A Guide for Planning A Trip to Bruce Peninsula National Park
Pure magic! That is the only description that befits Bruce Peninsula National Park. Rugged limestone cliffs rise mysteriously from the turquoise waters Lake Huron creating a breathtaking contrast that is a must-see. As the rocks give way to rich soil, ageless forests take over filling the air with the scents of coniferous trees and the symphony of countless birds.
Bruce Peninsula National Park is part of the Niagara Escarpment which explains its dramatic scenery. Scientists believe that millions of years ago the park looked more like the Great Barrier Reef of Australia before the forces of nature gave it a makeover. Today, black bears roam free in its thick forests but they are not alone, chipmunks, snowshoe hares, snakes and foxes are just but a few of the fauna that call this park their home.
The park welcomed its first visitors in 1987 and its 156 square kilometres form a large part of UNESCO’s Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere Reserve.
Things to Do – Nature & Wildlife, Must Visit Places/Points of Interest, Activities
Trip Planning – Directions, When to Visit, Where to Stay.
You may like to take a road trip around Georgian Bay – from Blue Mountains to Bruce Peninsula to Manitoulin Island, Killarney and Sudbury!
Things to Do at Bruce Peninsula National Park
Nature & Wildlife
Bruce Peninsula National Park has a very strange collection of wildflowers and ancient trees. Believe it or not the park hosts more than 40 orchid species in spite of the fact that these flower varieties are mostly tropical.
As you explore the park, you may also come across some dwarf lake iris, Indian plantain and the northern holly fern. Also keep an eye out for cliff vegetation; some of the cliff-hanging trees have been around for hundreds of years.
Chipmunks, frogs, porcupines, raccoons, skunks, snakes, snowshoe hares, squirrels and white-tailed deer are relatively easy to spot as you tour the park. But you never know; you may just come across a black bear, fox, fisher, martin or the Massasauga rattlesnake.
Cyprus Lake Trail that skirts the Cyprus Lake is an excellent location for birding, both for migrants and breeding species including Scarlet Tanager, over fifteen warbler species, Upland Sandpiper and Sandhill Crane and more!
Exploring Bruce Peninsula National Park
Must Visit Places/Points of Interest
a. The Grotto
Millions of years of erosion has caused intricate caves of limestone, like the Grotto to be formed on the shores of Georgian Bay. The blue green waters of the Bay against the backdrop of carved rocks and rock formations creates a breathtaking view that is well worth the hike. You need to climb down the rocky cliffs to reach the grotto – 12m climb down the face of a rocky open cliff. Grotto Parking is by reservations only.
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b. Indian Head Cove:
See naturally sculpted limestone cliffs, forming miniature versions of Flowerpots at this scenic location. Halfway Rock Point offers an excellent vista: on the northern horizon lie Flowerpot and Bear’s Rump islands in Fathom Five National Marine Park. The cobble stone beach at Indian Head Cove is a popular location for swimming. Indian Head Cove is east of the Grotto.
c. Driftwood Cove
Driftwood Cove is home to a globally rare ancient cliff-edge ecosystem with the oldest trees in eastern North America, 10 federally listed species at risk, as well as important ecologically, geologically and culturally significant cave systems. You can see orchids like eastern prairie white-fringed orchid and ram’s-head lady’s-slipper, globally rare species, like lakeside daisy and eastern massasauga rattlesnake in this property located on Saugeen Bruce Peninsula. A total of 8 kilometres of the famous Bruce Trail—Canada’s oldest and longest marked footpath—runs through this property.
Given that the Bruce Trail ends at Tobermory, you can expect nothing but great paths for all levels of hikers. Discover the hidden treasures of this park at your own pace. Break a sweat on the Cyprus Lake Trail, Georgian Bay, Marr Lake Trail, Horse Lake Trail or Singing Sands.
The 1 km Horse Lake Trail entices a wildlife enthusiast as it meanders through a diversity of habitats. Georgian Bay/Marr Lake Trail takes you to Grotto, Indian Head and Halfway Rock Point.
To reach Overhanging Point, you need to go west along the Bruce Trail from Marr Lake Trail and cross Boulder Beach. Climb down the opening on the ground to reach the underside of the projected Cliffstone Rock. This is not an easy hike.
Are you a bouldering enthusiast? Then you will feel right at home in this park. The shoreline boulders at Halfway Log Dump along the Georgian Bay are the place to sharpen your skills. The area is remote and you will enjoy nature as you try to conquer it.
Canoeing and Kayaking:
Cyprus Lake is a much loved spot for paddlers of all skill levels especially because it is accessible at any time. And once you have had your fun on this lake you can move on to other Bruce Peninsula National Park’s inland lakes including Emmett and Cameron Lakes. There is no rental facilities inside the park. You can rent your water craft (motorized not allowed) from Tobermory.
For the little ones Singing Sands Beach is an ideal location to spend the afternoon playing in the water. Singing Sands Beach is located on the west side of the Peninsula. Accessible from Dorcas Bay Road. There is parking, picnic sites and washrooms here. The site is wheelchair accessible. But if you prefer your water cold then make your way to Indian Head Cove.
For schools and other groups Bruce Peninsula National Park provides guided tours to various popular spots within the park. A good example is the Grotto Guided Tour which costs approx. $420.40 for one vehicle carrying 26 passengers or $813.60 for a vehicle carrying 56 passengers. The park also offers Summer Interpretive Programs and 2 to 3-hour tours of selected locations within its area and Fathom Five National Marine Park.
Dark Skies: Bruce Peninsula National Park is a designated Dark Sky Reserve. Enjoy the shining stars and celestial displays as you camp out under the night sky. The Bluewater Astronomical Society provides opportunities for night sky viewing and other educational programs during Dark Skies Weekend held in July.
How to get to Bruce Island National Park
Tobermory located on the the Northern most tip of the Bruce Peninsula is the best place to to set up a base for your trip. Highway 6 takes you to Tobermory.
The National Park Visitor Centre located in the village of Tobermory, is the hub for Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park. You can get all the information you to need to plan your trip here.
The Visitor Centre is open daily 09:00 AM to 5:00 PM in spring and fall, and 8:00 AM -to 8:00 PM in summer. There is a fee of Adult $5.80, Senior $4.90, Youth $2.90, Family $14.70 (max. 2 adults), which is valid for 24 hours and also includes Fathom Five National Marine Park Flowerpot Island entrance fees. The Centre has a great interpretive centre, theatre showing a film that offers an overview of the park. and other fun high-def film “Life on the Edge”
A number of trails that meander through the village and charming lookouts start here, including wheelchair accessible trail to viewing platform that overlooks Little Dunks Bay.
Climb 112 steps to the top of the 20m tall Tower that is situated near the Visitor Centre to enjoy a exhilarating view of the Bruce Peninsula – Village of Tobermory, Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park.
Visitor Centre Address: 120 Chi Sin Tib Dek Rd, Tobermory. The map below shows you the location of the visitor centre.
Toronto: ~ 300 km ( 4 hrs)
Kingston: ~ 536 km ( 6 hrs)
Ottawa: ~700 kms
Windsor: ~450 kms (5.5 hr)
Niagara Falls: ~ 375 km ( 4.5 hrs)
London: ~ 300 kms (3.5 hrs)
How to get to Grotto and Indian Head:
From the Cyprus Lake Park Office on the Cyprus Lake Rd (from Highway 6), go to Parking Lot P1 (if the lots are not full), From there, take Georgian Bay or Marr Lake Trail, to reach the Grotto or Indian Head. Approximately 2 kms from the parking lot P1. The Grotto is approximately 20 kms from the village of Tobermory.
Grotto Parking is by reservation only from May 8 to October 30, 2020. Grotto parking reservations open and are available starting May 8, 2020 at 8:00 a.m. (EST) to October 30, 2020. ~ $ 11.70 per vehicle plus applicable reservation fee ($6.00 online, $8.50 by phone). When Grotto parking is fully booked, there is no more Grotto access at that time. On other days, parking is first come, first served.
How to get to Singing Sands Beach:
Singing Sands Beach is located on the west side of the Peninsula. Accessible from Dorcas Bay Road, off Highway 6.
How to visit Bruce Peninsula National Park, if you do not have a car:
Parkbus from Toronto to Tobemory gets you to Bruce Peninsula National Park. The service runs from Victoria Day Long Weekend to Labour Day Weekend. Ph: 519-596-2233.
Approximate Cost: Adults $89, Students / seniors$80, Children: $45 for a round trip. You should plan your accommodation in Tobermory or at one of campgrounds in the National Park.
This is a good option, if you are on a vacation to Toronto. Include a weekend to Tobermory if you have time to spare! You will not be disappointed.
When to visit Bruce Peninsula National Park
Bruce Peninsula National Park is one of Ontario’s most popular tourist attractions. Consequently, visitor numbers soar in summer and it is not uncommon for guests on their way to Grotto to be turned away at Cyprus Lake Road (you will have to park further away like in P2 and walk as lots will be full). It is prudent to book your camping space well in advance, or reach before 09:00 AM or visit the park during off-peak seasons like spring and fall to avoid disappointment.
The Park is open year round.
The Cyprus Lake Campground Office is open 7 days a week from May to October.
What to do in Winter: Unravel its winter secrets! You can engage in winter hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and winter camping. The limestone cliffs decked in snow will surely take your breath away.
If you are visiting Grotto in winter, only Parking Lot 2 (P2) is open. Take Cyprus Lake trail to get to Georgian Bay Trail to reach Indian Head Cove. ~ 1 hour hike.
What to do in Spring:
Spot the song brirds that throng the shores of the Peninsula, explore the wildflowers that grow in the Park and join for Orchid Festival held at the Park Visitor Centre and other location in the Peninsula.
This Ontario Park is yours to explore!
Explore the Fall colours and join in to celebrate the Hike Festival that celebrate the gorgeous Bruce Trail.
How much to visit the Park
Park Entrance Fees – (HST included) (subject to change)
Family/Group $16.00, Adult $7.90, Seniors(65 +yrs) $6.90
and Youth – free
Where to Stay Within the National Park
Cyprus Lake Campground
Yurts, for about $130 a night, sleep among the trees on the shores of Cyprus Lake; you will have a suitably furnished yurt with beds, propane BBQ and wood stoves. The yurts make life bearable when the weather isn’t friendly. Yurts are 6m in diameter with semi-permanent tent-like structure, with a wooden lattice frame.
If you prefer to sleep on the hard ground then the park gives you a choice of 232 drive-in campsites in three campgrounds: Birches, Poplars and Tamarack for about $30 /per night. These campgrounds come with basic amenities like picnic tables, a fire pit with grill, cold water sinks, potable water taps and basic washrooms.
Cyprus Lake also has one group camping site which means that advance booking is highly recommended.
In case you are looking for something more secluded then you can pitch your tent along the Bruce Trail on Georgian Bay shoreline at Storm Haven and High Dump. You must valid permit issued from Cyprus Lake Office for your campsite.
Bruce Peninsula National Park allows you to camp on the snow. It will cost you $15.70 per site/ per night at Tamaracks Campground but you will find that some of the amenities that are available in summer are missing during winter. Be prepared to carry your own water and buy firewood from local suppliers. You can also do back country winter camping.
Outside the National Park:
Where to Eat: No facilities within the park. Village of Tobermory offers plenty of options.
How long to Stay: If you are visiting from Toronto, you need approximately 5 hours to reach the Park. If it is your first visit, we recommend you to plan for a weekend. Start from Toronto on a Friday afternoon. Visit the visitor centre the next day or at night, if you reach before closing time, get an overview of the park. On Saturday, spend time exploring the Bruce Peninsula National Park and Tobermory, and on Sunday, take a boat trip to Fathom Five Park. The shortest recommended time is at least a full day, excluding travel time.
Amenities within the Park
Cyprus Lake Campground Office: Open 7 days a week from May to October
Parking is available at Halfway Log Dump, Singing Sands and in Cyprus Lake Campground at the Head-of-Trails and the Day-use Area. There are restrooms near Grotto.
Picnic Sites at Singing Sand Beach.
Cell phone reception is spotty.
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