Biff’s Georgian Bay Road Trip

Saturday, June 18th, 2016 at 9:33 pm

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A friend of mine was recently looking for a good local road trip, but there was a lot to share so I thought I’d put it here so it can be tracked down, but also in case anyone else is looking. So Sheryl, here you go:

For the sake of convenience, I’ve started and ended the trip in Barrie and structured it as a pretty basic loop of highways and a series of side trips off the main route so you can customise as you see fit, or easily reverse the route. The basics are as follows:

  • From Barrie, head West on Bayfield Street which becomes Highway 26
  • Keep an eye open for a hard turn to the right in Stayner, and a series of twists and turns in both Collingwood and Owen Sound – they’re all marked but watch for the signs to keep on Highway 26 through these towns.
  • Highway 26 ends in Owen Sound. After the highway takes you around a left turn, look for a right onto Highway 6 or 10th Street – it’s two blocks away and the next set of street lights. Should be pretty obvious but keep an eye open here too.
  • Follow Highway 6 out of town and follow it North towards Wiarton.
  • Take the Chi-Cheemaun ferry from Tobermory to South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island – call ahead and book your reservation, it can be tough to get the sailing you want in summer and weekends
  • Keep North on Highway 6 until the end and turn right onto Highway 17 towards Sudbury
  • In Sudbury, turn right again to go south on Highway 69, which will become the 400 and take you right back in to Barrie

So now that you have the basics, here’s some of the things to check out along the way:

Historic Fort Willow

If you want to take in a little history, make a side trip to Fort Willow. You’ll see the fort walls along with what’s left of the old foundations of the store houses and other buildings along with some interpretive plaques giving you the history. To get there, look for a left onto County Road 43 (Snow Valley Road), follow it through a jog to the right then left, and straight through onto Portage Trail where 43 ends. Fort Willow has a small parking lot on your right just past a sharp 90 turn to the left where the road changes names to Grenfel Road. To return to the main route, go back the way you came, but turn left at the four way intersection onto George Johnston Road – that will take you back to Highway 26 where a left will get you back on track.

Wasaga Beach

Wasaga shouldn’t need any introduction, but if you care to pay a visit along the way it’s only a short jaunt to the East at the first roundabout on Highway 26 (Mosley Street)

Collingwood Arboretum

If you’re looking to get out of the car for a few minutes, Collingwood has a beautiful arboretum with paved and natural trails throughout the park. If you’re looking for a long walk (or trying to avoid one) look for the main trail right near the entrance – it’s an abandoned rail line that to the East will take you back to Stayner or to the West over 30km to Meaford. To get to the arboretum, turn right onto Cedar Street (at McDonald’s) and there’s a large parking lot a block back.

Craigleith Heritage Depot

You’ll pass mere meters from the Craighleith Museum in the old rail station. Inside is also a tourism information booth, though I’ve never been in, there are some great gardens and plaques explaining the history of the station.

Thornbury Fish Ladder

Yes, fish ladder. Early in it’s history Thornbury built a dam and mill on the Beaver River which has been rebuilt over the years – but the Beaver River is also a significant spawning grounds for salmon so more recently they’ve built the fish ladder. Essentially a series of small dams and pools letting the fish jump up from pool to pool until they reach the level of the river upstream. Park behind the town hall on Mill Street and walk past the plaques describing the town history on your way to the crowds sure to be gathered around the fish ladder.


Meaford is one of my favourite little towns. Look for Grandma Lambes on the highway coming in to town for fresh apples right from the orchard out back along with lots of home baking and local produce. For a great meal check out the Leeky Canoe downtown, right across from the big apple (you’ll know it when you see it). Take a stroll down Bridge Street to check out the busy harbour. Or take a left on William Street, just past the Dairy Queen, and check out the Meaford Factory Outlet – the place is huge and sells almost everything – it can be fun to explore, but set aside some time.

Owen Sound Waterfalls

There are a number of great waterfalls in Owen Sound that are easily accessible. If you want to check them out, when you reach 10th Street and the street lights where you would normally turn right onto Highway 6 West, go straight through onto Highway 6 South to a right onto County Road 18 and another right onto Inglis Falls Road. There’s a nice little park at Inglis Falls where a part of the old mill still survives as well as a trail leading down to several viewing platforms to check out the falls. To continue the falls tour, go back out to County Road 18 and turn right to continue the way you were going, another concession and a half to the West and Country Road 18 will take a turn to the right at a major intersection, taking you back North to the main highway. You’ll come out to another set of street lights where Highway 6 turns north (straight through) towards Wiarton. Turning right here takes you back into downtown Owen Sound if you need any supplies, but straight through is another information booth, behind which is a roughly half kilometre trail back to Jones Falls. To return to the main route, turn right as you’re leaving the information centre to take Highway 6 North towards Wiarton. There are actually four main waterfalls in Owen Sound, these two are my favourites, but check out this site for information on all four falls.

Sauble Beach and Sauble Falls

Sauble FallsNot as popular as Wasaga Beach, but I like it more, Sauble Beach is an incredibly deep beach right on Lake Huron. The beach stretches for miles to the North and South and is so deep that you can actually park right on the sand (for a fee). It’s always a happening place with lots of small tourist shops along the back edge of the beach. Just to the North is Sauble Falls inside the Sauble Falls Provincial Park. The falls aren’t tall, but their main attraction is that for much of the year the water flow is low enough that you can walk right across the falls without issue. Plan on wading in and even sitting down and relaxing right in the middle of the falls if it’s a warm day. To get there, when you reach the town of Hepworth you’ll come to the only set of street lights in town. The main route turns right, but go straight through onto County Road 8 and follow it straight through until it ends right on the beach. To continue on to the falls, go back out County Road 8 to the main lights and turn left onto Country Road 13 (Sauble Falls Parkway. The park will be on the left hand side. To return to the main route, keep going North on Sauble Falls Parkway and keep an eye open for where Country Road 13 turns right towards Wiarton. Where the road ends, you may want to turn right and fill up on gas in Wiarton as it’s a little ways to the next good chance for fuel. Otherwise turn left and continue North on Highway 6.

Spirit Rock Conservation Area & The Corran

Just north of Wiarton you’ll see a tiny gravel road on the right that takes you in to the Spirit Rock Conservation Area (there’s a sign). Follow the road back to the parking lot near The Corran – a long abandoned set of ruins for a mansion built in the turn of the century along with the barn. I have an aunt who told stories of when the kids in Wiarton used to party in mansion and how amazing the library was until one night it burnt down. At Spirit Rock you can also follow the Bruce Trail a short way South to a great outlook over Georgian Bay. One word of caution, particularly here but for most of the rest of this journey, keep an ear open for rattles as you’re walking – the Massassauga Rattlesnake likes to call this area home.

Cabot Head Lighthouse Museum

Cabot Head LighthouseThis is the most difficult side trip thus far requiring about 10km of driving down a single lane gravel road. At the end of that road though is one of the early lighthouses around Georgian Bay that’s been converted into a rather interesting museum about lighthouses, shipwrecks, and early life that allows you to walk right up to the top of the lighthouse and look out for miles, or stroll the grounds to see all the support structures and hike up to the entrance to Wingfield Basin where ships would wait out bad storms and at least one sank. To get there, not far past the small community of Millar Lake and Millar Lake Road, Dyer’s Bay Road turns right of Highway 6. Follow that to a “T” intersection where you turn right, then take the next left – you’ll still be on Dyers Bay Road. Follow the road through the community and veer right onto Shoreline Drive and then shortly a right onto Cabot Head Road. Cabot Head Road is a long, single lane gravel road, be prepared to sneak past oncoming traffic. Back track to get back onto the main route and turn right to keep going north on Highway 6.

Mermaid Cove

If you’re looking for a quiet escape and beautiful view of Georgian Bay/Lake Huron then Mermaid Cove is the place to be. Just a short drive and stroll away from downtown Tobermory but hardly visited it seems. To get there, turn right onto Bay Street and take a tour through the downtown and Little Tub Harbour, then hang a right at the end of the road and follow that to the end and stroll a short ways down the trail. To get back, take Harpur Drive and Head Street instead of the one way Bay Street.

Big Tub Harbour & Lighthouse

Big Tub LighthouseWhen you think you’ve reached the end of the road, Highway 6 and the ferry staging area are just to your right, but to the left Big Tub Road circles Big Tub Harbour – another common port in storm and has quite a significant wreck mere inches below the water. Once upon a time you could see this wreck from the shore but today it’s all private cottages. Now the only way to get a good look is on one of the glass bottom boat tours. The light house at the end of the road is well worth a visit though and gives a unique view of the town of Tobermory.

Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil FallsIf you’re anywhere on Manitoulin Island, Bridal Veil Falls is worth the trip – it’s a true must see. Get changed into your swimsuit in one of the change rooms at the top of falls, then take the staircase down to the base where you can wade into the pool at the bottom of the falls or walk right behind the falls themselves. It’s a pretty magical little spot. You can also stroll along the trail down river learning more about the history of the community. And best of all, when you get back to the top – there’s ice cream waiting for you right across the road. To get there, turn left onto County Road 542 and follow that to Mindemoya where you’ll turn right on County Road 551 to go North to M’Chigeeng. Along the way you’ll see a small parkette on the left at Mindemoya Lake – from here you can see Treasure Island which is the world’s largest island in a lake which is on an island in a lake. When you get to M’Chigeeng the road will end in a T-intersection with County Road 540 – remember this intersection for later – but for now turn left and go to Kagawong. There will be a park on the right side of the road downtown. To return to the main route you can return the way you came or when you get to that T-intersection in M’Chigeeng just go straight through, staying on Country Road 540 to go to Little Current where you’ll rejoin the main loop. I prefer the latter as 540 follows the northern shore of the island and I think it’s more scenic, it also takes you right past the Cup and Saucer Trail.

Cup and Saucer Trail

Cup and Saucer TrailCup and Saucer Trail is amongst the best known hiking trails in the province. I’ve only done it once, and even then not the full length, I just went up to the lookout and back, but the lookout is well worth the stop. Remember that Manitoulin is an extension of the Bruce Peninsula and in a large sense the whole Niagara Escarpment – that means a tall, shear cliff made of limestone – and with that limestone comes a warning. Limestone isn’t exactly the hardest, most stable rock, so don’t get too close to the edge, some sections over hang the exposure. But the view is phenomenal overlooking some the highlands farms and Lake Manitou – the largest lake on an island in a lake in the world. The hike up to the lookout is fairly short – took me about 25 minutes I think – but moderately difficult as a few sections take you almost straight up it seems. Bring a pair of good hikers and some water. If you’re coming from Bridal Veil Falls, go straight through the intersection  in M’Chigeeng to stay on Country Road 540 and look for Bidwell Road on the right. There’s actually a large bill board pointing the way to the trail when you’re coming this way. From here I would certainly turn right back at the 540 and follow it on to Little Current to rejoin the main loop there.

Little Current Swing Bridge

Right on the main route is the only land connection to Manitoulin Island. The bridge is only a single lane and was initially built by the railway in 1913. In 1946, Canadian Pacific Railway and the Ministry of Transportation struck a deal to convert the bridge to accept both rail and car traffic and for the first time you could reach the island by car without the ferry. By 1980 the rail line was lifted and today it is an auto bridge only but still a single lane and swinging open for the first fifteen minutes of each daylight hour to allow boat traffic through.

Northern LaCloche Range

From Little Current on, Highway 6 passes through the northern edge of the LaCloche mountain range. The road dips, dives and twists, but keep an eye open to the left and right none the less for some spectacular views of the white Quartzite mountains.

Note to the Main Route

When you reach Espanola, I recommend filling your tank and stocking up on any supplies you need, particularly if you’re going to the Chutes, as you’ll be on a more barren stretch of highway than you’ve travelled thus far. The next good chance for supplies is Sudbury, 70km away if you go directly.

The Chutes

Upper ChutesAt 60km round trip, Chutes Provincial Park is one of the longest side trips on this route, but I’ve grown a fondness for the little park. It’s a pretty commercialised park and camping, particularly RV camping, is the biggest part of the park. However it’s wrapped around a pretty spectacular set of half a dozen water falls in a row known as The Chutes. The largest fall is right at a parking lot with a beautiful and always changing beach right at it’s base. The beach is on an oxbow in the so it’s always changing minutely, but if you take a stroll up the well maintained trail you’ll come across viewing platforms and higher up shallow falls that you’ll be able to walk right into if you’re warm. To get there, when you reach the end of Highway 6, instead of turning right to go towards Sudbury, turn left towards Massey, and then turn right in downtown Massey onto County Road 553 (Imperial Street). The park will be on the right just a few blocks in. Just retrace your steps to get back on the main route and carry on Highway 17 towards Sudbury.


When you reach Sudbury, there’s lots to do. This is the home of Science North and the Big Nickel – but I’m not going to go into any of those – partly because there’s no shortage of information of those attractions just a google search away, and partly because I’ve never been and mostly just treat Sudbury as a resupply point along the way. That said, if you’re continuing on this route, I very, very strongly recommend re-supplying in Sudbury. Beyond here you’ll be faced with some pretty barren stretches of road and though there will be periodic gas stations along the way they are mostly on native lands so they’re not stations you’ll be familiar with and the prices are typically higher. When you’re coming in to Sudbury, take the exit onto County Road 80 and keep right to go into Sudbury. You’ll reach a major intersection between Country Roads 80 and 46 known as The Four Corners. Within a stones throw of here you’ll find gas, a grocery store, restaurants and hotels. To resume the journey from this intersection, go South past the Southridge Mall on County Road 46 which just go straight onto Highway 69 South where you want to be.

The Crack, LaCloche and Killarney

Granite RidgeThis is a long side trip down Highway 637 at 140km round trip (you did fill your gas tank to the brim in Sudbury, right?) but it’s one of my favourite spots in the province. The town of Killarney was inaccessible by road until this highway opened in 1962. As such the town developed in a unique way along the water front, but the area was always visited by adventurous types, perhaps most famously as one of the main areas of inspiration for members of the Group of Seven – it’s the white quartzite mountains that draw us in. Downtown Kilarney offers the best fish & chips I’ve ever had at Herbert Fisheries as well as a few simple hiking trails. Inside Killarney Provincial Park are two trails that I highly recommend (as well as several others I haven’t yet done). The Granite Ridge Trail is right across from the main office at the George Lake Campground – it’s an out and back trail about an hour long total but of moderate difficulty – a few sections seem to go straight up. The magic of this trail is that because of it’s relative short length and the fact that it goes up to two great lookouts over the mountains and of Georgian Bay, with an early start the mountain lookout is an incredible spot to be for sunrise. But the crown jewel of Killarney is really “The Crack.” Part of the much longer (10 day hike) LaCloche-The CrackSilhouette Trail, the hike to the Crack is an out and back that you don’t want to stray from beyond the day hike section unless you’re prepared with several days worth of food. Bring lots of water and some good hikers as the Crack is a difficult hike with several, long, near vertical stretches and the last climb up to the Crack itself literally being a climb over large fallen boulders between the two pieced of the cracked ridge. Many sites I checked recommended not going if it had been raining as the rock can become quite slick and they make a big deal of having to be quite fit to tackle this trail and only do it from an early morning start. That said, I did it with someone who only had a few short hikes to her name prior this and we took about 5 hours hiking time – that said she was shot for the day once we reached the car again. Once you make it to the top though, the view is absolutely stunning – it is so worth the trip to get up there, just be prepared with enough water and take your time. Extra tip: never stop right at the top of a difficult climb else the blood will rush to your head and could even make you feel ill. Once you get up one of those long, steep sections, keep walking, even if it’s super slow, for a few more minutes before resting. If you do get into a jam for fuel while in on Highway 637, Killarney Outfitters has a small, above ground tank of fuel available – it’s expensive and you don’t know who supplied it, but it’s the only source fuel along this entire highway.

The French River and Recolett Falls

Recollet FallsThere’s another small park just on the South side of the French River and it’s worth a stop. Walk out onto the snowmobile bridge to get a good look at the mighty French River, or if you’re feeling more adventurous, there’s a short (about 45 minute) and fairly simple hike to Recollet Falls

Parry Sound Lookout Tower

I haven’t actually made the trip up this tower myself, but it’s on my to do list. Located right downtown is a ten storey former fire lookout tower that gives a commanding view out over Parry Sound the town and the bay. There are some great photos out there of the train coming through town taken from the tower. Exit into Parry Sound on Bowes Street, then just before crossing the river hang a left onto Great North Road and another left onto George Street. The tower and the West Parry Sound District Museum are on the right at the top of the hill. You can retrace your steps back to Highway 400 or go further in Bowes Street to explore the downtown core.

Depot Harbour

Depot Harbour RoundhouseDepot Harbour is the ghost town at the end of the Ottawa, Arnprior and Parry Sound Railway. It was a happening place at the turn of the 20th century hauling lumber out of Algonquin Park and grain from the prairies on to Ottawa. The town was built here by the railway company after they determined that land prices in Parry Sound were too high when they took advantage of a provision in the Indian Act that allowed railways to expropriate native owned lands. At it’s best, there were trains in Depot Harbour every twenty minutes, but by the time a rail trestle in Algonquin Park washed away in the spring melt the rail line wasn’t profitable enough to justify rebuilding. The town slowly faded until World War II when the site was used to store explosive cordite for the war and towards the end of the war the grain elevators exploded destroying the port. What was left of the town was slowly removed and today only the foundations and part of the roundhouse remain, but for those interested in history it’s pretty interesting. It’s pretty easy to find Depot Harbour at the end of Old Tracks Road on Parry Island, however I’ll be a little vague here as there are steps to take before stopping in. Depot Harbour has reverted back to native land and before paying it a visit you should have permission – I’d recommend getting in touch with the Wasauksing Administration Office. If you choose to ignore this advice, at least treat the land and people with respect, remember you’re a visitor at best but can easily be viewed as a trespasser without getting permission first.

Big Chute Marine Railway

Ever watched a boat climb over a rock? It happens daily all summer long at the Big Chute Marine Railway. It’s an interesting invention that consists of a single, very large rail car of sorts that dips right into the water. Boats can then float onto the rail car which then cradles them in giant straps and lifts them up out of the water and up a height of 60 feet of rock past the falls to continue up the Trent Severn Waterway. Also on the site is an observation deck, the old marine railway dating back to the early twentieth century, and a sort of museum in the old hydro electric station. To get there, get off the 400 at County Road 34 (White’s Falls Road) and follow 34 across the highway and short jog back North before turning East towards Big Chute. At Big Chute, Muskoka’s County Road 34 becomes Simcoe County Road 17 (Upper Big Chute Road) and you can either follow that to Coldwater and Highway 12 West to get back to the 400, or retrace County Road 34 the way you came in.

Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons & Martyr’s Shrine

Sainte-Marie is a glimpse into the more distant past – it’s an extensive recreation of a French community and mission built in 1639 right over top of the original community. It’s quite an attraction and a trip here is a ritual for most of the local public schools. Right across the road stands the Martyr’s Shrine – one of only two national shrine’s in Canada built in 1926 in honour of the 8 Jessuit missionaries working in the area in 1649. It’s a massive building and the architecture is quite impressive. If you’re coming here from Coldwater, just keep travelling Highway 12 West. If you’re coming down the 400, exit for Highway 12 West towards Waubaushene and Midland. Both attractions are right on Highway 12 as you first enter Midland, before crossing the river. To get back on track you can return to Highway 400 the way you came, or for a more scenic route, continue following Highway 12 West until it ends at County Road 93 (Penetanguishene Road) and take a left, following that road all the way back into Barrie.

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