Stunning landscapes, lighthouses and
shipwrecks surround this beautiful hamlet
If you look on a map the small community of Tobermory Ontario, (now part of the Municipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula), may seem isolated and distant and not really worthy of the long journey to get there, but its isolation is actually part of its charm as it sits at the centre of a unique landscape and ecosystem not found anywhere else in the province.
While the tiny town itself can be fully explored in a couple of hours the attractions and activities for which it is the hub can occupy a few days at the very least.
Centered around two natural harbours: Little Tub and Big Tub, that long provided safe anchorage to natives and early explorers the first settlement was founded as Collins Harbour in the early 1870's it was re-named Tobermory in 1882 by Scottish fisherman after the port of the same name on the Island of Mull in their homeland.
At the time the community was at the centre of a thriving commercial fishing industry yet is was so isolated it could only be reached by boat. Eventually wagon trails were extended north as settlers began filtering into the region and in 1937 the settlement was connected with the rest of the Province with the extension of Highway #6 north from the City of Owen Sound.
While originally founded as a fishing community, overfishing eventually killed the commercial fishing industry yet the town still thrived as a tourist destination and stopover for the ferry to Manitoulin Island and became known as the "crown jewel" of the Bruce Peninsula. Lighthouses, beautiful national parks and historic shipwrecks are the main draws but the Tobermory Ontario area offers much, much more.
Location of Tobermory Ontario
How to get to Tobermory Ontario:
From Eastern Ontario
Navigate to Highway 401 and head west towards Toronto
Continue on Highway 401 West and exit at Highway #10 North in Mississauga
Continue north on Hwy #10 past the City of Owen Sound and exit at Highway #6 towards Tobermory
Continue on Highway #6 into town
From Western and Southern Ontario
Navigate to Highway 401 East towards Toronto
Continue on Highway 401 East and exit at Highway #10 North in Mississauga
Continue north on Hwy #10 past the City of Owen Sound and exit at Highway #6 towards Tobermory
Continue on Highway #6 into town
From Northern Ontario
While visitors to the town can take the long route and drive along the eastern and southern coasts of Georgian Bay the quickest route is:
Navigate to Highway #17 South
Continue on Highway #17 South and exit on Highway #6 at the Town of Espanola
Continue on Highway #6 South until it ends at the Town of South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island
Take the MS Chi-Cheemaun ferry across the Devil's Gap to Tobermory
By Public Transportation:
Reaching Tobermory Ontario by air is not an option
Reaching Tobermory Ontraio by rail is not an option
Bus is the only public transportation option for visitors.
Greyhound offers regular service from both Owen Sound and Toronto to Tobermory Ontario. Visit: https://www.greyhound.com for more information.
First Student Canada also offers service from Owen Sound to Tobermory during the busy summer months. Visit: http://www.firststudentinc.ca for more information.
Parkbus also offers limited service from Toronto to Bruce Peninsula National Park and Tobermory Ontario on select summer days. Visit: http://www.parkbus.ca for more information.
This is how many people reach Tobermory and it is in fact one of the main draws of the town. The MS Chi-Cheemaun ferry offers regular service between Tobermory and the town of South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island from early May until mid-October. For more information visit: http://www.ontarioferries.com
Please note that the ferry is very busy during the tourist season and it is highly rtecommended that reservation be made prior to arriving in either Tobermory or South Baymouth.
Tobermory Ontario attractions and activities
The town itself is very small with a population of about1200 year-long residents and is centered around its two natural harbours. A few restaurants serving the local delicacy of whitefish (do try), and small businesses connected by a quaint boardwalk occupy the land around Little Tub Harbour while Big Tub Harbour (Canada's largest freshwater natural harbour) is more residential and is lined with beautiful waterfront cottages.
Expect to spend very little time in town except to eat, sleep, book a tour or catch the ferry.
The waters off the tip of the Bruce Peninsula are loaded with small islands and reefs. This has resulted in quite a few shipwrecks off the treacherous coast and the cold clear waters have kept most perfectly preserved and easy to view. Tobermory has become something of a diving destination for enthusiasts from around the world and has come to be known as the "freshwater diving capital of the world".
Most diver's immediately head to the premier diving spot in the area: Fathom Five National Park. With 22 shipwrecks from different eras at various depths divers can spend days exploring these magnificent remnants.
In addition to the shipwrecks, divers also have the opportunity to explore underwater caves, cliff, submerged forests and ancient coral formations of the shores of the park's 19 islands.
Check out these videos:
The town's "downtown" caters to the diving industry and there are a few dive shops, tour operators and charter vessels available. The park's Diver Registration Centre is also located here and all divers that wish to dive within the park boundaries must register here.
Diving can also be done at shipwrecks within the twin harbours of the town at the locations indicated in the map below:
For those new to scuba, lessons are readily available.
For those visitors that are interested in seeing shipwrecks but not willing to do diving there are a number of glass bottom boat tour companies that offer various cruise options.
In addition to seeing shipwrecks Fathom Five National Marine Park also contains 19 islands including the must see Flowerpot Island with its spectacular double rock pillars. Most people who visit Tobermory usually take a tour and it is highly recommended.
Fishing was the reason for the foundation of the town and while not as important as it once was a small commercial fishing industry still exists and a thriving sport fishing industry has sprung up in place.
For those with a boat offshore fishing in Georgian Bay and Lake Huron is great for:
Nearby streams and rivers are great for:
For those looking to book a charter fishing tour, visit the following for more information:
Tobermory Ontario sits at the end of the Bruce Trail, the oldest and longest hiking trail in the province. Stretching for 894 kilometres (536 miles) as it follows the contours of the Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, many consider the most beautiful part to be located in Bruce Peninsula National Park, located just south of the town on the western shores of Georgian Bay.
Breathtaking scenic views are available at:
Indian Head Cove
Halfway Rock Point
Halfway Log Dump
For visitors to Tobermory Ontario, a visit to the park is a must as the natural scenery is truly incredible.
With two harbours, and being the best port in this part of the Province, boating naturally plays a huge part in the town's existence. Little Tub has a municipal marina with 50 transient slips while Big Tub Harbour Resort offers both seasonal and transient slips. For more information visit:
Fathom Five and Bruce Peninsula National Parks are also natural draws for kayakers, canoeists and jet skiers with their spectacular scenery of rugged coastlines, cliffs, islands, caves and coves that are at many times, best viewed from the water.
You can also canoe in the various inland lakes located within the National park.
This is an immensely popular activity on the Bruce Peninsula as the scarcity of heavy traffic and beautiful natural scenery has resulted in this part of the province becoming somewhat of a cycling destination.
There are 13 clearly marked cycling routes at various parts of the peninsula with the Lighthouses North Route terminating at Cabot Head about 44 kilometer (27 miles away). For more information on cycling the Bruce Peninsula visit: www.explorethebruce.com
Big Tub Lighthouse is the symbol of the town and many visitors conduct lighthouse tours which include this local landmark as well as the lighthouses on Flowerpot Island and Cove Island Lighthouse. For those interested in Bruce Peninsula lighthouse tours visit: www.brucecoastlighthouses.com for more information.
The Bruce Peninsula is a unique ecosystem on the planet and it is for that reason been declared a UNSECO World Biosphere Reserve. Unlike any other place in the Province the areas around Tobermory Ontario contain large tracts of almost uninterrupted virgin forest that supports an abundance of wildlife including:
White tailed deer
Snakes including the extremely rare Massassauga Rattlesnake
The Bruce Peninsula also falls along a natural bird migratory path and thus a wide variety of species can be found at various times of the year including:
In all over 300 species have been spotted on the peninsula and each May the annual migration is marked by the Huron Fringe Birding Festival in the far south of the peninsula. Visit: Huron Fringe Festival for more information. Tobermory Ontario also headquarters the Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory. Visit: http://bpbo.ca for more information.
The Visitor's Centre pavilion at the Observation Tower in Bruce Peninsula National Park is an excellent education centre and place to learn where the best spots for seeing local wildlife are.
You will also learn the region contains extremely rare flora, some found nowhere else on the planet. Many are surprised that the Bruce contains over 65% of all Canadian orchid species. In fact Tobermory Ontario is known as having the highest concentration of orchids in all of North America. Each spring, the annual Bruce Peninsula Orchid Festival marks the occasion. Visit: http://www.orchidfest.ca for more information.
Most likely the #1 reason people visit the small Town of Tobermory Ontario is to ride the ferry that it connects the Bruce Peninsula to Manitoulin Island across the Devil's gap that in turn connects Lake Huron to Georgian Bay. This less than 2 hour journey circumvents the need to drive around Georgian Bay saving around 4 – 5 hours driving time.
The ferry operated from early May to mid-October. For more information visit: Ontario Ferries
There are camping sites located in the various Provincial and National Parks and at a few private campgrounds and camping is a very popular summer activity. Note that these book up very quickly and other accommodations in the Tobermory area are limited and somewhat expensive.
As the town does serve also the southern terminus of the ferry route to Manitoulin Island these accommodations are also at a premium in the high season and book up early. It is highly recommended that accommodations of any time be booked prior to undertaking an overnight trip to this remote region.
While the town does shut down in October the local Tobermory Snowmobile Club does maintain a trail from town to Miller Lake the connects to trails leading to Lions Head and other points further south. The trails are very scenic and pass through forests, sheer cliffs and breathtaking vistas.
While mainly geared towards locals, visitors can make the trek north from places such as Owen Sound and eventually reach the tip of the peninsula at Tobermory Ontario. Facilities and accommodation are located close to the trail and available all year long.
St Edmunds Township Museum
Located just 3 kilometres (1.8 miles) south of town on Highway # 6 is this small museum opened in 1967 containing local artifacts and history. Situated in the 2-storey 1898 St. Edmunds Settlement schoolhouse the upper level is dedicated to local marine history while the main floor displays local pioneer and household artifacts . There is also a fully furnished relocated log cabin dated from 1875 on site.
Open daily from July 1st to Labour Day and weekends only from mid May through mid October it is well worth a quick ½ stop on your way in or out of town.
Isolated at the very end of the beautiful Bruce Peninsula at the heart of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Tobermory Ontario has long been a destination that most native Ontarian's undertake at least once in their lifetime's as the sheer beauty of the surrounding countryside is legendary. This is no simple day trip though as the journey to the tip of the "Bruce" is quite long.
For visitor's starting from Toronto expect to drive almost 4.5 hours to complete the 300 kilometre (180 mile) one-way trip as you will be driving mainly along secondary highways as there are no 4-lane freeways running through the sparsely populated regions. The journey is well worth it though.
Insider Tip: Be wary of speeding along the secondary highways as the OPP (Ontario Provincial Police), are diligent in monitoring and book speeders regularly.
Pristine and almost un-touched by human hands if you want to see a portion of the Province in its natural beauty that is a photographer's dream a trip to Tobermory Ontario should definitely be included on your itinerary. Do note however that this is more of a summer destination for foreign visitors as the town does for the most part shut down by Canada's Thanksgiving holiday (mid October). Visit: http://tobermory.com or http://www.northbrucepeninsula.ca for more information.
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