“Sorry!” – Every Canadian everywhere.
One of the great things about travel is sharing experiences and destinations with the people you meet along the road. A woman I met in Saskatchewan asked if I was taking the ferry to Tobermory on my way to Niagara Falls. Sorry? There’s a ferry?
If we hadn’t met, I might never have discovered the Bruce Peninsula National Park. Or shaved a couple hundred kilometers off my route.
Bordering the turquoise waters of Georgian Bay, the national park boasts the largest forested tract in Southern Ontario at 154 km², large enough to sustain a population of black bear, as well as the northern flying squirrel and the endangered Massasauga rattle-snake. Established in 1987, the Park, along with the Fathom Five National Marine Park, forms the heart of the Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere Reserve, and includes caves and other karst formations, ancient white cedars, and threatened species.
I stopped in the Parks Canada visitor centre to get my park pass, necessary for entry into any of the national parks and free this year for Canada’s 150th. The interpretation centre was impressive, detailing the geology, flora, and fauna of the peninsula. Kids (and the kid at heart) would love to spend an hour exploring the centre before venturing out into the wilderness. It’s also the best place to get close to a black bear (albeit a stuffed one) safely! Just a short walk from the centre, you can also climb the 112 step observation tower high above the tree-line for a 360º view of the region.
My main interest, however, was directions to the Grotto, a cave carved from the tides throughout the centuries and a popular spot to spend a sunny day. The hike through the park to the Grotto is easy along a gravel maintenance trail, bordered by lakes and natural forest but once there, the ragged cliffs that descend to Georgian Bay become an obstacle course worthy of only the most ambitious, or foolish.
Undaunted (well, maybe a little hesitant!), I made the treacherous climb down to the cave, at one point crawling under a ledge, one foot hanging over the edge, toes just touching the rock below, the other leg tucked up between my side and the rock face. I left a little skin behind on the rough dolomite but the clambering was worth being able to say I was there. It’s a popular place on a hot summer day and while the sun was out, the tempting waters reminiscent of the mediterranean were a little too frigid for a dip – intentional or not.
On the opposite side of the peninsula along Lake Huron is Singing Sands, a duned area that is home to 46 different species of orchid, as well as the carnivorous pitcher plant. The wetlands area were to be a housing development but pressure was placed on the community to protect the fragile ecosystem, necessary for the breeding and survival of aquatic life, the boardwalk offering a close look at the frogs and fish that inhabit the area.
I only had a morning to appreciate a little of what the region has to offer, including scuba diving, kayaking and camping. I think I’ll go back when I begin the return trip west to check out the shipwrecks and Flowerpot Island, as well as some of the many day hikes along the Bruce Trail that runs 885 kilometers from Tobermory to Niagara Falls.
If anyone’s done the entire trail, I’d love to hear about your experience!