Manitoulin Island is the largest freshwater island in the world, and it’s located right here in Ontario, Canada. Manitoulin Island is perfect for a summer getaway and is considerably less busy than some of the more popular summer destinations in Ontario. This one-week itinerary will fill you in on all the best things to do on Manitoulin Island.
NOTE: Travel is not recommended at this time. These posts are here to serve as inspiration when we can explore again. Hey there – this post likely contains affiliate links, which means I earn a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you purchase from them. This helps me earn a few dollars to run this website.
I have a lot of love for Manitoulin Island. I used to camp on the island a lot when I was a kid and I remember taking the ferry and the long drive to the most western point of the island to a now-closed campground.
Last year, when I solo camped at Lake Superior Provincial Park, I decided to cut my drive short by taking the ferry instead of taking the land route. I wanted to spend time hiking and taking in a few of the sights, but the rain and the schedule of the ferry meant I would have to skip a lot of what I wanted to see. So, at the time, I vowed to return and explore more of this beautiful island.
That’s why I decided to take a week to do all the best things to do on Manitoulin Island and found the best to share with you.
Where is Manitoulin Island?
Manitoulin Island is located in Lake Huron and is the largest freshwater island in the world. The island itself is massive, at more than 2,700 km2, but what’s most fascinating is that the island is so large, that it hosts over 100 inland lakes, which in turn have islands of their own.
The Niagara Escarpment, which famously runs from Niagara to Tobermory, actually continues North along the edge of Manitoulin Island before looping back around and into the States. Because the island is situated in the middle of the Great Lakes system, it’s known as the heart of the Great Lakes.
I am not a treaty expert, but I believe it is so important to recognize the land that our feet travel on. Manitoulin Island is the traditional territory of Anishinaabeg (the Odawa, Ojibwe and Potawatomi) who were known as the Three Fires Confederacy, recognized by the Manitoulin Island Treaties 45 (1836) and 94 (1862).
The treaties have an interesting history, which you can read about while visiting Manitoulin, or get a brief overview of the treaties from the Canadian Encyclopedia. Leaders of the eastern area of the island refused to sign the second treaty, and the region known as the Wikwemikong Unceded Territory remains to this day.
Five reserves – M’Chigeeng, Sheguiandah, Sheshegwaning, Sucker Creek, and Zhiibaahaasing – in addition to Wikwemikong’s unceded land – exist today.
Manitoulin Island is also referred to as Mnidoo Mnis, meaning “Spirit Island.” I am grateful to have been able to visit, learn and experience this beautiful land.
How to get to Manitoulin Island
Manitoulin is truly an island and can only be reached from either a ferry or by a swing bridge. If you’re coming from the north or the east, travelling over the Little Current Swing Bridge will be your best bet. It’s a free, one-lane, swing bridge that connects the island to the mainland.
If you’re coming from the south, then you’ll want to take the Chi Cheemaun, a car ferry that travels from Tobermory to South Baymouth.
The Chi Cheemaun runs from May to October. During peak season, there are three daily sailings to and from Tobermory, which is reduced to two daily sailings for off-peak season.
The ferry has a large capacity, at about 140 vehicles and more than 600 passengers, but it fills up quickly, so you’ll want to pre-book your crossing as far in advance as possible. If you decide to take the ferry, then make sure you arrive at the port at least one hour before sailing. Otherwise, you might miss your boat.
The costs for the Chi Cheemaun vary based on the type of vehicle (starting at $38.75 for off-peak season and $49.10 for peak season) and how many passengers are in your vehicle (Starting at $18.05 per adult). The easiest way to get your ticket is to buy online.
Best things to do on Manitoulin Island
No matter how long you decide to stay on the island, there’s no shortage of activities. From nature to culture, you’ll easily fill up a week, if not more, with all the best things to do on Manitoulin Island.
Experience the Chi Cheemaun
When I first visited Manitoulin when I was a kid, I remember getting a sticker that said, “the Chi Cheemaun ate my other car.” I was 10 – I didn’t have a car – but I still laugh about that sticker. If you can, let your first experience of Manitoulin Island be the awesome sailing from Tobermory to South Baymouth via the Chi Cheemaun ferry. The Chi Cheemaun, meaning “Big Canoe” in Ojibwe, has been transporting passengers to Manitoulin Island for nearly 50 years.
The 1h 45m sailing takes you across Lake Huron through Fathom Five National Park. The ferry crossing is one of the most relaxing ways to get to the island. All you do is drive on, then you get a nice relaxing ride across the lake. You can sit inside in one of the lounges or enjoy the sunshine on the two-level deck.
On board, there’s a cafe, an art gallery and a gift shop plus plenty of lounge space. During normal times, they also host live entertainment and cultural learning sessions with Wikwemikong Tourism.
RELATED: The 37 Best Hikes in Ontario
Hike the Cup and Saucer Trail
One of the best things to do on Manitoulin Island for adventurous travellers is to hike the 5km Cup and Saucer Trail, also known as the Michigiwadinong trail.
This hike wasn’t horribly difficult, despite the 156m (511ft) elevation gain. The trek takes you along the back side of the escarpment, where you’ll have to scramble a little bit and climb a rickety ladder before making your way to the incredible lookout point from the top of 70-metre (230ft) high cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment.
There are a number of intersecting trails here, so make sure you stick to the red-blazed trail unless you’d like to add another 5km to your trek on the blue-blazed trail. I definitely took the wrong trail because I didn’t realize it had been re-routed. With lots of photo stops and a break to enjoy the scenery at the top, the whole loop took me 2h 26m.
The vista from the lookout point is one of my favourite scenic lookouts in Ontario, and this hike is not to be missed!
It’s a popular trail, so my advice is to go on a weekday and either first thing in the morning or later in the day to avoid the crowds. I was only one of three other people on the trail when I visited in the late afternoon in early June and had the whole lookout to myself.
Visit the Bridal Veil Falls
Another famous location on Manitoulin Island that you don’t want to miss is Bridal Veil Falls in Kagawong. This 11m (35ft) high waterfall is definitely a popular spot in the summer.
Getting to the base of this waterfall is so easy! There’s a parking lot right off the highway and a staircase that lets you see the falls from above as well as from the base. I wish all waterfalls had this feature (cough I’m looking at you Hamilton.) There are some other trails here if you’d like to spend some more time exploring the area.
You can also swim at the base of the falls and there’s a little trail that lets you walk behind them.
Lounge in the sun at Providence Bay
Even though Providence Bay did not get off on the right foot (which was 100% my fault), but the end of my trip, I fell in love with this beachy town.
Providence Bay is on the southern coast of Manitoulin Island just 30 minutes from South Baymouth. The town’s best feature is the 2km long sandy beach that takes up a majority of the shoreline and the best way to explore it is by walking the length of the 700m boardwalk that hugs the shore and gives the fragile dunes some much-needed protection.
Most of the places in town are only open Thursday to Sunday, so keep that in mind when putting together your itinerary. The beach does get busy when the water’s warm enough for swimming, but the beach is large, so you’ll have no trouble finding a spot to lounge in the sun.
If you’re not into sand, like me, then make sure to explore the town a bit, visiting the lighthouse replica and the art in the Village Square.
Explore Misery Bay Provincial Park
There is only one provincial park on Manitoulin Island, and that is Misery Bay Provincial Park. While the name doesn’t sound enticing, you’ll want to visit this slice of untouched nature, hiking on the three trails, and splashing on the shallow rock beach.
There are 15kms of hiking trails in this day-use park and you’ll get the chance to walk through some incredible ecosystems. The popular trail is the Coastal Alvar Trail, an 8km loop from the Visitor Centre, past old glacial beaches to the rocky shoreline of Misery Bay. It follows the shoreline until you turn back into the forest and back to the visitor centre.
During the summer, the Visitor Centre, run by the Friends of Misery Bay, is open during regular hours and offers guided hikes in the park.
Discover Gore Bay
Gore Bay is a small town on the northwestern shore of Manitoulin Island. It sits in a protected bay, making it the perfect anchorage for boaters. It also is home to some tasty restaurants like The Codmothers and Split Rail Brewery and gorgeous views from the Lookout and the Lighthouse. Don’t forget to visit the Harbour Centre, which is a mix of Marine Museum and an artisan shop.
Enjoy the vista at East Bluff Lookout
If you know me, then I’m all about finding those scenic lookouts, and the East Bluff Lookout just outside of Gore Bay is one of those places that you just have to see for yourself. Located on the eastern side of Gore Bay, this scenic area is just a pullover spot, where you’ll find gorgeous views of the North Channel and Gore Bay. This lookout is also the starting point (or ending point, depending on which way you’re headed) for the Nobel Nature Trail, a 1km trail along the water and up to East Bluff Lookout.
Learn about Janet Head Lighthouse
Janet Head Lighthouse is the second oldest lighthouse on Manitoulin Island. It was built in 1879 and operated until it was automated in 1955. Janet Head Lighthouse is a classic Georgian Bay lighthouse, with the keeper’s residence attached. It operated in the summer to guide ships, but also in the winter when there was an ice highway between Gore Bay and Spanish.
While the lighthouse has been operated by the Coast Guard, four generations of the Fletcher family have cared for this property. You can get a tour inside the lighthouse on the weekends in the summer.
Discover Indigenous Culture at the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation
When visiting Manitoulin Island, you’ll want to stop in at the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation in M’Chigeeng. This museum, art gallery and cultural meeting place is dedicated to preserving and revitalizing the arts, culture, language and traditions of the Anishinaabe people.
While visiting the cultural centre, one of the artists led me through how she makes quill art, from collecting to dying to shaping and threading to make all sorts of crafts. There were also artists there working with leather and beading.
The Ojibwe Cultural Foundation also has an exhibit on the local residential school, where you can learn about its tragic history and learn from survivors about their experiences.
Admission to the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation is free, but donations are always encouraged.
Check out the Swing Bridge in Little Current
The Little Current Swing Bridge is the only connection point between the mainland and Manitoulin Island. It was originally a rail bridge that serviced the island until the 40s when it was converted into a single-lane vehicle bridge that is now part of Highway 6.
The bridge pivots from its middle point to allow boat traffic to pass through for just 15 minutes every hour. You can watch the bridge in operation from the Swing Bridge viewing area behind the Information Centre in Little Current.
Fun fact: the traffic lights that operate traffic for the sing-land bridge are the only traffic lights on Manitoulin Island.
Take in the view at Ten Mile Point
There is no shortage of stunning views on Manitoulin Island, but I think Ten Mile Point takes the cake. Getting to this vista point is easy, it’s a pull-off point off Highway 6, with a big parking lot and a little viewing platform overlooking the North Channel and La Cloche Mountain range on the mainland.
Since it faces east, it’s a wonderful place to catch the sunrise over the mountains and even sunset is beautiful here as the last golden light of day hits the peaks.
Other than marvelling at the view, visitors can also check out the Ten Mile Point Trading Post, a craft art gallery.
Explore the historic SS Norisle in Manitowaning
How did people get to Manitoulin Island before the Chi Cheemaun? Well, there were three smaller ferries that took being across from Tobermory before the Chi Cheemaun started operating in 1974. One such ferry is the SS Norisle, which is moored in the harbour at Manitowaning.
The SS Norisle was the first peacetime vessel built in the Collingwood Shipyards. It was launched in 1946 to take the ever-increasing vacation traffic over to South Baymouth. The boat could carry about 50 cars and 200 passengers and did so until it was replaced by the Chi Cheemaun in the 70s.
The ship served as a floating museum until 2008 when it came into disrepair. As of 2022, plans to renovate the aging ship to be a functioning cruising ship are in the works. But for now, you can visit the ship in Manitowaning’s Assiginack Museum Heritage Complex, a collection of heritage buildings that make up a living museum.
Hike the Bebamikawe Memorial Trails
At the end of Beach Road in Wikwemikong Unceded Territory, you’ll find the Bebamikawe Memorial Trails, a network of four trails that weave through the area. These trails, hosted by Wikwemikong Tourism have informational signs that give you some historical context to the places you see along the way.
The trails are relatively easy to follow and clearly marked based on which trail you want to take. I took the Warriors Trail, which leads you up some steep inclines to a lookout over the traditional fishing islands, to a historic farming site and a viewpoint over the North Channel.
When I set out for this trail, I was getting worked up about the bears in the area. There was no one else on the trails when I visited, and I was just getting in my head about it. I was dreading walking the trail on my own, yet I knew I wanted to do it. So, when two dogs came out of nowhere and started following me, it lifted my spirits.
There’s a sign at the start of the trail that says “ATTENTION TRAIL USERS: Please don’t mind the dogs, they are friendly and serve as trail guardians. They will keep you safe from any bear encounters along the trail.”
And they stayed with me the entire time, walking with me, then ahead, then in the bush as I huffed and puffed up the steep trail. It was honestly the best feeling, knowing that these two dogs had my back.
Permits for the trail are just $5 and can be purchased ahead of time on the Wikwemikong Tourism website or at the trailhead.
Experience Dark Skies at Manitoulin Eco Park
One of the best things to do on Manitoulin Island is to look up at the stars. Since there’s not a lot of light pollution, Manitoulin offers some of the best dark sky viewing in Ontario. Manitoulin Eco Park, formerly known as Gordon’s Dark Sky Park, is one of the first dark sky parks in Ontario and one of the only commercially operated ones in Canada.
You can stay at the dark sky campground to experience the night in all its glory or stay at the forest campground to access all of its amenities before walking up to the park for a dark sky tour.
I stayed here on my last day on Manitoulin, and I was in a grumpy moody, being mercilessly attacked by black flies, so I was not in a great head space to explore their forest campground. I ended up hanging out in my tent to keep away from the bugs, reading and I remember being so disappointed looking out of my tent to see a sky full of thick clouds. But by the time the sun went down, and the darkness was setting in, the clouds cleared, and we had a brilliant sky, only to be marred by the bright Waxing Gibbous moon.
It was still a beautiful night, and I’m glad I got to see it through the telescope brought out for the dark sky tour.
Hike the South Baymouth Bowerman Lookout Trail
Once you walk onto the South Baymouth Bowerman Lookout Trail, it’ll feel like you’ve entered the fairy world. The 1km trail is easy to follow and can be done in a loop or an in-and-out trail since there are two trailheads.
The trail takes you along a forest path, with many boardwalks and wooden stairs. You’ll spot wood carvings and fairy dwellings along the way. If the water levels are low, you’ll be able to walk nearly out to the water’s edge, but if it’s high like it was when I visited, you’ll either have to get your feet wet or turn back.
Look for the Chi Cheemaun from the South Baymouth Lighthouse
Don’t miss looking out for the arriving Chi Cheemaun ferry from the cute South Baymouth lighthouse. This lighthouse was installed in 1898 to help ships navigate the rocky shore and deep channel into the protected bay. There’s a small bridge that takes you over to the island where the lighthouse is, along with a boardwalk that you can take to explore more of the area.
Restaurants to try on Manitoulin Island
You might say I had a theme going on for my weeklong Manitoulin Island Itinerary – fish and chips. I mean, when on an island right?! There were quite a few fish and chips places, but three really stood out to me, which is why I’ve added them to this list of best things to do on Manitoulin Island. Here are a couple of food stops you must make while exploring Manitoulin Island:
- The Codmothers, Gore Bay
- Purvis’s Fish and Chips, Gore Bay
- Lake Huron Fish and Chips, Providence Bay
- Loco Beanz (three locations)
- Peace Café, Providence Bay
- Sugar Bush Coffee House
- 3 Cows and a Cone
Where to Stay on Manitoulin Island
At first glance, it may seem like there aren’t a lot of accommodation options on the island, which can make figuring out where to stay on Manitoulin Island difficult, but that’s not the case! There are plenty of Airbnbs, motels and campgrounds all over the island. While I was there, I split my time between two campgrounds and one Airbnb, but I also discovered a few other places to stay on Manitoulin Island, which I’ve listed below.
Ten Mile Point Accommodations
I don’t have enough good things to say about Ten Mile Point Accommodations, except that my stay there was much too short!
Nestled atop the soaring cliffs of Ten Mile Point, are four Scandi-style cabins that makeup Ten Mile Point Accommodations. I stayed in the smallest is the four, the Raven House. It’s just 260 sq ft, with one bedroom, a bathroom and a kitchenette. But the real prize is the view from the deck.
I can’t get over how gorgeous the views are overlooking the North Channel and the La Cloche Mountains. The cabin faces east, so you get the most perfect sunrises and during sunset the landscape looks like it is glowing.
I spent two nights in this beautiful space, and just had the time of my life relaxing, reading and making a bonfire.
Even though these cabins are located just off Highway 6, you’re situated far enough back from the highway that you can’t hear the noise from the road. And the hosts were so nice, leaving a couple of goodies for me and a pile of firewood, which is always appreciated.
Providence Bay Tent and Trailer Park
I’m not going to lie; I get a little nervous about visiting places that don’t have a web presence. It’s hard to find out what it’s going to be like, find out prices and availability if there’s no place to check them out.
However, Providence Bay Tent and Trailer Park does have a Facebook page that they keep regularly updated. To book here, you call their number and reserve a site.
While the Park is mostly seasonal, with most visitors with semi-permanent structures, there are several sites open for tent and trailer camping.
The sites are beautiful and well-equipped with a picnic table and fire pit. What I loved most about them is that they are right across the road from the water, which makes for a perfect place to watch the sunset.
Manitoulin Eco Park
Manitoulin Eco Park is a dark sky preserve and privately owned campground along Hwy 6 about 10 minutes north of South Baymouth. There are two campgrounds, the Dark Sky campground, and the Forest campground.
To be honest, I didn’t have the greatest time at Manitoulin Eco Park, but I’m still glad I stayed here. The weather and bugs had a lot to do with my mood, but there’s really not much else to do at the Dark Sky campground during the day, since it’s just a wide-open field and you cannot have campfires (for obvious reasons). I also think that if you camp at the dark sky campground, you should automatically be invited to the dark sky viewing parties that they hold nightly, rather than have to pay extra.
I think if I were to go again, I would stay at the forest campground so that I could check out the trails and other amenities.
Despite not enjoying my time, I still think it is a worthwhile experience, especially if you can go on a night while no moon in August or September since you’ll have the chance to see an incredible dark sky and maybe even the Northern Lights.
Other places to stay
There are other awesome places to stay on Manitoulin Island, such as the Wayside Motel in Manitowaning, the Mutchmor Lofts in Providence Bay, the Inn at Gore Bay, the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre in Little Current, and Manitoulin Motel (the future 12-room luxury motel in Little Current)
One week Manitoulin Island Itinerary
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