If you’ve never heard of Lion’s Head, Ontario before now, you aren’t alone. Back in September, 2017, I was feeling the urge to get out of the city life for a few days, and began looking up cheap Air BnBs and what I found instead was a hostel up in the Bruce Peninsula, called The Fitz. Now I’ve never even been up to the Bruce Peninsula before, but after looking through all the photos online of this little town, and knowing that the drive would be just over 3 hours from Hamilton, I booked 3 nights in the hostel. And knowing my parents would probably be a little apprehensive about their only daughter travelling alone, I didn’t tell them until the night before I was leaving.
There were many ‘firsts’ about this road trip: 1) It was my first time in the Bruce Peninsula, 2) it was my first time travelling alone, 3) it was my my first time in a hostel, 4) it was my first time not packing, what seemed like everything I owned, into a giant suitcase and instead having to streamline for a backpackers pack and 5) it was the first time that I was throwing myself into a situation I knew nothing about and yet felt more excited than nervous.
The Road Trip
The (late) morning of Monday September 25, 2017, (I’m not a good morning person), I loaded my 05′ Jeep Liberty with an over packed backpack, all my camera gear into my camera bag (lesson: you don’t need it all!), sleeping bag, pillow, way more toiletries that anyone needs for 4 days, and a Spotify playlist lasting about 9 hours long. I was ready to go.
The road trip, I thought, would be a, long, boring kind of drive, but this was that time in September in southern Ontario, where it was 25 degrees everyday. So with the windows down, music blasting, I drove. For anyone looking for a super easy road trip, this is definitely it! You get on Highway 6, you stay on Highway 6 and you drive straight until you see signs for Lion’s Head.
As I mentioned earlier, this was my first time ever staying in a hostel and I had no idea what to expect. The Fitz, named after the first Captain to chart Georgian Bay, Cpt. William Fitzwilliam Owen is owned by a 20-something peninsula native, with a passion to bring light to everything this small town has to offer. On top of being one of the most warm and welcoming places I’ve ever been to, The Fitz is also doing it’s part to preserve the natural beauty that it is surrounded by through a variety of sustainable practices, which you can read all about here on their website.
My fellow hostel guests for the week included a couple about my parents age, 2 different single ladies in their 40s just up for the hiking, a guy in his 40s just staying overnight on his drive across Canada, another McMaster student about my age, and a 30 year old German exploring Canada for the very first time. Needless to say, all my biases about hostels only being for young, broke college students were shattered.
A short 15 minute walk brings you right from The Fitz to the Lion’s Head Marina Lighthouse, which is where I spent the morning of Day 2 watching the sunrise.
Lion’s Head is nestled in the northern portion of the Bruce Trail. On my first full day, Day 2, I decided to hike a small portion of the trail; I packed up my camera gear, through a water bottle and a peanut butter sandwich in my bag and set off on what I thought would be a short little 3km hike (spoiler alert, I went way farther than 3km).
This portion of the Bruce Trail is definitely not an easy hike, but worth every hill and rock ledge to be able to look out over the clear turquoise water of the Georgian Bay. To get to the Lion’s Head lookout is about 3km into the trail (my goal turn around point) and from here, if you look closely, you will see how this town got it’s name.
If you keep following the trail along, eventually it drops down to the water level and you can brave a swim in the chilly Bay water; on the 35 degree day that it was, this was the best feeling ever!
So when you “accidentally” hike 12km the day before, you body really asks for a break the next day, so on Day 3, I decided I would make the 20 minute drive north into Tobermory. Tobermory is a little marina town, with shops and restaurants, as well as the port for the Chi-Cheemaun, the ferry that travels between Tobermory and Manitoulin Island (I didn’t take the ferry this time, but stay tuned for a road trip back to Manitoulin Island this summer).
From Tobermory, there are a bunch of travel companies that specialize in boat tours of the coastal waters and heading out to Flower Pot Island. Day 3 was a cold and windy day, very different from the 35+ degree weather we had had days before, and as a result, none of the excursion boats were leaving that day. There was still plenty to do in town as I wandered in and out of the many shops, making my way along to the brewery in town, Tobermory Brewing Company, a restaurant with an in house brewery, right in the heart of downtown Tobermory. And with any new brewery, why try only one beer, when yo can get a whole flight?!
Tobermory is also home to a handful of National Parks; I chose to check out the Bruce Peninsula Visitor’s Centre. Here you can explore a variety of exhibits showcasing the history of the Peninsula, both land and water. The Visitor’s Centre also houses a 65 foot tall lookout tower, providing panoramic views of the tip of the peninsula. If you recall, I mentioned that it was so windy in town today that none of the boats were leaving the marina, so sounds like perfect weather to climb a 65 foot wooden structure right? Well I did it anyway, and man was that tower shaking!
Flower Pot Island
Day 4 was the day it all had to come to an end and I would need to start heading home and back to reality. But I wasn’t leaving without a final attempt at seeing Flower Pot Island, and since the winds had settled, the boats were up and running and I was on board.
If you are taking one of the excursion boats out to Flower Pot Island, there are two options: the most popular option is to actually get off the boat the the island and spend a day exploring everything that the island has to offer, or, if you are like me and in more of a time crunch, you can spend about 90 minutes on the boat touring around all the islands, without actually getting off.
The first stop off the main land is to see a few sunken ships. The crystal clear waters allow you to see all the way to the ships below, and in the first alcove, called Big Tub, there are two ships very close together. The history of all the ships that have gone down can be found in the Visitor’s Centre, or online. One of the ships in Big Tub was actually built in Burlington, Ontario, the next town over from where I live!
After you leave Big Tub, you get to ride through the open waters while the onboard guides give you a brief history lesson of the area. This area of islands is actually a National Park, referred to as Fathom Five National Marine Park.
The Journey Home
Stay tuned later this week for part 2 of this blog, as the trip home was definitely not an A-B trip, and includes a few stops at breweries along the way!
(All photos my own, unless otherwise stated)