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
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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.
Manitoulin Island is the world’s largest freshwater island. It also houses the largest lake within a freshwater island in the world.
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
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.
- See our all the experiences at The Best Aboriginal Experiences on Manitoulin Island.
- Check out packages at The Great Spirit Circle Trail
2. 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
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
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
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
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.
- Book your amazing Manitoulin Experience with the Great Spirit Circle Trail – See tours available on their website.
6. Sunset Canoe
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
- 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
- Anchor Inn – Little Current
- Season Family Restaurant – M’Chigeeng
- Gary’s Family Restaurant – Little Current
Map of Manitoulin Island
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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