The Bruce Peninsula is one of the most beautiful destinations in Ontario for an outdoor getaway. Located four hours’ drive northwest of Toronto, this finger of land that juts into Lake Huron is home to two national parks — Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park — as well as Caribbean-blue water, unusual rock formations, and miles of hiking trails.
And while you might not think of Canada as a place for scuba-diving and snorkeling, you can do both along the Bruce Peninsula. It’s one of the best places for shipwreck diving, and even snorkelers can see the remains of several historic ships that met their watery end in this Great Lakes region.
I’ve been lucky enough to make several trips to the Bruce Peninsula, while researching and updating my travel guide, Moon Handbooks: Ontario, and its companion guide, Moon Spotlight: Georgian Bay and Cottage Country. Here are three of the accommodations that I’d recommend when you’re looking for a place to stay on the Bruce Peninsula.
If you’d like to stay in the heart of the Bruce Peninsula’s action, sleep in Tobermory, the small summer-holiday town at the peninsula’s northern tip. The National Park Visitor Centre is located here, and nearby, you can hike to the Grotto and Indian Head Cove, two of the park’s most beautiful shoreside spots. From Tobermory’s Little Tub Harbour, you can take a boat tour to Flowerpot Island to see the distinctive “flowerpot” rock formations or head out on a snorkeling or diving excursion.
Tobermory doesn’t have much for “luxury” accommodations; most sleeping options in town are simple motels or inns. One of the nicest of these comfortable motels is the friendly, family-owned Blue Bay Motel, just above Little Tub Harbour.
The 16 guest rooms are basic, but they’ve been updated with new linens, coffeemakers, and mini-fridges. Half the rooms have queen beds, some have two doubles, and a couple of rooms have one king. Book a unit on the second floor for peek-a-boo water views (the first-floor rooms face the parking area). The motel has two bicycles that guests can borrow to tour the area on two wheels.
Like many Tobermory lodgings, the Blue Bay is open seasonally from May through mid-October. Make reservations early for weekend stays, particularly in July and August. High-season double room rates are CAD$159-215.
TIP: While you’re in Tobermory, stop for a butter tart at the Little Tub Bakery.
The quiet town of Lion’s Head overlooks Georgian Bay at about the midpoint of the Bruce Peninsula, which makes it a central base for exploring. Lion’s Head Beach is a peaceful sandy spot to swim, and on Saturday mornings, there’s a beachside farmers’ market. On the town’s south side, Lion’s Head Provincial Park is known for its unusual “potholes,” deep cylinders eroded into the limestone rocks.
Set right on the lake, the Lion’s Head Beach Motel and Cottages is a good choice if you’re traveling with kids or you’d like a little more space. This independently owned lodging feels old-fashioned, but the larger-than-average rooms, all with kitchenettes, give you room to spread out. In addition to the motel units, which start at about CAD$125/night, there are several newer two- and three-bedroom cottages that would be even more comfortable for a family.
Located at the southern end of the Bruce Peninsula, the town of Owen Sound is filled with cultural attractions. It’s close enough to the peninsula’s parks and beaches that you can find plenty to do both indoors and out.
In Owen Sound, the excellent Grey Roots Museum and Archives highlights the region’s history and culture with multimedia exhibits, radio stories, and interactive displays. The Tom Thomson Art Gallery shows work by the noted Group of Seven landscape painter and other Ontario artists, while the Billy Bishop Home and Museum was the childhood residence of William Avery Bishop, a fighter pilot who became one of the most decorated Canadians to serve in the First World War. In the late 1880s, many former slaves who escaped from U.S. plantations via the Underground Railroad settled in the Owen Sound area, and you can also explore several sites related to the community’s Black Heritage.
In a town with so many historic attractions, it’s fitting to stay in a historic B&B. The Victorian home that now houses the MacLean Estate Bed & Breakfast was built around the turn of the 20th century and still retains its original pocket doors, leaded glass windows, and other traditional features.
The largest of the three guest rooms, the Dr. J.A. Hershey King Turret Room, really does have a turret, as well as a private bath. The other two rooms share a large bathroom in the hall. Personable owners Jamie Heimbecker and Matthew MacLean have updated the property with Wi-Fi, DVD players, and air-conditioning, and they serve a hearty breakfast each morning. High-season double rates are a very reasonable CAD$119-139/night.
For more information about planning a trip to the Bruce Peninsula, check out Visit Georgian Bay.
Hotel feature by Vancouver-based travel, food, and feature writer Carolyn B. Heller, author of the books Moon Vancouver and Canadian Rockies Road Trip, Moon Handbooks: Ontario (now available in a new 2nd edition) and Living Abroad in Canada. Photos © Carolyn B. Heller.