It’s no contest; Bruce Peninsula National Park is my favourite place in Bruce County.
In fact–it’s my favourite place in Ontario.
It has everything I look for in a destination: hiking trails, crystal clear waters, caves, beaches, warm lakes, campsites, yurts, never-ending forests, wildlife, fire-pits, dark night skies, waterfalls, and incredible scenic views.
Georgian Bay Trail Hike
My first time at the Park was a day trip. That’s what most people do.
We paid the Park entrance fee, drove back to the Head of Trails parking lot, and began the short one kilometer hike up to the coast.
It’s an easy hike on a wide gravel trail, on a generally level landscape. The trail passes by lake views, over a river and small waterfall, through thick forest, and some pretty cool rock formations. There are a couple of benches along the way, and a rest stop area with non-flush toilets.
We saw tons of chipmunks, squirrels, and even a small snake.
There are plenty of other hiking options to get to the coast, from one way loops, to other longer trails and lookouts.
A popular route is to head up the Horse Lake trail (1.2 km), cut across on the Bruce Trail to Halfway Rock Point, continue past the Grotto, and loop back down at the Marr Lake trail (0.8 km), connecting back with the Georgian Bay Trail to return to the Head of Trails.
There is nothing like the view of looking down into the Grotto from the cliff above.
The Grotto is basically just a big lake cave that was carved out by the waves of Georgian Bay over thousands of years.
Sunlight shines into the clear water, reflecting in every direction, creating a brilliant glowing hue in several shades of turquoise.
Cliffs drops off dramatically, surrounding the entire scene in a sharp rock bowl that frames the Georgian Bay on the horizon. Rocks speckle the aqua water, and make way to the mouth of the Grotto itself.
Getting down to the Grotto poses a bit of difficulty, and certainly requires some skill and bravery.
Option 1: climb down along the rocks on the side.
There’s not much to hold onto, besides the rocks them selves, and some of the spaces between are quite large. There are no signs, lights, stairs or handrails. You definitely need a certain level of fitness to make your way up and down with this option.
Option 2: The “Rabbit Hole”
This is exactly what it sounds like; you have to squeeze yourself through a tiny hole in the rocks and enter through a narrow cave tunnel. One look at the hole sends most people back to option 1, but it’s really not as bad as it looks. It just takes a bit of bravery. It’s a little awkward, but step in backward, foot first, wiggle your way down, swivel around, and shimmy your way along the rocks to get to the bottom. There is one wide gap, but just grab the hand of someone else, and you’ll be fine. It’s also easier to get back up this way.
Once you make it to the mouth of the Grotto, you will either need to hop across a rock to the back side, or shimmy along the wall to get inside.
From the inside, you will see the glow from the under water cave. Sun shines in from the other side, which opens out to Georgian Bay itself, creating a glowing blue hue inside of the Cave.
It’s really kind of magical.
Against the back wall, above the glowing water, is a ledge that is used to jump off of into the water. But, make note: it’s ice cold and can easily take your breath away, even in the warmer months of July & August.
RIP Nikon D300: As I was sidling along the wall to get back out, my camera fell out of my backpack, landed on the rocks, slid across the ground, and plopped right into the Grotto’s waters. The lens smashed, and my camera was ruined. Everyone around me looked at me, expecting me to scream or something, but I laughed at my own stupidity, and couldn’t bring myself to be upset in my beautiful surroundings. I’d like to think that the view was worth the accident.
Perhaps not as grand as the Grotto, but certainly equally picturesque, is the Natural Arch.
If you see it first, it’s easy to mistake it as the Grotto itself, and is often called the “mini Grotto”. It’s basically another smaller cave next to the Grotto, that you can look down into, or climb around the side to reach the front.
It forms a natural frame, and makes for a great photo.
Indian Head Cove
There’s no argument–Indian Head Cove is the most beautiful beach in Ontario.
It’s not your average warm water sandy beach, but it’s no less breathtaking.
Large round white rocks make up the “beach”, and bleached cliffs line the back. The same crystal clear water that flows through the Grotto, laps up on the shore and shines a brilliant turquoise over the white rock floor.
Several rocky outcrops stretch into the water, making great spots to walk out and admire the water.
The water is almost as cold as the Grotto, but it’s worth a toe dip or shallow walk through the many rock pools.
The beach is usually quite busy in the summer, which can ruin photos a bit, but it’s fairly empty in the off season. If you can, try to visit in April-May or September-November.
Cyprus Lake is another one of the beautiful features of BPNP. It’s fairly shallow, crystal clear, lined with bright white sand, and surrounded by luscious forest.
The water is super warm throughout the Summer, and makes a perfect place for an afternoon swim.
Better yet–bring a camping chair and make a circle with friends in the shallow water. It’s the best way to cool off and hang out.
We all waded out to our knees, and ended up spending a good half hour just standing there admiring the view and enjoying the warm water.
You can also hike around the Lake on the Cyprus Lake Trail, which is 5.2 km in total. It’s an easy hike, and takes about 2.5 hours at a leisurely pace, with lots of spots to stop and check out the view.
It’s worth packing a picnic lunch, and stopping at one of the many picnic tables along the Lake.
The regular campsites are also located along the Lake.
Stay in a Yurt
You might remember when I stayed at the yurts in MacGregor Point Provincial Park this February.
The yurts at Bruce Peninsula National Park are quite similar, but are only available for Summer camping (available May 1 to October 12), unlike the winterized yurts in MacGregor.
Just in case you’re not familiar, a yurt is a round tent-like structure based on the tents used by the nomadic people of the plains of central Asia. Ontario Parks has modern yurts located in a number of parks across the province.
Four of us spent the night at yurt #5.
After rolling our bags over from the parking area on a small wagon, we unloaded our stuff on the deck before checking everything out.
Inside our yurt had hardwood floors, a bunk bed with double and single mattresses, a fold down Murphy bed, table with chairs, a cabinet with shelves and cupboards, a hard counter top with more drawers, a battery powered LED lantern, fire extinguisher, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, broom & dust pan, and a wood stove.
Outside was an outdoor cooking station with counter top, BBQ with two propane tanks, four chairs, a deck-top fire pit, table, and a food storage locker.
The amenities included hot showers, toilets, running water and a sink to wash dishes, in the heated comfort station, as well as shared picnic shelter.
We started the night by cooking up hot dogs on the BBQ, and mixing up a few drinks out of the cooler. We hooked hammocks up to the trees over the porch, and lounged in the chairs around the deck.
After dinner, I saw a movement to the side of the yurt, where I noticed a small bunny hopping around the pine needles on the ground. I approached it, expecting it to scurry away, but it let me get close enough to hand feed it a leaf.
Later on, we went for a short hike around the lake, and watched the sunset from a small wooden deck among the trees. Eventually we headed back to the yurt, where everyone put on sweaters and got comfy for the night.
We spent the evening there, listening to music, gathered around the fire.
Remember to pack: blankets/sleeping bags, pillows, food, cooler, ice, water, bug repellent, cooking gear, matches or lighter, flashlight.
Yurts can be rented for $120/night
Book your yurt well in advance, here.
Reservations for each year open in January.
Yurts 3, 4, 6 & 9 are closest to the lake, with great views.
I’ve been to a lot of places that are known to be clear of light pollution (like the top of Haleakala on Maui, the Jasper Dark Sky, and rural Iceland), but I’ve never seen as many stars as I did in BPNP.
My friend and I wanted to go down to check out the lake after dark, and both suddenly stopped in our tracks as we looked up through a clearing in the trees. For sixty seconds, we both just stood there staring up in silence.
“Ohhhh my God, it’s the Miky Way”, I finally managed to spit out.
It was as if someone had smeared white paint across the sky, and it glowed in every direction.
I soooo wish I had taken a long exposure photo of the stars, but it was one of those times that I was just too blown away by the view, that I couldn’t bring myself to take a photo.
Luckily, the yurts have skylight domes, so you can stargaze as you drift off to sleep.
Tobermory is about 10 minutes up the road from the Park gates.
It’s the closest town, and the place that you will want to go to grab food & supplies. There are several restaurants to choose from, clothing stores, souvenir shops, docks for boat tours, hotels for those that prefer the indoors, kayak rentals, and more.
Tobermory is worth a trip of it’s own.
Flower Pot Island & Shipwrecks Tour
We booked seats on the Blue Heron Company glass-bottom boat tour of Flower Pot Island, Fathom Five Marine Park, and the shipwrecks–unfortunately we couldn’t make it in time the next day!
I was super bummed about it, but I’ll definitely be heading back to do the tour next time, and will be sure to write about my experience.
Here are some of my favourite photos from BPNP:
Have you been to BPNP?