Oh Ontario. There is so much of you to discover.
We skipped TOwn and went west and north to explore the Bruce, a gorgeous piece of the province filled with beaches, bays, forests and farms. With the Georgian Bluffs (near Wiarton) as our home base, we day tripped up and down the Bruce Peninsula, beach bummed it on Lake Huron and discovered some hidden gems for hiking, swimming and eating along the way.
Here are seven family-friendly stops in and around the Bruce Peninsula.
1 – Visit the Bruce Peninsula National Park. There is no excuse with this year’s free Parks Pass from Parks Canada. Definitley make time for The Grotto, a short and beautiful hike (do-able for little legs) to a gorgeous crisp, clear and chilly waters.
Trip Tips: Go during the weekday if possible and arrive early. The park provides three time slots to visit The Grotto (based on parking availability.) The Bruce Peninsula National Park posts the status of these passes via twitter. The Grotto is not a sandy beach so don’t expect to ‘play’ – it’s rocky. But bring a towel, picnic and swim. Barefeet are fine but water shoes make for easier exploring. If you’re looking for more shallow and warm kid-friendly beach, drive over to the west side Singing Sands.
2 – Explore Tobermory – You could easily spend a few days here. Located at the northern tip of the Bruce Peninsula and near two national parks, this little village boasts a cute harbour and is docking point for the Chi-Cheemaun (ferry to Manitoulin island) and lots of boat tours to explore the area. Whatever your family’s fancy – it’s here: glass-bottom boat tours of 20+ shipwrecks, excursions to Flowerpot Island, diving, snorkelling and kayaking. On land, it’s a super spot to launch off into the Bruce Trail.
Trip Tips: During summer months, book your boat tour tickets online and in advance. And if you need a sweet stop – aka bribery, there is a candy/ice cream store overlooking the harbour.
3 – Do the Bruce Trail – This is Canada’s oldest and longest footpath – nearly 900 km of continuous trail that runs from Tobermory at the top of the Bruce Peninsula down and along the Niagara Escarpment. Check the maps (and Bruce Trail app) for featured hikes of varying lengths and difficulty.
4 – Say hello to Wiarton Willy – This small Ontario town is made famous by the ground hog named Willy that pops out annually to announce the arrival of spring. There is a small playground and walking trails (part of the Bruce Trails) along the waterfront.
Trip Tips: Also along Colpoy’s Bay, a short drive north west is Spirit Rock Conservation Area along with the ruins of a late 19th century mansion named the “Corran.” Another great Bruce Trail hike and easy for little legs is east to Bruce Caves Conservation Area. Both free.
5 – Hang out at Sauble Beach – Torontonians, think Wasaga Beach or even Daytona. It’s busy but worth it for the 11km stretch of sandy beaches along Lake Huron. Think swimming, sand castles and suntanning.
Trip Tips: Done with the beach? There is Ascent Aerial Park across the street from the main beach. For food, you MUST eat at El Casero Bus, tacos and chips made with locally-sourced ingredients. Kid quesadillas available.
6 – Escape to Southampton – For quieter but equally beautiful sandy beaches and clear waters, head 20 km south of Sauble Beach to this small Ontario town. On the south end of the boardwalk is Pioneer Park, with a little playground, Gerry’s chip stand and look out to the lighthouse, which now serves as a bird sanctuary. Parking around here is free!
Trip Tips: There are some restaurants walkable from the beach. For a fun vibe, check out Outlaw Saloon, a local brewery in the downtown. There isn’t a kid menu but they can adapt some dishes for the littles and bring out paper and crayons.
7 – Travel to Port Elgin – Take a nice little scenic drive south along Lake Huron to another quiet Ontario town Port Elgin. More beach time and a small kid-sized train that does a 1.5 km loop around the harbour.
Any other destinations and tips? Leave them in the comments below!