You won’t believe that these turquoise waters are in Canada.
Looking for the perfect summer road trip from Toronto? You can be out of the smoggy city and surrounded by pristine, natural beauty in no time flat. Hop in the car and crank your fave tunes. Make the journey from Toronto to Tobermory, Ontario. You won’t regret it.
Tobermory is a small town at the northern point of the Bruce Peninsula. Drive up Highway 6 until you essentially can’t drive any farther without hopping on a ferry. It’s about 300km northwest of Toronto.
Tobermory is known as the “fresh water scuba diving capital of the world” for its intriguing shipwrecks in Fathom Five National Marine Park, Canada’s first national marine conservation area. It’s also the gateway to Manitoulin Island, another wonderful vacation spot that I still need to explore. I’m going to show you how to have the perfect weekend in Tobermory. Our trip to Tobermory spanned two days, including the drive, so you can easily enjoy this trip without booking any extra vacation days from work.
FATHOM FIVE NATIONAL MARINE PARK
Now, I’ll admit this right now, we stumbled upon this hiking trail totally by accident. We were all set to explore the Bruce Peninsula National Park, but drove a little too far. I’ll blame our GPS for this one! Anyway, we turned down a driveway which happened to be a land section of the Fathom Five National Marine Park, right in town. However, there are hiking trails and scenic views here that make it 100% worth visiting.
Looking for more hiking in the Bruce Peninsula? Check out our article: Best Bruce Peninsula Hiking Trails for Nature Lovers.
THE LOOKOUT TOWER
First, make a stop at the Bruce Peninsula National Park Lookout Tower. It gets pretty windy up there, especially at the halfway point where there is a small landing. It’s an easy climb to the top, so definitely make your way up there. Don’t look down! When you reach the top, the expansive, panoramic view is incredible. High above the treetops, soak up the stunning scenery of Georgian Bay and islands in the distance.
LITTLE DUNKS BAY
Once you come down from the tower, which is fairly close to the parking lot, continue your hike along the Bruce Trail. We hiked a smaller section of the trail to Little Dunks Bay. Feel free to continue the hike to Dunks Point if you have more time than we did. The trek to Little Dunks Bay didn’t take too long, and you’ll be rewarded with a brilliant view of trees and turquoise waters. If it weren’t for the evergreen trees, I’d think this water was straight out of the Caribbean.
WHERE TO STAY
It’s a great time to check into your accommodations before heading out to dinner. We stayed at the Bruce Anchor Motel, a clean and comfortable motel right in the middle of town. Centrally located, we walked into town several times and walked to the pick-up spot for our boat trip the following day. As the Bruce Anchor Motel owns the boat tour company, we were able to leave our car at the motel the next day during the tour without having to pay for parking elsewhere.
Our room at the Bruce Anchor Motel had its own balcony outdoors where you could catch a glimpse of the lake. The motel room was clean, comfortable, and convenient. It was a great place to rest our heads at night and had everything we could possibly need before heading out for our adventures the following morning. Click here to check out reviews by fellow travelers, too!
DINNER AT ANCIENT CEDARS
Ancient Cedars in Tobermory is situated on a golf course; of course, you’re welcome to dine there even if you aren’t golfing. We sat out on their back patio with lovely views of the golf course and flowering trees. The owners of the restaurant are a husband and wife team: one is vegan and one is an omnivore. The menu is a compromise between their two diets, and it’s comforting food no matter which dish you order. There are some gluten-free options, too!
There are vegan items on the menu, marked with a little “V”. Meals change and rotate on a seasonal basis, so you always have new things to try. To start, Justin and I ordered their decadent nacho chips with chili cheese dip. We were second guessing if there was actually dairy in the dish because it tasted exactly like nacho cheese. No worries – it’s vegan!
Justin ordered the “7 Wonder Burger”, which is a veggie burger piled high with onion rings. You must see this burger to believe it…and I have the picture to prove how incredible this one is. It’s the kind of meal you order and everyone around you goes ooooooooh.
While my main course wasn’t nearly as flashy, it was just as yummy (and a little less messy). My ultimate grilled cheese with red pepper jelly was so delicious. What a great flavor combo! Everything came with wedges on the side.
Skipping dessert is not an option when there are yummy, plant-based treats. At least that’s how I feel. Justin and I split this chocolate peanut butter cup. It was so rich, chocolatey, and super yummy. Order this one if you can!
LITTLE TUB HARBOUR
Little Tub Harbour, also known as the hub of Tobermory, is where you’ll find the main source of action in town. Here’s where the majority of the shops, cafes, restaurants, pubs, and other essential spots like the grocery store and liquor store are located. In the middle, there’s a small harbour where people dock their boats. It’s a very picturesque part of town and what comes to mind mostly when people think about the village of Tobermory.
THE COFFEE SHOP
In the morning, there’s a great little spot called The Coffee Shop where I suggest you grab a cup of coffee to start your day off right. They didn’t have any vegan options for breakfast, unfortunately. Instead, I walked over to the grocery store across the way and grabbed some breakfast bars, bagels, and a jar of peanut butter for something quick to eat.
TOBERMORY BREWING CO
If you’re a fan of craft beer and microbreweries, Tobermory Brewing Co is not to be missed. While it’s a restaurant with a full menu, Justin and I stopped by simply to try the beer. The beer is themed after landmarks and qualities of the region, such as Bruce Trail (named for the hiking trail; Tobermory is the point of its northern terminus) and Fathom Five (named for the national marine park). I ordered a pint of the Sailor’s Delight, a raspberry wheat beer, while Justin tried the Bruce Trail (blonde ale). We enjoyed our beer out on the patio overlooking the harbour.
WATCH THE SUNSET
Tobermory has some gorgeous sunsets, and we were lucky enough to catch one of them. We watched the sunset from a little balcony at the Bruce Anchor Cruises building, right where we’d catch our boat the following morning to tour Flowerpot Island. Big Tub Lighthouse stood tall, off in the distance, providing an additional interesting element to a spectacular sunset.
You’ll be pretty happy making the trip from Toronto to Tobermory, even after a lengthy drive. A little bit of hiking, a delicious meal, craft beer, and a sunset…what more could you ask for?
GLASS BOTTOM BOAT CRUISE
We saved all of the activities that make the Toronto to Tobermory trip even more worthwhile for the second day. We’d discover the natural wonders of the region: Flowerpot Island and the Bruce Peninsula National Park. Justin and I woke up in Tobermory at the Bruce Anchor Motel, checked out of the motel and left our car in the parking lot. From there, we walked across the street to the Bruce Anchor Cruises office where we boarded a glass bottom boat with a small group of nature lovers. First, we’d explore a bit of Big Tub Harbour (a larger harbour, not to be confused with Little Tub Harbour) before heading off to Flowerpot Island.
FATHOM FIVE NATIONAL MARINE PARK
Fathom Five National Marine Park is a freshwater ecosystem in Lake Huron, consisting of 22 shipwrecks (and dive sites), rocky cliffs, forests, lighthouses, numerous islands, and ancient rock formations. Almost all of the islands are isolated and off limit to tourists, while visitors are permitted to visit Flowerpot Island daily. To start, our glass bottom boat toured around Big Tub Harbour to check out a pair of shipwrecks. As it was an overcast (and even a little bit foggy!) day, it was easy to view the shipwrecks right from our boat, both through the glass floor on our boat and out the window.
Two 19th century shipwrecks, the Sweepstakes and The City of Grand Rapids are wooden ships that rest only feet below the surface of the water. The Sweepstakes is one of the best preserved schooners in the Great Lakes. Back in 1885, it became damaged and was towed to Big Tub Harbour. Unfortunately, it was not repaired in time and it sank the following month.
The City of Grand Rapids was a wooden passenger ship that caught fire in Little Tub Harbour in 1907. It was towed farther from the harbour to prevent the town from catching on fire. As it burned out in Georgian Bay, the fire eventually burned through the tow line and the free floating ship eventually blew back into Big Tub Harbour where it ran aground and sank.
After viewing the shipwrecks, our glass bottom boat ventured through the water to Flowerpot Island. As you leave Big Tub Harbour, check out the classic white and red lighthouse, Big Tub Lighthouse. Then, we hit the open waters and looked out to the neighbouring islands as we cruised by.
The narrated boat ride past the shipwrecks and out to the island took about an hour. Once we reached the island, we spent about an hour and a half exploring and hiking around Flowerpot Island. You can stay longer if you’d like. If you’re planning to swim or have a picnic lunch, plan to stay a few hours. We were there to hike the trails and explore the natural wonders. All in all, plan about a half day to see Flowerpot Island with the glass bottom boat ride.
Approaching Flowerpot Island, we caught a sneak peak of a few key landmarks. First, we observed the Flowerpot Island Lighthouse and the light keeper’s home. Next, we saw the two flowerpot rock formations from the water, a glimpse of what we’d explore closer up soon after.
Departing the boat, Justin and I had some free time to explore the island. There are a few different hiking trails, and the highlights of your trip will be the rock formations and the lighthouse. Unfortunately, the cave on Flowerpot Island was closed for restoration so we couldn’t check it out. If it’s back open when you visit, let me know how you like it! From the dock, head to the right to walk towards the flowerpot formations and the lighthouse.
There are two natural “flowerpot” rock pillars on the shore, worn away gradually over the centuries. The tops are completely flat and the jagged rock formations are interestingly top heavy. Greenery miraculously grows from the pillars. According to an old aboriginal legend, the two flowerpots represent two young lovers from opposing tribes. As the two lovers tried to escape their tribes together, their boat crashed and they became petrified on the beach as these two pillars.
Once you’ve enjoyed the views of the flowerpot formations, keep hiking along the trails and down to the shore. The water was a brilliant shade of blue and turquoise. There’s also lots of beautiful wildflowers on the paths, as well as sprawling moss and lush greenery.
Once you reach the end of the hiking trail, you’ll find a wooden path from the lighthouse. Now, the original lighthouse building no longer exists as it plunged off the edge of the cliff in 1969. It was replaced with a lighthouse tower that you can visit today. There’s also a centuries-old light keeper’s house that you can visit, as well as purchase drinks and souvenirs. We visited during the shoulder season in late May, so the light keeper’s house wasn’t open when we were there.
After we hiked back to the dock and waited to be picked up, we met a very friendly squirrel who raced all around us. He climbed up the trees and jumped around, posing for photos. Super cute!
When you visit Flowerpot Island, wear hiking shoes or running shoes, dress in layers (in case it gets warm or cold), and bring your own water. Drinks and snacks might be available at the light keeper’s house in the summer months, but be prepared in case it isn’t open. Most importantly, leave nature as you found it and don’t litter.
If you only want to hike the main trail to see the flowerpots and the lighthouse like we did, plan to stay for 1.5 hours. If you want to explore the cave (when it opens again), plan to spend a little bit longer on the island (3 hours). And if you want to hike the entire loop trail, have a picnic, and see all of the landmarks, plan to stay for 4-5 hours.
BRUCE PENINSULA NATIONAL PARK
Our final stop on our Toronto to Tobermory journey was Bruce Peninsula National Park. It’s worth mentioning that you need to purchase and reserve a timed parking permit in advance to visit here, even if it’s a weekday. The park gets extremely busy, especially on the weekends in the summer. If you’re looking to beat the crowds, visit in the spring or the fall.
While there are numerous hiking opportunities, we ventured down the main green trail to the two main attractions of the park: the Grotto and Indian Head Cove. The trail was a fairly easy, flat path through the woods. It really didn’t take too much effort to walk to the end of the trail. Before long, we were already at our first stop, Indian Head Cove.
INDIAN HEAD COVE
Indian Head Cove is a picturesque inlet beside the Grotto. There are large, flat rocks to climb on and numerous scenic vantage points. If it’s warm out, you can take a dip in the water here (it was way too chilly when we visited, although we saw a group of guys take the plunge!). The water is a vivid shade of light turquoise blue, much like waters in the tropics.
The Grotto at Bruce Peninsula National Park is a clear, blue pool inside a cave. You can take a peek inside the cave from several spots. If it’s warm out, you can even swim inside the cave. I’ve never done this before, but I’ve seen it in photos and it looks amazing. For now, I’m happy to have witnessed this beautiful landscape from up above.
Would you like to see more photos from our trip to Tobermory, Ontario? Click here to see our entire collection of travel photos! You can also purchase prints, canvas, housewares, and more made from any of our photos directly from our photography site.
TORONTO TO TOBERMORY: MAKE THE DRIVE!
When you drive from Toronto to Tobermory, you feel like you’re truly on vacation even though its within a few hours from home. Not from the Toronto area? Tobermory is easily accessible from all over Ontario and beyond. If you’re from out of town and looking for a unique trip idea, definitely take a weekend or longer and explore this epic coastline.
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