9 Top-Rated Things to Do in Tobermory, ON
Tobermory, located out on its own at the end of Highway 6 at the very tip of the Bruce Peninsula, is home to two of Canada's best national parks. In addition to the parks, it has a bit of everything, including shipwrecks, caves, boat trips, lighthouses, and impossibly clear waters for swimming. It's a fun place to visit and makes a great day trip or family weekend getaway destination from Toronto and other areas of Southern Ontario.
The town is small enough to park the car and walk everywhere, with many of the most important tourist attractions located around Little Tub Harbour. Bring your hiking shoes to walk to Indian Cove and the Grotto, or explore the trails near the national park visitor center. The crystal-clear water will entice you to take a dip, but be forewarned: it will be a short one; the water is icy-cold. A better alternative is to bring your floaties or stand up paddleboards, or rent a kayak from a local outfitter.
Tobermory is a stop on the Great Lakes Circle Tour and where many people take the MS Chi-Cheemaun ferry to Manitoulin Island. Explore all the sights with our list of attractions and things to do in Tobermory.
1. Visit Bruce Peninsula National Park
When most people think of Tobermory, they think of Bruce Peninsula National Park. This spectacular natural attraction has a bit of everything: incredible Georgian Bay and Lake Huron shorelines and beaches, caves, grottos, hiking trails, and inland lakes. Camping is popular here at one of the three campgrounds located inland on Cypress Lake or in the backcountry. It's a popular place to visit, so be sure to book well in advance.
One of the most spectacular sights in the entire park and the wider Tobermory area is Indian Head Cove, home to the Grotto. This popular spot, known for its small pebble beach, flat limestone shelves, and nearby caves, is one of the must dos when visiting the area. With the clear, sparkling water and white limestone rocks, it's an incredibly photogenic spot.
The grotto is a small seafront cave that you can shimmy down into through a narrow opening. Don't want to climb down through a hole? You can still see the water in the grotto from above.
Getting to Indian Head Cove takes some planning due to its overwhelming popularity. Throughout the summer, from the start of June to the end of October, access is restricted to those who have made a prior parking reservation or are camping. Parking permits sell out every weekend and most weekdays throughout the summer so be sure to plan ahead by booking online at the Parks Canada website.
If visiting the parks is the main reason for your visit to Tobermory, the Bruce Peninsula Day Trip Tour from Toronto is a great way to see the highlights. This tour, which provides transportation from Toronto, runs year-round and offers hiking options in summer and snowshoeing in winter. It takes visitors to some of the most scenic lookouts and includes entrance fees.
The park is spread out in two locations on both sides of Highway 6: On the west side of the highway is the Singing Sands section. Here, you'll find a brown-sand beach that stays shallow for an incredible distance from shore. You'll be astounded as you walk and walk and find that the water only comes up to your knees. The beach is perfect for wading and lounging and great for families with small children or those who are not strong swimmers. One of the advantages of Singing Sands beach is that the water gets relatively warm - a rarity on the Great Lakes.
In behind Singing Sands Beach is a marshy area complete with rare carnivorous plants. Take the 1.3-kilometer Wild Garden trail that includes a 250-meter section of boardwalk over the fen. The fen area is a peaceful and protected place with many bird and insect species flitting about.
The park has recently built a spectacular visitor center just back from the beach that includes washrooms, an information center, and a concession selling coffee, cold drinks, and snacks. Be sure to walk up to the rooftop viewing platform for fantastic views out over the beach and fen. A fee is charged to park your car in the lot across the road. Go early, as the lot is not large and fills up quickly on warm weekdays and every weekend.
2. Stroll or Dine around Little Tub Harbour
Little Tub Harbour is the center of the action in Tobermory. Roughly "U" shaped, this cute harbour is surrounded on all sides by restaurants, shops, and a grocery store. Most of the restaurants have patios overlooking the harbour, and you'll find a mix of options ranging from the "all you can eat" fried fish through to thin crust pizzas and burgers.
The main road, Bay Street, is a perfect place for a stroll. Start at the boat launch and then head up the hill to the right for nice views down over the boats bobbing gently in the harbor below. Return the same way, with a stop in at Sweet Shop for some fudge or other sugary snack and continue around to the north side of the harbor, where you'll see the departure area for the tours to Flowerpot Island. For a spectacular view of the harbor and Georgian Bay, follow the trail along the south side of the harbor past the Tobermory Cruise Lines offices.
Several hotels line the waterfront and provide pleasant views out over the harbor as well.
3. Take a Flowerpot Island Tour
One of the most popular things to do in Tobermory is to take a boat tour to Flowerpot Island. Tours depart in and around Tobermory and travel through the protected waters of the Fathom Five National Marine Park.
Flowerpot Island is an interesting spot known especially for its unique sea stacks that are known locally as "flowerpots." They make for fantastic photos when set against the turquoise waters of Georgian Bay. In addition to the flowerpots, the island has moderately challenging hiking trails, a historic lighthouse, and backcountry campsites.
In general, and depending on the operator, there are three to five departures a day plus a sunset cruise. Along the way, you'll usually see shipwrecks, easily visible through the clear waters over the side of the tour boat or through the glass bottom.
The distance to Flowerpot Island is only 6.5 kilometers, so the distance is covered relatively quickly. Boat options include double-decker, open-air regular speedboats, closed-in high-speed boats, and open-air high-speed boats. Choose whichever version you are comfortable with and whatever the weather dictates.
There are multiple operators competing fiercely for your business. Take some time to wander Little Tub Harbour and also the location at the very end of Highway 6 to get a feel for the type of vessel you prefer.
4. Stop in at Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park Visitor Center
If you are considering spending some time in Bruce Peninsula National Park or on the waters of Fathom Five National Marine Park, be sure to swing by the visitor center located in the western end of town. Easily walkable from the Little Tub Harbour area, this architecturally stunning visitor center and surrounding area is well worth a visit. Note that there is no visitor center in the park itself, so get your info here before heading to the park area.
Inside, the center has a 100-seat auditorium showing a fascinating movie titled Life on the Edge on the hour. Another highlight is the Fathom Five 3D exhibit, which is sure to entertain both kids and adults. Invest the effort to climb the stairs to the top of the 65-foot-high observation tower, which provides expansive views out over the sparkling waters of Georgian Bay.
Two hiking trails leave from the visitor center and allow you to experience a bit of the famous Bruce Trail. Both are offshoots of the main Bruce Trail. The first one, Little Dunks Lookout, is 0.8 kilometers return, and it winds its way through the bush and trees to a secluded lookout on Little Dunks Bay.
The second, called the Bruce Trail Burnt Loop trail, follows the Little Dunks Lookout Trail and then continues on in a large 4.8-kilometer loop, with beautiful views of Georgian Bay along the way. If the entire loop is too much for you, a halfway cutoff point allows you to duck out and shorten the distance. Note that the longer Burnt Loop trail can be affected by high lake levels; be sure to check the status before heading out.
5. Plan a Camping Weekend
With so many things to see and do in the Tobermory area, most people like to stay for a few days. Hotel accommodation can be very expensive owing to the fact that it's a popular destination, and many travelers need to stay overnight to catch the ferry to Manitoulin Island. A more affordable option is to camp in one of the nearby campgrounds.
The preferred campground is in Bruce Peninsula National Park at Cyprus Lake. Three separate sections, all named after local trees are: Poplars, Birches, and Tamaracks. Choose from any one of 232 sites, but note that they tend to be relatively close together. All sites are unserviced, so RVers should be prepared to boondock. It's best to reserve well in advance during the peak summer season. The park also has 10 yurts for those looking for a bit of luxury, and backcountry sites for those looking for a more remote experience.
Closer to town are two commercial operations: Land's End Park and Happy Hearts Park. Land's End Park offers tent camping and camping cabins, but the focus is really on RVs. Nicely treed sites complete with fire pits and picnic tables come in various configurations of 15-, 30-, and 50-amp service, along with water but no sewer. The park has a beautiful beach, volleyball courts, and a large sports field.
Over at Happy Hearts Park, the grounds are more open. Tent campers are also welcome to set up a tent or stay in one of the camping cabins. RV sites have 15-, 30-, and 50-amp options, all with water, but only the 30-amp option also has sewer. Be prepared to back into your site, as none of the spots are pull-through. On-site amenities include horseshoes pits, a playground, and a swimming pool.
6. See Big Tub Lighthouse
Perfectly positioned at the mouth of Big Tub Harbour, the Big Tub Lighthouse has been ensuring navigational safety since 1885. Still in use today, the lighthouse is now automated. It's an easy spot to visit; just follow Big Tub Road to the end and walk about 30 meters.
There's more to do here than just see the 12.5-meter building, it's a perfect place to go for a swim off the flat rocks. Also, if you've never seen the clear waters of Georgian Bay up close, it's something to behold. Grab your camera and a willing bather and see if you can photograph them swimming underwater. One thing to note: the water is cold and deep beyond the flat ledges, so this is a place for strong swimmers only.
With the short walk, it's easy to bring all your floaties, stand up paddleboards, kayaks, and even canoes right to the water's edge. Big Tub Lighthouse is also an excellent place to go SCUBA diving. It's a popular spot for the nearby wrecks and animal life that live in the underwater cracks and crevices.
7. Dive or Tour Fathom Five National Marine Park
Say the name "Fathom Five National Park" to any SCUBA diver, and their eyes will light up with visions of over 20 historical shipwrecks resting peacefully in crystal-clear water. The unique geological formations composed of dolomite offer additional natural underwater formations, including incredible overhangs, dark caves, and cliffs, making the diving here some of the best, if not the best, in Canada.
Don't worry if you aren't a diver. Owing to the incredible clarity of the water, glass-bottom boat tours are able to drift above the wrecks and allow you to peer down into the depths. Flowerpot Island is located in the park, and most of the tours include a stop over a wreck along the way. Two of the most famous wrecks in the park are The Sweepstakes, dating from 1885, and the City of Grand Rapids, dating from 1907.
8. Go Kayaking
With its clear water and countless inlets, the waters around Tobermory are a kayaker's paradise. You'll be torn whether to gaze up at the rocks along the shoreline or look down into the water to see the sights.
Launch your craft at the Big Tub Lighthouse and head into Big Tub Harbour. At the far western end, you'll be able to float over the wrecks of the Sweepstakes and the City of Grand Rapids, both dating from the turn of the 20th century.
If you don't have your own equipment, several outfitters in town will be more than happy to get you all set up and point you in the right direction.
9. Visit St. Edmunds Peninsula Museum
By the time you've driven up from the Greater Toronto Area and are passing the St. Edmunds Peninsula Museum just outside Tobermory, you may think you are in the middle of nowhere. Spare a thought to what it was like to make the journey up here and actually eke out a living over 100 years ago.
The St. Edmunds Museum, a free attraction (although donations are gratefully accepted), is an excellent spot to learn what life was like for these early settlers. On the site, you'll find a fascinating home dating from 1875 where the Belrose family lived and raised eight children. Nearby are interesting artifacts from the era and a one-room schoolhouse that today acts as the local museum.