Bruce Peninsula National Park has been on my radar for several years. I was thinking of visiting on my way back from TBEX Toronto several years ago, but the travel blogger party left me too tired to go hiking, so I returned home. Last October, I finally made the trip a reality.
No campfires in the backcountry
The first rule that I noticed when doing research on my trip is no backcountry campfires. This really disappointed me as I love to have a fire while backpacking. In fact, I completely changed my trip around due to this information. I instead backpacked in northern Michigan on my way up and then opted to car camp in the Bruce Peninsula National Park. I chose to do some day hikes in Bruce Peninsula National Park and stay only one night.
Drive up the Peninsula
Instead of driving to Toronto from Sarnia, I just came up the Lake Huron coast. This was a gorgeous drive and even better since it was peak fall color season. I stopped many times to peep at fall foliage and also stopped at a beautiful lighthouse. The highlight of the drive occurred when I stretched my legs and enjoyed the gorgeous scenery at Point Clark Lighthouse. The views of Lake Huron were fantastic as well.
Checking in at Bruce Peninsula National Park
I checked in and paid the fees for camping one night at the Bruce Peninsula National Park as soon as I entered. They gave me a whirlwind of rules and regulations. I tried to digest them all, but it was a lengthy list. One rule that did not sink in was the campground payment only allowed me to park in my campsite. In order to park in the parking lot at the trailheads, one needs to pay a trail entrance fee as well.
The Bruce Trail in the Bruce Peninsula National Park
I set up my camp and immediately made my way to the Bruce Trail. The Bruce Trail is a 550 mile trail from Niagara to Tobermory. It is Canada’s oldest and most famous trail.The Grotto is perhaps the most popular location in the park and arguably one of the most visited outdoor spots in Canada outside Niagara Falls. It was a Saturday during the peak week of fall colors, so the park was really crowded with both campers and people just coming up for the day. The park is located only four hours from Toronto, so it gets a lot of visitors.
I drove my car to the Bruce Trail parking lot and joined the masses for a hike to the Grotto. There were people everywhere. The only park I have ever seen as crowded as this one is the Great Smoky Mountains. The nice thing about the Smokies, is the park is so big that it is easy to eventually find space if you work hard enough. Bruce Peninsula National Park is not as large, so the mobs of people are especially intense along the Bruce Trail near the Grotto.
Rubbing shoulder with hundreds of Canadians at the Grotto
The scenery along the coast was spectacular. It was easy to see why this park is so popular. The rocky coast along Lake Huron afforded one postcard view after another and the color of the water is an amazing turquoise blue. Unfortunately, you had to get in line to take pictures at certain points. It got even worse at the Grotto. It seemed that every little vantage point was occupied by a hand holding couple or a family of five. I managed to get some pictures and move on down the trail. The farther up the trail, the concentration of people began to diminish, but there were still a group of people coming up or down the trail every minute or two.
Many people just stopped at the Grotto. This was where the majority of the people stayed, but there are many more nice views past the Grotto on the Bruce Trail, so it is definitely worth the hike to keep going up the coast. I eventually turned around and returned to my car.
Ticket in the Bruce Peninsula
I arrived back at my car to find a parking ticket on my car. Living in Chicago, I am no stranger to parking tickets, but they are still annoying to get. I returned to the Ranger’s Station and apologized for disobeying the rules, but I told them they were so many that I was confused and must have missed the one about not being able to park at the trails. The lady at the front desk was very gracious and voided the ticket and explained that if I wanted to park in the trail parking lots, I had to pay an extra fee. If you are camping at the park, you can avoid the fees and walk from your campsite to the trails, but you cannot park in the trail parking lots. It is not that far of a walk to the trails from the camp, but it could be a problem if you have young children or older adults.
I returned to camp and made dinner and prepared for the campfire. Unfortunately, the park does not allow campfires after 10 p.m. I had to maximize my campfire time between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. You can allow the fire to die down after 10 p.m., but you cannot put another log on the fire after this time. I wondered if a roving ranger unit would circle the campground and put out fires starting at 10:15 p.m.
I did not find this out as I had my fire out by this time and retired to my tent. Often times parks will put these regulations in place and only enforce them if there is a problem. I did not want to take my chances since I had already been called out by the park, so I followed the rules and had my fire out by 10:30.
Visitor Center Observation Tower
I did not have a lot of time on this trip to sufficiently explore the park. I arrived somewhat late, so the first day I hiked the Bruce Trail by the Grotto. The second day I broke camp and walked around Tobermory. There is a park Visitor’s Center here with an observation tower. I climbed this and admired the Georgian Bay and the surrounding forest.
Mobs and rules related
I understand why they have these rules and regulations here. The park is too close to a large proportion of the population in Ontario, so this must make the park a challenge to manage. If everyone came to the backcountry and made a huge fire, there would not be enough wood, which can hurt the forest floor. I am sure they get a lot of rowdy people who want to sit around the fire all night and cause a lot of noise. This post is not a bad review of the park because I understand the reasoning behind the excessive rules.
- Since the Bruce Peninsula is so close to Toronto, try to avoid visiting the park at peak time. Try to come on the weekday if possible.
- Make reservations in advance for both camping, backcountry camping, and for parking. The Grotto is so popular that you can now book a parking spot in advance. Check their website for more information.
- Hike other trails besides just the Bruce Trail to the Grotto.
- Hike beyond the Grotto on the Bruce Trail – There are some amazing views beyond the Grotto.
- When you come to Bruce Peninsula National Park come with some patience and also do not have too high expectations about a wilderness experience. No matter when you come you will most likely see crowds and also have to deal with the rules and regulations. As you can see from the pictures, the park is beautiful and worth a stop.
- Canoe or kayak the coastline – One way to leave the mobs on the shoreline would be to get into a canoe or kayak and paddle away.
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