The Best Things to Do in Manitoulin Island

Written By: The Planet D

Located in Northern Ontario on the shores of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, Manitoulin Island is the largest freshwater island in the world. There are many things to do in Manitoulin Island from learning about First Nation heritage on the Great Spriti Circle Trail to enjoying the beauty of Lake Huron, here are the best ideas to help you plan your trip.

Just think of exploring 2766 km2 (1167 square miles) of pristine landscape. Part of the Niagara Escarpment, Manitoulin Island offers some amazing nature experiences, incredible hiking trails, cultural experiences and more. Here here are our top picks for what you can’t miss when visiting Manitoulin Island . 

What to Do In Manitoulin Island

How to get to Manitoulin Island?

You can drive directly to Manitoulin Island from Toronto up the 400 to Highway 6. The trip takes 6 hours.
You can also take the Chi Cheemaun ferry from May to Oct. The two-hour ride will take you to South Baymouth.

What makes Manitoulin Island special?

Manitoulin Island is the world’s largest freshwater island. It also houses the largest lake within a freshwater island in the world.

What is not to be missed on Manitoulin Island.

You must visit the Great Spirit Circle Trail and immerse in Innishanabe Culture, hike to the Cup and Saucer Trail and take a dip at Bridal Veil Falls.

1. Great Spirit Circle Trail

A First Nations Drum Ceremony
First Nation Drum Ceremonial Dance

We highly recommend taking a tour with the Great Spirit Circle Trail You can hike this on your own, or take a tour. You will learn about native flora and fauna and local customs and legends of the First Nations people.  It is one of the best experiences for cultural travel we’ve ever had in Canada and if you go to Manitoulin Island, be sure to check out the visitor’s centre to learn of all the amazing First Nation’s experiences.

2. Horseback Riding

things to do on manitoulin island horseback riding

Step back in time to go horseback riding on Manitoulin Island and spend a night camping on the island. Take in the beautiful view of the island from the plateau as you get to know your horse. Riding on Manitoulin is a fun and challenging ride with a lot of ascents and descents on rocky trails. For a real rustic Ontario experience, this is the trip for us!

3. Bridal Veil Falls

bridal veil falls northeastern ontario
Beautiful Waterfalls

Even our bank teller told us that we have to go to Bridal Veil Falls. It’s the number one attraction for everyone traveling to Manitoulin Island. Located right off the road and just a short walk down well-maintained metal stairs, it’s a perfect spot for a dip. Kids loved playing under the falls and Dave and I loved walking behind them to take photographs. Since it’s so popular it’s quite crowded so arrive early. We waited around for the people to clear out and by late afternoon we had it all to ourselves.

4. Cup and Saucer Trail

manitoulin island's cup and saucer trail
The view from the trail on Manitoulin Island

The Cup and Saucer hiking trail is the quintessential hike of Manitoulin Island. Heck, it’s one of the Quintessential hikes in all of Ontario! It starts in a parking lot off the main road, and within a couple of hundred metres (600 feet or so) the steep rocky climb begins. Beginner hikers may find it challenging, but stick with it, the payoff is worth the climb up roots, over boulders and through the muddy trail after a rainy night. We didn’t expect the views to be so staggering.

Climbing up to the second lookout took us up 70 metres (210 feet). The star of the show is the overhanging rock plunging into the valley below. Looking over the escarpment, lakes, and wetlands is a sight that will take your breath away. We could have spent hours taking photographs of the view.

5. Hiking Trails of Manitoulin Island

hiking northern ontario

There is no doubt that hiking is one of the top things to do in Manitoulin Island. There is the M’chigeeng Hiking trail, South Bay Lookout and the Bebamikawe Memorial Trail to name a few. The Bebamikawe Memorial Trail that is a long, but moderate 14 km hike that takes you to lookouts and vistas along a mix of double and single track trails.

6. Medicine Walk and Talk

medicine walk and talk
Most of our favourite activities on Manitoulin Island were booked through the Great Spirit Circle Trail

Something that makes Manitoulin Island so special is the chance to immerse in the culture of The First Nation People. In Africa, Australia and all around Southeast Asia we have taken part in medicine walks, and on Manitoulin, we had the chance to learn of the medicinal plants of the island with our First Nation’s guide, Falcon. We started with a smudging ceremony to give thanks to the land and environment and then went on a guided hike through the amazing hiking trails to learn what the plants are used for. This is fascinating and can be booked through the Great Spirit Circle Trail.

6. Sunset Canoe

sunset canoe great spirit circle trail
A sunset paddle on Otter Lake

If you happen to visit at the right time of the month, you can paddle the North Channel under the full moonlight. We were a bit late for the full moon and the weather was a bit rough, so we instead made our way to Otter Lake with Aboriginal Guide Falcon to canoe under the stars. When visiting Canada, you must give canoeing a try. You’ll have the chance to canoe with an expert and hear their stories about the vessel that the First Nations introduced to the fur traders and early European explorers. This sunset canoe was part of our Great Spirit Circle tour package, but you can easily book canoe tours and rentals all around the island.

7. Misery Bay Provincial Park

Manitoulin Island, Ontario

Misery Bay Provincial Park is the only operating park on Manitoulin Island. It’s one of the best places to go hiking on Manitoulin Island with 15 km of hiking trails ranging from a 2km loop to an 8km loop. The trails offer beautiful views of Lake Huron.

8. Voice of the Drum

song of the drum aboriginal experience ontario

The drum is the centre of Aboriginal lives. We learned different drum techniques and made our own drums to take home with us during our Voice of the Drum experience on Manitoulin Island. A signature experience of the Great Spirit Circle Tour, this was so much fun to do. We have our drums on display in our house and it is a very interesting way to learn about the indigenous culture while making your own take home souvenir.

The drum is the heartbeat of Mother Nature. Drum and we learned that song is used for many occasions: As a prayer, as a celebration, or just plain having fun! We listened to our guides Steven and Falcon sing as they played us different songs for different purposes while pulling the deer hides over our drum frames. There is something mesmerizing about listening to the vocal stylings of these talented performers as they are accompanied by their drums.

9. Aboriginal Feast with Song and Dance

first nations dancing in canada

Canada’s First Nations is one of the most fascinating cultures on earth. Learn of their ancient ways passed down from generations and immerse in the culture. There are several experiences to learn of the Inishanabe people of Manitoulin and this was the most beautiful.

Rolling Thunder Dance Traditions performed traditional song and dance and even let us join in before we settled in to a First Nation’s Feast at the Ojibway Cultural Centre along the Great Spirit Circle Trail. It’s a fascinating, fun and informative experience. Don’t miss it! 

10. Camp on the Benjamin Islands

tent camping on benjamin islands ontario

We took a tour of the islands and coast with the North Channel Cruise Line Tour Boat. Manitoulin has beautiful rocky scenery and it must be seen from a boat. After a day of sightseeing, we set up camp on the rocks and spent the night staring at the stars on the shores of Lake Huron. It is one of the best places to go camping in Ontario.

11. More Camping on Manitoulin Island

teepee camping manitoulin ontario

Manitoulin Island is one of the best weekend getaways from Toronto Ontario. And car camping is a huge Ontario activity. There are plenty of places to go camping on Manitoulin with cottage rentals and campground available. One of the coolest experiences we had on Manitoulin was definitely camping in a Teepee. We did the TeePee experience as part of the Great Spirit Circle Tour, but Gordon’s Park offers a unique Tipi Camping experience.

12. Meldrum Bay Marina

beautiful views of Lake Huron

Meldrum Bay is a fishing village in Manitoulin Island that is very popular with boaters touring the Great Lakes. As Canada shares the Great Lakes with the US, the Meldrum Bay Marina is also a Canadian Customs port. The top attraction here is the Mississagi Lighthouse and there are plenty of opportunities for watersports and vacation rentals along the shores of Lake Huron.

13. Providence Bay Beach

manitoulin island horses on beach

If you are looking for some beach time on Manitoulin Island, Providence Bay is often touted as the best beach in Northern Ontario. There is a lovely boardwalk, picnic area and public washrooms.

14. Farquhar’s Dairy Ice Cream

It seems that every cottage country and weekend getaway destination in Ontario has its own family run ice cream shop. And Manitoulin Island is no different. We Canadians love enjoying ice cream when touring the province. You’ll be able to grab a cone at several places on the island. So make sure to enjoy it before you hit the hiking trails. (or after as your reward)

15. Eat At The Old Schoolhouse

creme brulee old school house
Eat at the Old School House

Wondering where to eat on Manitoulin Island? A vacation wouldn’t be complete without a great meal and the best we had was at the Old Schoolhouse. Located in Providence Bay, this fine-dining restaurant is set in an old one-room schoolhouse dating back to 1898. The ambiance is relaxing and quiet with soft lighting and music, making for the perfect evening out.

Chef Greg Niven moved to Manitoulin with his wife Heather in 1996 after honing his skills in Toronto and has never looked back. The French-inspired menu offers a touch of class to your Manitoulin vacation at reasonable prices. Make sure to save room for the B52 Crème Brûlée it’s delectable. Make sure to reserve a table, this place fills up! See Website: The Old Schoolhouse Restaurant

16. Brewery Tour and Beer Tastings

There are two breweries on Manitoulin Island that offer outdoor patios and beer sampling. The Split Rail Brewing Company and the Manitoulin Brewing Company offer beer samples, brewery tours and cool swag. While Manitoulin Brewing offers an outdoor patio where you can sample a flight of beer. There is nothing better than grabbing some swag and brew to take home with you after your trip to Manitoulin Island.

Where to stay on Manitoulin Island

where to stay on manitoulin island
Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre
  • Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre – Little Current: The conference centre also has an excellent dining area with a patio overlooking the harbour. This First Nation run hotel is a great places to make a base as you explore the Great Spirit Circle trail and other attractions around Manitoulin Island.

Where to Eat on Manitoulin Island

 Map of Manitoulin Island

map of manitoulin island attractions

Click here for your interactive map of Manitoulin Island

How to Get to Manitoulin Island

There are two ways to get to Manitoulin Island by driving. From Toronto you will drive north up the 400 to the Trans Canada Highway 1 towards Sudbury. From Sudbury, make your way to Espenola where you’ll turn onto Highway 6. Access to Manitoulin Island is driving across the Little Current Swing Bridge. The Swing Bridge spans the north channel connecting the island to the mainland. It is open year round and will give you access to Manitoulin Island from the North.

In the summer months you can catch the Chi Cheemaun Ferry ferry to Manitoulin Island from Tobermory. It takes you to the southernmost point of Manitoulin at South Baymouth.

For more information on Manitoulin Island and the surrounding area visit Northeastern Ontario Tourism. Their website provides plenty of information.

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things to do manitoulin island

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About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

Leave a Comment

15 thoughts on “The Best Things to Do in Manitoulin Island”

  1. Hello, we are featuring Manitoulin Island on our website for our clients and wondered if you have any areas in particular that we should highlight?

    Thanks in advance!

  2. Great photos! I’m wondering where the photo of the pitched tent was taken and if that is publicly available? Thanks

  3. Wow, I really like that sunset images and other images are beautiful by seeing this even I too feel like visiting that place

  4. I haven’t been to this island before, but thanks to your fantastic photos I feel like I’ve already travelled there, in my dreams… thanks for this post, keep doing a great job you two!

  5. Thank you for write on Manitoulin.Your pictures Dave are look like awesome.This was a great post. I thought it was really interesting. That four year trip sounds amazing. I’d love to do something similar

  6. First of all awesome pictures Dave & Deb it’s all look like wow factors! 🙂 i very much loved The View from the Cup and Saucer Trail on Manitoulin Island picture and Sunset Canoe picture. Other picture were nicely clicked. Good work.

  7. Great and awesome pictures Dave & Deb. Sunset Canoe is I think very remarkable as well as the Bridal Veil Falls. I find it very interesting. I will absolutely add these on my bucket list.

    • Omg
      You’ve got to be kidding, right??? Last year, during the pandemic, and even more so this year, still in pandemic mode, we have seen a major surge in visitors which has caused much divide and havoc on our island. Most locals are not impressed. There was even human excrement on one beach and garbage left in many areas and the local townships were unable to sustain the usual pristine cleanliness here. It’s not our fault. We have very limited budgets in our small communities and this overload has caused a serious issue with all groups maintaining our standards here. Nobody has a clue what it’s like to live here and be inundated with tourists. Our health system and EMS are also limited, as are our shelves in the grocery stores. Once tourists arrive, they tax every system to that brink. For you to accuse Kagawong township is truly unfair. They are all doing their best with what has been thrown at them this past year. Also we don’t need any more publicity about visiting our island. It used to be a gem but now it’s becoming the whole worlds bucket list. So much for that. Can’t even move to the end of an island in the middle of a Great Lake for peace and quiet.

  8. Looks amazing. It’s funny how we sometimes look past what’s in our own countries or own backyard for that matter. Especially being away from American so long in crowded India, this looks and sounds really appealing!