An Easy Weekend Guide to Manitoulin Island

by | Mar 1, 2022 | Attractions and Festivals, Big Blog, Culinary, Nature and Outdoors

When a staycation is calling, head to The Seven—North of Muskoka

Part of our “Easy Weekend Guides to Northeastern Ontario” series

Northeastern Ontario has some amazing communities to explore, full of outdoor adventures, urban fun and small-town charm. Just beyond cottage country you’ll find the wide open spaces, glistening lakes and spectacular sunsets of Canadian shield country—up here, we call it ‘camp’. When you want to get away from it all, drive just a little bit further than you normally would—and experience the wild beauty of a Northeastern Ontario staycation. 

The largest fresh-water island in the world, Manitoulin Island is a playground for those who love wide open spaces, outdoor pursuits and that tight-knit community feel. The island, which has long been one of Northeastern Ontario’s best-kept holiday secrets, is experiencing a renaissance. These days you’ll find craft breweries, great coffee shops, contemporary art and craftswork, organic farms and artisanal chocolate sprinkled in with the rustic cabins and humble diners of the past. Manitoulin Island is the ideal choice for a peaceful weekend getaway with lots of nature to explore—especially if you enjoy an epic beach and great coffee.

Getting There

There are two ways to reach Manitoulin Island, but by far the most exciting is via the Chi-Cheemaun ferry. Start your day at the crack of dawn with a four-hour drive to Tobermory, where the iconic ferry linking the Bruce Peninsula to the island departs. Grab a coffee and breakfast to-go from the Tobermory Coffee Company adjacent to the ferry docks, and the join the queue to board the MS Chi-Cheemaun for the early sail to South Baymouth. While on board, grab a spot on one of the outdoor decks and get rid of the morning cobwebs with fresh Lake Huron air as you enjoy amazing views of the Georgian Bay region. Make sure to make a reservation early, as the sailings fill up in the peak summer months.

Gateway to the Island: South Baymouth

When you disembark at South Baymouth, stop at the Wigwam Gift Shop and the Manitoulin Trading Post, where you’ll find beautiful locally-made Indigenous art from one of the many First Nations on the island. Choose from a beautiful selection of dreamcatchers, woven baskets, and inspiring art—and don’t forget a jar of the local specialty, Hawberry Jelly! If you’re keen to grab a bite while in town, Island Fish and Chips is a must for those wanting to sample delicious locally-caught whitefish. For those with a sweet tooth, pickup some sinful fudge inside the Wigwam Gift Shop, and ask for a plastic knife so you can start nibbling in the car.

Manitoulin’s White Sand Treasure: Providence Bay

Manitoulin Island has some amazing beaches, and sun worshippers will want to take in the rays on one of the island’s best. With close to 2 km of pristine white sand, a beautiful boardwalk, and plenty of room for sandcastles and swimming, Providence Bay Beach should be included on any road trip on the island. For those looking to hit the water, paddle boards and kayaks are available for rent near the parking area, and a snack shack, playground and washrooms makes it the perfect place to laze the day away. 

Providence Bay is also home to one of the best fish and chips spots on the island, Lake Huron Fish & Chips. Order in advance by phone for pickup, as waits can be lengthy for on-the-spot orders. Take it to the beach for a famous Manitoulin Island sunset picnic, or dine-in on the attached patio. In peak season there is often live music in town on the weekends—even if you don’t actually see the show, you’ll be able to hear it from your table.

“Ontario’s Prettiest Village”: Kagawong

If you love waterfalls, you won’t want to miss Bridal Veil Falls in the small town of Kagawong–the self-proclaimed “Ontario’s Prettiest Village,” which it comes by honestly. Descend a steel staircase to the base of the falls and go for a dip in the naturally-formed pool at bottom, or try walking underneath the falls for a unique point of view. There is a well-marked forested trail (watch out for poison ivy!) leading from the falls into the town of Kagawong, where you’ll find one of the island’s many quaint lighthouses, a small beach, and some great local shops as well as the Old Mill Heritage Centre and Edwards Art Studio. Be sure to stop at the Manitoulin Chocolate Works for decadent chocolate creations, and treat yourself to a specialty coffee and maple butter tart at the Sugar Bush Coffee House

A Road Trip with Iconic Views 

Return home at the end of the weekend on the twisty-turny asphalt through stunning quartzite cliffs that is highway 6 to Espanola. No trip to Manitoulin Island is complete without a stop at the only traffic light on the Island as you wait for the historic swing bridge in Little Current. Before you head over to the mainland, park the car and stroll along the waterfront pathway while you watch boats of all shapes and sizes glide in and out of the harbour. If you’re lucky you might even see the swing bridge in action as it rotates on the hour to allow tall-masted boats to pass. Finish up your trip with some shopping on Water St. and order some fresh fish tacos, bannock and a local pint from Indigenous-owned Manitoulin Brewing Co

Where to stay

 

Other Easy Weekend Trips from Toronto

Get those staycation vibes going with our other easy weekend getaways from Toronto. Visit Northeastern Ontario’s most creative city, North Bay or explore the epic and infamous nature of Killarney. Each trip is approximately four hours from Toronto and offers a glimpse of the vibrant towns and awe-inspiring nature of Northeastern Ontario.

About Sofie Sharom

Sofie Sharom is a photographer and visual artist. With a focus on wildlife, travel and documentary photography, she has visited some of the most remote corners of the world in search of spectacular scenery, unique wildlife, engaging people and inspiring stories.

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