Planning your road trip to Manitoulin Island is easy with so many great things to do. Enjoy the beautiful outdoors, explore the friendly small towns and experience Indigenous culture. Welcome to Manitoulin Island!
Table of Contents
What To Do on Manitoulin Island
Our 2-day Manitoulin Island Road Trip itinerary covers the best things to do on Manitoulin Island.
- Cross the Little Current Swing Bridge onto Manitoulin Island from the north.
- Walk behind Bridal Veil Falls.
- Hike from the falls to the village of Kagawong. Enjoy a morning coffee and chocolate treat at the Manitoulin Chocolate Works.
- Explore Gore Bay‘s museums. Admire the lovely yachts and sail boats in the marina. Soak in the sunshine on the patio at Split Rail Brewing.
- Enjoy the sandy beach at Providence Bay.
- Stay in Mindemoya.
- Hike to the top of the Cup and Saucer Trail.
- Learn about the area’s 9,000 years of the human history at Sheguiandah‘s Centennial Museum.
- Vist Manitowaning, the first European settlement on the island. See the S.S. Norisle, the MSChi-Cheemaun’s predecessor.
- Wander South Baymouth while waiting to catch the ferry off the island.
Optional additional day:
- Visit Wikwemikong’s beautiful church and neighbouring stone ruins.
- Hike the nearby Bebamikawe Memorial Trail;
Manitoulin Island Attractions Map
Bridal Veil Falls
The 11-metre waterfall is a refreshing spot to visit on a hot summer day. The highlight is the chance to walk behind the falls. When the leaves turn lovely colours in the fall, the river valley is stunning.
The Indigenous residents called the Bridal Veil Falls area Gaagigewang which translates to ‘where falling water throws a mist’, a very fitting name. Spend a few minutes enjoying this spiritual place.
For a nice, easy walk from the base of the waterfall, hike along the Kagawong River to the village of Kagawong. The 1-kilometre trail on the west side of the river ends at the Kagawong Municipal Marina in Mudge Bay on the North Channel.
For a bit more of a challenge, cross to the east side of the river on either of two bridges for a steeper trail to the marina.
Cup and Saucer Trail
Enjoy the beautiful panoramic view from the top of the 351-metre high Niagara Escarpment. This is the highest point on Manitoulin Island. Look to the northwest over West Bay and east over Lake Manitou. The lake is known for its trout, smallmouth bass and muski fishing.
The trail climbs two escarpments; the lower forms the saucer and the upper is the cup. Each slope consists of hard, erosion-resistant dolostone, a type of limestone. It was carved by glaciers during the last ice age about 20,000 years ago.
Allow 2 to 3 hours to cover the 5-kilometre, round-trip, winding, and sometimes challenging, main trail. There are options for an additional 5-kilometre hike on top of the escarpment through the deciduous forest.
Manitoulin Island Hiking
These are the most popular hikes on the island.
|Trail Name / Trailhead||Length / Difficulty|
|Cup and Saucer East of M’Chigeeng (45.8532, -82.1146)||5 km out/back Moderate|
|Bridal Veil Falls Kagawong (45.9012, -82.2557)||2 km out/back Easy|
|Noble Nature Trail Gore Bay (45.9146, -82.4553)||2 km out/back Easy to Moderate|
|Coastal Alvar + Mac’s Bay Misery Bay Prov. Park (45.8006, -82.7264)||11.7 km loop Moderate|
|Inland Alvar Trail Misery Bay Prov. Park (45.8006, -82.7264)||7.2 km loop Easy|
|Bebamikawe Memorial Trail North of Wikwemikong (45.8282, -81.6719)||8.8 km loop Moderate|
8 Interesting Towns on Manitoulin Island
Enjoy travelling between these towns. See many small farms where they continue to farm the land as the first non-Indigenous islanders did in the mid-19th century.
The town, founded in 1879, was built around the narrowest point of the North Channel and is often called the Gateway to Manitoulin Island. Little Current was the natural spot to locate a bridge to the island, being the closest point to “mainland” Ontario.
Built in 1913 for the Algoma Eastern Railway, the Little Current Swing Bridge is 175 metres long and 4 metres across, wide enough for a single lane of traffic. The middle 100-metre span of the bridge swings around a central point allowing boats to pass on either side of this pivot point.
Originally used by rail traffic only, the bridge was modified to allow both rail and vehicle traffic in 1945. In the early 1980s, the tracks were removed and it became solely a highway bridge. Today, it swings open for the first 15 minutes, of each daylight hour during the summer to allow boat traffic through. Otherwise it remains in the closed position allowing vehicle traffic across. In the spring and fall the bridge opens for boaters on demand.
This single-lane bridge continues to be the only way onto the island by land. In 2021, plans were announced to replace the bridge with a modern, double-lane swing bridge nearby, but no completion dates have been confirmed. For the best place to view the bridge, take the walkway from the information centre just to the west of the highway on the south side of the bridge.
The downtown has a number of shops and services and stretches along the waterfront. The adjacent municipal Downtown Docks have over 100 slips with fuel, municipal water and power connections. Enjoy a walk along the waterfront and learn about the history of the town in a series of information plaques.
Before you leave town, be sure to stop at the Manitoulin Brewing Company for a pint of local brew. If you are hungry, nearby Elliott’s Restaurant makes good fish and chips.
Visit McLean’s Mountain Lookout, just outside of town, at the top of the Niagara Escarpment, for a panoramic view. The Bay Islands in the North Channel are visible to the northeast. The rock of Great La Cloche Island is young at about 400,000 years old. The rounded hills of the La Cloche Mountains in the far distance are 2.2-billion-year-old, white quartzite.
In the late 19th century, two enterprising brothers found huge stands of spruce and white pine ready for harvesting very close to Mudge Bay on the North Channel. Their success at lumbering led to Kagawong’s founding as a the lumber port.
The beautiful limestone building on the bay, at the mouth of the Kagawong River, was the port’s original pulp mill. It houses the Old Mill Heritage Centre Museum and the Billings Township Office. Learn the history of local logging and lumbering and the influence of shipping and commercial fishing on the area.
Behind the museum, the public beach is a great place to spend a sunny day.
The Billings Connections Trail, which runs throughout the hamlet of Kagawong and the township of Billings, has 32 heritage plaques and 7 public sculptures. Several are found along the trail between Bridal Veil Falls and Kagawong. The trail was created as part of the Canada 150 Celebration project showcasing local history through community participation in Truth and Reconciliation.
On the west end of Main Street at Upper Street, the Kagawong Lighthouse sits on a small hill above Mudge Bay. The first lighthouse, built on this spot in 1888, was destroyed by fire in 1892. This 9.4-metre-tall structure replaced it in 1894. Automated in 1960, it continues to guide pleasure craft into Kagawong Municipal Marina.
The marina has two areas. The Aus Hunt Marina, at the west end near the 1894 lighthouse, provides protected dockage in the lee of the L-shaped main dock and several finger piers. The Small Craft Basin, adjacent to the Old Mill Heritage Centre Museum, provides over 40 slips. The smaller, modern Kagawong Marina Lighthouse is located at this end of the marina.
Between the two lighthouses, along Main Street, a number of the heritage buildings have plaques describing their historical significance.
In one of these lovely old buildings, the Manitoulin Chocolate Works creates and retails artisan chocolates from high quality ingredients, locally-sourced when possible. The business was launched in 1998 and became an instant success story. Enjoy their handmade chocolates, fresh-roasted coffee and a variety of sweet and savoury, gourmet items from near and far. If you are going to be in Perth Ontario, stop into their second location, Perth Chocolate Works.
The town of Gore Bay sits at the southern end of its namesake bay, on Lake Huron’s North Channel. Over 130 years old, it is one of the island’s two incorporated towns.
Gore Bay Museum is the best place to learn more of its early history. The museum has many exhibits and artifacts from the town’s heyday. The building, constructed in 1879, served as the town’s jail until 1945. The building was divided into two sections separated by a thick door; the jail itself and the jailer’s living quarters. Prisoners were segregated with males on the main floor of the jail and females on the second floor. The doors, windows and cell blocks can still be seen as they were when the jail closed.
The Gore Bay Harbour Centre, a branch of the museum, opened in 2012 as an art centre for Manitoulin-based artists. It is also home to the Marine Museum which highlights the importance of marine travel to both the historic and current success of Manitoulin Island and its small harbours.
From the Harbour Centre, take Lighthouse Road north along the west side of the bay to Janet Head Lighthouse. This federally-recognized heritage building was built in 1879. The wooden tower is 11 metres tall with a gable-roofed keepers’ house attached. The light was automated in 1955 and is still in use, helping guide travellers through the North Channel. Between 1910 and 1924, it was also used during the winter by sleigh drivers carrying mail along an ice highway from Gore Bay to Spanish. Today snowmobilers follow this historic 35-kilometre route from the north shore.
Back in town, across the street from the Harbour Centre, is Split Rail Brewing. Enjoy a beverage on the patio or in the tap room. Manitoulin Island’s first craft brewery opened in 2015, and has been producing high quality, small-batch beer ever since.
The nearby busy Gore Bay Marina has over 150 slips with fuel, municipal water and power connections. All kinds of shops are close at hand including a fully stocked marina store.
Beginning at the marina, the two-kilometre Boardwalk Trail follows the edge of the bay to its east side ending at East Street.
From East Street, at the base of the escarpment, the Noble Nature Trail climbs one kilometre to Harold Noble Memorial Park. Either enjoy the hike up the trail or drive East Bluff Road to the park and the East Bluff Lookout. From the lookout, high atop the escarpment, enjoy the panoramic view over Gore Bay to the North Channel. The park is the perfect spot for a picnic.
Looking to relax on a sandy beach? Providence Bay on Manitoulin’s south shore is perfect. The Ojibwe name for this bay translates as ‘where the sands curve around the bay’. What an apt description! Facing into Lake Huron, the bay’s beautiful sand beach provides visitors lots of room to spread out and enjoy its serenity.
Adjacent to the beach, the Providence Bay Harbour Centre houses a small store, food vendor, information kiosk, beach change rooms and toilets. The community playground is just to the west of the Harbour Centre and directly off the beach.
A wheel-chair accessible boardwalk runs from the playground to the Providence Bay Tent and Trailer Park about a kilometre to the east. It sits on top of the sand dunes helping to anchor the dune system. Access points to the walkway double as beach access.
The boardwalk’s picturesque bridge, just east of the Harbour Centre, crosses the Mindemoya River. See the salmon and trout that return to the river to spawn from the riverside platform or the bridge. Rainbow Trout spawn in the spring while Brown Trout, Chinook and Coho Salmon choose the fall to spawn. Fishing is permitted from the riverside platform. Sediment accumulation in the river mouth in recent years threatened to end the ability of the river to act as a spawning location. Experts hope that changes made to the flow of the river will help keep the mouth of the river open and increase the numbers of fish returning.
Considered the “hub” of the island, this town is home to little shops and unique businesses as well as service-type businesses typically found in much larger towns.
The modern Central Manitoulin Welcome Centre and Pioneer Museum houses visitor information, historical displays, artifacts and a gift shop all operated by the local historical society. Cross the small covered bridge beside the centre to see a log house which would be typical for a local pioneer family. There is also a stable, workshop and frame barn complete with agricultural equipment.
For dinner, check out Mum’s Restaurant & Bakery. The portions are huge and the price very reasonable.
The name Sheguiandah is both the name of the village on the east side of Highway 6 and the First Nation community on the west side of the highway. The village began in the 1860’s with the arrival of non-Indigenous settlers and prospered due to both grain and lumber mills. Ancestors of the local First Nations have inhabited the region for thousands of years.
Exhibits at the Centennial Museum cover human activity in the region over 9,000 years ago, the arrival of settlers in the 1860’s and the village’s rapid growth. The barn, sugar shack, reconstructed log homes and the main museum are full of artifacts.
Nearby in the historic village, the Batman Sawmill is a small replica of the original Batman’s Mill, a saw and shingle mill owned by Thomas Batman. His mill was one of three mills operating on Bass Creek from 1871 to 1940.
Travelling south along Highway 6, Ten Mile Point is the perfect spot to see the North Channel, Georgian Bay and the La Cloche Mountains. The channel is the body of water separating Manitoulin Island’s north and eastern shores from mainland Ontario. Until the mid-twentieth century, this corridor was the best route to supply all manner of goods to communities on either side of the channel and into the lands beyond. The logging and fishing industries used it extensively.
Now most of the channel’s traffic is tourism related. People visit for the area’s incredible scenery, beautiful clear water and stunning sunsets.
Check out Ten Mile Point Trading Post for locally-made Indigenous arts and crafts.
Manitowaning was the first town settled by Europeans on the island in 1836.
Learn about the early settlers at the Assiginack Museum. Open June to September, the museum has a pioneer home, blacksmith shop, school house and a barn showcasing artifacts of the early town.
St. Paul’s Church, one of the oldest Anglican Churches in Northern Ontario, opened in 1849.
Look across the street to the Manitowaning Lighthouse on the hill overlooking the harbour. The square, ten-metre-tall tower was built in 1885. The light was automated in the 1960s.
Located at the harbour, the S.S. Norisle Heritage Park includes the nineteenth century Manitoulin Roller Mills, the Burns Wharf Theatre, public docks, boat launch, change rooms and a sand beach.
The mill was Manitoulin Island’s last grist mill. A former wharf warehouse was renovated and uses as a theatre in the 1980s.
The S.S. Norisle is permanently docked at the park. It is the last passenger steamship built in Canada after World War II. It operated from 1946 to 1974 servicing the ferry route between Tobermory and South Baymouth and was replaced by the MS Chi-Cheemaun.
The Tobermory – South Baymouth route is the only remaining ferry route of a number which serviced Georgian Bay and Lake Huron ports. The ferries replaced the sailing vessels and steamships that had filled the transportation needs of island residents. The ships and ferries provided a vital transportation link when the availability of roads and the quality of road surfaces made road travel almost impossible.
The village was founded in the late nineteenth century by commercial fishermen at the point where the large, deep South Bay is connected to Lake Huron. In 1932, commercial ferry service was established between Tobermory on the tip of the Bruce Peninsula and South Baymouth. Today the Tobermory to Manitoulin ferry continues to be a vital summer link to Manitoulin Island. Explore the village after arriving on the ferry or while waiting to depart.
Visit the Little Schoolhouse and Museum and learn about South Baymouth’s transition from commercial fishing station to tourist destination and ferry port. The museum includes a one-room schoolhouse built in 1898, which closed in the 1960’s.
South Baymouth continues to be a popular fishing destination. Fishermen head to South Bay for bass, perch, pike and pickerel. In Lake Huron’s waters, salmon, rainbow trout and lake trout challenge anglers. South Baymouth’s marina offers over 70 boat slips and modern facilities.
At the marina, enjoy the park and the boardwalk which are beside the front South Baymouth Range Light. The lighthouse is one of two range lights built in 1898 to guide mariners through the dangerous sediment shoals in the neck between Lake Huron and South Bay. This front light is eight metres tall. The rear light is about ten metres tall and difficult to see in the woods 240 metres behind the front light.
Manitoulin Island First Nations Culture
Ancestors of the current First Nations peoples inhabited Manitoulin Island for millennia. The six First Nations communities on the island today each hold a Pow Wow every year. These important cultural festivals are unique to each community. They are traditional social gatherings with dancing, drumming, arts and crafts displays and lots of food. Participants and visitors alike have a chance to enjoy the beautiful costumes and “pow wow-style” dancing at these family-friendly events. Tourist visitors are welcome. Please note that these events are alcohol and drug free. Photography may be prohibited for some of the events.
The largest First Nation community on Manitoulin Island, Wikwemikong includes all the land to the east of Manitowaning Bay and South Bay. It is Canada’s only officially recognized Unceded Indigenous Territory. Wikwemikong is the home of the people of the Three Fires Confederacy, an alliance of the Ojibwa, Odawa and Pottawatomi Nations. They are the core of the Anishinaabek, a group of Indigenous peoples present in the Great Lakes region of Canada and the United States.
The Wikwemikong hold two Pow Wows each year. The more traditional event in mid-June is smaller. The larger event, on the first weekend of August, brings dancers from all over North America to compete. For more information visit Wikwemikong’s tourism website.
Historically, as the importance of the fur trade decreased, the Anishinaabek realized they needed to learn skills and trades to keep pace with the changing economy. Jesuit brothers were brought to Wikwemikong in the 1840’s to create, and ultimately, staff a school for the Anishinaabek. The first school of its kind in the Great Lakes area was completed in 1847. Students graduated in professions such as the arts, education, trades and medicine.
One of the Jesuit brothers was an architect and designed a permanent church structure at the community’s request. Built of local brick and lumber by local manpower, church construction took three years. The Holy Cross Mission Church opened in 1852, with a steeple added about 50 years later. It is Northern Ontario’s oldest Catholic Church.
There was also a hall and a large residence for the Jesuit clergy. Unfortunately in 1954, the church, hall and residence were destroyed in a fire. Local businessmen and trades people planned, financed and rebuilt the church. The hall was demolished and removed.
All that remains of the residence are a perimeter of stone walls, two feet thick and three stories tall. The roof and interior of the residence were demolished. These residence ruins are often a unique venue for Debajemjig Theatre’s storytellers.
The town is the heart of M’Chigeeng First Nation. The Ojibwe are a First Nation within the larger Anishinaabek First Nation.
Learn about Ojibwe language, culture, arts, and traditions at the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation. The building and grounds, on the southwest corner of the main intersection, include an art gallery, museum, gift shop and theatre.
A bit further south across the road, the twelve-sided, teepee-shaped Immaculate Conception Catholic Church features the work of Indigenous artists. Pews line its curving walls with the altar as the centrepiece of the amphitheatre-style church. The ‘Stations of the Cross’ around the sanctuary are by Leland Bell, of the Woodland School of Art on Manitoulin Island.
There are a number of M’Chigeeng First Nation owned and operated restaurants, art studios and gifts shops. At Lillian’s Indian Craft Shop find unique locally-made crafts.
The M’Chigeeng’s traditional Pow Wow takes place on Labour Day weekend. The Pow Wow grounds are two kilometres south of the main intersection. For more information visit the M’Chigeeng’s website.
Cycling Manitoulin Island
The island has 800 kilometres of on-road cycling routes which link the island’s towns and tourist attractions in manageable cycling loops. Watch for the Manitoulin Island Cycling Advocates information boards throughout the island. Each board shows a map of the island’s cycling routes with detailed directions about routes and tourist attractions close by. To see the routes, visit the Manitoulin Island Cycling Advocates website.
Manitoulin Island Accommodations
The island has many different types of accommodation but not the big chain hotels and resorts. Enjoy the friendly small-town vibe of these businesses.
The largest hotel is the Manitoulin Hotel & Conference Centre located in Little Current.
Manitoulin Island Motels
We highly recommend the two excellent motels where we stayed during our visit.
In Mindemoya, we stayed at the Manitoulin Inn. Our room had a large kitchenette, perfect for cooking dinner.
Camping on Manitoulin Island
Cottage and Cabin Rentals
- Woodside Beach Cottages (Cottages)
- Timberlane Rustic Lodges (Cabins)
- Silver Birches Resort (Cottages/Cabins/Camping sites)
- Pirates’ Cove (Cottages)
- Red Lodge Resort (Cottages/Cabins)
- Cosy Cove Cottages (Cottages)
How to get to Manitoulin Island
There are 2 ways to reach Manitoulin Island. Take the ferry which runs between Tobermory and South Baymouth or drive over the Little Current Swing Bridge on Ontario Highway 6.
Tobermory to Manitoulin Island Ferry
From early May to mid-October take the ferry, MS Chi-Cheemaun, from Tobermory to South Baymouth. For schedule details visit Owen Sound Transportation’s website. Advanced booking is not mandatory but highly recommended, especially for weekend travel Friday through Monday.
The MS Chi-Cheemaun, or the Big Canoe, is 100 metres long and 20 metres wide with a maximum capacity of 650 passengers and 140 vehicles, including the ability to carry transport trucks, buses and recreational vehicles.
Little Current – Highway 6
If you are travelling when the ferry is not running or arriving from the north, follow Ontario Highway 6 south from Ontario Highway 17 (Trans-Canada Highway). Highway 6 crosses the Little Current Swing Bridge onto the island.
Be sure to check out our Ultimate Guide to Northern Ontario for even more road trips and destinations in Northern Ontario.
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