Traveling the Trans-Canada Highway from Saulte Saint Marie to Manitoulin Island, riding “the Big Canoe”, Exploring Bruce National Park, a night in Toronto, and the mighty Niagara Falls
Night 1 – Camped out at Gordon’s Park Eco Resort on Manitoulin Island
Night 2 – Camped out at Bruce National Park on the Bruce Peninsula
Night 3 – Stayed at the Canadiana Backpackers Inn (Hostel) in Toronto
Night 4 – Golden Hill State Park on Lake Ontario – Somerset, NY
Description – Our adventure at Isle Royale National Park complete, we could have called it an adventure and headed for home. But after camping on four of the five Great Lakes, it seemed silly not to collect the whole set. Not much one for backtracking, it was up into Canada we went!
Day 1 – Trans-Canada Highway – Saulte Saint Marie to Manitoulin Island
So anyway, we woke up back in Copper Harbor, Michigan and spent many, many hours driving across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to Saulte Saint Marie (pronounced “Soo Saint Marie”) in Michigan.
The road was very pretty to drive down, but after 2 1/2 hours of driving, we turned south, driving over one of the only swinging bridges in all of Canada. This bridge is over 100 years old and puts you onto Manatoulin Island, the largest island in a freshwater body in the world!
The only disappointment? The stargazing on this island is supposed to be world class. But we had an overcast evening. Oh well!
Day 2 – Chi-Cheemaun Ferry and Bruce Peninsula National Park, Ontario
Day 2, we woke up a mere 15 minutes from the ferry from South Baymouth to Tobermery. The Chi-Cheemaun Ferry takes you across Lake Huron in a few hours, passing through Fathom Five National Marine Park. It’s a beautiful ride on the “Big Canoe” (which is the translation of the ship’s name), and it was a fun adventure driving onto the ferry, as I’ve never been on an auto ferry that big.
After hopping off the ferry, we headed to the combined visitors center for Fathom Five National Park and Bruce Peninsula National Park. NOTE: Be careful if you pay the entrance fee at the visitors center, we asked to pay for Bruce and they had us pay for Fathom Five. For some reason, there is no combined fee, which would make a lot more sense.
However, paying for Fathom Five got us up this tower.
With this great view.
Afterwards, it was off to Bruce Peninsula National Park, where we’d booked a campsite for the night. Here, we discovered the entrance fee fiasco, but they said as long as we parked in the campsite only, we didn’t need to pay again. Luckily, our campsite was just as close to our hike as the parking lot was (which was full anyway).
We set up camp in the Poplars Campsite, then decided to take a hike down to the Georgian Bay (part of Lake Huron). We opted for the appropriately named Georgian Bay Trail (map available here), a 1.3 km hike one way. We figured after checking out the highlights of this park – Indian Head Cove and The Grotto), we’d come back and swim in Cyprus Lake. We figured wrong on two counts. #1 – 1.3 KM ain’t 1.3 miles, not by a long stretch. #2 – There was a reason the parking lot was full… everyone was swimming in Indian Head Cove.
Being the good dad that I am, I left the babies with The Wife, ran back to the campsite, grabbed out swimming gear, and ran back. The Wife waded in first, and we quickly discovered that Canadians are crazy – Lake Huron is freezing!!!
However, the water was clear, the lake was gorgeous, and I don’t think I’ve ever gone swimming anywhere prettier (with the possible exception of snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef when I was 14, but that’s a completely different story). The Wife took the baby in, who had a blast despite the cold. I took The pres in, who waded around on the rocks.
Ha! Absolutely not. I can barely climb a ladder to change a lightbulb, I am under no risk of jumping off a cliff. However, I did do something strange for me, scrambled down a forty foot cliff to one of the park’s highlights – the Grotto. This is a cave that has been carved out by Lake Huron over the ages. Not only did I admire this cave, I jumped into the ice cold water (from a towering height of nearly three inches) and swam into and to the very back of the cave. There, I crawled out of the water and sat on a ledge. Inside the cave, some kids were jumping about six or eight feet down into the water (it was plenty deep enough in there). I watched them for a while, then slid back into the water, swam back to the cliff, and climbed out.
I had no way of taking pictures, but I can assure you that it was something that I’ll never forget in all my years.
Apparently, I kept using the word “magical” when I got back to tell The Wife about it. And I am not a man who slings around the word magical all willy-nilly. Not at all. But it was magical.
After that, it was dinner and an attempt to take in a Canadian National Park’s Ranger program, which we couldn’t find (we weren’t alone, a pack of ten vehicles prowled the many corners of the campground trying to figure out where the darn program was). Still, we had a peaceful night’s rest in what was all of our first , but hopefully far from our last, night camping in a Canadian National Park.
Day 3 – Toronto, Ontario
Day 3 was destined to be a most epic day. We hopped in the car and drove many hours southeast, reaching the city of Toronto by late morning.
Despite being so close to Lake Ontario and completing our five Great Lake mission, I had business to attend to first – the Hockey Hall of Fame. Now most of you won’t know this, because its one of the few topics I’ve managed not to wildly detour into during the prestigious blog’s run, but I am a hockey fanatic. I grew up in the same town that the Philadelphia Flyers practice in. When I was a kid, Flyers Captain Dave Poulin lived only five houses away and showed up at my buddy’s birthday party for cake and to sign autographs. I learned all my fine swear words at hockey games in the 80s, most of them screamed at the opposing team by 300 pound women in Rick Tocchet jerseys (aka, my heroes). Once, I was hit in the face by a shot off the stick of defenseman Ric Natress. He was worried he hurt me, I was so happy that I’d been hit in the face by an NHL player. Anyway, I like hockey. A lot. And I’ll stop now.
If you are a hockey fan, I don’t have to tell you to go here. The Pres and I had an amazing time. Even if he wouldn’t let me take his picture with the Stanley Cup. My favorite part of the experience was seeing the stick Ron Hextall scored his first goal with. My second favorite part was upsetting a Rangers fan when I was overheard explaining to The Pres how Mark Messier is a bum. I have no idea how it took me 33 years to get here, but it won’t take 33 more to come back.
While The Pres and I took in the high culture of Toronto, my wife let the baby look at Canadian pigeons or something.
Afterwards, it was time to check into the hostel. As a Catholic School teacher, my salary is not so great that we can spend too many nights at hotels and be on vacation more than about two days. Besides, we like camping better anyway. But when campsites are few and far between, The Wife’s European Backpacker mode kicks in, and she starts booking hostels. They are cheap, usually in the middle of the action, and we get to confuse foreign 20-somethings with cutting through keggers with our little ones in tow. What’s not to love? This hostel was really nice, private room with enough bedspace for everyone, so we set up shop and… The Wife felt sick.
We settled The Pres in with toys, and Tree Rider (the more ornery of the two at this particular moment) and I set out to explore Toronto while The Wife rested. We walked through the bustling, Star Wars city that is Toronto, past the 10,000 new condo towers they are putting up (seriously, this place is growing, growing, growing), our eyes set on Lake Ontario about a mile away. Or rather, a mile in a straight line. With my smart phone out of commission (darn non-international phone plan), it was back to the old days of using my tourist map and remembering what block I was on (I’m not dumb, I take pictures at intersections where I turn, in case I do get lost). 45 minutes of wandering brought us to Lake Ontario, our final Great Lake. I touched the water, now having touched all five Great Lakes in the last few weeks.
The it was up to the Rogers Center, where the Blue Jays play baseball. Except there was no baseball tonight. There was Justin. Bieber. Our life was in our hands, but we somehow navigated past the surging multitudes of preteen girls, foaming at the mouth with Bieber-feaver. It was kinda like that escape scene from Los Angeles in that movie 2012. We managed to get past the CN Tower safely, and escape past the public transportation corridor that was spewing out legions of Beliebers.
Then it was back to the hostel to make our dinner.
We finally returned to the hostel for the night, ready to sleep in beds for the first time in 12 days. But Tree Rider wouldn’t settle, so I ended up walking him up and down the streets of Toronto until he conked out. But I got a nice picture out of it.
Day 4 – Niagara Falls, Ontario and Our Triumphant Return to the USA
We were up early, and slowly fought out way through traffic jams out of Toronto and around the west end of Lake Ontario to, where else?, Niagara Falls. The boys had never been here, and The Wife and I hadn’t been since we were kids. All I have to say is that the falls are still really impressive.
We thought about doing the Maid of the Mist or the Hornblower, or even going to the nearby battlefield at Lundy’s Lane, but The Pres was tired out. We decided that Niagara Falls was impressive enough for one day’s adventures.
After four days of enjoying Canada, it was back into New York. I cheered as I passed the first mph speed limit sign.
The adventure wasn’t quite over yet though. Lake Erie, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, and Lake Superior, we’d camped on them all. It wasn’t right to go home without camping on the final Great Lake. So that night, we spent at Golden Hill State Park on Lake Ontario in upstate New York, enjoying our final night on this Great Great Lake Adventure.
On Day 14, we sped home to New Jersey, stopping only to check out Susan B. Anthony’s House, the Seneca Falls Convention location, and the It’s a Wonderful Life Museum. Six hours later… home sweet home in South Jersey!