Places and Spaces

Hiking The Bruce: A weekend trip into Bruce Peninsula National Park’s Backcountry

What do you do when your kid has a sleepover at a friend’s house? You seize the moment, grab your gear and check a goal off of your bucket list!

Disclaimer: Yes. The child was left behind for this adventure. She had NO interest in this escapade. None. Nada. Zip.  Sure, we are an outdoor family who loves to do stuff together. But sometimes an outdoors Mom and Dad need to just get there without the kid – especially when the activity is something that kid really doesn’t want to do. 

Alex, Hope the Wonder Dog and I recently took advantage of Emma’s busy social schedule and backpacked a challenging 3.4 km section of the Bruce Trail in Bruce Peninsula National Park. Starting at Cyprus Lake and ending at the Stormhaven backcountry campsites,  the distance doesn’t sound far. But the trail is rated as “Difficult” and includes an ascent up and along the Niagara Escarpment and across two cobble beaches.

There were a few tricky bits on the trail, including this rocky ridge. Alex gave Hope a helping hand…er..paw.. on this one. He carried her down to save her old hips from the strain of jumping off the ridge, which was at about 4 feet from the top to the bottom and on a slope.

With steep sections, a couple of rocky ridges to navigate and a crevice in the path to cross, the trail earns its difficult rating.  Good hiking boots are a must and a set of hiking poles definitely come in handy. With Alex carrying a 35 lb pack, me carrying a 30 lb pack, a steady pace that was comfortable for our old dog and a couple of rest stops, the hike to our campsite took about 2.5 hours.   Hope is getting-on in years. But she really wowed us on this trip and proved that even at the senior age of 12 (that’s about 75 in human years) you can still hit the trails with a wag in your tail. In fact, On our way home the next day, Alex was telling her to slow down and wait for him on sections of the trail!

The Cyprus Lake to Stormhaven route along the Bruce Trail includes two cobble beaches. In Hope’s opinion, crossing these beaches are the hardest part of the trek for a dog.

Hope didn’t have a problem navigating the terrain, but she hated the cobble beaches. In fact, when we came to the second crossing, she took a few steps on the rocks, stopped, gave us a dirty look and turned around to walk back the way we came. For a moment, Alex thought he was going to have to carry the 70 lb beast across the beach. She didn’t like that idea. So we were a bit stumped for a few minutes on how we’d get our reluctant canine to cross the cobbles. Thankfully, with a lot of encouragement and a slow pace, Hope made it across the dreaded rocks.  Don’t worry, she was well-rewarded with treats after that section of the hike!

Despite the discomfort of the wobbly, ankle-twisting rocks on the cobble beaches, we really enjoyed this challenging hike. And we loved the rewards of where this hike took us. Cliff-top vistas of Georgian Bay were breathtaking, and the aqua water far below us is unbelievable in it’s clarity and beauty. Are these the waters of Ontario? Or were we suddenly transported to the Mediterranean? The views and beaches reminded me of some spectacular places I’ve been in Greece.

When we reached Stormhaven, we gave a cheer and couldn’t wait to check out the little backcountry campground.  With raised platforms for tents, poles for hanging your food, a composting toilet and campsites grouped in one area, Bruce Peninsula National Park has established Stormhaven and and it’s other backcountry site, High Dump to protect the environmentally sensitive Niagara Escarpment as much as possible, while still allowing campers the privilege of experiencing this amazing part of wild Ontario.

Our site for the night.  The raised platforms are here to protect the environment.  We weren’t sure what it would be like sleeping on them, but after just one night we give them a huge thumbs up.  No slopes and no rocks or roots poking you in the back. They also serve you well when you have torrential downpour all night. Trust me on this one.

Did you know that the Niagara Escarpment is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve? There have been
cedar trees found in this area that are hundreds of years old, clinging to the cliffs.

Campfires aren’t allowed at Stormhaven or High Dump.  So we made sure we brought along a good, light-weight stove in our pack.

Finding water isn’t much of a problem. After-all, Georgian Bay is on your doorstep. But we did find that the sites like ours located up the cliff were a bit of a walk away from the shoreline.  We used a Platypus filtration system, so filling the bladder provided a good amount of water for cooking but not enough to hold us over until breakfast was done.  Alex made the trek down to the bay a few times to get water, which isn’t a huge deal.  But when you’re tired from hiking you might not feel like going up and down the escarpment for water very often.
I have to admit, our evening at Stormhaven wasn’t very eventful.  We were tired from the hike and the blackflies at the beach were brutal. So after dinner we simply hung our food on the provided poles and went to bed much earlier than we ever would at home.


Food bag poles to keep your munchies safe from bears, and to keep bears safe from human intrusion in their habitat. Everyone wins with this system!

It’s a good thing we went to bed early.  An impressive storm moved in shortly after we snuggled into our sleeping bags, complete with thunder, lightning, wind and driving rain.  Alex and I had a restless night,  frequently checking for leaks in a tent we were using for the first time and fretting about the idea of hiking a difficult, rocky trail, slick with rain the next day.  But I have to give Hope a lot of credit. She stayed totally calm through the storm that seemed to last all night.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I heard her snoring as the lightning and thunder kept me awake and praying that the storm would end by the time we had to tear-down camp and hike back to the Jeep.

Happily, the rain did stop before we climbed out of our tent. So we wasted no time having breakfast, packing our packs and hitting the trail to come home.

Once again, we were rewarded on the hike along the trail.  The storm provided us with a completely different and beautiful view of the rugged Georgian Bay shoreline.


As we backpacked our way along the trail, we breathed in the wet air heavy with that wonderful smell of forest after a rain and concentrated on where we placed our feet. It’s a good thing we were paying close attention to our steps, because Alex stopped short when he saw this awesome creature basking on the rocks of one of the cobble beaches…

After we admired the snake, the hike home was rhythmic with little chatter as we enjoyed our surroundings. Despite our lack of sleep, we felt good and made great time as we navigated our way along the trail. We marvelled at how our old dog had a spring in her step and wished that Emma had joined us on this little adventure.  And when we arrived at the Jeep – bright red and welcoming at the trailhead parking lot –  we cracked a cold beverage, toasted our first backpacking trek on The Bruce and promised ourselves we’d do it again.

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  • The Doctor's Daughter

    Hi There!

    Looks like I am in a similar situation… my boyfriend and I are going on a last minute trip up to Tobermory/Bruce Park. The difficult thing now is finding any kind of reservation… we were planning to just pitch a tent in the woods but seems like Parks Canada is pretty strict about having permits to do so and they are all booked up this weekend.

    How did you pull this off on such short notice or any tips on where we can pitch a tent in the area?


  • Emily Shepard

    How was the trail after the rain? We are thinking of going this weekend and a big storm is going to roll in the night before. Looking for any thoughts you have on trail safety when it's wet.

  • camperchristina

    Wow! What a wonderful blog post! I feel like I need to go back to my blog and rewrite it all. I felt like I was with you on that trip every step of the way.! Really great writing ! Looking forward to reading more of your posts.

    Did you camp on the island at all? I read today there is an island with six sites on it that you can paddle in to.

    Thanks again for sharing !

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