There are a quite a few experiences that have made their way onto the Sometimes Eventful “Bucket List”. Camping on Flowerpot Island in Fathom Five National Marine Park of Canada is one of them, and we happily checked it off this summer, when we spent two nights on the island at the end of June. It was truly a unique thing to do, giving us great family time in the outdoors, as well as a wide-eyed view of this very popular tourist destination in Ontario’s Georgian Bay.
|You go for the views. This is one of the infamous Flowerpots. There are two of these rock pillars on the island that are relatively easy to walk to from the main trail.|
You might wonder why we would choose to camp at a place where hundreds of tourists visit every day during peak season. There were a couple of moments when I wondered, too. Like the couple of times people casually wandered down a clearly marked path to our campsite and then looked confused when we asked them to leave. But what it really comes down to, is taking an opportunity to spend a few days in a beautiful part of our province and experience first-hand this incredible, important geological region. The fact that Flowerpot Island has only six campsites is also very appealing to us. Once the last tour boat leaves, the island is practically deserted. It’s just you and a small handful of people in a place that feels like it’s the “middle of nowhere”.
|Campsite #1. The view of our campsite from the Camper’s Dock. Don’t let the water fool you. It looks like a shallow bay because the water is so still and clear. But it is actually quite deep.|
|Taking the Leap. Emma was determined to jump off the Camper Dock. I warned her that the water would be cold. But she was determined. And the water was cold. So, so cold!|
The campsites are completely unserviced, meaning there is no electricity or running water. There is one composting toilet to be share by all six campsites. Collect your water from the cove. Don’t forget your purification/filtration system! There is also a dock for campers, providing a place for you to moor a boat if needed. While we were there, one camping group had a motorboat and another arrived in kayaks.
Each site has a tent pad and covered, wooden food locker for storage. Our food locker was in bad shape. The hinges on the lid were broken and the box was mossy with mushrooms growing inside. A determined animal – or even a lazy one – would have no problem breaking-in to the food locker. We hung our food, mostly to try and protect it from some very persistent red squirrels. Luckily, there are no bears on this island.
|Home away from home.|
Flowerpot Island offers two trails, the Marl Trail and the Loop Trail. Both trails are relatively short, but Parks Canada recommends you allow four to five hours to hike the entire loop trail, including a visit to the light station, a picnic lunch and a visit to the cave.
The Marl Trail is a much shorter, linear route that ends on a cobble beach. This trail is much less busy and a nice way to stretch your legs and get a taste of the islands topography. If you have an extreme aversion to crowds – this is the trail to hike when the tour boats are coming and going.
|The Marl Trail. Away from the crowds.|
Off of the main Loop Trail, there are two side trails. One takes you to a huge cave and the other takes you from the lightstation to the actual lighthouse.
|The Lighthouse Side Trail. Picture walking along this trail during a storm, at night, with only a lantern. This was my most favourite walk on the whole Island. It sparked my imagination!|
The Lighthouse has been decommissioned from duty, but the lightstation and lighthouse keeper’s house is maintained to educate visitors about marine history and the role of the lighthouse and its keepers in Georgian Bay. We really enjoyed this part of the island, and spent quite a bit of time there. It was a great place to eat our picnic lunch and watch the waves roll into the rocky shore. An added bonus is the small shop set up in the Keeper’s House. They sell cold drinks and snacks, as well as a number of items hand-made by the Friends of Bruce District Parks Association. Proceeds from the store go towards maintaining the station. Emma walked away from the shop with an awesome, hand-knitted, 4 ft. long snake as a souvenir from the trip.
|This is the life. Relaxing on the porch of the Lighthouse Keepers House after a little hiking and a picnic lunch.|
A colourful, knitted snake seemed like the most appropriate item, because we saw a lot of snakes. We saw them everywhere we went. On our campsite, on the trails, on the beach. And they seemed to hang out in pairs. If you take a really close look at the picture on the right, there is a second snake in the background. Don’t worry, though. While these guys are big and plentiful they are totally harmless. In fact, Parks Canada reports that there are no rattlesnakes on Flowerpot Island.
Flowerpot Island earned it’s name from the stone pillars resembling flowerpots, standing along the island’s shoreline. The flowerpots are also the main draw for the hundreds of visitors that make their way to the island every day. Of course, we had to spend some time hanging out at the spot that makes the island famous.
Getting to the flowerpots takes a bit of work scrambling off the main trail to the rocky shore. But it is worth seeing the pillars up-close and enjoying the flow of waves coming over the rocks. This area is popular with the tourists and was very busy. That means it was also crowded and noisy at times. If you’re camping on the island, my best advice is to check out the flowerpots before the tourist boats start arriving in the morning, or after the last one leaves in the late afternoon.
You might have noticed that I’ve mentioned the tourists a few times. Flowerpot Island is a big destination for visitors to Tobermory, who take boat tour packages that include visits to a few shipwrecks and a stop at the island. The boat tours are a very important business to the folks who call the Bruce Peninsula home, and they welcome the tourists with open arms. I get that. And I support it. Heck, my family and I are tourists to the region. But I have to admit, as an outdoors person seeking an encounter with a stunning natural wonder and unique bit of Ontario wilderness I was a bit discouraged to see loads of people travelling to the island completely unprepared for a few hours at an outdoor destination and hiking along the rocky, ankle twisting trails. It was a bit unnerving to be amongst so many people who just don’t seem to understand that this is a really great, wilderness area.
Why am I bringing this up? I feel it’s important for you to be prepared to potentially encounter a lot of people when you leave your campsite and explore Flowerpot Island. The main attractions of the island that are bringing you there, are also bringing boatloads of tourists. Be ready to share the trails and the cave and flowerpots with a bunch of people who are not necessarily outdoor adventure seekers. If you are camping there, take advantage of the “after hours” time to explore the Island’s natural attractions.
Should you go to Flowerpot Island? Absolutely! Just be prepared that, until the last boat leaves at the end of the day you are definitely not on a deserted island. We had a great couple of days there, and are so happy we had the opportunity to check the destination and the experience off of our bucket list.
You Should Go! Here’s What You Need To Know….
Campsites at Flowerpot Island are available beginning in May and should be reserved in advance.
IMPORTANT: These sites can be reserved by phone or in person at the Park Visitor Centre in Tobermory only. Reservations can be made in April by calling 519-596-2233 ext 221.
For everything you need to know about booking a site, go to the Parks Canada website here: Camping on Flowerpot Island
Access to the island is only available by boat. If you don’t have your own motorboat or kayak (experienced paddlers only!) book a shuttle with one of the boat tour companies located in Tobermory. We travelled by jet boat with The Blue Heron Company. There service was highly professional from the moment we contacted them to book our ride to when we stepped-off their boat back in Tobermory at the end our trip. We strongly recommend them. Check out their website here: http://www.blueheronco.com