Amazing Places of the UNESCO-Designated Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve
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 Lookout & Heritage Park in Parry Sound.
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 motorized 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 Museum on Tower Hill, surrounded by beautiful gardens 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, or on a cruise out to the ‘Hole in the Wall‘. The tower also provides a bird’s eye view of Parry Sound’s iconic rail trestle bridge.
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 where visitors can explore colourful gneiss rocks, narrow bays, inlets, and wildlife. The park is only accessible by boat, and the inland lakes the park encompasses do not permit motorized vessels. With hundreds of windswept islands to trek 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 three moderate to difficult hiking trails within The Massasauga’s boundaries, providing an opportunity 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 a former railway line on the shore of Georgian Bay and offers beautiful views of the Big Sound. The 6.5km 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. Stop for a refreshing swim at the Blue Flag certified Waubuno Beach and 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 and grain 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 along this historic route.
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 17 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 Muskoka Steamships & Discovery Centre for interactive displays and historical artifacts about the steamship era. The Discovery Centre also has a new KidZone, and an in-water wooden boats display (North America’s largest in-water collection!).
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 30,000 Island Cruise Line offers sightseeing 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. These are wonderful opportunities to experience a portion of the famous 30,000 Islands.
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 swimming and 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 and beauty of the 30,000 islands. 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 National 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.
Rose Point Trail
The Rose Point Trail is a 6 km stretch of reclaimed rail bed that was once the site of JR Booth’s famous Ottawa, Arnprior and Parry Sound railway that moved logs from central Ontario to the shores of Georgian Bay. The trail is also part of the greater Park to Park Trail, also one of the Amazing Places, which links Killbear Provincial Park to Algonquin Provincial Park.
Open to hiking, biking and ATV traffic in the summer as well as skis, snowshoes and snowmobiles in the winter, the trail travels through a forested area thick with birds, deer as well as wetlands that are home to beaver and amphibians. On warm, sunny days one is very likely to spot turtles basking either in the wetlands or on the trail itself.
While in Parry Sound, check out The Rotary and Algonquin Fitness Trail, another of the Amazing Places. Take in a cruise through the 30,000 islands aboard the Island Queen Cruise Ship or the M. V. Chippewa III or see a performance at the Charles W. Stockey Centre with its attached Bobby Orr Hall of Fame.
Point Grondine Park
Point Grondine Park has over 7000 hectares of scenic natural and wilderness landscape. Located on the North shore of Georgian Bay, the park is in the Killarney region and is First Nation owned and operated.
Point Grondine has over 25 km of hiking trails. The Wemtagoosh Falls loop is a 20 km self-guided route that is recommended for advanced hikers. The rugged trail winds through an old growth pine forest and offers incredible views of Wemtagoosh Falls and the nearby Killarney mountain range. Once at the falls there are backcountry campsites nestled against the shore of Cedar Lake where you can turn the trip into an overnight adventure. The park also offers stunning interior canoe routes and the opportunity to experience authentic Indigenous experiences.
Living Edge Trail
The Living Edge Trail is located in Six Mile Lake Provincial Park near the town of Port Severn. The trail exists in a “transition zone” where species from both Northern and Southern Ontario mix. The trail is an easy one kilometre walk, with the option of adding another half kilometre by following the David Milne Trail named for the famous painter who spent four years in a cabin on Six Mile Lake. Winding around wetlands and over numerous rock barrens, the route offers chances at spotting such varied wildlife as moose, beaver and even Ontario’s only lizard, the at-risk five-lined skink.
After your hike, cool off at one of the park’s three sandy beaches and enjoy the beach volleyball net. There is excellent fishing to be found as well as canoe rentals to explore the lake. You can also bring your own boat to experience the beauty of Six Mile Lake. Rental dock spaces are available.
French River Delta
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 French is a historic waterway travelled by Indigenous people, European explorers, missionaries, fur traders and voyageurs. The French River Delta is the point where the river empties into Georgian Bay.
With its hundreds of small islands and shoals, the area is perfect for paddling and exploring. You can find whitewater, view waterfalls and see all types of wildlife in their natural habitat. It is also extremely popular for fishing. There are historic village sites, logging camps and fishing stations spread out along the river. With such a storied history, there are still relics and artifacts sprinkled throughout the region. Also nearby is another of the Amazing Places, the French River Gorge. With its incredible suspension bridge and award winning Visitor Centre, plan to stop there on your trip to Five Fingers Rapids.
Swan Lake Trail
Located in Grundy Lake Provincial Park, the Swan Lake Trail offers unparalleled views of a wetland habitat. The short hike crosses rocky ridges and lookouts, with its centrepiece being the long boardwalk. Providing a surface to study wetland plants and animals, the boardwalk is suspended just above the water and is a favourite of adventurers young and old.
While at Grundy Lake, rent a canoe or kayaks and explore the interior of the park. There are water-accessible backcountry sites available for those who are looking for more adventure. The park also has several other hiking trails and eight natural sand beaches for cooling off after a day of exploring.
Five Finger Rapids
Named after the five rocky “fingers” which funnel the Little French River into the Lower, French River, the Five Finger Rapids is accessible by boat or by hiking the 10 km long (one way) Papase Trail. Hikers will be rewarded with wildlife sighting, and the smooth rock shoreline, sculpted by ice and water, offers numerous vantage points to view the rapids.
The French is well known for its incredible fishing and untamed shorelines. There are several fishing services available along the river which can set you up with all the necessary gear and can take you on guided trips to take advantage of the river’s secret zones. Also nearby is another of the Amazing Places, the French River Gorge. With its incredible suspension bridge and award winning Visitor Centre, plan to stop there on your trip to Five Fingers Rapids.
Beautiful Fairy Lake is surrounded by the exposed granite of the Canadian shield at the north edge of Georgian Bay Islands National Park. The lake is accessible by a 2.5 km hiking trail that traverses numerous habitats including towering forests and wetlands teeming with life.
The park is located on Beausoleil Island and is only accessible by water. While at the park, take advantage of their extensive trail system for hiking and cycling. The paddling around the island is unparalleled, with the option for experienced paddlers to travel to an overnight campsite by water. Being an island, there are multiple beaches and areas for swimming. The park also has a variety of camping options including roofed accommodations.
The Georgian Bay Biosphere has been internationally recognized 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. 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.
To plan your stay in the region, click here.
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