Earlier last month, I had my first ever glamping trip to BRUCE PENINSULA NATIONAL PARK near Tobermory, Ontario. I've been on a National Park craze since Parks Canada announced free entry to all National Parks and some National Historic Sites for Canada's 150th birthday. So of course I had to take advantage of that. All you need to do is order a FREE pass from their website and you're ready to explore this beautiful country.
Bruce Peninsula National Park is about a 4 hours drive north of Toronto. My friends and I, in a large pick-up truck, left at 6:30am for our little getaway. There wasn’t much to see on the way there because it was all farmlands once we left the city. However I was in excellent company, which kept the 4 hour drive interesting, fun, and full of laughter.
If you plan on making pit stops, which we did, there are plenty of gas stations around. I was a bit taken aback by the lack of Tim Hortons, but you can definitely find other coffee shops along the way.
Once we arrived at the park, we went straight to the Cyprus Lake yurt office to check-in. This is a different office from the main Parks Canada Visitor Centre, which is located in Tobermory. After we got our keys and directions, we finally made it to the yurt.
The yurt is a circular cabin, which is based on portable, round tents traditionally used by nomads in Central Asia. Our yurt had two entrances, one with a large deck that featured a BBQ, chairs, stools, and an outdoor fireplace. Inside, there was a bunk bed, a small table with chairs, a wood stove, a Murphy bed, and a tiny counter for food prep. We also had an outdoor storage bin for food. Since there was no parking in front of the yurt itself, we were provided with a wagon to transport our belongings from vehicle to yurt. We were all very excited to discover that our accommodation was only a short walk to Cyprus Lake. I would highly recommend bringing a canoe or kayak.
The yurt provided us with the large things, which left us to bring everything else: bed sheets, pillows, sleeping bags, food, plates and utensils, etc. You can also buy firewood and kindling at the office. We were also given two battery powered lamps, which came in handy for late night washroom breaks (the electric powered facilities were about a 1 min walk from the yurt) or if we were up after sundown. There is no electricity in the yurt so it’s like real camping. Almost. But if you're desperate, there are charging stations near the washrooms.
THE TRAILS & ACTIVITIES
After we unpacked our gear, chose our beds, and had lunch, we drove to the parking lot closest to the Grotto. From there, the Georgian Bay - Marr Lake trail takes you to Indian Head Cove and the Grotto (about 40 minutes one way to the latter). The first half of the hike is easy and on a flat path, but as you get closer to Indian Head Cove, the trail becomes more uneven and rocky. There were times when I had to get on my butt to climb down large rocks, so this trail may not be for everyone. It had also rained the night before and rained a little during out visit. This made the trails a bit slippery.
The trail leads to Indian Head Cove first. There is supposedly a nice beach there, but I found it too rocky to be a beach. The views were incredible though. The water was also a light blue which could easily rival Caribbean waters. We then reached our main destination: The Grotto. On a good, clear day you can climb down the cliff and go into the Grotto. I’ve read some great stories about it, however the weather was rainy and dark when we went, so we didn’t risk it. I did get a great picture though (see below). Also, if you need to take a wee, there is a washroom near the Grotto. At this point, we walked a little further along the trail, but it was much too rocky for us to keep going, especially in that weather. So we turned around and made our way back to the car.
Click the arrow next to the picture above to view more photos
On our second day we explored Tobermory. It was a 10 minute drive to the official Parks Canada Visitor Centre where we saw a video about Bruce Peninsula National Park, an exhibit, climbed a lookout tower (I have a fear of heights and I somehow did this), hiked part of a trail to Dunk’s Point, and back. We also made a trip to Big Tub Lighthouse at Big Tub Harbour (where there are some sunken ships).
It seems like we didn’t do much for two full days of being at the park, but aside from all the walking and exploring, we also spent a lot of time making food at the yurt, feeding the wood stove, playing board and card games, reading, and just enjoying hanging out indoors while it poured outside. If you visit in the summer I would suggest canoeing, kayaking, swimming, or another summer sport. Bruce Peninsula also offers a variety of winter activities if you decide to go later in the year.
WHAT TO DO NEARBY
There is plenty to do near Bruce Peninsula. There is Fathom Five National Marine Park, which is comprised of a number of islands, including the famous Flowerpot Island. You can get to the islands either by taking a boat tour or hiring a private boat. Some tours include visiting the many shipwrecks that lie in Georgian Bay. Some of these wrecks are only a few meters below the surface, so on a good, clear day you can see it from the ground. Unfortunately for me, I could not see the shipwrecks as I arrived 5 days before tourist season began. The weather wasn't pleasant either.
Lion’s Head is another place that you can visit. It is a non-operating Ontario provincial park, so visit at your own risk. If you're heading south towards Toronto, I would suggest visiting this park. Although it is non-operating, you can still do hikes.
Since we went in early May, it wasn’t at all busy. I have heard that in July and August the number of visitors skyrocket. Many people get turned away from the park's parking lots as early as 8am. I suggest going in the off season. The park will be just as beautiful as it is in the summer, and with less people :)
Despite raining for two days straight, we had a lovely sunset on the last night.