Have you ever heard of the Bruce Trail? I have to admit that until last year, I didn’t know about this trail myself! It’s shocking that I’ve spent many years living so close to this trail and never stepped foot on it. More often than not, the best places can be right in our backyard and we either don’t know they exist or don’t get out to explore them.
Ontario’s Bruce Trail (BT) runs from Queenston, Niagara to Tobermory. It follows the Niagara escarpment and is the longest and oldest marked hiking trail in Canada! Awesome, eh? For a trail that sits in Toronto’s backyard, it still has its fair share of waterfalls, cliffs, forests, lakes, streams and incredible views.
The trail covers about 885 kilometers, but the most popular section runs through the Bruce Peninsula National park… and for good reason. If you are looking for a hike that offers stunning views, crystal clear water, beaches, swimming, rugged backcountry and ample wildlife – look no further. The best thing about the BT is that you can enjoy it doing short day hikes or weekend adventures. It’s a perfect escape for when city life has you down.
Undoubtably, the most breathtaking and dramatic section of the Bruce Trail is in its namesake, the Bruce Peninsula. The trail from Wiarton to Tobermory is the most popular. The steep dolostone cliffs drop abruptly into the turquoise and blue waters of the chilly Georgian Bay. The drive from Toronto is only a couple of hours, but the drastic change in landscape from the city will blow your mind. We only had a short weekend excursion here so we started in Tobermory and hiked a section of the BT inside of Bruce Peninsula National Park.
H@H TIP: No car? No excuse ! Parkbus is a great bus service that runs from Toronto to Tobermory with many stops along the Bruce Peninsula …and doesn’t mind a stinky hiker along for the ride.
The town of Tobermory is a great jump off point for starting this hike. It has plenty of campgrounds, accommodations, shops, and food spots (Poutine or Beavertails anyone?). I recommend the Crowsnest pub if you are looking for a patio to have a drink and some grub before you hit the trail. In town you can find outfitters, boat rentals, hiker shuttles and ferries to other awesome islands off of the peninsula (tales for another post).
The section of trail that we covered in our two and half day excursion ran from Little Cove to Halfway dump, a total of 16.6 kms (appox. 10 mi)…not including side trails. When I booked our hiker shuttle, I remember they cautioned us about the difficulty of the trail and adjusting our mileage accordingly. Although what we planned allowed a leisurely trip to enjoy the area, swim and relax, the trail was extreamly rugged and it took us a lot longer than we anticipated to cover our daily miles. Because backcountry camping is only permitted in specific campgrounds, your mileage and route plans are limited by this.
We left our car in the Halfway Dump parking lot, paid the self-serve fee station for parking and had our shuttle pick us up here to take us to the trail head. We picked up the BT at the end of Little Cove Road. Our hike started out with beach and water views. It’s hard to make good time when every turn and ledge leads to another amazing view and you have to dig out the camera. The trail is very clearly marked with white blazes and signs indicating what different blazes mean along the way. The terrain was never level, lots of ups and downs, the odd scramble with hands, and sometimes a long walk across and rocky beach.
H@H Tip: Poison Ivy is fairly abundant here, so watch where you put your hands and know how to identify it.
Parts of the trail were slick, rocky and rooty. The cliffs were uneven and equally tricky to walk on. The beach past loon lake was the perfect place for a picnic lunch break. You may be looking at our packs thinking… my goodness these ladies have a lot of gear for two and a half days. Yes, our packs were obnoxiously full. Our trip consisted of at least one wine picnic in the afternoon and gourmet backcountry cooking. For a fun and adventurous girls weekend, a few extra pounds in the pack was well worth it ! !
NEAT FACT: This part of Ontario is home to an endangered but venomous snake, the Massasauga Rattlesnake. It tends to be docile, shy and avoids interaction with humans. A bite from this snake, though unlikely, is potentially life threatening, so watch where you walk and put your hands. Here is more information on the Massausaga Rattlesnake and conservations efforts.
Feeling sunned, happy and with full bellies, we were off to Cyprus Lake Campground, which would be our camp for the night and our jump off point for adventures in the morning. We hopped on the Marr Lake Side Trail at Boulder Beach and met up with the Cyprus Lake Trail which lead to our campground (about 30 mins of walking from the BT). After a long and taxing walk to make it there, we were faced with another long (but at least level) walk to find our campsite. Not having a campground map, we had no idea where to find our site and wandered around aimlessly before a park ranger helped us with directions. Much to our despair, we found out we would have to walk to the park office and register. So we made another 20 minute walk (thankfully without our packs) to the park office at the top of the road.
At the park office you will also need to pick up your backcountry permits for campsites if you will be staying in a backcountry site the next night. We were able to convince the ranger to give us our backcountry permit so we didn’t have to walk back to the park office in the morning. Black bears are common here so we requested they deliver a bear box to our campsite and as a bonus got them to drop off some firewood at the same time.
Cyprus lake is a drive-in campground which has over 200 sites in three separate sections. We reserved a campsite close to Cyprus lake. These are non-serviced sites but there are flush toilets and water spigots. Campsites here run about $47/night. But…. location location location.
H@H Tip: Be sure to register online for campgrounds well ahead of time. Backcountry sites are limited and frontcountry sites like Cyrpus Lake fill up fast in the summer months. Registration opens early April. I booked two days after registration opened was able to snag the LAST backcountry site at Storm Haven. Be Warned.
Our plans for the morning were relaxation, swimming and exploring. Trails from Cyprus Lake campground lead directly to Indian Cove Beach and the famous Grotto. These are two of the most popular spots, and as a result, are heavily used. If you want them to yourself, you will have to arrive early. The water is chilly, even for the middle of summer, but the brave will take a refreshing dip. The rest will enjoy the beauty of this amazing place.
The trail to the Grotto only takes about 10 minutes from Indian Cove beach. The path to get inside of the grotto is difficult and to be done at your own risk. A hole in the rocks (to the right of where this photo was taken) leads down a narrow crack between the rocks. You can climb down (it’s slippery) into the water at the bottom where you are able to walk into the grotto. Inside is a ledge perfect for jumping into the giant blue hole or a little pool for swimming if you dare brave the chilly water. If you can make the climb down, it’s worth having a look inside the cave. It really is a masterpiece of nature art.
Our campsite for night two was only a couple of miles from Cyprus Lake, along the BT. Storm Haven is a secluded, tranquil backcountry campsite. It is nestled in the woods just off of the shoreline. There are 9 dispersed sites with wooden platforms. There is a composting toilet and a bear bag hanger. No fires are allowed here. No water is available, so either carry in or treat lake water. We enjoyed a hearty lunch (yes, with wine) and had a lazy afternoon on the shore, reading and swimming. The views on the shore here could make all your worries melt away.
Like the campsite name predicted, we were hit an intense rain storm during our last night. The haze held out over the bay for our short hike out the next morning. Hiking was extra tricky when things were wet and the fog was thick. We finished our hike at the half dump trail head where we left our car. It would be a shame to do this hike on a rainy weekend because you wouldn’t experience the views and enjoy the beautiful colors that the sun makes on the water. If possible, find a weekend where the forecast looks good. We were blessed with good weather for the majority of our trip and had an incredible time.
H@H Tip: The bugs here were pesky but not intolerable. Bug spray and long pants are a must for the evenings.
Just because you live in the city, doesn’t mean there isn’t an amazing outdoor adventure in your backyard. The Bruce Trail is perfect example of this. So get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and escape to the Bruce Trail !
What sections of the Bruce Trail have you hiked ? Do you have a favorite ?