The best time for this tour, which takes in the striking natural scenery around Georgian Bay, is late summer or early fall. The autumn is especially lovely, as the leaves put on their vibrant color show. Just wrap up the trip before Canadian Thanksgiving (the second weekend in October), when the ferry to Manitoulin Island stops running and many of the region’s attractions close for the season.
Day 1 (300 kilometers/190 miles, 4-4.5 hours)
From Toronto, drive northwest to the Bruce Peninsula. Check into a hotel in Tobermory or set up camp in Bruce Peninsula National Park, then stop into the National Park Visitors Centre to learn more about the region. Climb the Lookout Tower to take in the views, then hike to The Grotto and the beautiful Indian Head Cove, with its turquoise waters and intricate rock formations. Back in town, have dinner in a café on Little Tub Harbour.
Pack a picnic and take the boat to Flowerpot Island to explore Fathom Five National Marine Park, one of only three national marine conservation areas in Canada. It’s a short hike from the ferry dock to the distinctive “flowerpot” rock formations. When you return to the mainland, take a lighthouse tour, then hike along the Bruce Trail, go kayaking, or book a snorkeling tour among the shipwrecks just off-shore. Walk along the broad, sandy Singing Sands Beach and watch the sun set over Lake Huron.
Day 3 (ferry, 2 hours)
Take the morning ferry to Manitoulin Island. Enjoy a leisurely lunch at Garden’s Gate Restaurant, then spend the afternoon at Providence Bay Beach or splash under Bridal Veil Falls. Spend the night on the Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nations Reserve at Endaa-aang “Our Place,” where you can rent a comfortable cottage or sleep in a teepee.
Today you’re exploring Manitoulin’s aboriginal heritage with the Great Spirit Circle Tour. Arrange a workshop on traditional First Nations dance, drumming, or crafts. You can also take their Mother Earth Nature Hike, where an aboriginal guide will help you identify local plants and understand how they’re used in aboriginal medicine and cooking, as you climb the Cup and Saucer Trail. In the evening, see a production by the aboriginal Debajehmujig Theatre Group.
Start at the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation and Museum to see the exhibits and arrange a workshop on traditional First Nations dance, drumming, or crafts. You can also take their Mother Earth Nature Hike, where an aboriginal guide will help you identify local plants and understand how they’re used in aboriginal medicine and cooking. In the evening, see a production by the aboriginal Debajehmujig Theatre Group on the Wikwemikong First Nations Reserve.
Day 5 (225 kilometers/140 miles, 3-3.5 hours)
Get an early start today to drive to Killarney Provincial Park, a vast and dramatic provincial park with rugged white dolomite ridges, pink granite cliffs, pine forests, and crystal-clear lakes. You’ll want to reach Killarney in time for a swim at George Lake and an afternoon of hiking or canoeing. You can camp in the park or stay in one of the lodges in town. Enjoy a fish-and-chips dinner at Herbert Fisheries while you watch the sunset over the harbor.
Day 6 (200 kilometres/125 miles, 3 hours)
In the morning, take another hike or paddle before driving south toward Parry Sound, stopping for a picnic or a stretch-your-legs hike at Grundy Lake Provincial Park along the way. Once you arrive in Parry Sound, arrange a flight-seeing tour, the most thrilling way to take in Georgian Bay’s 30,000 Islands region; if you’re with a special someone, schedule a romantic sunset flight—complete with champagne. If you’d rather stay close to the ground, explore the islands with a sightseeing cruise on the Island Queen. In the evening, see a play, concert, or lecture at the Charles W. Stockey Centre for the Performing Arts.
Day 7 (150 kilometers/95 miles, 2 hours)
Your first stop today is Killbear Provincial Park, about 45 minutes’ drive from Parry Sound. While it’s lesser known than Ontario’s larger “destination” parks, its dramatic granite cliffs and quiet sandy beaches are well worth exploring. Later in the day, drive south to Honey Harbour or Port Severn, where you’ll spend the night.
Day 8 (55 kilometers/35 miles, 1 hour)
Of the thousands of islands that dot Georgian Bay, 63 are protected in the Georgian Bay Islands National Park. Your destination today is Beausoleil Island for a full day of hiking, mountain biking, swimming, picnicking, and exploring. Back on the mainland, drive an hour south to Midland for dinner and check in to a hotel, where you’ll stay for the next two nights.
Travel back in time to the 1600s at Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons, a historic village that reimagines the first European settlement in Ontario, where French Jesuits lived and worked with the indigenous Wendat (Huron) people. In the afternoon, go canoeing at Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre, take a cruise around the offshore islands on the M.S. Georgian Queen from nearby Penetanguishene Harbor, or go for a hike or swim at Awenda Provincial Park.
Day 10 (200 kilometers/125 miles, 3 hours)
As you begin your drive south, stop for a stroll along Wasaga Beach, the world’s longest freshwater beach. Another worthwhile detour is the small town of Creemore, where the main street is lined with art galleries, cafes, and shops. After you’ve had your fill of browsing, have a bite to eat before making your way back to Toronto.
Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Ontario.