Exploring Ontario: The best things to see and do in Manitoulin Island

We have always been fascinated by rural roads, always eager to jump in a car and go on a road trip. Even close to our home, or in a new country, I feel amazing since the moment I start planning one. This time the final destination was Manitoulin Island, with a couple of stops in Killarney Provincial Park, and French River Provincial Park.

If you have found yourself reading this post, you might be planning a road trip to Manitoulin Island. Or wanting to go after you finish reading it, as I will try to summarize what some of you might already know, plus a touch of a little bit more.

Most of the tourists arrive usually in Manitoulin Island through the town named Little Current, crossing the famous swing bridge. But you can also arrive by ferry, leaving from mainland Tobermory, and arriving at South Baymouth, in the South-East part of the island. The best experience is to come one way, and leave the other. You can make your own itinerary; just ensure you’re getting a map to guide you with this tour.

Once you arrive on the island, you will love the fact that most attractions are close to each other, make sure you will not miss any.

One of the pristine destinations, Manitoulin Island has a blend of lakes, fields, and bays. With an area of 2,766 km2, Manitoulin island is the largest fresh water island in the world, large enough that it has over 100 inland lakes itself. That might sound overwhelming, but in fact the island is quite small. An island of many wonders, with untouched lands and quiet beaches, it’s also offering some cultural and unique experiences. It is considered by natives The Heart and Spirit of the Great Lakes of Canada.

For those who love adventure, the little communities host many different festivals during the summer. But what we looked for was the peace and the serenity, the fresh air, and the untouched lands. We wanted to absorb the unique energy emitted by all the pristine landscape and to relax, to accept the gift that nature has kindly offered every moment.

The best things to see and do in Manitoulin Island

If you are planning to visit Manitoulin Island in future, then there is no better getaway place where you can see natural wonders, and visit beautiful attractions. If your itinerary allows, I would recommend at least two to three full days to explore the whole island, and fully soak up the special energy you will find here.

  • Watch how the bridge swings in Little Current. This is one of the nine swing bridges in Canada, that still swings. Built between 1912 and 1913 for Algoma Eastern Railway originally, the bridge operates today in favour of the highway traffic, as it stays in the closed position so that the road vehicles can use it except for the first 15 minutes of each daylight hour during the spring, summer, and fall when it opens to let marine traffic to pass. As per Wikipedia, the bridge has been designated as Ontario Heritage site.
Swing Bridge, Little Current - Manitoulin Island
Swing Bridge, Little Current
  • Visit the waterfalls. The town of Kagawong, or where mists rise from the falling waters,” (in native Ojibwe language) has a befitting name for the eleven-metre-tall Bridal Veil Waterfalls, which are situated a short distance from where Kagawong River meets Lake Huron.
Bridal Veil Waterfalls
Accordingly, to the late M’Chigeeng First Nation elder Ernest Debassige, the Bridal Veil Falls area was a special spiritual place. He related that during the time of the Iroquois raids the Odaawaa magician Maswain sheltered behind the Falls, acting as a sentinel and communing with the mnidoog (spirits). Legend has it that one day when hunting in the Kagawong woods, Maswein came upon a mnidoo (spirit) at the edge of an open plain and was invited to wrestle. Maswein threw mnidoo to the ground, and mnidoo disappeared, but corn grains and sqash seeds were left in his place as a gift to the Odaawaa. Agriculture became an important part of Odaaqaa culture, as was fishing, hunting and trade.
  • Horseback riding. Although there are few places where you can ride a horse, for some reason we had chosen Kicking Mule Ranch. And it did not disappoint. Family oriented, has also few pony’s for kids, as well as a small animal farm for petting. The ranch is quite large, with rental cabins, and teepees, common spaces such as an open kitchen and a huge firepit for all guests.
  • Visit a lighthouse. The Janet Head lighthouse is by far the most outstanding one, as it has been renovated recently and opened for tourists. But they are all interesting, each and every one is part of an interesting history.
Janet Head Lighthouse, Manitoulin Island
The Janet Head lighthouse is an example of the classic Georgian Bay lighthouse in which the keeper’s home is part of the lighthouse. Named after Lieutenant Wolsey Bayfield, who surveyed Lake Huron from the ship Recovery between 1817 and 1822 and named several features along Manitoulin Island after members of his family, Janet Head is a prominent feature on Manitoulin Island’s northern shore, completed on October 15, 1879. The white tapered tower stands 12 m high, and has a two-story keeper’s dwelling attached to it. The octagonal red lantern room held a light visible for 18 km, and a hand cranked fog horn was added to the station later, in 1888.
  • Fishing. By all means, don’t forget to take your fishing rod, and your fishing license, to enjoy the peacefulness of one of the lakes of the island. If you are not bringing your own boat, you can use some of the docks at one of the many marinas along your way.
  • Boating, canoeing, kayaking. All the secluded bays of the island are the main reason we’ve seen so many boats along the coast. You might be able to rent some small watercrafts in case you’re not bringing one with you.
  • Birdwatching. With such a pristine nature, a lot of fresh water, and a clear sky, you just need to keep your eyes opened.
  • Explore the amazing beaches. There is an array of bays you can stop at, based on your itinerary. Providence Bay is the most scenic beach we found on the southern shore of Manitoulin Island, and depending on your plans, or budget, you can linger around for a couple of days. You can either sunbath, take a swim, take a stroll on the shore, or just simply relax under the spell of the rippling waters lullaby.
Providence Bay sandy beach
  • Visit a local museum. If you’re lucky to get them opened, there are several museums across the island, such as Gore Bay Museum, Pioneer Museum, Ned Shed Museum, Assiginack Museum.
Assiginack Museum – Located in the original town lock-up and jailer’s home built between 1878-1883
  • Hiking Either if it’s M’chigeeng Trail, Kagawong River Trail or Cup and Saucer Trail, take your own time to plan it carefully. Check the weather and the hiking boots; or bring your own bike.
  • Finding \fossils. Providence Bay was a different place 450 million years ago. Instead of the cold northern Lake Huron, this area was a tropical sea south of the equator. Some of the creatures living here were Chain corals (Halysites) and Honeycomb corals (Favosites). And who knows how many more?
Halysites (chain corals) and Favosites (Honeycomb corals)
  • Take a cruise on the ferry. The 2-hour cruise Tobermory to South Baymouth is not only for the ones traveling by car, but also for the ones who enjoy the outdoors, dinners, sunsets, or stargazing. Reclining on one of the outside chairs, one can daydream while enjoying the fresh air or the bright colours of the skies and the waters. Cove Island Lighthouse can be seen only from the ferry, as the island is located about 8 km away from Tobermory.
“Eaten” by the ferry – while on the boarding line
  • Learn a bit of local history. From 1836 to 1862, a considerable portion of Manitoulin Island was set aside as the “Manitoulin Island Indian Reserve”. When more reserves were intended to be created in 1862 and the ‘Manitoulin Treaty’ was signed by all, the natives of Wikwemikong did not sign the treaty, leaving Wikwemikong the only unceded Indian Reserve in Canada, which means that it has not “relinquished title to its land to the government by any treaty or otherwise.”

The island is home to Canada’s first European settlement, when the first European Jesuit Fr Joseph Poncet came in 1648. Also, the historic Holy Cross Mission in Wikwemikong is the oldest Catholic Church in Northern Ontario, construction of the Mission began in 1849 and were officially dedicated on July 25th, 1852. All the mason work during construction was done by Anishinaabe labour.

In 1954 the Church, Hall and residence were destroyed by a fire, only the stone walls remained. The building between the church and residence were demolished and removed. The remains of the old church are still standing on their original site, beside the new church.
  • Have a cultural experience – checking up with one of the local cultural foundations, or just stop by to make some purchases to support local artists, in one of their local shops
  • Watch a sunset. Who doesn’t love sunsets? The island is small, and has openings in all directions, since it is all surrounded by water. There are many places you can pick to sit down, relax and enjoy the surroundings, but Providence Bay has definitely stolen our hearts. Georgian Bay waters, the beach, the clouds and the sun can definitely put on an inspiring and unforgettable show.
Providence Bay sunset
Providence Bay

Tip(s) of the day:

  • Make sure you’re getting a map from the Tourism Centre in Little Current, or the ferry terminal, as you can get a lot of useful information;
  • Get your camera ready, as you can see some wildlife along the road;
  • Although the roads might look empty, ensure you drive carefully, as some wildlife might jump in front of your car;
  • Sturdy footwear is recommended if you are going hiking, or searching for new adventures;
  • Make sure you book in advance your ferry, as there are busy times during the summer, and limited capacity due to Covid-19 restrictions;
  • We visited Kicking Mule Ranch and the Eastern part of the island on our previous visit, back in 2017.

~ visited in August 2020


21 thoughts on “Exploring Ontario: The best things to see and do in Manitoulin Island

  1. Wow, what a beautiful place to explore. I’ve never heard about Manitoulin Island but it sounds like a place I would love to visit one day. I would love to discover more about Island’s largest First Nation community and hear their legends, that would be amazing. Thanks for sharing and have a good day. I hope all is well, Christie 🙂 xxx Aiva

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Both names are related to Gitchi Manitou, meaning the Great Spirit in several Algonquian languages, but quite far from each other. It was an interesting experience to watch how the bridge swings, we’ve never seen another one before.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I followed your advice in anticipation, arrived by the swinging bridge and left by the ferry. It was a summer night, the crossing under the starry sky in the light summer air was very pleasant. On arrival there were still several hours to drive to Toronto, I wish I could have stopped before.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Andy for your kind note! I believe the swing bridges become obsolete with the passing of the time, and if replacements are needed, we will see fewer every time.


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