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.