An Insider's Guide to Manitoulin Island
Some First Nations communities and some experiences may not be available to visit due to pandemic precautions. Call or email before visiting.
Manitoulin Island is known as the world’s largest freshwater island that offers visitors a beautiful, remote getaway. The MS Chi-Cheemaun ferry ride, Bridal Veil Falls, the Cup and Saucer trail (and the ale inspired by it), and the communities of South Baymouth and Little Current are all deservedly popular. But to get a true sense of the island, it pays to go beyond the busier eastern portion and explore the lesser-known parts of the western and middle areas too!
Check out these hidden gems for outdoor adventure and cultural experiences on your next trip, plus dining and accommodations too. And don't forget to visit Manitoulin's many charming lighthouses while you're here!
So for those looking to explore the road less travelled, here are the best things to do on Manitoulin Island.
Talk about a photo op! Be sure to stop and see the world’s largest peace pipe, drum, and outdoor dream catcher at Zhiibaahaasing First Nation.
Sheshegwaning First Nation offers Nimkee’s Hiking Trail, named for a local resident who frequented the trail in the early 1900s. Today it’s 20 kilometres of trails through the boreal forest, with bluffs, beautiful views of the North Channel and spectacular fall colours. Trail maps are available at Gamiig Gas & Convenience or the Band Office or visit the Facebook page for updates. The log-built Nishin Lodge, open seasonally, sleeps 12 and is surrounded by a sugar maple forest.
3. Gore Bay
History lovers will be thrilled to discover two museums: Gore Bay & Western Manitoulin Museum a former jail that has retained many of its original features as well as thematic exhibits about day-to-day life in times gone by, and with displays about the marine history of the Great Lakes and Georgian Bay. The Purvis site is housed on the third floor of the Harbour Centre, featuring work by local artisans for sale. Take a relaxing stroll along the 1.2-km Gore Bay boardwalk, then retreat to one of the town’s beautiful historical B&Bs, like The Queen’s Inn.
4. Silver Water
Stop in at Stop 540, a friendly local favourite for homestyle baking including butter tarts, comfort food, and diner delights like fresh-cut fries and homemade burgers.
5. Meldrum Bay
For water views, Meldrum Bay is a must-do. Visit the historical Mississagi Lighthouse Museum (call or email for information about the 2022 season) that also offers stunning sunsets, shoreline trails and camping facilities. The Net Shed is, in fact, a well-kept former shed where fishermen repaired their nets, with displays about fishing, lumbering and early town life (electricity only arrived in 1950!) Those in search of rugged hikes will appreciate the backcountry camping sites at Manitoulin Backcountry while the Meldrum Inn & Restaurant has loads of 150-year-old charm for those seeking quaint comfort and upscale dining.
A road trip always calls for ice cream! In Midemoya, visit Three Boys and a Girl, a seasonal ice cream shop attached to Wilson’s Corner Store. Find other great eats at Dressed and Ready to Go, a seasonal food truck with fresh-cut fries, real cheese curds in the poutine and burgers. Maja’s Garden Bistro with extensive garden seating is not to be missed—featuring fresh local and organic food from its garden, live music, homemade baking, and vegetarian and vegan fare. Once you’re fuelled up, hike the centrally located 4-km Wagg’s Wood Park and Trail, with views of the mossy Niagara Escarpment, or the 5-km Maple Ridge Trails that wind through hardwood forests and limestone ridges (this trail is also groomed for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter).
7. M’Chigeeng First Nation
M’Chigeeng First Nation is home to the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation which hosts cultural events and workshops, and has a craft studio, gift shop, and a museum showcasing the work of Anishanaabe artisans and makers from ancient times until the present day. The Island Summer Market offers fresh produce, live music, crafts, and more to explore, and don’t miss the homestyle cooking at Maggie’s Café which boasts all-local Manitoulin products. The M’Chigeeng Aboriginal Trail is a 4-km hiking trail rated “moderate to difficult.” One portion runs below the bluff, and the other takes you to the top for sweeping views over the North Channel. As a souvenir of your visit, pick up some sustainable, made-on M’Chigeeng First Nation art supplies from Beam Paints.
Manitoulin Island, of course, has 108 of its very own lakes, including Lake Manitou. For a tranquil getaway, visit the Rockville Inn, a remodelled farmhouse on the shores of Lake Manitou. Explore the area’s hiking trails (including a hike to the famous Cup and Saucer—be sure to go early as the trail gets very crowded) or take the inn’s canoe or kayak out for a spin on the lake. Camp Mary Anne is another gem on Lake Manitou, featuring a variety of accommodations, from a turn-of-the-century log cabin (where the butler used to live!) to a brand-new lakeside cabin to a luxury boathouse with a chef’s kitchen and wraparound deck. Green Bay Lodge is recently renovated and ideally situated for outdoor adventures in snowmobiling, stand-up paddleboarding, fishing, or snowshoeing.
Kagawong is known for the lovely Bridal Veil Falls, but there are lots of other sites to see too! Visit the Old Mill Heritage Centre and learn some island history or linger over your coffee at the Sugar Bush Canadian Coffee House featuring top-quality java, baked goods and local art. In the summer, visit the Artisans by the Bay cooperative at the Aus Hunt Marina. Kagawong has a variety of accommodations, from the charming 123-year-old The Carter House B&B to lakeside cabins on Lake Kagawong at Sunset Bay Resort to Hide Away Lodge on Lake Huron.
10. Spring Bay
The centrally located community of Spring Bay gives you lots of accommodation options so you can explore the island as you wish. Consider the authentic German cuisine, epic views, and beer garden at Rockgarden Terrace high above the shores of Mindemoya Lake, a trio of beach cottages at Dominion Bay Cottages (including a private tennis court) and the Bluebird B&B, overlooking Treasure Island on Mindemoya Lake.
11. Big Lake
Centrally located close to a variety of lakes on Manitoulin Island, the community of Big Lake has several forms of accommodations to act as your home base for your outdoor adventures. Consider Maple Grove Cottages (right on Big Lake itself, with 650 of shoreline and a small beach), Timberland Rustic Cottages (nine cottages and 200 acres on the south shore of Lake Manitou) or Mountain View Resort (a resort on Lake Manitou that got its start in 1895, boasting fantastic views of the famous Cup and Saucer rock formation).
12. Providence Bay
Play and relax on the wonderful sandy beach and boardwalk at Providence Bay on Lake Huron, and be sure to make a stop at The Discovery Centre that showcases the history and ecology of the area—it even has aquariums with frogs, turtles and snakes! There are lots of great eateries too, such as ice cream, original art and the summer sunset concert series at Huron Island Time, delicious fish and chips at the very popular Lake Huron Fish & Chips Co., or fine dining at the 1898 School House Restaurant. Take your pick of appealing accommodations too, including freshly renovated rooms at Huron Sands Motel (one of the best-designed motels in Northeastern Ontario), contemporary lofts, shopping and dining at The Mutchmor (don’t miss their incredible mural!) or the beautifully rustic Woodside Beach Cottages.
Go on, explore the hidden corners of Manitoulin Island, the world’s largest freshwater island!