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Manitoulin Island is located on Lake Huron in Northern Ontario. Beyond being the largest island in a freshwater lake in the world. It is also home to the largest lake within an island within a lake in the world. AND the largest island within a lake, within an island within a lake in the world! For those looking for things to do in Manitoulin Island, we have you covered. We have been to the island several times, and list some of our favorite attractions, eateries and day trips on Manitoulin Island.
How to Get to Manitoulin Island
A visit to Manitoulin can be done as a day trip from Toronto, but it would be a long one. It involves a 3-hour drive north, and then a 2-hour trip on the Chi Cheemaun Ferry to get to the southernmost point of South Baymouth. We recommend making a long weekend of it. Either take the time to explore Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park. The island itself can be explored at a casual pace over a couple of days. And it makes an excellent road trip destination.
For those looking to avoid the Chi Cheemaun Ferry, it is possible to drive onto Manitoulin Island via the Little Current Swing Bridge. It is accessed by following the Trans Canada Highway along 69 to Sudbury and bearing left on 6 and on through to Little Current. For those with time to spare, the views along HWY 6 are gorgeous. You can read more about Bruce Peninsula and Fathom Five National Parks here.
Some of the Best Things to do in Manitoulin Island, Ontario
Hike the Cup and Saucer Trail for incredible views of Manitoulin Island
There are many hiking trails on Manitoulin Island. The most famous hike on Manitoulin Island is the Cup and Saucer Trail. The Cup and Saucer trail has 12 km of hiking trails and a 2 km adventure trail that involves ladders and rock scrambling. The Cup and Saucer Trail can take as little as 1.5 hours or up to half a day if you explore the whole trail.
The trail to the top viewpoint and back took us a little over 2 hours while hiking with kids. It could have taken much longer if we didn’t have our Great Spirit Circle Trail guide as the trails are not well-marked. At the time of our visit, D was only 2 years-old so we did not do the Cup and Saucer Adventure Trail but would love to go back when he is older.
Other hiking trails on Manitoulin Island island include:
- Bebamikawe Memorial Trail
- Lewis Twins Peak Hiking Trail
- M’Chigeeng Aboriginal Trail
- Misery Bay Provincial Park
Discover the beautiful lighthouses on Manitoulin Island
A lighthouse tour of Manitoulin Island starts while on the Chi Cheemaun ferry ride from mainland Tobermory to South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island. After a 30-minute ride, it is possible to spot the tall, century-old Cove Island Lighthouse. There are 10 lighthouses on Manitoulin Island. An easily accessed lighthouse is Janet Head Lighthouse in Gore Bay. The views are fantastic but call ahead if you want to go inside the Lighthouse as it is often closed.
If you’re willing to drive to find things to do in Manitoulin Island, you can find even more.. Heading further west towards Meldrum Bay, stop by to visit the Mississagi Lighthouse. Built in 1879, it is the oldest of all the lighthouses on Manitoulin Island. There is also an onsite museum that is open to the public during the summer. It shows how a lighthouse keeper and his family lived. Plus, there is a trail that allows for the area surrounding the Lighthouse to be explored. There are rock crevices, grottoes, limestone ledges, and more.
Other lighthouses on the island include:
- South Baymouth Front and Rear Range Lights
- Kagawong Lighthouse
- Strawberry Island Lighthouse
Explore Misery Bay Provincial Park
The Misery Bay Nature Preserve is the only operating provincial park on Manitoulin Island. Misery Bay Provincial Park is known for having large areas of alvar. An alvar is a region of bare or nearly bare rock where little vegetation grows. There are 4 hiking trails in Misery Bay Provincial Park. It is possible to avail of guided hikes by contacting the Visitor’s center. Since we didn’t have time to explore the trails completely, we stopped by the Visitor’s center first to learn more about the area.
The kids had so much fun looking at the exhibits and hands-on displays we almost had to bribe them to go on the hike with us. We ended up doing a combination of the Coastal Trail to the lookout, walked a bit on the Misery Bay Trail, before heading back on the Inner Alvar tail. We were so glad we went as the views of the Bay were magnificent. And, as it was later on in the day, we had the entire beach at Misery Bay to ourselves.
Experience a Royal Astronomical Society of Canada designated Dark Sky Preserve
Not all the fun things to do in Manitoulin Island are limited to the daytime. Because it is relatively far away from any major city, light pollution on the Island is at a minimum. However, it is so dark at Gordon’s Eco Park that it has received the Dark Sky Preserve designation from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.
The park hosts Astronomy nights at a part of the park where no white light is allowed after sunset. Here, telescopes are set up and resident experts point out stars and constellations. And for those lucky ones, it is also possible to spot the Northern Lights when conditions are perfect!
Learn about Aboriginal Culture on the Great Spirit Circle Trail
The Great Spirit Circle Trail experience is one of the best hands-on ways to learn about Aboriginal culture. The highlight for us was definitely the Voice of the Drum experience. For a few hours, our aboriginal guide taught C how to make his own drum from traditional materials. It started with a smudging ceremony (a first nations ceremony involving cleansing your spirit of bad thoughts by wafting smoke from cedar, tobacco and other items) and ended with C having a mini-performance with his teacher.
Other experiences we had were learning about various medicinal plants while hiking the Cup and Saucer Trail and learning about it from an aboriginal perspective, eating bannock and berries, and canoeing on Lake Manitou. You can read more about our Great Spirit Circle Trail experience here.
See the world’s largest Pow Wow Drum, Peace Pipe, and Dreamcatcher in Sheshegwaning
At the Western end of Manitoulin Island near Meldrum Bay is the town of Sheshegwaning, home of the Zhiibaahassing First Nations people. The reserve is worth the detour on your drive around the island to see the World’s largest peace pipe, biggest drum, and dreamcatcher.
Swim under a waterfall at Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls is in Kagawong and is a very popular spot for both locals and those visiting Manitoulin Island. The Bridal Veil Falls is 11 m (35 ft) tall and you can swim in the small pool at the base of the falls. A walk behind the falls is also possible, although it can get slippery. Entry to the waterfalls is free and there is a small parking lot off of 540 where you can park and head down the steel staircase to the waterfall.
For those that want to have a bit more of an adventure getting to the Falls, there is a hiking trail from the top of the falls. It follows both sides of the stream. Follow the trail down to the base of the falls.
Spend a day at the beach in Providence Bay
Looking for a large expanse of sand surrounding the crystal-clear waters of Lake Huron? Then a day (or two) at Providence Bay on the south shore of Manitoulin Island is for you. The beach was originally called “Bebekodawangog”, which means “where the beach curves around the water”. Providence Bay is less than a 30-minute drive from the South Baymouth Ferry which makes it a popular day trip on Manitoulin Island. For those that don’t like sand on their toes, there is also a boardwalk that winds along the shoreline.
If you are traveling to Manitoulin Island with kids, note that Providence Bay also has a nice playground and nature center (located at the start of the boardwalk). So, when they are done swimming, or making sand castles, you can tire out your little ones on the nearby swing and slides. The area around Providence Bay is popular for Cottage rentals on Manitoulin Island as well. So if you’re looking for a getaway, it’s the perfect place to start.
Enjoy a sunset canoe ride on Lake Manitou
Manitoulin Island has over 100 lakes! And Lake Manitou is the largest lake within an island within a freshwater lake in the world. So, when we were looking to try out canoeing on the Island, Lake Manitou sounded like a great option. We went on a guided expedition with the Great Spirit Circle Trail. The waters were a bit rough as we went out in the deeper water just before sunset, but the views were worth the waves!
For those that prefer calmer waters, it would be best to go out earlier in the morning. Also, joining a tour is not necessary and you can either bring your own canoe or rent from one of the many outfitters on the island.
Take in The Islands hottest fishing spots
With all those lakes, it is no wonder Manitoulin Island is a fishing destination. The waters of Meldrum Bay are said to have the best Chinook salmon fishing in Canada. Providence Bay is also a popular fishing spot, with a fall salmon run filling the waters just off the boardwalk. C lvoes fishing and kept asking to get a fishing guide to make sure we could land “land a big one!”
Step back through time in Meldrum Bay
Meldrum Bay is a village at the western-most end of HWY 540. Settled in the 1870s the town is named after a town in Scotland. It used to be a fishing village but today, the dock is busy with non-commercial boats and summer folk enjoying the largely non-commercial way of life in the village. The The Meldrum Bay Inn and Restaurant is one of the islands top Hotels. It is also famous for serving some of the best food on Manitoulin Island.
If you don’t have time for a sit-down meal you can also grab a sausage, burger or pizza from the food stand next door at the Meldrum Bay General Store. The owners will entertain you with stories of spending summers growing on the Island (tell them we say hi!). During the summer season, kayak and paddleboard rentals are available. This is a great way to explore the Bay.
Treat yourself to Whitefish at Lake Huron Fish and Chips in Providence Bay
After swimming in Providence Bay, a walk to nearby Lake Huron Fish and Chips in Providence Bay makes for a perfect break. It is located on the corner of 551 and McNevin St. The line-up can be long during the busy summer season so try to get there early before the crowd shows up. But the wait is worth it! The freshly battered whitefish will leave a lasting impression.
Get messy with Farquhar’s Dairy Ice Cream
Manitoulin Island has delicious local Ice Cream from Farquhar’s dairy.
Farquhar Dairies Ltd is a family owned Canadian business with origins in Manitoulin Island. You can find Farquhar’s ice cream at many places within the island, but we couldn’t find it at lower prices than at the gas station and restaurant between M’Chigeeng and Mindemoya.
Dance at one of the local Pow Wows
A Pow Wow is a gathering and celebration of First Nations People. They are full of song, dance, music, and food.
If you can time your visit to Manitoulin Island during one of the annual Pow Wows we strongly suggest you go. Experiencing a Pow Wow on Manitoulin island is a perfect way to learn about, and get involved with aboriginal culture in Ontario. You can read all about how to experience a Pow Wow in Ontario here.
Grab breakfast and an apple fritter at Mum’s Bakery in Mindemoya
Through all of our trips to Manitoulin Island, Ontario we rarely came upon any crowds. That is until we stopped at Mum’s Bakery and Restaurant in Mindemoya. This popular breakfast and lunch spot has delicious baked treats. Do yourself a favor and take out a box of their amazing Apple Fritters.
What are your Favorite Things to do on Manitoulin Island?
By now I’m sure you can see why Manitoulin Island is one of our top places to visit with kids in Ontario. But did we miss anything? Do you have a favorite place on Manitoulin Island that didn’t make the list? Let us know in the comments below so we can keep this updated for those wanting to visit Manitoulin Island with kids!
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Having experienced over 20 countries across 4 continents Christina is well versed at travel planning and thrives on sharing that information with others with the hopes of encouraging more families to experience this incredible world that we live in.