Sunday, August 27, 2017

Bruce Peninsula & Fathom Five National Parks

We've never been to the Bruce Peninsula before so we decided it was time to check out this beautiful part of Ontario. We booked 4 nights at Bruce Peninsula National Park with the intention of exploring the park as well as Fathom Five National Marine Park.

Our first day was spent mostly travelling. We stopped for lunch at Forks of the Credit Provincial Park which was handy since it was pretty much the halfway point of the trip. There were vault toilets and a couple of picnic tables there and what looked like some good hiking. We didn't do any hiking since everyone was keen to get to our campsite. We had a fairly quick lunch and we were off again. We arrived at the park around 2:00, got the site setup then went to check out Cyprus Lake. 

Our second day was full of sighteeing at Fathom Five National Marine Park. We had booked a trip over to Flowerpot Island (about 2 weeks in advance) through Bruce Anchor Tours. When we booked we had a choice of which one their boats we wanted to take. We chose the open boat, called the Crusader, more because of the timing than anything but it turned out to be the right choice. It was a smaller boat but it was very easy to see over the side when the tour went over the ship wrecks and it was fun riding in the open air.

The tour began by heading into Big Tub Harbour to see two ship wrecks. The first was the 119 foot Sweepstakes, a schooner built in 1867. It lies on the bottom still intact from bow to stern. The second wreck was the City of Grand Rapids, a steamer that carried both passengers and cargo. It was amazing how easy it was to see these wrecks from the surface.

Shipwrecks From Above
Following the tour of the shipwrecks we were off to Flowerpot Island. We knew that the lighthouse and the caves on the island were closed this season but we still booked a four hour stay on the island. Had the lighthouse and caves been open I think we would have needed more time. We walked along the trail to Little Flowerpot. We spent a fair bit of time looking at the rock structure and playing in the water. We then moved onto the Big Flowerpot. Again we explored the area and played in the water. Before we knew it we were all getting hungry. We decided to make our way back to some picnic tables for lunch. We chose a table out in the sun rather than under the shelter. It was a cool day so a bit of sun would help warm us up. It was also the day of the solar eclipse so we figured  the sun's rays wouldn't be full strength. We had a great lunch and enjoyed the scenery before catching the boat back. We'll have to make another trip to see the lighthouse and the caves on the island.

Little Flowerpot 

Little Flowerpot From the Water

Big Flowerpot

Big Flowerpot
Upon our return to the mainland we had a bit of time to kill before our son and I went on a snorkelling tour. We wandered around the waterfront and looked at the huge boats in the harbour. Our tour was with Diver's Den so we made our way to their shop and got outfitted for snorkelling.  We managed to squeeze into our wetsuits and get all the other gear we needed. It was still early so we took off our gear and wandered the waterfront some more. We noticed that the Chi-Cheemaun, the ferry to Manitoulin Island, was unloading so we went over to have a look. It took no time to unload and before long they were loading up again.

We made our way back to the Diver's Den, got suited up and headed to the water to wait for the boat. The tour took us to Big Tub Harbour where we got to explore the wrecks we had seen from above the water in the morning. The tour was two hours long and I'd guess we were in the water for about an hour and a half. I had been worried that two hours might be a long time for us to be swimming but as it turns out the wetsuits kept up afloat with no effort on our part. The snorkelling somehow seemed magical. It was like we were transported back in time 150 years. The sights of the ships had us imagining what it must have been like to have sailed these great ships so long ago.

Snorkelling Time 

Windlass on the Sweepstakes

Starboard Railing

Bottom of the Hull of the City of Grand Rapids

City of Grand Rapids

City of Grand Rapids Boiler

While we were snorkelling the girls headed to Mermaid Cove to explore and swim. They had a great time there then headed into Tobermory to do some shopping, at A Mermaid's Secret no less. By the time they were done shopping we were just arriving back in the harbour. We dropped off all of the snorkelling gear and headed for fish and chips at The Fish & Chip Place. The food was great, the service was quick and staff were friendly. It was a fun-filled day.

Mermaid Cove
Across the road from The Fish & Chip Place we found this cairn that indicates the northern end of the Bruce Trail. Finding this made me want to hike all 890 km of the trail to find the other end. Alas, that's an adventure that will have to wait until some other time.

Northern Terminus of the Bruce Traila

On the third day we woke up to rain and cool temperatures. We decided it would be a good day to visit the park Visitor Centre. The Visitor Centre is very well done. We were entertained for a long time and learned a lot while there. Once we were done at the Visitor Centre we climbed up the lookout tower. It was a very windy day so you could feel the tower swaying in the wind. The view from the top was great. Lake Huron on one side, Georgian bay on the other.

How Fathom Five Got Its Name

View from the Lookout Tower
We followed the trail at the bottom of the tower to Little Dunks Bay and enjoyed the view.

Resting At Little Dunks Bay

Little Dunks Bay
We headed back to our campsite for some dinner and the wind was still just howling (as it did for most of our trip). As we ate we couldn't help talking about how windy it was. "Imagine how big the waves must be on Lake Huron!" So after we cleaned up the site we headed to Singing Sands, on the Lake Huron side of the peninsula, to watch the sun set. The bay is very shallow so you don't see the big waves up close but as we looked out into the open lake we could see the massive waves. It was a beautiful sunset and we decided that we should go back during the day for a swim.

Strong Wind Off Lake Huron

Sunset at Singing Sands Beach
Day four was our last full day so we made the most of it. The plan was to hike to the Grotto and check it out then move on to Overhanging Point. As luck would have it we timed our visit to the Grotto just right (completely by accident). The first wave of visitors was well on the way back to the parking lot and second wave hadn't begun yet (due to time slot parking). There were other campers there but not that many. We did have intentions of swimming but it wasn't that warm and the wind was really strong. Brrrr.

Natural Arch

Indian Head Cove

Looking Down at the Grotto

The Way Down

On the Way Down

Inside the Grotto

Looking Out Into Georgian Bay From the Grotto

Time to Make Our Way Back Up

Going Up
From the Grotto we continued along the trail in search of Overhanging Point. There were some spectacular views of Georgian Bay, giant waves and all.
Waves Crashing 
Waves Soaking
We made our way across Boulder Beach, which was no small feat. The beach is just a bunch of loose rock which makes walking difficult (especially for little people). We did, however, make our way across the beach to the much more rugged section of trail. The trail was great and the kids were doing a great job of hiking.
Boulder Beach

En Route to Overhanging Point
At one point we came to a rock lined hole next to the trail. This seemed like it might be the way down to see the overhang but we thought we'd press on and perhaps head down the rabbit hole on the way back. A short while later we found a bit of a hidden path that led us to the underside of the overhang. It was incredible to see how much of the rock had been eroded by wave action so long ago.

Huge Overhang

The View From Under the Overhang
We had our lunch under the overhang then hiked back. It was much busier on the way back. There was a line up of people waiting to go down the rabbit hole, so we decided to pass. The Grotto and Indian Head Cove were super busy. I'm glad we arrived when we did. We hiked back to Cyprus Lake and by this point we were ready for a swim. The water was warm but the wind was quite cool.  I wasn't in for very long but the kids were as happy as could be. We headed back to the site to throw together some dinner before heading out to one of the parks interpretive programs. The program was a campfire with one of the park staff telling First Nations stories. It was very entertaining and the presenter did a great job. Another day of adventure in the books.

On the last day we packed up and headed to Singing Sands. We figured we could do some hiking then go for a swim. We had a great hike but we all thought it was a bit cool for swimming. So we had some lunch, packed up and headed for home.

What a great trip! This trip was quite different from most of our camping trips but we saw and did a ton. It seemed as though we were hardly ever at our campsite. Despite being so busy and seeing so much I feel that we really could have used another day or two to explore. There were lots of trails that we didn't get to explore and we didn't have a chance to paddle Cyprus Lake. All the more reason to come back some time.

Do you have any favourite activities to do while at Bruce Peninsula National Park or Fathom Five National Marine Park? We'd love to hear about them.

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