Fathom Five National Marine Park encompasses 130 square kilometres of ocean surface encircling 20 islands on the Bruce Peninsula’s northern and eastern sides. This park is a literal treasure trove for lovers of history. Read on to find out more about Canada’s only marine park.
Ancient ships that sailed on Lake Huron’s pristine blue waters hold many secrets. The boats whose captains had to cruise in implacable darkness eventually lost the battle against nature’s brutal forces.
At the bottom of Georgian Bay right now are the wrecks of twenty-two of these barges, schooners, and steamers, making it one of the most exciting diving locations in North America. The entrance to these historical shipwrecks is Fathom Five National Marine Park.
The park’s islands, which are a part of the Great Lakes formation, originated as coral reefs some 400 million years ago. As the ocean withdrew, the reefs changed into dolomite, a tougher rock than limestone.
Subsequent erosion resulted in the formation of towering cliffs interspersed with grass and plants. Isolation of the islands from the continent led to the development of distinct ecosystems, with each island possessing a version of nature that is unique to itself.
The first Canadian National Marine Park, Fathom Five National Marine Park, was established in 1987. It remains the only marine park of its kind, with additional protected marine areas known as National Marine Conservation Areas.
1. Fathom Five National Marine Park: Thing to Do
Only Fathom Five National Marine Park offers exhilarating land and ocean activities. Flowerpots are awe-inspiring rock formations that await your discovery. Take a deep dive beneath the waters of Lake Huron, and you will discover an abundance of submerged marvels.
1.2 Nature & Wildlife in Fathom Five National Marine Park
This marine park, like much of the Bruce Peninsula, is home to various types of orchids, including the calypso orchid, which blooms between mid-May and early June on Flowerpot Island. Moreover, the marine park has its own cliff-edge habitat.
Islands adjacent to the mainland, such as Cove Island, are home to many of the same creatures as the mainland, including bears, deer, and rattlesnakes. On some islands, however, you will encounter garter snakes and red squirrels as you walk farther into the bay.
1.3 Exploring the Fathom Five National Marine Park
You can explore the park in several ways, by land or water. The best way would be a blend of both!
1.3.1 Kayaking and Canoeing
If you are an experienced kayaker or canoeist, you are free to explore the numerous islands of the Park!
1.3.2 Flowerpot Island
The 2 km island is the only island accessible to individuals without access to a watercraft. Private tour boats can be used to reach the island. The island received its moniker from the rock formations that resemble flowerpots but are entirely natural.
Beachy Cove or the flowerpots are excellent locations for a picnic. The shoreline is composed of rocks, and the water is frigid. You are welcome to swim in the crystal blue waters.
1.3.3 Hiking Trails:
Beachy Cove is where tour boats disembark passengers. There are two flowerpots that are accessible via hiking.
- Loop Trail:
At Beachy Cove, follow the Loop track that hugs the coastline to the east to reach the 7 m tall tiny flowerpot. You will discover the enormous flowerpot that initially enticed you to visit the park further along the shore. The distance from Beachy Cove to Lightstation is roughly 30 minutes one way. If time is limited, you can return to Beachy Cove.
You can also continue down the trail past a tiny cave to reach the Flowerpot Island Lighthouse. On the route to the cave, there are steep stairs. You can return back to Beachy Cove by continuing over the rough portion atop the bluffs at the island’s geographic center.
The Lightstation to Beachy Cove trail loop takes around 45 minutes.
- Marl Trail:
This trail, which joins Loop Trail on the island’s interior, leads to the Marl Beds on the island’s western side. 45 minutes approximately from Beachy Cove.
1.3.4 Flowerpot Island Light Station:
The Flowerpot lighthouse, which was originally constructed in 1897, was replaced with a steel tower. Fathom Five National Marine Park maintains a tiny museum within the keep house, which is open during the summer. Moreover, there is a viewing platform within minutes of the lighthouse.
Have you ever wondered what it was like to serve as a lighthouse keeper decades ago? Volunteers at the Flowerpot Island lighthouse can transport you back in time. This is also the location to purchase snacks and cold beverages.
1.3.5 Snorkelling/Scuba Diving:
Fathom Five National Marine Park protects 22 shipwrecks, including schooners, barges, and steamships, that are among the oldest and best-preserved in Canada.
More than a dozen dive sites, ranging from the 213-foot steamer W.L. Wetmore to the remains of Barque Arabia off Echo Island, offer experiences for qualified divers of all abilities.
All divers must register at the Tobermory Parks Canada Visitor Centre.
Dive Charters and Equipment Rentals at Divers Den, Water Sports at G&S, and Tobermory Aquasports all provide scuba training and equipment rentals in Tobermory.
1.3.6 Dark Skies:
In addition to being a marine park, Fathom Five National Marine Park is also recognized as a Dark Sky Reserve. Admire the brilliant stars and celestial shows while camping beneath the night sky.
1.3.7 Guided Programs:
Specific programs are meant to educate and delight young minds at Fathom Five National Marine Park. Included among these are the Escarpment Explorer Trek, the Full Fathom Five Hike, the Singing Sands Hike, and the Medicine Walk. The walks are designed for groups of up to 60 students in seventh through twelfth grades.
2. Travel Tips for Visiting Fathom Five National Marine Park
2.1 Best Time to Visit Fathom Five National Marine Park
The best time to visit Fathom Five National Marine Park is spring to fall. The weather is pleasant from mid-May to the end of October. Outside this window, the weather in early spring, late fall, and winter can vary. Call the park for detailed information regarding travel during these periods.
2.2 How to Get to Fathom Five National Marine Park
There are several ways to can get to the parks. You can drive or opt for public transport.
2.2.1 By Car
If you’re travelling by your own vehicle, you can find the following useful:
Distances from Nearby Cities
- Toronto: ~ 300 km ( 4 hrs)
- Kingston: ~ 536 km ( 6 hrs)
- Ottawa: ~700 kilometers
- Windsor: ~450 kilometers (5.5 hr)
- Niagara Falls: ~ 375 kilometers ( 4.5 hrs)
- London: ~ 300 kilometers (3.5 hrs)
2.2.2 By Public Transport
You can travel from Toronto to Tobermory via ParkBus. The service is provided from Victoria Day Long Weekend to Labour Day Weekend. For lodging, you can consider Tobermory or campgrounds in the National Park or the Bruce Peninsula National Park.
Greyhound Canada provides bus service to Owen Sound from Toronto and other major cities. From July to Labour Day, First Student Canada also provides bus service from Owen Sound to Tobermory.
On Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and Holiday Mondays, you can take the M.S. Chi-Cheemaun Ferry to Manitoulin Island.
2.3 Instructions for Visiting Fathom Five National Marine Park
Tobermory, located at the northernmost tip of the Bruce Peninsula, is the ideal location to establish a base for your journey. Tobermory is reached via Highway 6. Flowerpot Island is 6.5 kilometres from Tobermory harbour and can only be reached by boat.
In the community of Tobermory, the National Park Visitor Centre serves as the headquarters for Bruce Peninsula National Park and the Fathom Five National Marine Park. Here you will find all the information you need to arrange your vacation.
Throughout the spring, summer, and fall, the Visitor Centre is open every day. The entrance pass is good for 24 hours and provides access to Fathom Five National Marine Park and Flowerpot Island.
The Centre contains an excellent interpretive center and a theatre screening video that provides a park overview. The entertaining high-definition film is called Living on the Edge.
Visitor Centre Address:
Tobermory, 120 Chi Sin Tib Dek Road. This map indicates the location of the visitor center.
2.4 Instructions for a Tour of the Shipwrecks on Flowerpot Island
Tobermory’s Blue Heron Cruises and Bruce Anchor Cruises (7468 Hwy. 6, North) provide a range of cruises, including sunset cruises through the islands of the conservation area and excursions to Flowerpot Island.
To access the island and visit the craggy shorelines and crystal blue waters surrounding Tobermory and Fathom Five National Marine Park, you can choose between glass-bottom boats and jet boats. Glass-bottom boat cruises provide a glimpse of the sunken ships beneath Georgian Bay. All boat tours depart from Tobermory’s Little Tub Harbour.
2.5 Additional Expenses to Keep in Mind
The majority of national parks and national historic sites charge entrance and service fees; these funds are used to support visitor services and facilities. This means that each time you visit a park or historic site, you invest in its future and create a legacy for future generations.
There is a 24-hour pass that covers access to the Visitor Centre and Flowerpot Island.
3. Accommodations and Amenities
3.1. Campground Within the Park
Flowerpot Island in Fathom Five National Marine Park includes six elevated tenting platforms where you can pitch your tent. Each site costs is calculated by the number of people and the number of days, and reservations must be made in advance.
Please keep in mind that the island has no running water, so you must bring your own or purify bay water. Be prepared to spend an additional day or two on the island if the weather is poor.
You can purchase refreshments at Lowerpot Island Light Station. No credit cards are accepted. At the Village of Tobermory, you can consider numerous dining options.
3.2 Accommodations Outside the Park
Tobermory offers a variety of lodging options, including campgrounds/RV parks, bed & breakfasts, and cottages. For the best experience, plan on spending a half-day on Flowerpot Island and another half-day exploring the trails that go from the visitor center into Tobermory.
3.3 Facilities Contained Within the Park
Flowerpot Island is the only island in the park that provides basic amenities such as restrooms, picnic tables, and a picnic shelter. There are picnic tables at the lighthouse and in the vicinity of the Flowerpots.
There are parking lots in the vicinity of Little Tub Harbour in the Village. Parking is limited to two hours at Little Tub Harbour. You can park at cruise company-operated parking lots if you are taking a ship.
You can find washroom facilities on Flowerpot Island at Beachy Cove and the Tobermory Lightstation Park Visitor Centre.
Fathom Five National Marine Park consists of the islands and waterways in Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, off the point of the Bruce Peninsula. Tours departing from Little Tub Harbour in Tobermory can take you to Flowerpot Island and a shipwreck.
This freshwater ecosystem is home to numerous unique orchid species, old rock formations, grassy cliff-edge woods, and 22 shipwrecks that provide excellent dive locations. All these experiences count towards forming a unique travel experience.
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