Located in Northern Ontario on the shores of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, Manitoulin Island is the largest freshwater island in the world. There are many things to do in Manitoulin Island from learning about First Nation heritage on the Great Spirit Circle Trail to enjoying the beauty of Lake Huron, here are the best ideas to help you plan your trip.
Things to Do In Manitoulin Island
Just think of exploring 2766 km2 (1167 square miles) of pristine landscape. Part of the Niagara Escarpment, Manitoulin Island offers some amazing nature experiences, incredible hiking trails, cultural experiences, and more. Here are our top picks for what you can’t miss when visiting Manitoulin Island.
1. Hike Cup and Saucer Trail
One of the greatest adventures to be had on Manitoulin Island is to hike the Cup and Saucer trail. The Cup and Saucer hiking trail is the quintessential hike of Manitoulin Island. Heck, it’s one of the Quintessential hikes in all of Ontario! It starts in a parking lot off the main road, and within a couple of hundred meters (600 feet or so) the steep rocky climb begins. Beginner hikers may find it challenging, but stick with it, the payoff is worth the climb up roots, over boulders, and through the muddy trail after a rainy night. We didn’t expect the views to be so staggering.
The main trail is approximately 4 kilometers long, with an additional 2 kilometers of side trails, including the popular Adventure Trail that takes hikers along narrow cliff edges and through unique rock formations.
Climbing up to the second lookout took us up 70 meters (210 feet). The star of the show is the overhanging rock plunging into the valley below. Looking over the escarpment, lakes, and wetlands is a sight that will take your breath away. We could have spent hours taking photographs of the view.
The trailhead for the Cup and Saucer Trail is located on Highway 540, approximately 18 kilometers west of Little Current. The trailhead and parking lot are on the north side of the highway, and there are signs marking the entrance. The physical address is 9110 Highway 540, Sheguiandah, ON P0P 1W0, Canada.
2. Great Spirit Circle Trail
We highly recommend taking a tour with the Great Spirit Circle Trail You can hike this on your own, or take a tour. You will learn about native flora and fauna and local customs and legends of the First Nations people. It is one of the best experiences for cultural travel we’ve ever had in Canada and if you go to Manitoulin Island, be sure to check out the visitors center to learn of all the amazing First Nation experiences.
3. Go Horseback Riding
Step back in time to go horseback riding on Manitoulin Island and spend a night camping on the island. Take in the beautiful view of the island from the plateau as you get to know your horse. Riding on Manitoulin is a fun and challenging ride with a lot of ascents and descents on rocky trails. For a real rustic Ontario experience, this is the trip for us!
4. Swim Under Bridal Veil Falls
Even our bank teller told us that we had to go to Bridal Veil Falls when visiting Manitoulin Island. It’s the number one attraction for everyone traveling to Manitoulin Island. Located right off the road and just a short walk down well-maintained metal stairs, Bridal Veil Falls is a perfect spot for a dip. this beautiful waterfall is one of the most popular attractions in Kagawong. You can hike to the bottom of the falls and swim in the pool below.
Kids loved playing under the falls and Dave and I loved walking behind them to take photographs. Since Bridal Veil Falls so popular it’s quite crowded so arrive early. We waited around for the people to clear out and by late afternoon we had it all to ourselves.
5. Stick Around Kagawong
In addition to the stunning Bridal Veil Falls, Kagawong on Manitoulin Island has a myriad of other attractions and activities for visitors to enjoy. Nature enthusiasts will appreciate the beautiful Kagawong River Trail, a scenic path that meanders along the river and offers breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape.
For those with a sweet tooth, the Kagawong Chocolate Works is a must-visit, with its delicious handmade chocolates and treats. History and culture buffs will find the Old Mill Heritage Centre fascinating, as it provides a comprehensive look at the history and culture of Manitoulin Island and the Great Lakes. Another option for chocolate lovers is the Manitoulin Chocolate Works, which offers an array of handmade chocolates and other delectable sweets.
Lastly, don’t miss the chance to explore the local art galleries and shops in Kagawong, where you can find unique, locally made crafts products.
6. Hiking Trails of Manitoulin Island
There is no doubt that hiking is one of the top things to do in Manitoulin Island. There is the M’chigeeng Hiking Trail, South Bay Lookout, and the Bebamikawe Memorial Trail to name a few. The Bebamikawe Memorial Trail is a long, but moderate 14 km hike that takes you to lookouts and vistas along a mix of double and single-track trails.
7. Medicine Walk and Talk
Something that makes Manitoulin Island so special is the chance to immerse in the culture of The First Nation People. In Africa, Australia, and all around Southeast Asia we have taken part in medicine walks, and on Manitoulin, we had the chance to learn about the medicinal plants of the island with our First Nation’s guide, Falcon. We started with a smudging ceremony to give thanks to the land and environment and then went on a guided hike through the amazing hiking trails to learn what the plants are used for. This is fascinating and can be booked through the Great Spirit Circle Trail.
8. Sunset Canoe
If you happen to visit at the right time of the month, you can paddle the North Channel under the full moonlight. We were a bit late for the full moon and the weather was a bit rough, so we instead made our way to Otter Lake with Aboriginal Guide Falcon to canoe under the stars. When visiting Canada, you must give canoeing a try. You’ll have the chance to canoe with an expert and hear their stories about the vessel that the First Nations introduced to the fur traders and early European explorers. This sunset canoe was part of our Great Spirit Circle tour package, but you can easily book canoe tours and rentals all around the island.
9. Paddle Lake Manitou
You can also go paddling on Lake Manitou. ake Manitou is the largest lake on an island in the world, covering over 100 square kilometers, and its clear waters are surrounded by lush forests and rugged cliffs. The name “Manitou” itself is derived from the Ojibwe word for spirit or deity, reflecting the spiritual importance of the lake to the local Ojibwe communities. Lake Manitou is relatively undeveloped, providing a serene and tranquil environment. It is not uncommon to have large sections of the lake entirely to yourself.
10. Misery Bay Provincial Park
Misery Bay Provincial Park is the only provincial park on Manitoulin Island. It’s one of the best places to go hiking on Manitoulin Island with 15 km of hiking trails ranging from a 2km loop to an 8km loop. The trails offer beautiful views of Lake Huron.
11. Voice of the Drum
The drum is the center of Aboriginal lives. We learned different drum techniques and made our own drums to take home with us during our Voice of the Drum experience on Manitoulin Island. A signature experience of the Great Spirit Circle Tour, this was so much fun to do. We have our drums on display in our house and it is a very interesting way to learn about the indigenous culture while making your own take-home souvenir.
The drum is the heartbeat of Mother Nature. Drum and we learned that song is used for many occasions: As a prayer, as a celebration, or just plain having fun! We listened to our guides Steven and Falcon sing as they played us different songs for different purposes while pulling the deer hides over our drum frames. There is something mesmerizing about listening to the vocal stylings of these talented performers as they are accompanied by their drums.
12. Aboriginal Feast with Song and Dance
Canada’s First Nations is one of the most fascinating cultures on earth. Learn of their ancient ways passed down from generations and immerse in the culture. There are several experiences to learn of the Anishinaabe people of Manitoulin and this was the most beautiful.
Rolling Thunder Dance Traditions performed a traditional song and dance and even let us join in before we settled into a First Nation’s Feast at the Ojibway Cultural Centre along the Great Spirit Circle Trail. It’s a fascinating, fun, and informative experience. Don’t miss it!
13. Visit the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation
The Ojibwe Cultural Foundation serves as a cultural and spiritual hub of the Ojibwe First Nations People, where visitors can explore Ojibwe art, language, music, dance, and traditional practices through interactive exhibits, workshops, and performances.
The Ojibwe Cultural Foundation is also home to a fascinating museum that showcases a vast collection of artifacts and exhibits detailing the history, spirituality, and social structures of the Ojibwe people. The gallery features works by contemporary Ojibwe artists, providing insight into how traditional artistic practices have evolved and continue to thrive today.
In addition to its educational and cultural offerings, the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation also provides visitors with a chance to participate in workshops and activities that foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of Ojibwe culture. These experiences include traditional storytelling sessions, language classes, and hands-on crafts workshops, allowing visitors to engage with Ojibwe culture in a truly immersive way.
14. Attend The Wiikwemkoong Annual Cultural Festival
If you want to immerse in more Indigenous culture, The Wiikwemkoong Annual Cultural Festival is a vibrant celebration of Indigenous heritage held in the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory. This three-day event, typically held in August, is one of the largest and longest-running powwows in Northern Ontario
The festival features traditional drumming, dancing, and singing, with performers donning colorful regalia and participating in various dance categories, including traditional, grass, fancy, and jingle dress dances. The event serves as a competition powwow, with dancers and drum groups competing for prizes.
In addition to the powwow, the festival also includes a variety of cultural demonstrations and workshops, such as storytelling, traditional food preparation, and craft making. Visitors can explore Indigenous art and crafts at the various vendor booths, sampling traditional foods and purchasing handmade items such as beadwork, jewelry, and moccasins.
The Wiikwemkoong Annual Cultural Festival is a unique opportunity for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to come together to celebrate the cultural heritage of the Wiikwemkoong community and other Indigenous peoples from across North America.
15. Camp on the Benjamin Islands
We took a tour of the islands and coast with the North Channel Cruise Line Tour Boat. Manitoulin has beautiful rocky scenery and it must be seen from a boat. After a day of sightseeing, we set up camp on the rocks and spent the night staring at the stars on the shores of Lake Huron. It is one of the best places to go camping in Ontario.
16. Hike to the East Bluff Lookout
Hiking the East Bluff Lookout on Manitoulin Island is an experience that offers stunning panoramic views, a good dose of nature, and the chance to immerse yourself in the tranquility of the island’s landscape. The hike leads you to a vantage point where you can take in breathtaking views of the surrounding forests, wetlands, and the pristine waters of Lake Huron. The lookout point is particularly spectacular during the fall, when the leaves change color, transforming the landscape into a vibrant palette of reds, oranges, and yellows.
The hike itself is a rewarding experience, with well-maintained trails that wind through diverse ecosystems, providing an opportunity to observe the island’s unique flora and fauna. Along the way, you may spot various bird species, as well as other wildlife that inhabit the area.
17. Meldrum Bay Marina
Meldrum Bay is a fishing village on Manitoulin Island that is very popular with boaters touring the Great Lakes. As Canada shares the Great Lakes with the US, the Meldrum Bay Marina is also a Canadian Customs port. The top attraction here is the Mississagi Lighthouse and there are plenty of opportunities for watersports and vacation rentals along the shores of Lake Huron.
18. Tour the Lighthouses of Manitoulin Island DP
Some people visit the lakes of Ontario just to see the old lighthouses scattered throughout. There are a dozen lighthouses on a Manitoulin Island road trip with the most popular and easily accessible being the Janet Head Lighthouse. The lighthouse, which was built in the late 19th century, is located in Gore Bay and has served as an important navigational aid for ships traveling through the North Channel of Lake Huron. Today, the lighthouse stands as a historical landmark, and offers visitors a unique glimpse into the island’s maritime history
In addition to the Janet Head Lighthouse, there are a few other lighthouses on Manitoulin Island and the surrounding area that are worth visiting:
Mississagi Lighthouse: Located at the western tip of Manitoulin Island, the Mississagi Lighthouse is a historic lighthouse that offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape. The area is also popular for hiking and birdwatching. South Baymouth Range Lights: These two small lighthouses are located in South Baymouth and guide ferries and other vessels entering and leaving the bay. Manitowaning Lighthouse: Located in Manitowaning Bay, this lighthouse is part of a waterfront park that features a sandy beach and picnic areas.
19. Gore Bay Museum
Located in the charming town of Gore Bay, the Gore Bay Museum is housed in a beautiful historic building that was originally the district courthouse and jail built in 1889. The museum building itself is a piece of history, with its stunning architecture and beautiful grounds. Visitors can explore the historic courthouse, jail cells, and other features of the building. The museum offers a comprehensive collection of artifacts, photographs, and exhibits that showcase the history of Gore Bay and Manitoulin Island. From Indigenous cultures to early European settlers, the museum provides a detailed glimpse into the island’s past.
When visiting Gore Bay Museum, you will have interactive exhibits and will see a ranges of of vintage and antique collections, including household items, clothing, and tools that offer a glimpse into the daily life of the island’s residents in the past.
20. Providence Bay Beach
If you are looking for some beach time on Manitoulin Island, Providence Bay is often touted as the best beach in Northern Ontario. There is a lovely boardwalk, picnic area, and public washrooms.
21. Pick Up Some Items at Ten Mile Point Trading Post
Visiting the Ten Mile Point Trading Post on Manitoulin Island is an excellent opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture and history of the region. The trading post is renowned for its extensive selection of Native Canadian crafts and art, providing a unique and authentic glimpse into the rich traditions and creativity of the indigenous communities on Manitoulin Island.
From beautiful handcrafted moccasins to intricately designed dream catchers, the trading post offers a wide range of items that are perfect for souvenirs or gifts. In addition to the crafts and art, Ten Mile Point Trading Post also boasts a stunning location, perched atop a limestone cliff and providing panoramic views of the surrounding landscape and the clear blue waters of Georgian Bay. With its blend of culture, history, and natural beauty, the Ten Mile Point Trading Post is a must-visit destination for anyone looking to experience the best of what Manitoulin Island has to offer.
22. Little Current Swing Bridge
If you are taking a Manitoulin Island road trip, chances are you’ll be driving across the Little Current Swing Bridge. This is a unique and iconic structure that connects Manitoulin Island to the mainland of Northern Ontario, Canada. The bridge spans across the North Channel of Lake Huron at the town of Little Current.
The swing bridge was originally constructed as a railway bridge in 1913 and was later adapted to accommodate vehicular traffic. It is one of the few swing bridges in North America that is still in operation.
The bridge operates as a single-lane, alternating-traffic bridge for most of the day. However, on the hour, every hour, during the summer months (from June to October), the bridge swings open to allow boat traffic to pass through. The bridge opening is a popular sight, and visitors often gather to watch the bridge swing open and close.
23. Farquhar’s Dairy Ice Cream
It seems that every cottage country and weekend getaway destination in Ontario has its own family-run ice cream shop. And Manitoulin Island is no different. We Canadians love enjoying ice cream when touring the province. You’ll be able to grab a cone at several places on the island. So make sure to enjoy it before you hit the hiking trails. (or after as your reward)
Where to Eat on Manitoulin Island
24. Eat At The Old Schoolhouse
Wondering where to eat on Manitoulin Island? A vacation wouldn’t be complete without a great meal and the best we had was at the Old Schoolhouse. Located in Providence Bay, this fine-dining restaurant is set in an old one-room schoolhouse dating back to 1898. The ambiance is relaxing and quiet with soft lighting and music, making for the perfect evening out.
Chef Greg Niven moved to Manitoulin with his wife Heather in 1996 after honing his skills in Toronto and has never looked back. The French-inspired menu offers a touch of class to your Manitoulin vacation at reasonable prices. Make sure to save room for the B52 Crème Brûlée it’s delectable. Make sure to reserve a table, this place fills up! See Website: The Old Schoolhouse Restaurant
25. Stop at Lake Huron Fish and Chips
Stopping at Lake Huron Fish and Chips on Manitoulin Island is a must for any visitor looking for a delicious and satisfying meal. Their fish and chips are widely acclaimed, featuring freshly caught fish from the surrounding waters of Lake Huron. The fish is expertly prepared, resulting in a perfectly crispy and flavorful batter that complements the tender and flaky fish inside. The chips are golden and crispy, making for a perfect pairing with the fish.
In addition to the classic fish and chips, Lake Huron Fish and Chips also offers a menu with a variety of other tasty options, catering to a range of tastes and preferences. The restaurant’s location on Manitoulin Island, the largest freshwater island in the world, provides a unique and picturesque setting for your meal. With friendly service and a commitment to quality, Lake Huron Fish and Chips is an excellent choice for a memorable dining experience on Manitoulin Island.
26. Brewery Tour and Beer Tastings
There are two breweries on Manitoulin Island that offer outdoor patios and beer sampling. The Split Rail Brewing Company and the Manitoulin Brewing Company offer beer samples, brewery tours and cool swag. While Manitoulin Brewing offers an outdoor patio where you can sample a flight of beer. There is nothing better than grabbing some swag and brew to take home with you after your trip to Manitoulin Island.
Other Places to Eat on Manitoulin
Where to stay on Manitoulin Island
Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre – Little Current: The conference center also has an excellent dining area with a patio overlooking the harbor. This First Nation-run hotel is a great place to make a base as you explore the Great Spirit Circle trail and other attractions around Manitoulin Island.
More Camping on Manitoulin Island
Manitoulin Island is one of the best weekend getaways from Toronto Ontario. And car camping is a huge Ontario activity. There are plenty of places to go camping on Manitoulin with cottage rentals and campgrounds available. One of the coolest experiences we had on Manitoulin was definitely camping in a Teepee. We did the TeePee experience as part of the Great Spirit Circle Tour, but Gordon’s Park offers a unique Tipi Camping experience.
How to Get to Manitoulin Island
Manitoulin Island is located on the north shore of Lake Huron just north of Tobermory and the Bruce Peninsula and south of Killarney Provincial Park.
There are two ways to visit Manitoulin Island by driving
From Toronto, you will drive north up the 400 to the Trans Canada Highway 1 towards Sudbury. From Sudbury, make your way to Espenola where you’ll turn onto Highway 6. Access to Manitoulin Island is by driving across the Little Current Swing Bridge. The swing bridge spans the north channel connecting the island to the mainland. It is open year-round and will give you access to Manitoulin Island from the north.
In the summer months, you can catch the Manitoulin Island Ferry, MS Chi-Cheemaun Ferry (Chi-Cheemaun means Big canoe in Ojibway) to Manitoulin Island from Tobermory. It takes you to the southernmost point of Manitoulin at South Baymouth. The MS Chi-Cheemaun is quite large with a capacity of 650 passengers and 140 vehicles. But Manitoulin is becoming so popular, that you may find it booked out in the summer months.
Frequently Asked Questions
What makes Manitoulin Island special?
Manitoulin Island is the world’s largest freshwater island. It also houses the largest lake within a freshwater island in the world. It is Lake Manitou.
Is it worth going to Manitoulin Island?
Yes, Manitoulin Island is worth visiting due to its unique blend of natural beauty, cultural significance, and recreational activities. The island is home to stunning landscapes, including crystal-clear lakes, lush forests, and rugged cliffs, as well as a rich Indigenous culture that visitors can explore through various museums, cultural centers, and events.
How do you spend a day on Manitoulin Island?
A day on Manitoulin Island could be spent exploring the beautiful natural scenery through hiking.. Popular hiking spots include the Cup and Saucer Trail and the East Bluff Lookout. Visitors can also explore the cultural heritage of the island by visiting the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation or the Great Spirit Circle Trail. The island also has several charming small towns with local shops, restaurants, and art galleries to explore.
What is the prettiest town on Manitoulin Island?
One of the prettiest towns on Manitoulin Island is Kagawong, known as “Ontario’s Prettiest Village.” Kagawong is home to the beautiful Bridal Veil Falls, charming shops, and a lovely harbor area.
How many days do you need in Manitoulin Island?
Ideally, you would want to spend at least three to four days on Manitoulin Island to fully explore and appreciate all it has to offer. This would give you enough time to hike some of the island’s beautiful trails, visit cultural sites, and explore the charming small towns. However, if you’re short on time, even a day or two on the island can be a rewarding experience.
What is not to be missed on Manitoulin Island?
You must visit the Great Spirit Circle Trail and immerse in Innishanabe Culture, hike to the Cup and Saucer Trail, and take a dip at Bridal Veil Falls.
Why We Love Manitoulin Island
And these are the best things to do in Manitoulin Island. If you haven’t visited the largest freshwater island in the world, what are you waiting for? There are plenty of adventures to be had, cultural experiences to immerse in, and beautiful scenery to enjoy. Have you been to Manitoulin Island? What are your favorite things to do?