Manitoulin Island is quickly becoming a favourite destination for our family to visit in Ontario. Not only is it tranquil and beautiful, but it also feels like a true getaway!
With gorgeous vistas, incredible landscapes, delicious food, amazing people, and more, there are so many things to do on Manitoulin Island with kids!
What is Special About Manitoulin Island
Manitoulin Island is unique for so many reasons. Not only is Manitoulin (or “Spirit Island” in the Ojibwe language of Anishnaabemowin) the largest freshwater island in the world, but it also has approximately 108 inland lakes, some of which even have their own islands!
Fun Fact: Aside from being the largest island in a freshwater lake in the world, Manitoulin is also home to the largest lake within an island within a lake in the world. And if that is not confusing enough, it is also the largest island within a lake, within an island within a lake in the world!
Not only is Manitoulin beautiful, but the island is also rich in history and culture that you should definitely take the opportunity to learn about and experience.
For example, Manitoulin has a carefully preserved indigenous culture. Many of the First Nations people live on small reserves, including Wikwemikong, which is the only unceded reserve in Canada.
Where is Manitoulin Island
Manitoulin Island is located on Lake Huron in Northern Ontario. It is approximately a 1.5 hours drive south of Sudbury, and just over a 5-hour drive northwest of Toronto.
How to Get On Manitoulin Island
There are three main ways to get to the island. The first is by driving across the Little Current Swing Bridge located on the northeastern part of the island. This is the only land crossing onto Manitoulin.
The second method is by flying into one of two airports. The Gore Bay-Manitoulin Airport serves air traffic and fly-in access on the west end of Manitoulin for commercial flights.
The Manitoulin East Municipal Airport is located at the east end of Manitoulin. This airport is on Highway 6, in between Sheguiandah and Manitowaning, and is for private aircraft only.
The third way to access the island is by ferry. The MS Chi-Cheemaun (Ojibwe for “large canoe”) makes several trips daily between Tobermory and South Baymouth from May until October.
15 Things to Do on Manitoulin Island with Kids
With so many incredible things to do on Manitoulin Island, we guarantee it will keep you coming back again and again!
1. See the Little Current Swing Bridge
Not only is the Little Current Swing Bridge the only land crossing onto Manitoulin Island, but it is also a pretty cool attraction to see.
Originally built in 1913 for railway traffic, the bridge was opened to vehicular traffic in 1946. Then in the 1980s, train service to the island was discontinued, and the single-lane bridge remained open for vehicles only. Today, the Little Current Swing Bridge has also been designated an Ontario Heritage site.
The bridge remains in the closed position for most of the year. However, from June until August, the bridge swings open for boat traffic during the first 15 minutes of every daylight hour (from 7:00 am until 10:00 pm). So if you are in a hurry to cross the bridge, you will need to plan accordingly.
Fun Fact: Because the Little Current Swing Bridge only has a single vehicle lane, each end of the bridge is equipped with traffic signals. These lights are the only traffic signals on Manitoulin Island!
While you are in Little Current, make sure to stop at the Tourist Information office located just past the bridge. Not only can you get a photo with the Manitoulin sign, but you can also get some great maps and info about all the things to do on Manitoulin Island.
You will also want to check out the shops and restaurants on Water Street, as well as the waterfront boardwalk. The Little Current area is perfect for walking on a nice day!
2. Go for a Swim at Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls is located in Kagawong. As one of the island’s top attractions, it is definitely a must-do experience when on Manitoulin. The falls are 11 m (35ft) tall and provide the perfect spot to cool off or do a little photography.
The falls are formed by the Kagawong River cascading over a limestone cliff into a small basin below. The name comes from its resemblance to a bridal veil.
There are two ways to access the falls. The first is from an observation deck off the roadway. Here, there is a sturdy metal stairway that leads directly down to the base of the waterfalls.
There is a small parking lot off HWY 540 where you can park at the observation deck. Parking is free, but the lot fills up pretty quickly, so it’s best to get there early in the day.
The second way to access the falls is by way of the Kagawong River Trail. Just slightly down the road from the observation deck, you will find a small parking lot with direct access to the trail. From there, it is about half a kilometre of easy walking, to reach the base of the falls.
Please beware; the forest along the path is FILLED with Poison Ivy! There are warning signs everywhere, but if you have young kids, be extra vigilant.
Once you get to the base of the falls, there are some dry areas where you can sit. Water shoes are a must if you plan on swimming, as it’s very rocky (and some of the rocks are quite slippery).
The water in the main area is really shallow but gets deeper as you approach the falls. However, at no time was it too deep for me to stand.
The kids loved climbing behind the falls and jumping through them into the water. It is an awesome experience as the water is not very cold, and is pretty clean for swimming.
3. Check out the Views on the Cup and Saucer Trail
Hiking the Cup and Saucer Trail is an absolute must-do when on the island. Whether you are a complete beginner or an avid hiker, there is a trail for you.
There are three different trails to choose from, all having a moderate rating, with the longest trail being 10km, and taking approximately 4 hours.
We opted for the shorter Main Trail (5km route), ending on a high (literally) at the East Lookout. The 180-degree panoramic views from this lookout are spectacular! With no barriers, it may be a little scary for people who have a fear of heights, or for young kids.
The trailhead was not only super easy to find with large street signage, but there was also plenty of lot parking and port-o-lets available. The trails themselves are well marked, although some of the markers are faded.
We would recommend hiking boots or sneakers, comfortable clothing, and insect repellent. And don’t forget to bring lots of water!
Beginner hikers may find the trails challenging, but the payoff is definitely worth the effort! Even with a couple of steep climbs up makeshift stairs, roots, and boulders to navigate, and a steady incline, the staggering views will be what ends up taking your breath away!
4. Explore Gore Bay
If you like the idea of strolling along a boardwalk and watching boats come and go from the marina, then Gore Bay is the perfect spot to visit! Located just 46 minutes east of Little Current or an hour north of South Baymouth, it’s the perfect spot to spend an afternoon with the family.
Not only is there a 1 km boardwalk to stroll along, but you will also find several great artisan shops inside the Harbour Centre.
Make sure to take a guided tour of the Janet Head Lighthouse, or stop for an awesome craft beer at the Split Rail Brewing Company. For the kids, we found a great park along the shoreline that came complete with a splash pad!
5. Visit a Lighthouse
Of course, where there is water, you just know there will be lighthouses! And one of the charms of Manitoulin Island is that there are just sooo many to explore.
By our count, there are 11 main lighthouses that belong to Manitoulin Island. And although some of the lighthouses can only be viewed from sightseeing boats, we did our best to see a few of those that could be accessed by land.
And if you love learning about history just as much as looking at the architecture, a couple of the lighthouses are actually open for guided tours.
One of the lighthouses that are open to the public, is the Janet Head Lighthouse in Gore Bay. Built in 1879, this is the second oldest standing lighthouse on the island.
The lighthouse has a furnished two-story keeper’s dwelling attached and is pretty cool to tour. Make sure you check its hours of operation, as Janet Head is only open during the summer on certain days and during limited times.
6. Enjoy a Drink at the Split Rail Brewing Company
When in Gore Bay, be sure to head over to Split Rail Brewing Company. Located in an old fishery plant, Split Rail is Manitoulin’s first microbrewery.
Split Rail Brewing has been around since 2015 and is open year-round. Not only do they offer both an indoor tasting room, as well as an awesome outdoor lake-view patio, but the brewery also does tours!
Producing true small-batch craft lagers, ales, and seasonal brews, the company proudly says they are able to brew and package 100% of their beer in Gore Bay.
We stopped in for a pint and were able to enjoy our own picnic lunch on their patio. The kids sampled Split Rail’s non-alcoholic beverage which had a delicious maple flavour!
7. Explore the Hiking Trails at Misery Bay Provincial Park
Visiting Misery Bay Provincial Park should be on your list of things to do on Manitoulin Island. As the only operating park on the island, it’s a great way to enjoy the northern shores of Lake Huron.
Misery Bay Provincial Park is a day-use-only nature reserve, which unfortunately means no camping. What you will find, is 860 hectares of wetland, scrub woodland, and mixed forest, along with unique plants, wildlife, and glacial features.
The park features approximately 15 km of hiking trails, spread across 4 routes. The trails are well marked, range from a 2km loop to an 8km loop, and offer some pretty spectacular views of Lake Huron.
4 Available Trails
- The Coastal Alvar Trail – Rating: Moderate – Length: approximately 8km (loop)
- The Inland Alvar Trail – Rating: Easy – Length: approximately 5km (loop)
- Misery Bay Trail – Rating: Moderate/Difficult – Length: approximately 5km (loop to trailhead)
- Mac’s Bay Trail – Rating: Easy – Length: approximately 2km (return to trailhead)
When you arrive at the park, head to the Visitor’s Centre. Here, you will find a map of the trails, as well as restrooms. The staff will also let you know if any of the trails are closed as a result of high water levels and flooding.
8. Spend an Afternoon at Providence Bay Beach and Boardwalk
Located on the southern shore of the island, Providence Bay is often touted as the best beach in Northern Ontario. This beautiful sand beach on Lake Huron comes complete with nearby shops, restaurants, and a boardwalk.
Providence Bay beach is pretty family-friendly as well. Not only is there a really nice playground (that includes exercise equipment for the adults!), but the water is shallow enough near the shore for the kids to play.
The boardwalk, which is fully wheelchair-accessible and stroller friendly, runs for a pretty good stretch along the beach. You will also find a picnic area with nearby public washrooms, making it the perfect place to spend the day!
And let’s not forget about the views! They are absolutely gorgeous! You definitely have to include Providence Bay Beach on your list of things to do on Manitoulin Island!
9. Enjoy the Best Fish and Chips on the Island
You can’t visit Manitoulin Island without trying Lake Huron Fish and Chips! Walking distance from Providence Bay beach, this little establishment is known all over the island! After all, when you are surrounded by water, you just know the fish is going to be over-the-top delicious!
Their specialty is whitefish, and it was absolutely amazing! The fish was battered perfectly and not too greasy. They even make their own spicy tartar sauce! And the hand-cut fries were the perfect complement!
But beware – Lake Huron Fish and Chips are popular, so the wait is pretty long. Because of restrictions, the restaurant was only open for take-out. The line to order was about a 20-minute wait, and then the pick-up time was another 20 minutes.
We ordered and went to the beach to hang out. There were some picnic tables nearby, so everything worked out perfectly!
10. Indulge Your Sweet Tooth
Manitoulin Chocolate Works
Do you have a chocolate addiction like I do? If so, you won’t want to miss Manitoulin Chocolate Works in Kagawong. You can find this cute little shop just down the roadway from the marina.
Opened in 1998, this family-owned business is housed in one of the village’s historic buildings. Inside, you can find handmade artisan chocolates, a variety of sweets, and freshly roasted coffee.
Everything looked so good, we had a hard time deciding what to try! We finally settled on some of the hand-crafted chocolate macaroons. Yum! With everything made from the highest quality ingredients, you really can’t go wrong!
Three Cows and a Cone
If ice cream is what you are looking for, then Farquhar’s Dairy is what you want. This ice cream is locally produced in Northern Ontario, and is amazing!
You can actually grab a cone at several places on the island! If you are in Little Current, you will need to check out Three Cows and a Cone.
Located a couple of minutes from the Swing Bridge, this quaint ice cream parlour serves up a pretty good variety of flavours. My only complaint was that they only had one non-dairy option available (raspberry sorbet).
Huron Island Time
If you are on the southern shore of the island, look for Huron Island Time, located in Providence Bay. We found there to be a pretty decent variety of ice cream flavours here, including dairy-free options!
While the kids chose a Coffee Crisp ice cream, I indulged in some pistachio. It was so good, they had me questioning whether it was actually dairy-free!
Not only can you get some great ice cream here, but Huron Island Time is also a restaurant that has live music on certain evenings in the summer. The events are held outdoors on the boardwalk, providing the perfect backdrop for a summer evening.
11. Step Back in Time at the Old Mill Heritage Centre
If you are a history buff, then the Old Mill Heritage Centre Museum is the place for you. Housed in what used to be a pulp mill, the museum offers a look into the history of Kagawong.
With exhibits ranging from the Canadian Armed Forces to Berry Boats to the story of Daniel Dodge (heir to the Dodge Motor Company), there is sure to be something that catches your eye! The museum also has a whole exhibit on the lighthouses of Manitoulin Island!
The museum is quite small, so you really wouldn’t need more than an hour to visit. Entrance into the museum is by donation, and if the kids are not interested, there is a nice playground right outside!
12. Tempt Your Taste-buds with Authentic Indigenous Cuisine
Given the strong cultural background, trying the local Indigenous cuisine really should be on your list of things to do on Manitoulin Island. And from our experience, you won’t be disappointed!
Hiawatha’s Food Truck
On the advice of a local, we went in search of Hiawatha’s Food Truck. You can find her truck on the Wikwemikong reserve, parked roadside next to the gas station.
Hiawatha’s is pretty popular, so don’t be surprised when you see a ton of cars and a pretty long lineup. But is it ever worth it!! You will find amazing food at reasonable prices.
Hubby and I both ordered the Bison Nish Noodle which was roasted bison, veggies, and rice noodles smothered in a honey glaze sauce, with a slice of maple butter baked bannock (Indigenous bread).
The kids had Nish Tacos, which was skaan (scone), minced beef, cheese, lettuce, and tomato.
You can either take your food to go or sit on one of the picnic tables set up near the truck to enjoy it on-site.
The kids INHALED their tacos! Hubby and I tried to savour our meals… but who were we trying to kid… our food was gobbled up pretty fast too! The warm bannock was soooo good!! Definitely look up Hiawatha’s if you are in the area!
Located inside the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre, North46 restaurant specializes in locally sourced, Indigenous-inspired cuisine. With both an indoor dining area, and an outside patio, this restaurant should be on your list of things to do on Manitoulin Island.
Open for breakfast and dinner, we enjoyed a couple of meals during our stay on the island. Hubby and I sampled the Bison Burger, while the kids gave the Anishnaabe Taco a try.
The Bison Burger was served on a brioche bun, with all the fixings and a side of fries. It was absolutely delicious! The kids’ tacos were made from Bison chilli, and served on Native fried bread, with shredded cheese, lettuce, tomato, salsa, and sour cream. It was really, really good!
Find the best rates for Manitoulin Island hotels here.
13. Sleep in a Tipi Under the Stars
Looking for a unique and family-friendly place to stay? Then head over to Manitoulin Eco Park (formerly Gordon’s Park) for a night of Tipi-tenting under the stars.
Tipi-tenting is a popular option if you are looking to camp on Manitoulin Island. The traditional Manitoulin-made tipis offer a little more comfort for those who are not ready to fully rough it!
Located within the forest camping sites, each tipi has a built-in raised wooden floor and a rain cap to protect you from the elements. They also come with memory foam pads for added comfort.
The tipi tenting sites include a picnic table, cook stand, and fire pit, so you are pretty much set for an awesome family experience.
And what makes this camping experience truly magical, is that Manitoulin Eco Park is located in a dark sky preserve. Prepare to see the night sky like never before!
We were completely amazed! It was difficult to go to bed, when a million stars, the milky way, planets, and meteor showers, were so clearly on display! Just wow!
14. Attend an Astronomy Night at Manitoulin Eco Park
Located in Tehkummah, Manitoulin Eco Park was Canada’s first Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) designated commercial Dark Sky Preserve. And if you love stargazing, then you will need to put this eco-park at the top of your list of things to do on Manitoulin Island!
As we mentioned in the last section, Manitoulin Eco Park is an awesome campground tucked away in a secluded forest. Inside the Dark Sky Preserve, you will find a large open field that is absolutely perfect for stargazing. You can’t get better than a 360-degree sky viewing area!
And you don’t even have to be staying at the Manitoulin Eco Park to enjoy the night skies. All through Spring, Summer, and Fall, they host a variety of different events that are sure to be fun for the whole family.
From Perseid Meteor Shower Nights and Perseid Night Hikes to Small Group Astronomy Nights, and Stargazing Hikes, there are tons of ways to experience the night skies.
Our kids had a blast learning the native stories about the constellations during our Stargazing Night Hike. We were treated to an amazing view of the Milky Way, a couple of planets, the tail end of the meteor showers, and more stars than I have ever seen in my life!
15. Take a Ride on the MS Chi-Cheemaun Ferry
Taking the MS Chi-Cheemaun from Tobermory to South Baymouth is the quickest way for us to get on the island from Toronto, with our vehicle. But taking the ferry is not just about convenience. It’s also about the experience!
Instead of worrying about a long drive or traffic, you get to sit on the deck, enjoy the gorgeous scenery, and relax! And depending on your cruise time, you may even get to see an incredible sunset!
Booking your tickets by phone or online couldn’t be easier! You can look here for the schedule, and here to check fares. Cost is based on how many travellers plus the type of vehicle. Reservations are recommended, as there are only limited spots available on the standby list.
You will need to arrive about an hour before sailing, to check-in. When it is time to sail, you are directed by staff as to where to park onboard the ferry.
You must then exit your vehicle. There are then several decks to choose from for seating, both indoors and out.
The trip takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes. There are public restrooms available onboard, as well as a cafeteria that serves a variety of food and beverages.
Once you reach Manitoulin Island, you are asked to re-enter your vehicle and are then guided off the boat. And that’s all! Pretty easy!
The ride was smooth and quite scenic, so a great experience for even those of us who may suffer from motion sickness.
Manitoulin Island FAQs
Yes! As the world’s largest freshwater island, Manitoulin Island is unique for so many reasons. And there are a ton of adventures and brand-new experiences to be had.
We think that you need to spend at least 3 days on Manitoulin Island. This will give you enough time to drive around the island, check out the shops and restaurants, do some hiking and sightseeing, and spend some time on the beach.
The city of Little Current is the largest community on Manitoulin Island. This is where you will find the Little Current Swing Bridge, which allows road access to Manitoulin Island from Highway 6.
Even though Manitoulin Island isn’t as far north as Thunderbay, Chaplueau, or Wawa, it is still a great place to see the northern lights. Head to the Dark Sky Preserve at Manitoulin Eco Park for some of the best stargazing, and the best chances at seeing the Auroras.
Yes! Expect to see wildlife including a large deer population, as well as more elusive mammals like black bears, bobcats, river otters, beavers, and porcupines on the island.
Although Massasauga Rattlesnakes are commonly found along the eastern and northern shores of Georgian Bay and up the Bruce Peninsula, they are seldom found on Manitoulin Island.
Things to Do on Manitoulin Island – Final Thoughts
With so many amazing experiences to be had, I’m sure that you will never run out of things to do on Manitoulin Island! We are definitely looking forward to our next visit!
Have you had an incredible experience on Manitoulin Island? Or do you have a suggestion on what we should try next? We’d love to hear your ideas!
Pin This Post for Later!
- The Beautiful Ontario Lighthouses of Manitoulin Island and Georgian Bay
- Manitoulin Island Hotels: The Best Places to Stay on Manitoulin Island
- The Best Camping on Manitoulin Island – Manitoulin Eco Park
- Hiking the Amazing Cup and Saucer Trail on Manitoulin Island
- 15 Awesome Things to Do on Manitoulin Island with Kids