Through the woods, over the mountains and then across the bridge.
That sums up the drive to Manitoulin Island in one sentence. But it’s something you really have to experience for yourself.
The drive is incredibly scenic. You travel through the thick woods of Northern Ontario. Over twisty roads in the LaCloche Mountains. Glide past ancient islands. And finally, across the iconic swing bridge.
Sure, you could take the ferry from Tobermory… but I’m a road trip kinda gal! You have the freedom to stop and go whenever you like. See that scenic vista? Pull over and take a photo! Feeling a bit hungry? Hang a left and grab some snacks.
You know that quote, the journey is half the fun? That’s really the case with Manitoulin Island! You don’t experience Ontario’s only mountain range and a black bear running over the road from the ferry. So, if you’re planning a trip to Manitoulin Island, get that car packed and brace yourself for a long drive. We’re just getting started. Let’s explore the best things to do in Manitoulin Island
13 of the BEST Things to Do in Manitoulin Island
From beautiful small towns to scenic trails and secret swim spots, there are a surprising amount of things to do in Manitoulin Island. You could easily spend an entire week here to visit all of the sights. We only visited for ONE day and it definitely wasn’t enough. Based on my own experience and that of friends, I’ve put together a list of the best places to stay, visit and things to do in Manitoulin Island. My boyfriend also made a cool Youtube video about our trip, check it out here.
Where to stay in Manitoulin Island?
You can find a number of different hotels and cottages in the list below, that are all close to by to some of the attractions that I mentioned. But another thing to consider is Airbnb! There are a ton of amazing Airbnbs in Manitoulin Island and it’s a really nice way to immersive yourself with the locals and get a feel for the island life. If you haven’t used Airbnb before, you can sign up through my referral link for up to $70 CAD off your first stay. For inspiration, here are some of the best Airbnbs in Manitoulin Island:
- Manitoulin Island Cabin in Manitowaning
- Chickadee Cottage in Gore Bay
- Lakefront Bunkie in Little Current
1. Little Current
If you come by car, your trip to Manitoulin Island will start in Little Current, which is coincidentally the biggest town on Manitoulin Island. As you come off the swing bridge, there’s going to be a Tourism Office to your right. This is a great place to stop for information, maps of the island, pamphlets/magazines for local business, free bathrooms and access to the Swing Bridge Viewing Area! There’s a nice short trail that starts beside the Tourism Office and goes down to the water, where you can get the perfect photo of the bridge. Or jump into the lake from the pier if you’re so inclined. Before you leave, be sure to visit 3 Cows and a Cone right next door, it’s an island staple serving up ice cream, milkshakes and smoothies. Their “La Cloche” smoothie is amazing!
Head into downtown via Sim St, where can drive along Water Street and right past the small Little Current Lighthouse. You’ll eventually reach the main business district, where there’s plenty of parking, so leave the car and check out this area on foot. Hang out by the Little Current Pier to boat watch and enjoy the local scenery. Visit some of the local businesses in Little Current like the Outpost General Store (great for souvenirs and Manitoulin Island sweaters) and Loco Beanz Coffee House (you have to try their North Channel Chai – it’s amazing).
2. Cup and Saucer Trail
There is no shortage of hiking trails on Manitoulin Island. But the Cup and Saucer trail are undoubtedly the most popular of the bunch. Before visiting the island, I asked a few of my friends who had been here before if they had any recommendations on things to do and they ALL mentioned the Cup and Saucer Trail. So I figured it must be worth it. And it was.
The Cup and Saucer Trail is about 20km away from Little Current and you can’t miss it from the main highway. There’s a nice big parking lot, but it can fill up fast on the weekends! It’s best to get here early. There are a few different trails for you to choose from, each with their own level of difficulty. I recommend taking the red trail, which is a 5km loop and takes you to some of the most SCENIC lookout points on the island. That one took us about 90 minutes from start to finish and we were walking at a reasonable pace.
There are some trail diversions you can take if you’re looking for something more adventurous. You might even find yourself clinging onto the escarpment or walking over a bridge made of a single log. But for the most part, the trails are relatively easy and family-friendly. I think that’s the reason why it’s the most popular hiking trail on Manitoulin Island. The views don’t hurt either!
3. Kagawong & Bridal Veil Falls
Driving into Kagawong from the main highway, you will stumble upon Bridal Veil Falls. There’s a small parking area right next to the road and a big spiral stairway that leads you down to the water. The stairway was closed during our visit due to COVID, but the viewing platform at the top was still open. You’ll have a nice view of the falls from here, but if you want to go to the bottom, drive a bit further down the main road to the Kagawong Park Centre. From here, you can take a short hike to the base of the falls. There’s a trail map to guide you.
Set aside a bit of time to visit the actual town of Kagawong, nicknamed “Ontario’s Prettiest Village” for good reason. There are a couple of historic sites just by the water, like the Kagawong Lighthouse, St. John the Anglican Church and the Old Mill. If you’re looking for a place to swim on Manitoulin Island, drive down Main Street (away from the town) until you find a secluded spot. There are some easy pull-offs and sandy shores along this coast. We found a secret swimming spot in no time at all!
Upon inspecting some of the shells and rocks in the water here, we found a fossil! An ammonite fossil to be exact. Afterwards, we did a bit of googling and found out that Manitoulin Island is one of the best spots in the WORLD for fossil hunting! And more specifically, Kagawong due to its location between Lake Kagawong and the North Channel. How cool is that?
Before leaving town, be sure to pop by the Manitoulin Chocolate Works to satisfy that sweet-tooth craving.
4. Gore Bay & its Scenic Lookouts
This was one of my favourite small towns in Manitoulin Island. It has a real cottage-like atmosphere, with nice restaurants, a pretty pier and two scenic lookout points.
To access the first, head down East Bluff Road and you’ll soon come across the East Bluff Lookout. It’s one of the best scenic views on the island and the perfect place for a picnic! You will be treated to a bird’s eye view of the town, the bay and beyond. A few minutes further down the same road, there’s a second lookout point at Hindman Memorial Park. It offers a stunning view of the North Channel and if the timing is right, you might even be treated to a famous Manitoulin sunset!
Back in the town of Gore Bay, there are plenty of places for you to visit. Down by the marina (where you can park for free), you can access the famous pier, check out the Marine Museum or take a seat on the lakeside patio at Split Rail Brewing Co., Manitoulin’s first craft brewery! There are a few boutique shops in the main business district on Meredith Street. History-lovers should definitely pay a visit to the Museum of Gore Bay, which used to be the district jail. Now it houses some artifacts and informative displays about the local settlers.
If you love lighthouses, then you don’t want to miss the Janet Head Lighthouse. It’s only a few minutes out of town. Stay on Water Road (the same one that the marina & brewery are located on) until it becomes Lighthouse Road and take it all the way to the end. You can’t miss the lighthouse! It’s in a beautiful location. Scenic and quiet. And a great place to go swimming or at least dip your toes in the North Channel.
5. Drive Over the Causeway Bridge
Looking for a scenic drive in Manitoulin Island. This one is for you! Take Highway 540 out of Gore Bay and towards the township of Burpee and Mills. The farmland will turn into the forest and as you get closer to Campbell Bay, you will reach Burpee Road and the Causeway Bridge. This road takes you across a low water crossing bridge and offers an amazing view of the lakes on either side of you. Right before you cross, there will be a car pull off in case you want to stop and take a couple of pictures.
We found this particular area, the “west side” of Manitoulin Island to be very remote! There aren’t a lot of places to eat or fill up on gas, so be prepared before you venture this way. Although it is definitely a beautiful place to drive! You’ll drive through forest for the most part (worth visiting in the fall you get the chance) and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to spot some wildlife. Maybe even a black bear if you’re lucky!
And just 15 minutes past the bridge, you’ll drive past the road entrance for Misery Bay Provincial Park ($), the only provincial park on Manitoulin Island. It’s day-use only (no overnight camping allowed) but there are plenty of hiking trails, birding opportunities and swimming areas.
6. Meldrum Bay & the Mississagi Lighthouse
The scenic drive through Western Manitoulin will eventually lead you to the small coastal village of Meldrum Bay. Although there isn’t much to do in this area, it’s really a fisherman’s delight! You will find that the docks can get quite busy in the summertime with boats coming in from the Great Lakes to take advantage of all the salmon that can be found in the bay.
It’s a great town to visit in the afternoon, where you can take a quiet walk around the marina and admire some of the historic buildings in town, like the hundred-year-old church and the Olde General Store. If you’re looking for a place to stay on Manitoulin Island, check out the Meldrum Bay Inn. I haven’t stayed myself, but after reading the great reviews, I can tell you that they have cozy rooms, a hot breakfast and a very relaxing-coastal atmosphere. It’s the perfect place to rest up for the night and gives you an excuse to drive out to the end of the island for the sunset!
About 15 minutes past town, at the very edge of the island, you will find the Mississagi Lighthouse. This is such a beautiful and unique place to visit! The inside of the lighthouse has been turned into a museum, where you can see some old artifacts from the local area. There’s a campground on-site that would be great for RV’s and a little camp store where you can grab an ice cream cone before heading down to the water. Feel free to jump right in (the water is crystal clear) or try to spot the sunken ship just offshore.
7. Providence Bay “The Beach”
Back in the central part of Manitoulin (almost exactly 100km from the Mississagi Lighthouse) is my favourite spot on the island; Providence Bay! Locals simply call it “the beach” and once you visit, you’ll know why. This town sits on the south shore of the island, overlooking Lake Huron and has one of the longest and most beautiful beaches in Northern Ontario! We spent hours here just lounging on the beach, swimming and enjoying the island life! Parking and use of the beach are completely free, so that’s an added bonus.
The town is very small and it’s easy to visit the entire thing on foot. Walk on over to The Mutchmor and Providence Peace Cafe to check out some local art and grab a cup of coffee. Or book a night at one of their Airbnb apartments. You’ll recognize the building because of the beautiful mural outside! If you’re feeling hungry, I highly recommend grabbing a bite at Lake Huron Fish & Chips. It’s a local favourite! We opted for the “whitefish” and chips, which is right out of Lake Huron! The outdoor patio was closed to COVID, but we brought our food down to the beach and ate it there instead.
On our walk through town, we also noticed a lovely bed and breakfast and agreed that we would definitely stay here when we come back to the island. It’s called On the Bay Bed & Breakfast and it’s located right on the main street, steps away from the beach. The rooms and rates are quite reasonable as well.
8. South Baymouth
For those that take the ferry from Tobermory to Manitoulin Island, you will find yourself in South Baymouth. At the ferry terminal, there is a tourist information centre, where you can grab a map and use the free washrooms.
You can walk along the South Baymouth boardwalk to try and spot some turtles and take the bridge over to the small island, which has a pretty lighthouse and observation deck. It’s the perfect spot to enjoy a view of the lake and watch the ferry come into shore. But be careful, because if the water levels are too high the bridge can become somewhat inaccessible unless you’re wearing your waders! From here, you can access a network of trails and the South Baymouth Lookout Trail, which provides some easy hiking and a remote-wilderness feeling just a few minutes outside of town.
If you prefer to stick to the sidewalk, there are some places for you to visit in town, like the South Baymouth Museum and Southbay Gallery. Grab a souvenir (like a Manitoulin Island Sweater) at the Wigwam Gift Shop & Motel before heading out of town. Stop at the South Baymouth Beach north of town if you want to jump in the water. For a place to stay, I recommend driving to Minemoya and booking a night at the Manitoulin Inn or Maple Grove Cottages.
Another one of the best small towns on Manitoulin Island is Manitowaning, which sits on the eastern shore. You can visit the Manitowaning Lighthouse and nearby S.S. Norisle, which is permanently docked at the harbour and enjoy the view of the water. Venture over to the Assiginack Museum to learn about the history of the local area and find out if there is anything happening at the Debajehmujig Theatre Group, an indigenous performing arts centre.
There are some town amenities here too like a grocery store, pharmacy and bank. Which makes it a convenient base for exploring the island. Consider booking a night at the Wayside Motel, they offer clean and comfortable rooms. Plus the reviews are amazing! If you’re looking to rent a cottage in Manitoulin Island, check out Jannah’s Cottages. The lakefront location makes it easy to jump in the water and there’s a nice fire pit in the back for roasting s’mores on a summer night.
10. Wiikwemkoong & Prairie Point
It’s an easy drive from Manitowaning to Wiikwemkoong, Manitoulin Island’s largest First Nation community. And scenic too! Be sure to pull over at the Buzwah Lookout, where you can take photos from the viewing platform or take a hike down to the bay. It’s located on Wikwemikong Way, just before Kaboni Road. A few minutes further, you’ll reach another scenic spot called Monument Hill.
The town of Wiikwemkoong is rich with history and has a number of points of interest. Be sure to visit the harbour front and King’s Bay public beach but if you’re looking for something a bit more remote, drive to Prairie Point.
You’ll find it on the very edge of the island, about 15km away from town. Just take Rabbit Island Road all the way to end. It will turn unpaved eventually, but only for a small portion. The peaceful spot at the end is worth the drive! This is the perfect place to hop in for a swim, do some fishing or just enjoy the views of the LaCloche Mountains in the distance. There’s a small boat launch here too, so feel free to go for a ride out on the water!
11. Ten Mile Point Trading Post
Driving between Manitowaning and Little Current, you’ll pass the famous Ten Mile Point. It’s the best place to pick up a local souvenir and enjoy a scenic rest stop.
There’s a big parking area just beside the road, that overlooks the lake and the La Cloche Mountains beyond it. There’s a lot of history on these grounds, as it used to be a Jesuit mission site. Take some time to sit back and enjoy the view. There’s a small picnic area, a tipi to take photos with and a hiking trail entrance too.
Be sure to head into the Ten Mile Point Trading Post & Gallery, where you can visit the island’s biggest exhibit of aboriginal art and crafts! It’s a very unique store and I can guarantee there will be some items in here that you’ve never seen anywhere else, like porcupine quill boxes. It’s a great spot to pick up a souvenir too. They have intricate dreamcatchers, handmade moccasins and beautiful blankets.
Only a few minutes past the Ten Mile Point Trading Post is the small community of Sheguiandah, a 10,000-year-old town. And that’s not a typo! Archaeologists have found numerous artifacts, stone stools and arrowheads in a prehistoric quarry that date back to this time frame. Head to the Centennial Museum of Sheguiandah to check out some of these artifacts in person and explore their on-site pioneer village, where you can get a glimpse of what life was like 100 years ago.
In town, you can stop at the Manitoulin Soap Factory. All of their soaps are handmade, smell delicious and some of them even double as a souvenir! I highly recommend the Timeless Passage Soap, which showcases the famous swing bridge. How cool is that?
Take a quick detour off of Highway 6 to visit the Batman Sawmill and water wheel on the corner of Limit & Mill Streets. We had a tough time finding it at first because it’s not listed on Google Maps, but once you know the location it’s easy to get to! There’s a small park across the mill where you can sit and listen to the water. Nature’s own ASMR!
And finally, down by the shore of Sheguiandah Bay, there is a small boat launch and a big Muskoka chair for you to get the classic tourist photo!
There aren’t many places to stay in the area, but if you’re interested in camping or renting a cottage on Manitoulin Island, you might want to check out Batman’s Camping. They have a LOT of amenities, like sandy beaches, hiking trails, fully serviced sites and free wi-fi.
13. Lake Manitou & Green Bay Park
No visit to Manitoulin Island is complete without a stop at Lake Manitou. Because not only is Manitoulin Island the world’s largest island in a freshwater lake, but it’s ALSO home to the largest lake on an island; Lake Manitou. So, you obviously have to go see it for yourself!
It’s a short detour from Sheguiandah by taking Townline Road out of town, all the way to Green Bay Park on the shores of Lake Manitou. There are other spots where you can stop to enjoy a view of the lake, but I like this one because it’s easy to get to, there’s plenty of parking and the shores are sandy so you can go for a swim in the summer. It’s usually pretty quiet here, so you might get lucky and have the place all to yourself. Keep an eye out for turtles in the water!
This is the perfect place to end your trip to Manitoulin Island, before heading back to Little Current and back over the bridge.
There are so many amazing things to do on Manitoulin Island. Obviously, we can’t cover them all in one post. If you have any recommendations, please SHARE them in the comments below. We can use this as a collective resource of our favourite places on the island. We visited in the summer and the weather was gorgeous, but I would love to come back again in the fall. Just imagine all of the changing leaves!
For more inspiration on places to visit in Canada, check out some of my other posts like:
- The Best Small Towns in Southern Ontario
- Scenic Road Trip through Kawartha Lakes
- The Ultimate East Coast Canada Road Trip