Exploring Ontario's Bruce Peninsula

Bruce Peninsula National Park & Tobermory
  |  Gorp.com
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Unusual karst topography awaits the hiker within Bruce Peninsula National Park. It's a landscape of perpetual erosion, full of caves, disappearing streams, and sinkholes. Be sure to grab a map from the park ranger, as many trails delve into deep woods, follow rugged rocky terrain, and edge wetlands brimming with wildflowers. Park near the Head of Trails within Cyprus Lake and study your options. Will it be a quiet 2 km (1.2 mi) walk around the expanse of Cyprus Lake? Or one of several routes to the shore, all roughly a kilometer (0.6 mi) long? The Horse Lake Trail provides the most direct route out to Georgian Bay and the Bruce Trail, while the Georgian Bay Trail skirts the other edge of Horse Lake, past a stream disappearing into a swallow hole. Orange daylily and yellow lady's slipper lend splashes of color to the jagged landscape. The rugged Marr Lake Trail seems like a streambed in places, but it meets the Bruce Trail on a dolomite beach, where the large chalky slabs of rock give off a strange clinking sound as you walk on them, like poker chips bouncing against each other. Enjoy the views of white cliffs against the dark turquoise bay; walk across a natural bridge, over a sea cave. Giant boulders crowd the coastline near Indian Cove, where cold-hardened divers bravely jump from limestone terraces into the icy depths of Georgian Bay. A warmer, shallower cove attracts families for sunning and swimming. A full loop hike out and back to Indian Cove will fill an entire afternoon.

On the western shore of the peninsula, the singing sands of Dorcas Bay beckon with beaches leading into shallow waters along a boggy shoreline. Unusual flowers flourish here, including many species of tiny wild orchids. Red dots in a sea of reeds, the carnivorous pitcher plants wave in the mild breeze, attracting flies with a stench like rotting meat. The purple blooms of dwarf swamp iris edge the bogs, along with several varieties of lady's slipper. Indian paintbrush raises its red head over the shallow streams. One hiking trail loops through the wildflower reserve, where you'll frequently pause to examine the flowers. The Backlands Trail meanders 0.5 km (0.3 mi) through the lowlands. Watch your step! This is a favored habitat of the endangered Massasauga rattlesnake; its tawny colors blend easily into dried grass.

At the peninsula's northern tip, two shallow bays called the Tubs protect the quaint fishing town of Tobermory. It's a restful base camp with shopping, lodging, and restaurants, a great place from which to explore Bruce Peninsula National Park and the offshore Fathom Five Marine Park. Tour boats depart from the docks for shipwreck tours and to escort hikers to the outer islands. Certified divers are welcome to explore wrecks in crystal-clear deep cold water, but landlubbers will find their fun on Flowerpot Island. Be sure to choose a boat trip that will drop you off in the morning and pick you up in the afternoon.

Two massive vase-shaped sea stack formations give the island its name. Visitors who bring flashlights and hard hats are welcome to explore the island's many caverns, and overnight camping is permitted on several tent platforms along the lake. Reserve through the National Park office in Tobermory. Hikers will find the 2 km (1.2 mi) of interior trails challenging but rewarding, affording an up-close look at unusual flora. In June, the woods sparkle with stands of trillium, marsh marigold, and twenty different species of orchids. The island's rocky beaches bloom with wild columbine and patches of red and yellow butterfly weed. Follow the Marl Trail from Beachy Cove to the marl bed, where giant flat-edged boulders lie like a card deck strewn from a giant's hand.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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