With September upon us, the cooler weather is just around the corner and the days are getting shorter so it’s time to cash in on those long day trips before the sun starts to set earlier than 5pm! A message from Lauren looking for adventure lead to her, Stephanie and I heading towards a lesser known national gem – Georgian Bay Islands National Park!
This natural treasure was established in 1929 and consists of 63 small islands in Georgian Bay that are only accessible by boat. They cover just 13.5 square kilometres, making it the smallest of Canada’s National Parks! While most of the islands remain undeveloped, the largest of the islands – Beausoleil Island – offers campsites, day docking, hiking trails and more. Parks Canada offers a DayTripper service in Honey Harbour which can take you to two different points on the island. There are 3 departure times for the southern part of the island, Cedar Spring, but just 1 for the northern part, Chimney Bay.
The southern part of the island is more established with a variety of campsites, oTENTiks, flushing toilets and showers. While it’s more comfortable for those looking to camp, those of us who are looking to hike are better off to head north. There are a lot less people as the campsites are primitive (no running water, campfire to cook, etc) and there’s a larger variation in the trails. We booked our DayTripper to Chimney Bay and were off for some great hiking!
As you dock at Chimney Bay, the first thing you’ll notice is that the land formations are very different than what you’d normally see on Georgian Bay, especially compared to Bruce Peninsula or Fathom Five National Park. Chimney Bay is technically located in northern Ontario, meaning the geology and vegetation is different than what you’d find in southern Ontario. Exploring the trails of Chimney Bay means you’re exploring the wondrous Canadian Shield, exposed Precambrian rock that dates back to over 2.5 billion years ago!
The schedule of the DayTripper leaves you with about 4 hours of hiking time, which may not seem like a lot but you can cover a lot of ground! We opted for hitting the Cambrian Trail first as it’s fairly shaded and then taking the Fairy Trail, making a full loop from the DayTripper dock. Parks Canada says it’ll take approximately 2.5 hours to complete, giving you 1.5 hours to take your time (and take lots of photos!). The trails are marked by poles with a plastic cylinder that matches the trail colour on the map. They can be fairly spread out so be sure to keep an eye out for them!
The Cambrian Trail has more forest and taller trees as the soil wasn’t swept away millions of years ago when sheets of ice helped to sculpt what we see of the Canadian Shield. It’s also a great trail to start with as there’s a large amount of shade to help keep you cool on those brutally hot days! At first you’ll see exposed rock with scattered trees, but as you get past Little Dog the trees will thicken and you’ll be in forest that runs parallel to the main channel.
Beware as you head into the forest though, that’s where the mosquitoes lay in wait! We were not so lucky and broke out the bug spray too late so we got munched! I’d suggest putting some on as you reach Little Dog to help battle these pesky buggers! There’s also a bathroom here if nature calls.
The Fairy Trail offers more picturesque views of Georgian Bay and its islands, especially as you arrive at Honeymoon Bay. This is one of the areas where you can camp overnight as you’ll probably make friends with a few of the campers while exploring the area. It’s also a great place to cool off with a dip in the water, but be careful: the rocks are covered with a small layer of moss and seaweed, making them very slippery… and difficult to get back on land!
The highlight of the trail (in my opinion anyway) is Fairy Lake, a quaintly beautiful nook along the trail. Fairy Lake is named after an old native tale about a beautiful girl known as Miinkekwe (translating to Blueberry Picking Woman) born to the Anishnaabe people. A caring soul, she doted on her grandparents who were unable to take care of themselves. They, in turn, taught her many life lessons as well as stories and songs. As her knowledge increased, so did her radiance – making her extremely desirable for the dreadful beast Migcheshibzhii who lurked in the dark corners. One day when Miinkekwe stayed too late, Migcheshibzhii took the opportunity to make her his. However, the great Protector of the Anishnaabek known as Nanabozhoo, heard her cries and bolted to her side. Unfortunately he arrived too late as the life slowly left her limp body. A furious battle began with both Migcheshibzhii and Nanabozhoo becoming mortally wounded. Migcheshibzhii perished and his body forms the outline of Beausoleil Island, while Fairy Lake forms his eye. It’s surrounded by rocks stained pink by Miinkekwe’s blood. Nanaboozhoo laid to rest on Giant’s Tomb Island a short distance away from their battleground, where the outline of his body can be seen as you approach the island. Fairy Lake offers a variety of serene views which I’m sure will take your breath away!
Want to plan your own adventure to GBINP? Reservations must be made in advance, but they have a limited number of staff meaning the phones aren’t manned very well. While they suggest calling to reserve your trip, I had the most luck contacting them via Twitter and then having them call me. You could also try leaving a voicemail with your number if that works better for you! There are a very limited number of seats available on the DayTripper, so I’d book at least a few days in advance. We booked on a Wednesday and were fine for the Labour Day weekend but it could fill up fast during peak season in the summer! The DayTripper runs from the Victoria Day weekend until Thanksgiving weekend. If you’re looking to do a day of hiking like we did, I’d suggest doing the route opposite to us and starting with Fairly Lake before hitting the Cambrian Trail. That way you can fully enjoy Fairy Lake without watching your watch to make sure you don’t miss your boat back to Honey Harbour! Also, don’t forget: take only pictures and leave only footprints. While the park is one of the cleanest I’ve seen, unfortunately people do take it for granted as I found a bag full of litter. If you see any, be sure to help out our planet and pick it up so it can be disposed of properly! So what are you waiting for? Get out and explore!