The Bruce Trail is Canada's oldest and longest marked footpath, measuring over 890km from Niagara to Tobermory, following the magnificent Niagara Escarpment - a UNESCO World Biosphere reserve. This 10-day self-guided itinerary covers what many hikers claim to be the most spectacular section of the trail: The final stage (or beginning, depending on how you look at it) from Wiarton to Tobermory, covering the Bruce Peninsula from end to end. Each day on the trail affords endless outstanding coastal views perched high atop cliffs and along rocky beaches, looking out across the crystal-clear turquoise waters of Georgian Bay. You will swear that you are exploring Caribbean shorelines as opposed to the Canadian Great Lakes! With limited accommodation options, we've carefully selected a handful of inns located within walking distance to the trail, and have combined these cozy stays with a friendly transfer service. Your luggage is transferred as well, leaving you free to enjoy the trail with only a light day pack.
Daily walks are between 10km and 21km on well-marked trails over diverse terrain – from relatively flat to short, steep sections. Some of the route is on paved surfaces, but most of the walk is on trail with exposed tree roots and possibly rocks to scramble over. You should pay particular attention to your footwear to ensure that it is suitable to avoid blisters and rolling ankles. This is a well-worn path where route finding will be reasonably straightforward (refer to information regarding self guided adventures). The main areas to concentrate on route finding are arriving and leaving towns and cities, and along beaches/rocky shores. The accent is on keeping a steady pace to take in all of the views, with time to stop and take photos. You will need a good level of fitness to participate fully in this adventure.
You will be picked up in Owen Sound (either from your hotel or from the bus station). You will need to advise your arrival details well in advance of your trip to coordinate your transfer details. A 30 minute drive brings you to the small town of Wiarton - the home of the famous weather-predicting groundhog and the center of the 'Wiarton Willie Festival' held annually around Groundhog Day. Wiarton is also the southern start point for the Peninsular section of the Bruce Trail, which makes it the perfect start point of your hike. Check into your cozy b&b and, time permitting, go for one of the suggested loop hikes this afternoon such as the 'Wiarton Loop', and easy 5.6km hike taking you to the legendary Spirit Rock and where you will walk amongst the ruins of a late 1800's mansion (the 'Corran'), and the McNeill Estate. Atop the Niagara Escarpment, enjoy your first view across Colpoy Bay before returning to town where a number of dining options allow you to fill up before your first big day of hiking the Bruce Trail.
After a hearty breakfast at your B&B, you will be driven to the Jones Bluff trail access point. From here, you will follow the trail closely along the scarp edge and enjoy ever-changing views of Cape Croker and Sydney Bay, as well as a pleasant walk through a succession of forest. The trail takes you down into Sydney bay and then back up over Sydney Bay Bluff before descending a couple of wooden ladders and emerging into quiet Hope Bay where you will find a pretty beach, campground, and a small general store. Due to the lack of dining options in Hope Bay, you will be picked up here this evening and taken back to Wiarton where restaurant options await.
Return to where you left off yesterday with a drop off at Hope Bay this morning, after breakfast and check-out. Today's walk takes you along the main trail and around Cape Dundas to pretty Rush Cove. Explore Magazine has listed the Cape Dundas Loop as one of Canada's 8 'essential routes' and you will soon find out why! Highlights of today include glacial pot holes, rare open alvar, walking along the base of the rocky escarpment, and large, moss-covered boulders that create an other-worldly and magical forest environment. Rush Cove is a lovely spot to end the day and enjoy the rocky shore before your pick-up and transfer to the town of Lion's Head where you can settle into your B&B and enjoy dinner in town.
After another delightful breakfast from your hosts, head out for the hike that some claim to be the highlight of the peninsula - the Lion's Head Loop. This is one of the more challenging sections of the trail with plenty of ups and downs, exposed tree roots, and rocky pathways. The dramatic views from the exposed cliff-tops at Gun Point and postcard-perfect Lion's Head Lookout make it clear as to why this is a 'must-do' on any hiker's list. We recommend walking the loop in a counter-clockwise direction.
After breakfast, you will be picked up by your trusty transfer service and taken to the trail head at Cape Chin South where you will begin your walk back to Lion's Head. Before getting right onto the trail, perhaps make a detour north up the beach to check out the whimsical benches, walkways, and fire pits constructed out of the surrounding beach stone. It's as though every resident along the shore agreed to follow a landscaping guideline of creativity. Back on the trail, you will follow the turquoise shoreline until you go inland through a forest of hardwood trees before coming out to impressive Smokey Head lookout with sweeping views over the coast. Continuing south, you follow rugged trails atop the escarpment and the mixed forests of a provincial nature reserve until you reach the apex of your hike at White Bluff which offers a spectacular vista across Isthmus Bay to the cliffs of Lion's Head, where you were precariously perched the day before. The rest of the hike is mostly on a paved road leading into Lion's Head, but ends with a pleasant walk past some impressive caves in the adjacent cliff face and a stroll past the harbour into town.
There are a few options for your hike today, as there are multiple drop-off points along the trail between Cape Chin and Dyer's Bay, and a few optional side trails which can either shorten or extend your walk. For the longest hike on the main trail (approx 20km), you will be dropped off just north of Dyer's Bay near Juniper Flats. Alternatively, you may be dropped off at the trailhead in Dyer's Bay for an 11km walk on the main trail. Either way, your walk will take you past several fantastic lookouts atop the escarpment. For those interested in birding, the Otter Lake Side Trail is your highlight today as you will walk through a nesting habitat (peak months are May and June) for a large variety of wetland bird species. Another highlight today, regardless of your chosen route, will be the Devil's Monument - A large sea stack or 'flowerpot' which has separated from the adjacent cliff face. Your accommodation today is in Cape Chin North, where you will enjoy a home-cooked meal and friendly hospitality before retiring for the night.
Today we enjoy a spectacular section of the trail through Bruce Peninsula National Park. You will be dropped off at the Halfway Dump trail access within the park and continue northwest along the main trail. Within the park, the main highlights are Indian Head Cove, the Natural Arch, and the 'must see' Grotto - An impressive cave on the shore with sunlight from the outside revealing a brilliant blue underwater tunnel on the inside. Other than the park highlights today, a real gem is further north at Little Cove where the trail descends to a shore of weathered dolostone blocks. You will be picked up at the Little Cove Provincial Nature Reserve parking area and transferred to Tobermory, where you will spend the next 3 nights.
Apart from being home to the northern terminus of the Bruce Trail, Tobermory is known as the freshwater SCUBA diving capital of the world. Today is yours to do as you like but guided excursions should be arranged in advance. This morning, you have the option of taking a 3.5 hour guided kayaking excursion along the shores of Georgian Bay, which is a classic way to experience the shoreline (approximately C$80 per person, minimum of 2 participants, booked in advance, paid locally, subject to weather conditions). Of course, to finish your Bruce Trail traverse in true, you should head into the mainland section of Fathom Five National Marine Park where the main trail joins a pretty loop through the park overlooking the park's offshore islands. Coming back out of the park, you follow trail markers to the cairn, marking the northern terminus of the Bruce Trail. Total walk return from your hotel is approx 5km. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from for lunch and dinner options today (not included).
Your exploration of the Bruce Trail is complete, but the exploration doesn't end today! You can't visit Tobermory without taking a trip to famous Flowerpot Island. We've included a ticket aboard a glass-bottom boat today that will take you over shipwrecks and past lighthouses to the islands. You have a full day on Flowerpot Island to explore its many trails and its namesake 'the flowerpots'; outlying stacks of escarpment cliff that stand a short distance from the island, most with vegetation (including trees) still growing on them. Return to Tobermory and enjoy your final night on the peninsula.
You will be picked up from your hotel this morning and transferred back to Owen Sound (bus station or hotel). Budget two hours for this transfer when scheduling your departure from Owen Sound.
Our trip was magical. Zane took very good care of us and he always went out of his way to make our trip the best. He truly went over and above the call of duty! His knowledge of the trails, the history and the local people was invaluable. His concern for safety was comforting. In addition, the bed and breakfast billets were great - the owners were very friendly and made us feel welcomed. Unfortunately, the weather didn't always cooperate and we missed out on our trip to Flowerpot Island and the kayaking trip with Zane. Maybe another trip to Bruce is in the cards!
N. McTague, Bragg Creek, Alberta, Canada, 01 Jun 2017
Per Person, Twin Share