Tobermory is a small community situated at the northern tip of the Bruce Peninsula, a 4-hour drive north of Toronto. With its perfect combination of gorgeous natural areas, a variety of outdoor adventure activities, and quaint small town charm, it can make for a wonderful escape from the city.
I saw and experienced so many firsts on my visits to Tobermory: first time seeing a shipwreck, first time seeing the Milky Way, and first time camping. It was my then-81-year-old grandma’s first time camping as well! This is perhaps my favourite place in Ontario.
Here are 10 things you must do when you visit.
1. Go on a hike
The Bruce Trail is a stunning trail running along the edge of the Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. It begins in the Niagara Peninsula, not far from Niagara Falls, and stretches hundreds of kilometres north, ending in Tobermory. The Tobermory region is reputed as having the most beautiful views of the entire trail. You might even come across thousand-year-old cedar trees along your hike!
2. Explore the stunning geological formations
The Tobermory area is most notably known for the Grotto and its “flowerpot” rock formations.
The Grotto is a large cave that has been carved out over thousands of years by the waves of Georgian Bay. It’s an incredible sight and even has an underwater tunnel that is absolutely breathtaking when illuminated by sunlight. I have yet to set foot or swim inside the actual grotto, though — perhaps next time!
The spectacular “flowerpot” rock pillars can be found by taking a boat cruise to Flowerpot Island, followed by a short hike once there. You can also explore impressive caves on the island by following other trails. Enjoy a picnic lunch or to go for a swim while here.
3. Check out the incredible underwater sights
Tobermory is known as the “fresh water scuba diving capital of the world”. Scuba dive or snorkel in the surrounding waters, Fathom Five National Marine Park, to discover submerged forests, canyons, underwater waterfalls, and shipwrecks. This area is home to over 20 shipwrecks to explore — some of which sank more than 100 years ago! The shipwrecks can also be viewed with a couple of boat cruise companies, such as Blue Heron Boat Tours and Bruce Anchor Cruises. You can observe the shipwrecks through the glass bottoms of these vessels or over the sides of the boat.
4. Enjoy the beautiful clear, turquoise water
The crystal clear waters off the coast of Tobermory is an amazing sight. While it can be a bit cool even in the middle of summer, it certainly makes for a very refreshing swim! The shoreline is quite fascinating as well as it’s all very rocky.
5. Discover wildlife
Surrounded by large areas of uninterrupted forest, Tobermory is a great habitat for wildlife including black bears, coyotes, otters, turtles, and herons. I even managed to snap a quick photo of a hawk flying directly above me!
6. Wander through the array of unique shops
Back in town, there are a variety of shops to stroll through. Tobermory offers an assortment of handcrafted, Canadian-made trinkets, nautical antiques, outdoor gear, as well as many snack shops. Try ice cream from Peninsula Supply Ice Cream Parlour, candies, fudges, and brittles from The Sweet Shop, or the Canadian BeaverTail pastry from BeaverTails. The BeaverTail is a delicious sweet treat similar to other fried dough pastries. I fell in love with the Coco Vanil’ flavour when I tried it in Tobermory.
7. Eat fresh local whitefish
I’ve eaten dinner at Shipwreck Lee’s, a fun, pirate-themed restaurant, multiple times. The all-you-can-eat fish and chips made from fresh local whitefish from Georgian Bay is amazing. Each time, the servers were very friendly and nice. One time, we even had a family photo taken by one of the servers in front of “our” restaurant. (Our last name is Lee.)
8. Relax in cozy waterfront cottages
I’ve spent one night in Tobermory at Wireless Bay Cottages. We didn’t book in advance so there were no “official” cottages left. However, the owners were kind enough to let us stay in the place above their office. The view from the second-story balcony was absolutely beautiful. The place had two bedrooms, a bathroom, a living room, and a full kitchen — plenty of space for the five of us. We cooked up a pretty nice breakfast in the kitchen the next morning too.
9. Go camping
A short 10 km drive south of Tobermory, you can camp at the Cyprus Lake Campground located in Bruce Peninsula National Park. The drive-in campsites are perfect for first-time campers. This place was essentially my introduction to camping — as well as my then-81-year-old grandma’s!
We were extremely bad campers, though: we didn’t start our own fire; we ate solely pre-packaged foods; I didn’t even sleep in the tent the whole night and slept in the car for a couple hours. Still, I really enjoyed the experience and had an amazing time. Now, I’ve had a bit more camping experience and I’m a better camper… I think.
10. Gaze at the Milky Way
With almost no light pollution at the campground, this is the perfect spot to gaze at the Milky Way with the naked eye — as well as thousands of other stars! Seeing that unmistakable band across the night sky for the first time was just incredible. I’d also never before seen so many points of light in the sky before… so many stars! Everything was simply magnificent.