Few national parks in Canada compete with Georgian Bay Islands National Park. This park has got it all.
Located two hours north of Toronto, the park matches accessibility with excellent camping facilities, spectacular nature and a laundry list of things to do. Georgian Bay Islands National Park is one of my favourite places for backcountry camping in Canada. Yet if glamping is more your style there are plenty of options for roofed accommodations.
All the hikes are relatively flat and suitable for novice hikers. But the views are beautiful enough that the experienced hiker will still find the hikes enjoyable. And if you get bored of hiking, there’s biking, swimming and stargazing to fill the rest of your time. So let’s dive into everything you need to know to visit Georgian Bay Islands National Park in Canada.
About Georgian Bay Islands National Park
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I grew up running on the granite rocks and swimming in the dark green waters of Georgian Bay Islands National Park. I attended summer camp in the national park for ten years, and then was on camp staff for three additional years. When I say I know this national park in Canada well, I mean it.
Georgian Bay Islands National Park is located two hours north of Toronto, Canada. It encompasses 63 islands on Georgian Bay, a large body of water that is part of Lake Huron (Georgian Bay is so large in fact, it is often referred to as ‘the sixth Great Lake’).
The largest island of the park, and where the camping and activities are, is Beausoleil Island. Beausoleil Island means ‘beautiful sun’ in French, and boy, are the sunsets spectacular.
One of my favourite aspects of Beausoleil Island is that you can experience the wooden forests of the St Lawrence Lowlands at the south of the island, and the rugged exposed granite of the Canadian Shield on the northern part of the island.
You see, Beausoleil Island is positioned right where the St Lawrence Lowlands transition into the Canadian Shield. You can have your feet in two different Canadian geographic regions simultaneously. And the transition is actually quite stark; one minute you’re walking along pine-covered soil. Suddenly the soil stops and you must step onto the rocks in order to continue on the trail.
All these contrasts in the scenery and wondrous natural aspects make Georgian Bay one of my favourite places to go backcountry camping in Ontario.
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How to Get to Georgian Bay Islands National Park
As you may have gathered, the camping and activities are on an island so you can’t exactly drive to your campsite. Instead, you must drive to Honey Harbour Boat Club Marina where you can meet either a water taxi or the Parks Canada DayTripper boat. Either of these options can shuttle you to the island. The boat ride from Honey Harbour to Beausoleil Island is 20-30 minutes.
I don’t know why, but Parks Canada has made the DayTripper available only for day use and people staying in one of their roofed accommodation options. Essentially, they exclude people who will be tent camping. This means people tent camping must book a water taxi. Weird rule, I know.
The other option is to go to the park with Park Bus. This is a service that shuttles people from downtown and northern Toronto to parks in central Ontario. They have an option which drives people to Honey Harbour from the city, and they arrange boat transportation. If you’re coming from the city, this is the easiest option for organizing transportation to Georgian Bay, Canada.
If you are flying into Toronto and plan on staying before continuing on to Georgian Bay Islands National Park then you have several options for accommodation including the following:
Top Pick: The Parkway Place Guesthouse
The Parkway Place Guesthouse is located just 800m from the Eglinton Subway Station. The guesthouse is stylish with modern decor which is comfortable. Guests can enjoy free wifi at the property. The guestrooms offer beautiful wood flooring with a seating area where guests can relax. Some of the rooms have kitchens while there are also shared dining and kitchen facilities provided.
Top Pick: The Drake Hotel
The Drake Hotel offers unique and stylish accommodation which guests will find memorable and unique. The property is located in the city’s Art District which is exciting. Guests can enjoy free high-speed internet as well as handcrafted art pieces in each room. There is an onsite fitness facility as well as a rooftop patio where guests can enjoy a drink and snacks. The hotel also offers an underground entertainment venue, an elegant lounge as well as great sushi at the Raw Bar.
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Camping in Georgian Bay Islands National Park
There are two options for camping in the park: Primitive or Glamping.
There are eight campsites on the island dedicated to tent camping (or, as Parks Canada likes to call it, Primitive Camping). My favourite campsite is Honeymoon, located on the north side of the island.
Only two campsites require you to book ahead (Honeymoon and Tonch North). The six others are first-come-first-serve. Regardless of the campsite you choose, you will need to pick up a permit from the Parks Canada office. The office is located near the boat dock where you’ll be dropped off.
For me, I consider primitive camping one of the best ways to experience Georgian Bay, Canada.
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If camping in a tent is a little too rustic for you, there are two types of accommodations for ‘glamping’ (glam camping). The first is a stay at an o-TENT-ik, which is a semi-permanent tent structure with actual beds and a sturdy roof. The second option is a more traditional cabin.
In both cases, you need to reserve for a minimum of two nights, and the nightly rate starts around $100 CAD. This is a novel way to experience the best that Canada and the Georgian Bay Islands National Park have to offer.
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Accommodation Outside Georgian Bay Islands National Park
If you choose to just visit the park for the day then there are several options that you can consider that are close.
Top Pick: Kings Inn Midland
The Kings Inn is located in Midland, Ontario. Guests can enjoy comfortable guest rooms equipped with a refrigerator and microwave. The Inn offers free parking as well as free wifi and air conditioning in the guest rooms. Kings Inn Midland is located two kilometres from Georgian Bay Islands National Park.
Top Pick: Midland Inn & Suites
The Midland Inn & Suites is located just a few kilometres from the Georgian Bay Islands and offers free wifi and cable TV. Each of the suites include a microwave, fridge and living area. The Inn offers a great location to discover the surrounding area.
Top Pick: 1875 A Charters Inn
Located in Midland, Ontario the 1875 A Charters Inn offers guests views of Georgian Bay. The bed and breakfast offers guests wonderful gourmet multi-course breakfast and private charter cruises on the bay. Each room is individually decorated and features a fireplace, wifi and a refrigerator. Guests can enjoy relaxing on the wrap-around porch, in the hot tub and on the garden patio.
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Things to do in Georgian Bay Islands National Park
After driving two hours and spending thirty minutes on a boat ride, there better be some good activities to do in Georgian Bay Islands NP. Fear not, my friend, you won’t be disappointed in this part of Canada!
There are 12 trails on Beausoleil Island for you to choose from. My personal favourite is Rockview Trail to Fairy Lake.
On the south part of the island, the well-defined trails wind through forest and are very easy to follow. On the north part of the island, however, the trail navigates over the exposed granite rocks of the Canadian Shield, and there isn’t a well-defined path. There are markers (coloured plastic cylinders held up on a steel bar) that tell you where the path is. The colour of the marker corresponds to the trail. Keep your wits about you and don’t get lost!
This, of course, is just one of the many exciting things to keep you occupied in Georgian Bay and one of the best activities to explore in Canada.
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Three of the hiking trails on the south part of the island are suitable for biking. Two of those trails (the Huron and Christian) are flat and wide trails, while the third, the Georgian, is rocky and more challenging. You can rent bikes from the Cedar Springs Visitor Office (nearby the boat dock).
There are a ton of great spots for swimming on Beausoleil Island. Honeymoon and Beausoleil Point are my favourite spots; Christian Beach and around Tonches are good places too. Another secret spot few visitors know about is Program Beach. There isn’t a campsite nearby, so you’ll need to hike there. Why not get in two great activities in one, right?
Tip: All of these swim spots are sandy and suitable for children. We always required campers to wear sandals in the water, just in case there were rocks or broken glass. I never had a camper cut themselves, but it’s a good tip nonetheless.
Sunset and Stargazing
The north side of Beausoleil Island (Honeymoon) gets the best sunsets, and they are something. The majority of the photos in this blog post are taken from the north side of the island around sunset. The sky erupts in colour, the perfect backdrop behind the windswept pines this area is known for.
Throughout the park, you’ll also find nice spots for stargazing. As Georgian Bay Islands National Park isn’t near any cities in Canada, you get very little light pollution.
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Tips for Staying Safe at Georgian Bay Islands National Park
- Bring a cooking stove and some means of water purification. In the summer there are occasionally fire bans (if it’s been really dry).
- The island is occasionally frequented by black bears. Although black bears aren’t prone to aggressiveness and will likely leave you alone, avoid an encounter by securing your food overnight.
- Beware the Massasauga Rattlesnake. This endangered snake has a distinct rattle to let you know you’ve come too close. If you hear a rattle, calmly back away. A bite won’t do too much to a human (though still call 911 and alert the Park Staff). Killing one of these snakes, however, can land you with a fine up to $250,000.
- None of the trails are challenging enough to require fancy hiking boots. I’ve also worn running shoes and managed just fine. On the north side of the island (on rocky Canadian Shield) definitely wear shoes with a backstrap. Too many people roll their ankles while wearing flip flops here!
- There are two YMCA camps on the island (Camp Kitchikewana in the south and Camp Queen Elizabeth in the north. The camps don’t allow visitors (for the safety of the campers) so if you find yourself there by mistake, the camp staff will (very kindly) redirect you to the hiking trail. There are signs along the hiking trails to indicate where to turn to get to the camps, so they’re easy to avoid.
I hope you enjoy your visit to Georgian Bay Islands National Park. There isn’t another place like it.
Written by Mikaela. Mikaela is the storytelling behind Voyageur Tripper, a blog dedicated to outdoor adventure. Once a wilderness guide in Ontario, Quebec and Nunavut, Mikaela now works full time in Toronto and fills her free time with adventures outside. On her blog, you’ll find camping resources, stories of misadventures, destination guides and more.