Cruise the 30,000 Islands of this stunning archipelago in autumn to see the great Canadian wilderness like never before.
What’s most striking about the Island Queen – Parry Sound, Ontario’s world-renowned cruise ship – is just how many captivating tales the boat, her crew and passengers have to tell. Particularly about the unique ecology of these beautiful waters and shores, but also about the rich history of this coastal area, and about the powerful connection folks feel to the rugged and windswept terrain you’ll discover here. And in autumn, the brilliant trees on shore in town as well as by Killbear and Massasauga Provincial Parks are best viewed from her decks as she tours these crisp, sparkling blue waters.
Designed specifically to travel in extremely shallow channels such as those on Georgian Bay, the 132 ft-long boat is one of the largest tour ships in Canada, with open observation decks on each of its three levels. And oh! the magnificent scenes you’ll encounter on their signature fall cruise as the ultra smooth boat silently navigates the world’s largest fresh water archipelago.
A tour aboard the Island Queen is also a tour of the UNESCO-designated Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve (or at least part of this 230 kms of ecologically significant landscape that stretches from Port Severn in Muskoka up to the French River). The boat cruises by terrain that contains more than 1000 distinct habitats and which is home to more than 40 species-at-risk, including birds, reptiles and plants. (Keep your eyes peeled towards the shoreline for signs of wildlife as you journey along.)
A fall cruise aboard the Island Queen features unique views of stunning maples situated along the shores of Georgian Bay in town and along featured landmarks, as well as a clearer view of the bay now that cooler temperatures have arrived and cottage traffic has dwindled.
Heading out from Parry Sound harbour, after first passing the vibrant maple trees along the shore, this three-hour afternoon cruise takes passengers out on Georgian Bay to landscape you’ve never seen anywhere else. The waves are constantly crashing upon these islands and the wind blows relentlessly, creating a beautiful and stark scene. On the rocks themselves, trees are twisted and stunted from years of struggling against the elements, and much of the exposed granite has been washed of soil from years of erosion. It’s all absolutely breathtaking.
This tour also takes you through the Waubuno Channel, named after the 1867 steam powered side-wheeler that sank here under mysterious circumstances, as well as passing close to the historic plaque commemorating Samuel de Champlain’s passage through the islands in 1615. The Island Queen also glides past one of Ontario’s most stunning parks, Killbear Provincial Park, which is known for its rocky shoreline, sand beaches, and bent trees that have timelessly endured the powerful winds off the water. In fall, the park is especially stunning as the maple trees on the shoreline come alive with colour.
The highlight of the Island Queen’s tour is when the boat passes through the iconic “Hole in the Wall.” With passengers riveted, the ship moves slowly through an extremely narrow channel between towering 24-metre high sheer granite cliffs. The Island Queen is the largest vessel able to navigate this natural wonder, and the space is so tight you can almost reach out and touch the stone from the observation deck.
On any given passage through the Hole in the Wall you may see rock climbers pitting their strength against the rock, fisherman out in tin boats hoping to hook fresh catch, or kayakers who are dwarfed by the height of these Canadian Shield walls of pink, grey and black. Not unexpectedly, the Hole in the Wall is also recognized as one of the Amazing Places of the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve.
The Island Queen’s three-hour afternoon cruise provides a glimpse into First Nations culture on Georgian Bay. Circumnavigating Parry Island, the territory of the Wasauksing First Nation, passengers will see such prominent landmarks as Bear’s Head, so named for the unusual number of black bears spotted there in the summer. The Band also operates the Rose Point Swing Bridge. Originally built in the late 1800s, to this day it must be opened to let large vessels pass.
And from 1974 to 2016 when he passed away, the Island Queen’s beloved Captain was Keith Salt, a member of the Wasauksing First Nation. His intimate and rich knowledge of the Bay and islands was indispensable for the creation of the routes that the ship now follows, and his spirit still travels with the crew every time they embark.
Georgian Bay is also a hotbed of family cottages. Though some are accessible by road, most require travelling by boat to get to them. Many of these properties are remote and solitary, and as you cruise past residents will often wave from the docks. A tour of Georgian Bay lets you imagine what life at the cottage must be like, and allows you to see for yourself.
One of the best things about an Island Queen cruise is the informative narration that’s provided by staff throughout the tours. You’ll learn more than you ever thought possible about life on Georgian Bay.
Family-owned and operated, the Island Queen and the Anderson family welcome thousands of passengers aboard in the summer and fall seasons. Stop by the gift shop for nautically-themed souvenirs, or enjoy Kawartha Dairy ice cream or Muskoka Roastery coffee while you wait to head out for you cruising adventure. (The ship is also wheelchair accessible.)
Climb aboard the Island Queen this autumn in Parry Sound and see the annual display of brilliant maple trees from an entirely new perspective.
For more information on the Island Queen, click here. To plan your stay, click here. To purchase tickets, click here.