Guest Post By: Mike Hess & Amanda Marcotte, Weekend Explorers at @tillyann7
We met intrepid outdoor explorers Mike and Amanda at the Outdoor Adventure Show this winter, when they won our Facebook ticket giveaway. They couldn’t stop talking about hiking and the Bruce Peninsula and told us we must go there immediately! So we sent them on a scouting-party preview to one of their favorite places. Our legs hurt just reading this but we can’t wait to take them up on their challenge for a full Let’s Discover ON style adventure!
The trade-economy and an early-season hiking opportunity:
For those of you who don’t know us (hi mom!) we are fairly adventurous people. Our hiking logs include Ontario notables like Killarney Provincial Park, Algonquin, and Lake Superior Provincial Park. But even for all of those beautiful places, the Bruce Peninsula is near and dear to our hearts. With stunning views, soaring cliffs, turquoise waters, and charming towns, the Bruce is hard to beat for anybody who likes anything about the outdoors. So when Mike’s computer-fixing savvy got us an offer for a cottage weekend trade, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit one of our favorite places.
We ditched work early on Thursday to make for a long long-weekend and headed up to Tobermory. About 5 hours drive for us, and only 3.5 from Toronto, Tobermory is at the very top of the Bruce Peninsula, which separates Georgian Bay from Lake Huron. A bustling tourist town in the summer, Tobermory is everything you’d want in a summer cottage getaway. Shops, art galleries, boat tours of the nearby islands and shipwrecks, restaurants bars and breweries, plentiful camping, kayak rentals, and a candy shop that Willie Wonka would approve. Not to mention Flowerpot Island and the Grotto – an iconic half-submerged cavern that is wildly popular in tourist season.
At the end of March, though, we got to beat the tourists for a quiet relaxing weekend in a sleepy little town.
Getting your hiking legs under you:
We woke up early on Friday morning and decided to do an ambitious hike around Lion’s Head Provincial Nature Reserve. About 30 minutes down Highway 6 from Tobermory, Lion’s Head has one of the nicest long hiking loops in the area. This loop is 18km around, and follows the Bruce Trail for kilometers of stunning views on the cliffs 200 meters above Georgian Bay.
(The Bruce Trail is Canada’s oldest and longest marked footpath, stretching 900km from Niagara to Tobermory following the Niagara Escarpment. Mike backpacked the entire 168 km Peninsula section in 2015 and still can’t get enough!)
The springtime sun made for a beautiful day, perfect for hiking. The length and terrain of this hike might make it daunting to casual hikers, but in the summer it’s a great challenge and at an estimated 5-6hrs for novice hikers would be a solid and enjoyable full day of nature. Bonus points for taking the pair of short side trail to see the potholes.
On the way to the trail we stopped at an adorable bakery in the Lion’s Head village (delicious apple blossoms) and the baker warned us sternly to be careful on the cliffs. Even in late March there were a couple feet of snow in some places and he wasn’t wrong about the treacherous ice near the edge. With the snow and ice, even as seasoned veterans, we were happy for our Yak Trax and occasionally wished for snowshoes. The views and the great outdoors, though, more than made up for any tractional inconvenience. We didn’t see a soul on the entire hike, and relished the solitude of a deserted wilderness walk.
Burgers and beer are a hard-and-fast post-hike tradition, and Tobermory Brewing Co. did not disappoint. In the off-season, the sleepy little one-street downtown is closed up and quiet, except for a few businesses who get enough locals-love to stay open year round. Tobermory Brewing definitely gets a lot of love. With delicious tap staples and rotating seasonal brews, it’s often hard to get a table in the summer, but the crowd was light and friendly on the holiday Friday afternoon. We split a burger and fought over the fries – which we found out from bartender Chris were so delicious because of a not-so-secret process that even Malcolm Gladwell would approve of (http://revisionisthistory.com/episodes/19-mcdonalds-broke-my-heart).
With no other pressing plans, we checked out the boats in Little Tub harbor and hit up the tiny but well-stocked grocery store. Frozen pizza and an evening by the fire was the perfect cap to a chill evening.
Out like a lion?:
Saturday we wanted to opt for a shorter hike with an eye to the forecast, so we used the Bruce Trail App to find a 7km loop just outside of Dyer’s Bay. This section of the trail takes you to some sweeping views of Georgian Bay from the cliff top, clear south to Cape Chin and north to Cabot Head. The trail then meanders through a peaceful birch and pine forest. Easier terrain than Lion’s Head, this off-the-tourist-path loop would be great for anyone who can finish a 5k and is up for dodging some rocks and roots (wear sturdy footwear!).
After the hike, we decided to check out Burnt Point Loop trail – an old favorite of tourists and locals alike, just steps from the visitor’s center in Tobermory town. An easy hike with varying length loop options and pretty scenery, this is easily accessible for even the first-time hiker. After taking a climb up the 65ft Visitor’s Center Lookout Tower, though, we noted that the weather was already ahead of us. So we took in some views of the Fathom Five islands and headed back to the car.
We swung by the Big Tub lighthouse to check out some frozen turquoise waves and the ice patterns on the rocks of the harbor before giving in to the siren call of those Tobermory Brewing Co fries. With a filled-up growler of IPA in-hand we headed back to the cottage. Watching the wind, rain, and waves out the window made for a cozy, relaxing afternoon while we waited for our slow-cooker to finish cooking the meal we started earlier that morning.
With limited options, and inclement weather, the off-season is the perfect opportunity to slow it down and make your own fun. Sometimes the best weekends are homemade.
As if the hikes, beer, and fries didn’t already convince you, we issue a challenge to Tony and Petula to make Tobermory a Let’s Discover ON destination! Take a hike, grab a kayak, see a shipwreck, and relax with a drink on the 2nd-level patio of one of Little Tub’s summer restaurants. We’ve shown you our Tobermory – what will YOU find?!
Have any photos or videos of your visit to Tobermory that you would like to share with us? Send them over to @LetsDiscoverON.