m glad you are safe. The trail that we frequent has copperhead snakes. They are poisonous, too. They’re beautiful to witness, though, just at a safe distance. I love snakes. ❤️ I just won’t touch one unless I know it’s not a poisonous snake. I love shorter trails sometimes. It’s nice to have a shorter distance to really take your time and stop for as many photos as you can get. I love these photos.

Leave a Reply