I was introduced to Tobermory, Canada about two years ago, and my life hasn’t been quite the same since.
Ontario isn’t known for its drastic landscapes, northern lights, or French accents like its relative territories of Quebec or Alberta. Ishpatina Ridge sits at the highest elevation inside its 415,000 square miles, a little hill slightly over 2,000 feet. Toronto dominates, and Niagara Falls attracts millions every year, but what’s beyond the norm?
How about solidarity, towering cliffs, vast forests, and hundreds of miles of rocky shoreline. I’m describing Tobermory, a small Great Lakes fishing town that reminds me more of Maine or Alaska.
A four hour drive north from the east Michigan border the Bruce Peninsula meets its jagged end. Georgian Bay accompanies the eastern coastline, while Lake Huron borders the west. There isn’t a stoplight for miles and the skyline has no buildings, only the twists and turns of tall cliffs along its shore. There isn’t much to do here if you’re city folk, and that’s the way locals like it.
On my first exploration to the peninsula, it was me and my boyfriend Josh. We had been together a solid two weeks before adventuring out of the country together. From the moment we met we traveled on spontaneous trips around the Midwest, so we had already become accustomed to each other on long car rides and random adventures. It was a Wednesday when we decided what we would be up to that weekend, and when Friday rolled around we were packed and ready to go.
Tobermory happens to be home to The Grotto, where freedivers get their fix by swimming under sixty foot cliffs in underwater tunnels that connect the hidden swimming hole with the Georgian Bay. Remember to bring goggles, because there is no superstore to pick up a cheap pair. You’ll end up scavenging the entire town only to end up in a small grocery story purchasing two pairs of child size (ages 4-10 to be exact) plastic goggles, with them squeezing your head and filling with water approximately 30 seconds after you leave the surface.
I mean there is a way to get into The Grotto without diving in the underwater caves, but that’s no fun, is it?
There are also great ways to scare your parents, wives, or boyfriends. Send them a photo of you jumping off a 40 foot cliff. They’ll appreciate it.
Cliff jumping is a common activity around The Grotto. From 15 foot beginner leaps, to 70 foot walls of sheer rock faces. Start small and work your way up. Two jumps off the 70 footer were good for me, and I had fun explaining to my job on Monday why the entire left side of my body was bruised (totally worth it, though). I originally thought I wouldn’t jump off the high face, until I saw one man take the leap completely naked. Game on.
I’m just happy there’s video proof, because I don’t think anyone would believe me otherwise.
A long winding trail system works its way all around the Bruce Peninsula. The Bruce Trail is a hiking route that runs hundreds of miles beginning at Niagara Falls and ending in Tobermory on the shoreline. Dozens of other trails wind around cliffs, into the forest, and over thousands of rocks that line the beaches.
The Eastern side of the Bruce Peninsula has beaches, but no sand. Large rocks and boulders make up most of the coastline that isn’t sheer cliffs. Hikers tend to lay out along giant boulders and cool off in the frigid water of the bay, because even in August its water sends chills down your spine.
It’s easy to find seclusion from crowded campgrounds on hiking trails. You walk and soon there’s no sound to be heard but your footsteps and the wind. It’s easy to wander off the trail and find hidden caves filled with musk and adventure.
There are also great spots to pee. Nothing beats a toilet with a 200 foot cliff view.
The one thing to note if you plan on adventuring to Tobermory in peak months: book ahead. Many times the campgrounds are filled weeks before arrival dates. We were lucky to get a campsite due to a cancellation. It is very far away from society, but the initial campgrounds can still be busy. Backcountry camping and hiking is allowed with a permit, where it is guaranteed you will be alone along a trail.
Most importantly it’s about unplugging. No internet, no cell service, no Facebook updates or checking Instagram followers. Just you and your boyfriend angrily eating pretzels and yelling at an unlit fire that won’t start.
Oh, and all that really pretty stuff too.