Tobermory Guide: A Nature Lovers Paradise
One of Ontario’s charming small towns, Tobermory is a great place to visit, especially for nature addicts. It’s also a must stop for any Canada trip. Tobermory is located at the northern tip of the Bruce Peninsula, just over three hours north of Toronto. Situated on the picturesque Little Tub Harbour, it’s home to quaint local run shops, great restaurants, and two National Parks – Fathom Five National Marine Park and Bruce Peninsula National Park. And there’s no shortest of things to do and see.
At the northern most tip of the Bruce Peninsula is Tobermory. Tobermory is this adorable little village that oozes charm. From its two harbours, Big Tub and Little Tub, with their endearing names, to the mix of eclectic shops and places to eat, all of which are local (you won’t find chain stores here!), you can’t help but smile. Even the people were lovely, from the shop owner who gave us the lowdown on where to eat to our waitress at our favourite pub who was sweet and funny. It’s places like these that draw us in and make us feel right at home. It’s no wonder why people visit Tobermory again and again.
Things to Do in Tobermory
Cruise through Fathom Five National Marine Park
The Bruce Peninsula is home to two National Parks, one on land – Bruce Peninsula National Park, and one in the water – Fathom Five National Marine Park. Part of the Niagara Escarpment UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Fathom Five has a unique ecosystem and is home to 20 islands, over 20 shipwrecks, and stunning crystal clear turquoise waters. We took a boat cruise out to Flowerpot Island and along the way, it took us over two shipwrecks. I was honestly floored. I had no idea that they would be in shallow water, of which was incredibly clear and be so huge and nearly intact after all these years. Looking over the top deck of the boat I was awestruck.
Go Scuba Diving
Tobermory is home to over 20 historic shipwrecks. And five of them are located within Big Tub and Little Tub Harbours. With impeccably clear waters, Tobermory is known as one of the best fresh water places to dive in the world. Along with shipwrecks there are geological wonders including; swim-throughs, overhangs, sinkholes, and limestone shoals.
Don’t worry if you’ve never dived before. Tobermory’s dive shops offer PADI Discover Scuba Diving experiences for first-time divers. You can jump on one of the boats heading out and go diving or snorkeling. But ensure you register with Parks Canada before entering the water as the waters that surround Tobermory are part of the Fathom Five National Marine Park.
Visit Flowerpot Island
Flowerpot Island is known for its natural rock sea stacks, made from wind and water, and are affectionately called flowerpots. The Island is located a short boat ride from Tobermory and a must see. I loved approaching by boat and seeing its awesome flowerpots from the water. But I was so glad we decided to get off and explore the island for half the day. We hiked the trail through the forest, past plenty of garter snakes and to the tune of many a songbird. Then we hiked the trail that takes you along the island’s coast to the impressive flowerpots. It was so nice and peaceful to explore the island, not just the flowerpots where most of the visitors stayed, as it’s not inhabited and only offers a select few campgrounds. One of the highlights of our time on Flowerpot Island was catching sight of a bald eagle, who call the island home, flying just over the largest flowerpot.
Hike the Bruce Peninsula National Park
This over 150 square kilometre National Park is home to a wide array of habitats, from meadows to wetlands and lakes to rocky beaches. Bruce Peninsula National Park also has a ton of epic lookouts and vistas like Indian Cove and the world-famous Grotto. Hiking the trails through the park, around the serene Cyprus Lake and out to Georgian Bay we were able to catch sight of many of the natural wonders of the park. After the Grotto, we continued along the coast, along a huge rocky bay called Boulder Beach. Instead of heading back along Marr Lake Trail we went on the hunt for more epic views. So we continued along the Bruce Trail and just passed the beach we ascended a steep trail leading to more hidden lookouts just off the trail. I’m so thrilled to say I didn’t let my fear of heights hold me back as some of these vistas were obtained by doing a bit of minor rock climbing down and back up some narrow cliffs. But the sheer glorious views were so worth it.
Visit the Grotto
Located in the Bruce Peninsula National Park, the Grotto is the Bruce Peninsula’s most famous and popular attraction. Set in Georgian Bay’s crystal clear waters, on the coast lies a limestone cave that is reminiscent of the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. It’s a beautiful setting for photography, simply enjoying this natural wonder, or swimming in its refreshing waters in the summer. (But please note – swim at your own risk as it can be dangerous)
To get to the Grotto you have to hike in from Cyprus Lake. The hike takes about 45 minutes each way, though ancient cedars, wetlands and past Indian Head Cove.
Stroll the Boardwalk
Located along Tobermory’s south shore of Little Tub Harbour you’ll discover a lovely boardwalk trail. The trail runs from the Bruce Trail Northern Terminus Cairn, across from the Blue Bay Motel, east along Bay Street. A mix of walkway and boardwalk, it’s a great place to stroll along the harbour and enjoy the views that only Tobermory can offer. And be sure to look out for the large beached old boat that’s been overtaken by vegetation.
Visit Big Tub Lighthouse
The Big Tub Lighthouse is one of eight lighthouses found on the Bruce Peninsula. But this picturesque one is located right in Tobermory on, you guessed it, Big Tub Harbour. Originally built in 1885, the lighthouse sits on a beautiful spot. You can wander over the rocky shores, have a picnic, or watch one of Tobermory’s stunning sunsets.
Ascend the 65 foot (20 metre) Lookout Tower, located in the Bruce Peninsula National Park by the Visitor Centre. Take the over 100 steps to the top for epic 360 degree views over Tobermory, the Bruce Peninsula National Park, and the mighty Fathom Five National Marine Park.
Hunt for Orchids
The Bruce Peninsula is considered one of the best places in the world for orchids. Covering Tobermory’s Bruce Peninsula National Park during late spring into early summer, there are over 40 species of orchids found on the Peninsula. In comparison, there are 77 species in Canada, of which 61 are in Ontario, and 44 of those are found on the Bruce Peninsula.
There’s even an Orchid Festival in the beginning of June, with various events, hikes, and guided tours. Some beauties to look for include the Yellow Lady Slipper, the tiny Ram’s Head, and the Calypso orchid that can be found on Flowerpot Island. But please be mindful of these delicate flowers. They can’t be replanted, trampling them will kill them, and some even take years to bloom.
Where to Eat
For breakfast, there is three main spots; Leesides with a water view, Craigie’s, and the Princess Hotel that offers affordable meals with a view. For lunch, head to Foodland’s deli counter for a fresh sandwich, or The Coffee Shop for a sandwich, samosa, or salad. For dinner, enjoy fish & chips from one two restaurants, for a classier meal and drinks head to Tobermory Brewing Company & Grill, and for traditional pub grub visit Crowsnest Pub with rooftop views of Tobermory.
Where to Shop
Tobermory is full of charming shops where you can purchase everything from traditional souvenirs to paintings of the area, and so much more. A great start is the Trading Post, selling an array of gifts, clothing, Canadian-made pieces, and moccasins. Another great shop is the Mariner Chart Shop, full of attire, jewellery, books, home decor, and all things nautical.
Where to Stay
Many rent out cabins or stay in campsites in and around the Tobermory area. But there is a variety of accommodations right in Tobermory, like the Princess Hotel, Blue Bay Motel, and Harbourside Motel, all located right on the Little Tub Harbour. There is also a resort on Big Tub Harbour, and a few Bed & Breakfasts in the area.
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