Canadian Road Trip: Georgian Bay, Ontario

Georgian Bay, the eastern section of Lake Huron, is one of Ontario’s most scenic regions, with its Caribbean-blue water, red and white lighthouses, dense green forests, and pink granite cliffs. Perfect for outdoor adventurers on a Canadian road trip, the drive around Georgian Bay takes you to three national parks, several provincial parks, and to the world’s largest freshwater island, where you can hike, canoe, and learn more about the area’s aboriginal culture. You can even stop along the way to snorkel the site of several shipwrecks; more than twenty ships met their demise in the lake’s often choppy waters.

You can do this scenic road trip in a week, but you’ll have more time to relax in each location if you can take at least ten days.

People stand at the edge of a rocky bank, overlooking blue water at Bruce Peninsula National Park
Bruce Peninsula National Park. Photo © Carolyn B. Heller.

The Bruce Peninsula

From Toronto, allow about four hours to drive northwest to the Bruce Peninsula, a finger of land that juts into Georgian Bay. Here, at Bruce Peninsula National Park, you can do an easy hike to The Grotto and Indian Head Cove to explore the intricate rock formations along the turquoise waters. Stay in Tobermory, the cute waterfront town at end of the point, or camp in the national park.

From Tobermory’s Little Tub Harbour, schedule a snorkeling tour, where you can float above the ghostly remains of several ships that met their demise just off shore. Yes, the water’s chilly, but you’ll suit up in a warm wetsuit, booties, gloves, and a hood to keep you comfortable.

Boats also leave from Little Tub Harbour to Fathom Five National Marine Park, one of Canada’s three national marine conservation areas. You can tour Flowerpot Island with its towering “flowerpot” rock formations. Imagine if a giant had turned his garden flowerpots upside down, and you can begin to envision these unique stone columns.

A rocky island is pictured with a towering rock structure
Flowerpot Island in the Fathom Five National Marine Park. Photo © Carolyn B. Heller.

Manitoulin Island

A car ferry, the MS Chi-Cheemaun, makes the two-hour crossing from Tobermory to Manitoulin Island, which is both the world’s largest freshwater island and a base for learning more about the region’s aboriginal culture.

An island-based aboriginal tourism organization, the Great Spirit Circle Tour, offers a variety of activities, from “glamping” in a teepee, to learning about traditional dances and songs, to taking a “medicine walk,” where an aboriginal guide will help you identify local plants and understand how they’re used in indigenous medicine and cooking.

A lighthouse stands on a rocky and grassy island with a sign in front that reads Welcome to South Bay Mouth Marina
Arriving on Manitoulin Island by ferry. Photo © Carolyn B. Heller.

Killarney Provincial Park

Cross the swing bridge from Manitoulin back to the mainland and drive to Killarney Provincial Park, where the pink granite cliffs, white dolomite ridges, sparkling lakes, and dense pine forests inspired the early twentieth-century landscape painters known as the Group of Seven, and they continue to inspire hikers, paddlers, and other nature lovers today.

Hike up to “The Crack,” for expansive views over the park, or glide your canoe around George Lake. On the harbor in the nearby town of Killarney, stop for fish and chips at old favorite Herbert Fisheries.

Trees sit atop a rocky mountain with the Killarney Provincial Park landscape and sky in the background
Killarney Provincial Park. Photo © Carolyn B. Heller.

Georgian Bay Islands National Park

South of Killarney, Georgian Bay Islands National Park encompasses sixty-three of the thousands of islands that span Georgian Bay. Catch the park’s DayTripper ferry from the town of Honey Harbour to Beausoleil Island, where most of the park’s services are located. Take a hike, go for a swim, or explore the island’s diverse terrain.

From Honey Harbour, you can drive back to Toronto in less than three hours, but along Ontario’s Georgian Bay, you’ll feel like you’ve traveled miles away.

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