17 Best Things to do on Manitoulin Island, Ontario | 2023 Travel Guide

In the heart of the Great Lakes region of Northern Ontario in Canada lies Manitoulin Island, the largest freshwater island in the world and one of the most special destinations in Canada. 

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This unique spot is a favourite vacation destination for many Ontarians, offering natural beauty, a down-to-earth vibe, and strong Indigenous culture. 

Known as “Spirit Island” in the local Ojibwe language, Manitoulin Island is home to a large percentage of Indigenous residents. Over 40 percent of the population on the island are primarily Anishnabe or from one of the other seven different First Nations. 

Measuring 100 miles (160 km) in length and covering 1,068 square miles (2,766 square km) in area, the island offers many things to see and do. From chasing waterfalls and lounging on the beach to hiking along beautiful trails and indulging in some of the local food, Manitoulin Island has a little bit of everything for those who appreciate nature. 

Manitoulin Island is a popular stop on any Ontario road trip, a great weekend escape from Toronto, and a wonderful destination for a long summer holiday. 

With an incredibly peaceful vibe and a chance to escape the crowds and enjoy the natural wonders of Lake Huron, Manitoulin Island is a true hidden gem in Ontario worth visiting.  

We’ve been fortunate enough to visit this special region a few times over the last few years, and hope that our suggestions on things to do in Manitoulin Island will help you plan your own Manitoulin adventure. 

How to Get to/Around Manitoulin Island

There are two main ways to access Manitoulin Island. The island is connected to the mainland via Little Current Swing Bridge and the Manitoulin Island Ferry. The bridge is the only year-round access point to the island, as the ferry operates seasonally. 

By plane

The island does have its own airport, the Gore Bay Manitoulin Airport. However, it’s only serviced by chartered flights from the mainland. 

If you are coming from afar and are considering flying, the closest major airport is Sudbury Airport (YSB / CYSB), currently served by Air Canada, Bearskin Airlines, Porter Airlines, and Sunwing Airlines. From Sudbury, you can hire a car for a Manitoulin Island road trip and head south to drive across the swing bridge.

air canada airplane
Air Canada

By bus

There are currently no public bus connections to/from the island. However, there is a seasonal bus from Toronto to Bruce Peninsula National Park, that offers access to the ferry from Tobermory to Manitoulin Island. Find out more at Parkbus to book tickets.

By car

As mentioned earlier, traveling by car is the most popular and most convenient transport option for visiting Manitoulin Island. You can drive to the island across the north channel on the famous swing bridge on Highway 6 to the northern shore of the island. The bridge is just 74.5 miles (120km) southwest of Sudbury in Ontario. 

Once on the island, a car is almost mandatory, as public transport is limited and attractions are spread out.

By Manitoulin Island Ferry

The Chi Cheemaun Ferry runs across Georgian Bay from Tobermory in Bruce Peninsula to South Baymouth on the south shore of Manitoulin Island. The ferry is operated by Owen Sound Transportation Company and offers regular daily service from May until October. 

The ferry terminal in Tobermory is just 180 miles (290 km) from Toronto. You can board the ferry with your vehicle, motorcycle, bicycle, or on foot. 

If you are planning a trip to Manitoulin Island in the summer, particularly the months of July and August, be sure to book the ferry well in advance. Seats are limited, and supply can not keep up with demand, so tickets are often sold out weeks in advance, particularly for long weekends. 

Best Time for Visiting Manitoulin Island

Although Manitoulin Island can be an all-year-round destination, it is primarily visited in the summer months. The season on the island spans from late May to early September, with May/June and September/October considered the shoulder months.

If you plan on traveling to Manitoulin Island during the shoulder months, be prepared for a quieter visit. You may find that some restaurants don’t open until well into June, and many shops in towns may limit their operating hours to just weekends.

Spring

The weather on Manitoulin Island remains cool throughout Spring, with the average temperature staying below 60℉ (15℃) until late May. Crowds are non-existent during this time of the year, so you can enjoy a quieter visit. Spring flowers and waterfalls, at their best, offer a beautiful nature escape. After all, outdoor activities are some of the best things to do on Manitoulin Island. 

Summer

Summer is by far the most popular time to visit Manitoulin Island. This is when the weather is warm and sunny and when everything on Manitoulin Island comes alive. July is the warmest month, with an average temperature of around 70℉ (21℃). This is the best time to enjoy the beaches and spend plenty of time outdoors. August sees the hottest days and is the busiest time on the island, particularly with families and returning visitors. 

If you plan on visiting the island in July or August, be sure to reserve your accommodation well in advance, as options on the island are somewhat limited.

You can time your visit with the Wiikwemkoong Annual Cultural Festival, held on a long weekend in July or August.

Fall

An underrated time to head across to Manitoulin Island is in the Fall, particularly the month of September. The weather tends to be cooler and more enjoyable, perfect for hitting the fantastic hiking trails on the island and catching some stunning fall folliage. 

The crowds dissipate and while some restaurants and shops reduce their operating hours, there is still plenty to do on the island. The Manitoulin Island Ferry continues operating until October, making ti easy to get to the island and a perfect time to enjoy the area at a more relaxing pace.

Winter

Winter can be bitterly cold on Manitoulin Island. The temperatures get as low as 8℉ (-13℃) in January, so you’ll definitely need to pack your best winter gear. However, if you like the cold, you’ll be able to enjoy plenty of winter sports and activities without the crowds, including snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ice fishing, and admiring the frozen waterfalls and lakes. 

You can even catch the aurora borealis or Northern Lights from October to March, especially in the Dark Sky Preserve in Gordon’s Park.

Best Things to Do on Manitoulin Island

Whether you plan on visiting Manitoulin Island for a weekend or staying for a few weeks, there are many Manitoulin Island attractions to explore. From waterfalls to sandy beaches, hiking trails to historic lighthouses, you’ll find an incredible variety to fill your time. 

Here are our suggestions for the best things to do on Manitoulin Island!

Manitoulin Island beach
Manitoulin Island beach

Explore Little Current

If you’re taking a Manitoulin Island road trip, you’ll likely start your trip in Little Current, just across the north channel from the mainland. This small town is the hub of activity on Manitoulin Island. It acts as the getaway to the rest of the island and offers the biggest selection of hotels, restaurants, and shops on the island.

Here are a few suggestions for things to do in Little Current:

Check out Little Current Swing Bridge

Originally built in 1913 for the Algoma Eastern Railway, the bridge remains the only land access to the island. You can get a nice view of the bridge from the waterfront footpath, and if you’re lucky, you might even see the swing bridge in action as it rotates on the hour to allow tall-masted boats to pass.

Snap a Photo at McLean’s Mountain Lookout

Just a bit south of Little Current town, you’ll find McLean’s Mountain Lookout, a little stop-off point with a picnic lookout that offers views out over the North Channel. You can drive up to the lookout for a photo op, bring a picnic up for a scenic lunch, or hike up to the lookout for a bit of a workout. 

There’s a 3km (1.85 miles) hiking trail that leads from a footbridge and an archway-like trail sign up to the lookout and back. There are tree markers on the trail, so it’s easy to follow along. 

Join a Cruise with North Channel Tours

The best way to explore the largest lake in the world is to get out on the water. North Channel Tours offers highly regarded cruises to the Benjamin Islands, Baie Fine Fjord, and the town of Killarney from Little Current. 

You can choose from half-day trips to their more romantic sunset cruises and enjoy the beauty of Georgian Bay from a unique perspective. The cruises are guided by knowledgeable staff who share insights into the area and the lake’s ecology and wildlife. 

Admire the views at Ten Mile Point 

Pull off the main Highway 6, just 15 minutes south of Little Current, and you’ll find Ten Mile Point Lookout, a great spot offering scenic views across the bay. 

Just next to the lookout, you’ll find the Ten Mile Point Trading Post, a gallery and shop selling Indigenous arts and crafts that support local artists from the island. 

Visit Kagawong

On the north shore of Manitoulin Islands, you’ll find Kagawong, the prettiest village on the island. In the Ojibwe language, Kagawong means “where mists rise from falling waters,” a saying that likely references the nearby Bridal Veil Falls.

Many of the best things to do on Manitoulin Island can be found in and around Kagawong, so it’s a great area to explore while on the island. From waterfalls to walks and historical attractions, here are our recommendations for things to do in Kagawong. 

Admire the Bridal Veil Falls

Located just outside of the village, off Highway 540, Bridal Veil Falls is often considered one of the top things to do on Manitoulin Island, and for good reason. These stunning falls are located inside the Bridal Veil Falls Provincial Park and are easily accessed by descending a few sets of stairs from a small parking lot. 

The waterfall, fed by the water from Lake Kagawong, features a 35 feet (10-12 metres) drop and offers a picturesque setting along the river. In the summer months, many people jump into the pool to cool off and let the kids play underneath the waterfall.

There is a lovely trail that runs along the river that connects Bridal Veil Falls to the town of Kagawong. 

Visit the Old Mill Heritage Centre Museum

Located right on the waterfront in the village center, this museum and heritage centre used to be a pulp mill providing paper for catalogues in Michigan. It’s now home to a collection of artifacts and multimedia exhibits relating to the local history. 

Check out the Kagawong Lighthouse

Located just back from the marina, the historic Kagawong Lighthouse was initially built in 1888. It was then rebuilt after a fire in the 1890s and has remained in operation until today to guide the ships offshore. It’s a square-shaped lighthouse, with an automated light now facing out to sea.

Explore Gore Bay

Gore Bay town sits at the bottom of Gore Bay and is another popular town on Manitoulin Island. The town is home to 1,000 residents and prides itself in its laid-back and friendly vibe. It’s a beautiful spot to spend a few days surrounded by nature, with incredible lookouts and historic sites to explore.

Visit Janet Head Lighthouse 

Head north from Gore Bay to find Janet Head Lighthouse, an unassuming lighthouse with an interesting story, standing on the north shore of the island. The lighthouse was constructed in 1879 and is the second oldest lighthouse on Manitoulin Island. The white, square tower stands 12 meters (40 ft) high with a two-story keeper’s house attached. 

The Coast Guard continues to maintain the light, which is now automated. There’s a small beach in front with sparkling turquoise water for a bit of a paddle during your visit.

Janet Head Lighthouse
Janet Head Lighthouse

Head to the East Bluff Lookout

Located on the eastern shore of Gore Bay, the East Bluff Lookout offers some of the best views in the area. It’s located just a few minutes out of town, along East Bluff Road. 

Take a short stroll to the observation deck to admire the expansive outlook overlooking Gore Bay and the North Channel. It’s especially picturesque at sunset or sunrise with the golden light reflecting off the sea.

East Bluff Lookout
East Bluff Lookout

Spend time in Providence Bay

Located on the south shore of the island, Providence Bay is home to the most famous sandy beach on Manitoulin. A popular spot on warm summer days, the area also has a few great fish-and-chip restaurants and accommodations in the small village.

Relax on Providence Bay Beach

The beach was originally called “Bebekodawangog,” which means “where the beach curves around the water” after its beautiful curved sandy bay. 

It’s incredibly crowded in the summer when the waters are warm and calm, so be sure to arrive early to snag a spot on the sand. It’s the perfect spot for a relaxing day on the beach, particularly for families with kids. 

Providence Bay Boardwalk

If you’d prefer to head off on a walk and enjoy beach views, take advantage of the Providence Boardwalk that curves around the sand.

It’s accessible to all ages and abilities and is an excellent place to stroll after some fish and chips on the beach.

Visit M’Chigeeng First Nation Community

Located on the north shore of the island between Kagawong and Little Current, M’Chigeeng is a proud First Nation community. It’s the second largest First Nation on Manitoulin Island and was settled in the middle of the 19th century when many Anishinabek from the north shore area relocated. 

It’s one of the best places to learn more about the Indigenous culture on the island. 

Ojibwe Cultural Foundation

Discover First Nations culture at this museum, gallery, and learning space focused on preserving Anishinaabe language, culture, and spirituality. On display, you’ll find traditional artwork, including porcupine quill boxes, sweetgrass baskets, and antler carvings. The small museum showcases stories from residential school survivors and offers an insight into some of their experiences. 

In the busy season, the foundation also runs daily arts and crafts workshops. A great alternative to the Great Spirit Circle Trail, which used to offer similar experiences in M’Chigeeng until its closure. It’s genuinely one of the most unique things to do on Manitoulin Island.

Manitoulin island Cultural Centre
Manitoulin Island Cultural Centre
Canada Manitoulin Island cultural centre 03293
Handicraft demon at Manitoulin Island Cultural Centre

Hike the Cup and Saucer Trail

Undoubtedly, one of the best things to do on Manitoulin Island is to head off on this popular hiking trail. The Cup and Saucer Trail is 12 km (7.5 miles) long, winding through the hardwood forest leading to a stunning lookout spot. There is a 2 km (1.2 miles) adventure trail detour along that will have you climbing ladders and squeezing through rock caverns, a fun experience to do on the way to or from the lookout. 

There are several lookouts at the top, from where you can admire the Niagara Escarpment, which boasts 70 m (230 feet) high cliffs spanning 2 km (1.2 miles), built on 450 million-year-old limestone. 

The trailhead is just 5 km (3.1 miles) northeast of M’Chigeeng. There is a small car park and a porter potty but no other facilities at the trailhead. Be sure to wear proper footwear, as the trail can be muddy and slippery. 

things to do on manitoulin island
Cup and Saucer Trail Lookout

Lake Manitou

There are an estimated 100 lakes on Manitoulin Island, which gives the island a very unique landscape. However, the largest of the lakes is Lake Manitou, which is technically the largest lake within an island within a freshwater lake!

Kayaking or Canoeing on Lake Manitou

One of the most relaxing things to do on Manitoulin Island is heading out on a canoe or kayaking adventure on Lake Manitou. You’ll find canoe or kayak rentals on the northern side of the lake at Uncle Steve’s Park and Cabins

It’s especially beautiful at sunset time, so if you’re staying close by, plan your kayaking trip for late afternoon. Lake Manitou is famous for its fish, including bass, perch, whitefish, pike, pickerel, lake trout, and ling.

South Baymouth

As the gateway to Manitoulin Island for those who come by ferry across the Tobermory, South Baymouth is a tiny little settlement where South Bay joins Lake Huron. While there’s not much to do there, we can suggest a great walk to add to your itinerary.

South Baymouth Lookout Trail

Just a short walk from the ferry terminal, you’ll find South Baymouth Lookout Trail, a relatively easy, family-friendly experience. The walk takes about 20-30 minutes, following the trail and boardwalk close to the coast.

Along the way, you’ll be able to admire some native plant species and birdlife, along with views out over the marina. The trail can get slightly soggy after rain, so good walking shoes are recommended.

West Manitoulin Island

A far less inhabited part of the island, the western half of Manitoulin is home to more rugged terrain and spectacular views. However, if you have the time, some of the most impressive things to do on Manitoulin Island can be found in this region.

Here are our suggestions:

Misery Bay Provincial Park

A more remote part of the island, Misery Bay, is found on the south coast, about 38km (23.6 miles) southwest of Gore Bay. As the only operating provincial park, it’s home to a unique ecosystem with rare plants, birds, and rock formations.

It’s a day-use-only park with about 15 km (9.3 miles) of hiking trails for those who are keen to go birdwatching and take in some epic views. We recommend heading off on the 5km (3.1 mile) Misery Bay Trail Loop, which takes in some of the most unique landscapes and geology parts of the park, including wetlands, old glacial beaches, glacial boulders, striations, grykes, and erratics. 

Meldrum Bay

Looking for complete seclusion? At the end of the road on the far western end of the island, you’ll find Meldrum Bay. Originally settled in the 1870s, it was once a fishing village but has since become a more laid-back destination for people to escape the summer crowds.

During the summer months, kayak and paddleboard rentals are available to explore the bay. Plus, there’s a locally run campground right on the water if you want to stay the night under the stars in your trailer or tent.

READ NEXT: Visiting Pukaskwa National Park In Northern Ontario

Best Restaurants in Manitoulin Island

Manitoulin Island is undoubtedly an up-and-coming foodie destination. There are a number of great little eateries dotted around the island. These are our favourites!

Split Rail Brewing CO: Located just near the Gore Bay Marina, Split Rail was the island’s first craft brewery opening in 2015. With lakeside views from the patio, you can taste some of their beers and ciders, along with some seasonal local meals. 

Manitoulin Brewing Company: Heavily involved in the local community, Manitoulin Brewing Company was started by three local guys on Lake Huron’s north channel shore in Little Current. They’ve raised money for Indigenous women and girls and worked with local Indigenous artists. You can visit their Farm Silo, a dispensing bar serving up their craft beers, along with a food truck serving delicious food.

Lake Huron Fish and Chips: Located in Providence Bay, this small fish and chips spot just back from the beach serves up locally sourced food. Specializing in the tastiest local Whitefish and the popular deep-fried haddock fish and chips in a homemade beer batter. You can also enjoy a vegetarian burger for those who opt for plant-based food. It’s important to note that they are only open seasonally from May until September. 

Garden’s Gate Cafe: Established in 1991 and just 10 minutes away from South Baymouth ferry terminal, this cozy restaurant offers a farm-to-table menu focusing on locally sourced ingredients and plant-based options. From pan-seared lake trout to creamy garden risotto, you’ll find a little bit of everything on the menu. They also offer market items for sale from local artisans and growers. 

Manitoulin Island Chocolate
Manitoulin Island Chocolate

Best Hotels in Manitoulin Island

Manitoulin Island accommodations vary widely from reasonable motels up to higher-end resorts offering a relaxing escape. Here are our top recommendations for places to stay on the island.

Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre: This laidback, comfortable hotel and conference centre is just a few minutes walk from the Little Current Lighthouse. With decor inspired by First Nations people, the hotel also offers Indigenous education and cultural experiences for guests, which we really appreciate. With queen rooms and king suites starting from $130 per night, it’s a great mid-range option.

Hawberry Motel For something more budget-friendly, consider this simple yet comfortable motel just a few minutes walk from the waterfront in Little Current. With just 22 basic rooms, you’ll find something for everyone, including families. Prices start from just $100 per night.

Red Lodge Resort: For a secluded escape, this resort is located on the shore of Lake Manitou. They offer rustic cottages with verandas, kitchenettes, and lake views to sit back and relax after exploring the island. The onsite restaurant focuses on healthy local food, with plenty of vegetarian and gluten-free options. It’s also pet-friendly if you want to bring along your four-legged friend for a weekend away. Prices start from around $117 per night.

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