This summer be sure to check out the Amazing Places of the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve! Discover locations within the 30,000 Islands region of Ontario that truly capture the beauty of the world’s largest freshwater archipelago.
From pristine waters to quiet inland trails, the biosphere (designated by UNESCO as an ecologically unique part of the planet) is home to many stunning spots to explore, including Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh in Bala, and The Tower Hill & Park in Parry Sound.
See the complete list below to make your Amazing Places getaway plans. For a map of the Amazing Places, click here.
Twin Points Trail
The Twin Points Trail is one of four hiking trails located in Killbear Provincial Park. The trail winds through tall forests and over barren granite ridges that are synonymous with the Georgian Bay landscape. The 1.6 km loop can be hiked in about 40 minutes and leads to a beautiful beach that is naturally bordered by the rocky shoreline. Enjoy an outing on the raised boardwalk and stop at rest points with breathtaking views over the bay.
At Killbear Provincial Park, be sure to check out the impressive Visitor Centre with its interactive park exhibits and a live Massassauga Rattlesnake. The park offers exceptional places to paddle and launch your canoe, kayak or SUP, and a boat launch for motorised vessels. Killbear is also part of the Park to Park Trail, which travels 230 km to Algonquin Provincial Park (broken up into multiple smaller sections to explore).
Tower Hill Lookout
Situated beside the West Parry Sound District Museum and located in downtown Parry Sound, this 30-metre high observation structure was built on the site of the original tower, which was used to spot forest fires. The tower provides incredible vistas of the Georgian Bay Harbour, which is a major hub of activity, especially in summer with float planes from Georgian Bay Airways taking off and landing, and the renowned cruise ships the Island Queen and the M.V. Chippewa III heading in and out of port for sightseeing tours. The tower also provides a bird’s eye view of the town’s iconic rail trestle bridge. Fall colours and sunsets provide incredible backdrops for photos.
While visiting the tower, take some time to explore the beautiful surrounding gardens, and check out the indoor and outdoor museum displays. Only minutes from the harbour, you can also plan to hear a performance at the world-renowned Charles W. Stockey Centre for the Performing Arts, or shoot some pucks at the Bobby Orr Hall of Fame on Bay Street.
Massasauga Provincial Park
The Massasauga Provincial Park is a backcountry park along the coast of Georgian Bay that stretches all the way from Parry Sound to the Moon River. The park is only accessible by boat, and the inland lakes the park encompasses do not permit motorised vessels. With hundreds of windswept islands to explore and camp sites located both on Georgian Bay and on many of the inland lakes, this provincial park provides visitors the opportunity to enjoy rugged terrain and pristine water in relative isolation. There are several hiking trails within The Massasauga’s boundaries, providing opportunities to stretch your “sea legs” after a long stint of paddling or boating.
The Lynx Loop at Georgian Nordic
Located 10 minutes from downtown Parry Sound at 4 Nine Mile Lake Rd., Georgian Nordic Ski & Canoe Club boasts over 30 km of multi-use trails open all year round. The Lynx Loop is an 8km trail loop within Georgian Nordic’s trail system. Accessible for Nordic skiing, snowshoeing and fat biking in the winter as well as hiking and mountain biking throughout the remainder of the year, the Lynx Loop offers the perfect opportunity to mix heart-pumping exercise with beautiful scenery. Note that a pass is required before using the trails and can be purchased at either Parry Sound Bikes or Trysport in downtown Parry Sound. (Need rentals? Parry Sound Bikes and Trysport can help with those too.)
Rotary and Algonquin Regiment Fitness Trail
The Rotary and Algonquin Regiment Fitness Trail winds its way along the shore of Georgian Bay in downtown Parry Sound. The 6.5 km trail is relatively flat and wide, making it suitable for running, biking or walking (yourself and the dog!). Increase the challenge by stopping and exercising at the trail’s five fitness stations. The trail follows the route of a railroad spur line and provides access to beaches and Waubuno Park in the middle of the trail. Sunsets and sunrises are beautiful, with many benches and picnic tables along the route to stop and marvel at the beauty of Georgian Bay.
If you are looking for something a little more adventurous, try the North Shore Rugged Hiking Trail at the north end of the fitness trail. The terrain is more difficult and is solely for hiking, climbing over and around the rocky shoreline and providing some amazing “big water” vistas. The combination of the trail’s shoreline and trees provide excellent opportunities for bird watching – you may even be lucky enough to spot a bald eagle!
After your walk or ride, head to the Charles W. Stockey Centre for the Performing Arts for a list of upcoming concerts, and speak to someone at the Visitor Information desk inside.
The Park to Park Trail
The Park to Park Trail is a 230km multi-use trail that joins Killbear Provincial Park to Algonquin Provincial Park. The trail follows a variety of terrain, from colonization roads to urban streets to reclaimed rail bed, and can be traversed by hiking or biking, or by motorized vehicles like ATVs, dirt bikes and snowmobiles in winter (OFSC trail pass required for your sled and a Park to Park pass required for your ATV).
The main trail is known as the Seguin Trail and travels 80 km from the edge of Parry Sound to the Town of Kearney near Algonquin’s eastern boundary. The Seguin follows the route of the former Ottawa, Arnprior and Parry Sound Railway that was built by lumber baron JR Booth to transport lumber from central Ontario to shipping yards on Georgian Bay. Rail service ended on the Seguin in 1952 and the tracks were subsequently removed, leaving behind a trail that runs between several abandoned communities.
There are numerous communities along the length of the trail that offer opportunities to learn more about the history as well as providing food, gas and other essentials. Consider taking a day or more and exploring some of what Algonquin Provincial Park has to offer. With endless lakes and many trails and places of interest, you will see why Algonquin is one of Canada’s most visited parks.
Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh
Located in the town of Bala, Muskoka, Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh offers year-round hiking on five trails that spread around the cranberry bog. They offer guided tours that explain the unique growing conditions and the history of the cranberry, as well as its many uses (talk about a versatile berry!).
Experts at providing experiential activities, the marsh has something for the whole family, including scavenger hunts, geocache challenges, an interpretive eco-trail, and a special kid’s trail. In the winter enjoy snowshoeing and skating on their incredible new ice trail.
Early October is the start of the annual cranberry harvest! Cranberries do not grow in water, but to make harvesting easier the marsh is flooded so that the berries float to the surface. Staff can be seen moving through the bog in hip waders, collecting the berries into floating rafts. Learn all about the farming of cranberries at this special time of year.
While at the marsh, also take the time to visit the Muskoka Lakes Winery. Famous for their unique cranberry and blueberry products, this award-winning establishment – and extension of Johnston’s offering – has been in operation for 16 years. Take in the view from the patio while you sample the wines and enjoy their local cheese plate.
Bala is less than a half hour drive from the Town of Gravenhurst. Head to the Gravenhurst Wharf and visit The Muskoka Steamships & Discovery Centre for interactive displays and historical artefacts about the steamship era. The Discovery Centre also has a new KidZone, and an in-water wooden boats display. .
Hole in the Wall
The “Hole in the Wall” is a narrow passage between Huckleberry and Wall islands in Georgian Bay. Only 34 metres wide, the passage is bordered by tall cliffs formed of colourful rock, forcing boaters to pass through a unique and confined canyon. Hole in the Wall is a short 8 km boat ride from Parry Sound and is even closer to Killbear Provincial Park. Time has eroded these cliffs, leaving behind striations of pink, grey and black. White pine and cedar trees take advantage of crevices in the rock to take root and perch precariously from the cliffs.
Experienced boaters or paddlers can travel to the Hole in the Wall themselves, but for most people it is recommended that you go with a tour. The Island Queen Cruise Ship offers 30,000 island tours that leave from the Parry Sound harbour and feature a passage through the channel. Also departing from Parry Sound, the M.V. Chippewa III offers cruises that travel through Hole in the Wall.
French River Gorge
The French River runs 105 km from Lake Nipissing into Georgian Bay. The river was the first to be designated as a Canadian Heritage River, with lakes, gorges and rapids all interconnected along its route. The river was used as a major trade thoroughfare in the 1800’s, with large canoes carrying goods and furs across its length.
The French River Gorge itself is an area where the river narrows and squeezes between tall rocky cliffs. Thousands of years of erosion have carved the passage through the rocks that the modern river follows. The entire length of the river is managed by French River Provincial Park. The best way to experience the gorge is by walking the incredible suspension bridge, which can be accessed at the French River Visitor Centre. Here you can also learn the history of the river through displays, interpretive panels and interactive exhibits. If you are a paddler, be sure to bring your canoe, kayak or SUP and experience the gorge from the river.
Christian Beach at Beausoleil Island
Christian Beach is located on the western shore of Beausoleil Island, part of Georgian Bay Islands National Park. Beausoleil Island is just one of the famous 30,000 that make up the world’s largest chain of freshwater islands. Christian Beach is a secluded stretch of sand that offers some of the best sunset views in all of Georgian Bay. The park operates four cabins at the beach which are available for rent by reservation. There is a park boat that will ferry visitors to the island, where you can enjoy multiple hiking and cycling trails with bike rentals available on site. The island lies right on the edge of the Canadian Shield; the northern portion of the island features exposed granite and windswept pines while to the south there are mature hardwood forests. This provides a rare opportunity to observe first hand these geographic differences. Interested in visiting but not in camping? Consider “glamping” in one of the recently-built cabins at Georgian Bay Islands National Park.
From Georgian Bay Islands Park you are less than an hour’s drive from Bala and Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh, another destination on the Amazing Places list. Consider driving a little further to discover a truly unique area, the Torrance Barrens Dark-Sky Preserve, designated as Canada’s first dark-sky preserve. The area consists of bare rock that was scoured of soil during the last ice age, along with low shrubs and short, stunted trees. Far from the nearest town, the preserve has virtually no light pollution, which creates amazing conditions for viewing the night sky and attracts professional and budding astronomers from near and far. It also has several trails for hiking or cycling that explore the area’s unique geography.
The Georgian Bay Biosphere has been internationally recognised as a unique destination. Starting just a couple hours north of Toronto, the area has some of the world’s most unique and diverse scenery, much of which can be accessed by car. And the Amazing Places list is the perfect place to start planning your trip to unforgettable Georgian Bay.
Want more info on the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve (hint…it’s a geographical area…not a building…)? CLICK HERE.