Bruce Peninsula – Park #1
Inspired by Canada’s 150th anniversary of confederation, we are visiting as many national parks as we can. And we’re going to throw some learnin’ in as well.
Bruce Peninsula National Park is located at the end of, well Bruce Peninsula just outside of the town of Tobermory. The park is 125 sq km or 30888 acres stretching across the peninsula so that you can visit both the north and south shores. The peninsula contains part of the Niagara Escarpment and was designated as part of the Niagara Escarpment UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. The 843 km (524 mile) Bruce Trail, the oldest and longest hiking trail in Canada also runs through the park, beginning in Tobermory and ending in Niagara. There is a wide range of plants and animals found here, including the endangered Massassauga Rattlesnake.
It also has a sister park in the Fathom Five National Marine Conservation Park which is home to some incredible diving and snorkelling as the water is unbelievably clear. Last year we took a boat tour to Flowerpot Island and the boat passed over some shipwrecks that looked like they were right under the surface. We decided to forgo the boat tour this time and spend more time exploring the park on foot.
First things first, after the long drive and lots of hiking ahead, I needed to fuel and stopped at Little Tub Bakery. I left a short time later cradling a couple of slices of pizza that I had devoured before we got to the park. Hey they were small so I had to get two. And a blueberry tart for later. And some bread to take home.
For some reason, both times we visited this park was around Canada Day weekend and this year with free national park passes being literally given away, I should have expected the crowds. However, I thought that I was being clever by going on the holiday Monday when I figured most people would be heading back to their homes. If that was the case, there were still lots of people in the park. In fact, when I went to go into the main entrance at Cyprus Lake on the north side of the peninsula, there was a long line up of cars. Then when I got to the booth, I was told that they were trying something new this year and issuing timed parking permits. Each permit was for a total of four hours on a first-come basis. I had to ask why this was and it was to prevent people from spending all day there. I always thought that they wanted people to spend time in parks but I guess they also wanted to speed up visitor turn-over. Cyprus Lake seems to get the majority of visits because of The Grotto, a cave that begs exploration. The last permit available was for 5:00 pm so after thinking about it for a second, I took it. Seeing as how it was not even noon, we had some time to kill.
I decided to go to the south side of the peninsula and was quite surprised to see there were plenty of spots in the one small parking lot for Singing Sands. The south side of the peninsula is remarkably different from the north side: the land is less dramatic and eases into the waters of Lake Huron while the north stands in stark, craggy defiance of Georgian Bay. There was a small beach with lots of people enjoying the sun but we continued past them and soon found that we were by ourselves on the rocky shore of the lake.
The water surrounding the Bruce Peninsula is that shocking shade of blue that is usually reserved for Caribbean islands. It was a hot day and the cold water was a wonderful contrast. The best part was the almost complete lack of any bugs. Nary a nibble was felt by anyone.
We found some interesting plants that I had never seen before and I kept my eyes peeled for snakes. We didn’t see snakes but I did see a large leech swimming in a shallow pool. Leeches, the ticks of the water (shudder). The dogs had a blast jumping and and out of the water. Leo discovered his inner water dog and started chasing after sticks into the water. Jack would wait until Leo brought it in and then try and take it from him. Jack seems to have adopted the motto “Work smarter not harder”. Piper kept to herself for the most part, until she wanted attention and then she leaned her soggy body against me. Although she did try to get the stick from Leo a few times.
As we walked back to the parking lot, there is a boardwalk through some marshland. I thought that we would walk that way to use up time since we had plenty before we could go to the north shore. However, after taking about ten steps onto the boardwalk, I saw some brown rumps out in the grass. Deer…must be deer. The dogs and deer are not a good combination so we backed away and continued to the lot. I saw a family with some small children and mentioned the deer to them in case the kids wanted to see them. When we reached an open area, I looked back to see if the deer were still there. They were…no wait…those aren’t deer…it looks like…no…ostrich? Emu? Definitely not deer. Well don’t I feel the fool.
I shrugged it off and walked back to the car, loaded the dogs up, and drove into Tobermory. It’s obviously a town that is sustained by tourism and the streets were packed with people. People that apparently don’t believe in looking both ways before they cross the street. And paid parking everywhere. So irritating. We parked the car and sauntered over to Tobermory Brewing Company. What better way to ease some anger than with a locally brewed beer. Yaaaaaa I’d have to leave the dogs on the outside of the patio. Which wouldn’t be so bad if the patio were at ground level. It wasn’t. Grrrrrrrrr.
OK no beer. A few doors down is the Sweet Shop so we went there and I got an ice cream cone to help me think. Chocolate and peanut butter if anyone is wondering. Once I’d finished the ice cream we started walking around, beginning through the marina. After almost getting walked into by more than a few people that seemed intent on walking into me even though we were at the side of the sidewalk and not spread out all over the place, we headed out of town. The park’s visitor centre is at the edge of town and you can reach the Bruce Trail behind the hotel. At least the people we met there were friendlier and didn’t try to run us over. Then it was time to make our way back to Cyprus Lake.
Back into the line-up we went and even though I was early, I was allowed to park in a nearly empty lot. We followed the signs that directed us towards The Grotto. When we emerged from the trees to see a small crowd of people lounging on the rocks at water’s edge, I thought that since there weren’t anymore Grotto signs that we had arrived and that I had mis-interpreted what we were looking for. Nope, turns out we were at Indian Head Cove and that The Grotto was a few more minutes down the trail. I actually don’t mind that we didn’t get there since I’m sure it would have been even more crowded and the rocks were hard enough to scale to the cove especially with my two senior citizens.
We sat on the edge of the water for a little while, me enjoying the breeze and the water and the dogs enjoying the attention from everyone around them. Finally tiring of the squealing of children, we climbed back up to the trail and continued south. Soon we left all the noise behind us and found a quiet stretch of rocky beach. The rocks here were Leo-sized and made walking a bit more challenging so it was slow going. Once we got back to the trail proper, it was a much easier walk.
When we arrived back at the lot, I was torn between walking another trail or heading back home. The dogs decided for me when they all flopped back into the dirt. They were tired and had had a busy day so I got them back into the car.
Now I had wanted to eat fish and chips as the fish would have been fresh from the lake but I did not want to go back into Tobermory again. There is a food stand outside of the park that is legendary for fish and chips (Lone Wolf) but it was closed. The last time we had passed through the area, I had stumbled onto Katemma’s Diner and had the most amazing burger. I figured if the burgers were great, then fish and chips would be on the menu. So I drove there and was a little disappointed to see that fish and chips were not on the menu. Darn. I guess I’ll just have to console myself with a burger. And yes I would like bacon and cheese with that. The back patio was a wonderful place to sit but this late in the day, it was a little too chilly for me so I planted my butt on some rocks in the front parking lot and inhaled that burger and fries.
This burger is by far the BEST traditional burger I have ever eaten and I have eaten a lot of burgers. It is beefy and the texture is fantastic. Seriously, if you are a fan of burgers then you must go there.
Feeling satisfied and a little embarrassed that I didn’t share my burger with the dogs, we set back out down the road and found ourselves driving along the south shore of the peninsula. The first thing you notice is how calm the water looks. The second is that EVERYONE waves as you drive by.
I stopped the car at a small parking area and let the dogs out for one more play. OK I’ll admit it: the light was so gorgeous that I wanted to take advantage of it for a few more pictures. Leo and Piper went exploring but Jack pretty much plopped his butt down and waited for us to come back to him. He’s an expert at conserving his energy.
Finally, with the light fading and a bunch of tired dogs, I strapped everyone back into the car and made the trip home.
One park down.
HOW TO GET THERE
Take Highway 6 once you get out of Owen Sound. There are several signs on the highway for the park. Cyprus Lake Road is the first road as you’re driving north. It will be on your right and will take you to the north shore which includes The Grotto and Indian Head Cove.
A little further down Highway 6 and on your left, you’ll find Dorcas Bay Road which will take you to Singing Sands. The parking lot is on the left side of the road and then you cross over to go to the beach and trails.
If you continue north on Highway 6, you’ll find the visitor centre before you enter Tobermory proper. If you follow the highway straight through town, you’ll find the ferries to take you on tours of the islands and to Manitoulin Island.
All of the campgrounds are on the north side of the peninsula and there are both drive-in and backcountry sites.
WHAT TO DO
Hiking is obviously a big draw. Some of the trails were wide, level, and covered with crushed gravel or hard-parked dirt. Part of the Bruce Trail that runs along the north shore was rounded rock so would not be good for a stroller or anyone who has trouble with their balance. The most difficult part was climbing down to Indian Head Cove you have to pick your way down slabs of rock.
The water can be frigid and sometimes the currents make swimming treacherous. Canoeing and kayaking are other popular ways to enjoy the water.
Bring lots of bug spray and sunblock.
WHERE TO EAT
There are plenty of different restaurants in Tobermory. However, aside from The Sweet Shop at 18 Bay Street and the Beavertails stand in the marina, I have done most of my eating outside of town. I will say this: the ice cream at The Sweet Shop is wonderful.
Little Tub Bakery at 4 Warner Road (on the left side of Highway 6 right at Warner Road) makes some great pizza and the baked goods are lovely. There’s also Harvest Moon Organic Bakery at 3927 Highway 6 which makes some really good organic baked goods.
For fish and chips, I would recommend Lone Wolf which is at 5992 Highway 6 before you get to Cyprus Lake Road. The food is cooked in a trailer so it’s all outdoor seating. Be prepared for mosquitoes.
At 7178 Highway 6, you’ll find Ancient Cedars Cafe. Just keep your eyes peeled for the golf course and swing on in (get it?). They have a decent vegetarian and vegan selection. When I went there last year, I ordered the burger bar and built my own burger. The burger was good. I liked that I could sit on the patio with the dogs and the staff were super friendly.
But if you’re looking for a burger, then you want Katemma’s Diner at 607 Pike Bay Road and is about 30 minutes south of Bruce Peninsula National Park. There is indoor and outdoor seating and the back patio is large and well-shaded.