The Grotto is one of the most iconic natural wonders in Ontario. A few hours north of Toronto, the main sea cave is surrounded by towering rock cliffs and the turquoise waters of Georgian Bay. After one visit, it’s not difficult to tell why Bruce Peninsula National Park has become so popular. It’s worth spending more than one day in this southern Ontario gem.
I was glad for the chance to visit Bruce Peninsula National Park for the grotto hike this past September (during the off-season). As part of the Ocean Bridge program, I travelled to Ontario to join 20 participants for a week of hands-on learning about environmental conservation.
During my time on the Bruce Peninsula, our group and facilitators also referred to the area as the Saugeen Peninsula—as it’s known by the Ojibway. The Saugeen Bruce Peninsula is part of the traditional territory of the Saugeen Ojibway Nations.
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About The Grotto Hike
Location: Bruce Peninsula National Park, Ontario
Distance: 4 km loop
Difficulty: Easy to moderate (due to uneven ground)
Elevation: 78 m elevation gain
Time: 1.5 – 2 hours
Dog-friendly: Yes, but dogs must remain on a leash.
Features: The Grotto hike features the main sea cave next to the stunningly turquoise Georgian Bay. Hike the forest, wetlands, and lakeside cliffs through boulder beaches and dolomite bedrock. Watch your step on the rock cliffs. Bring your swimsuit to enjoy the crystal-clear waters on a sunny day.
Finding the Grotto Tobermory
The Grotto is a natural attraction in Bruce Peninsula National Park and one of the most scenic hikes near Toronto. Park in the Cyprus Lake P1 parking lot to access The Grotto and Indian Head Cove.
Driving north on Highway 6, turn right on Cyprus Lake Road about 10 km south of Tobermory. Continue driving for about 5 km to reach the parking area.
Due to the high demand, Bruce Peninsula Park requires parking reservations to visit The Grotto. Once the parking lot is full, there is no access to The Grotto sea cave. Also, Parks Canada does not allow drop-offs. So you’ll be unable to visit The Grotto when the parking lots fill up.
Note: Advanced reservations are required for parking at The Grotto from May 1 to October 31. Parking costs $12.25 per vehicle for 4 hours. Make your reservation online or call 1-877-737-3783 (1-877-RESERVE).
The Grotto Hike—Scenic Hiking in Ontario
During this visit to Bruce Peninsula National Park, I was impressed by the tall rock cliffs, attractive turquoise waters, and caves formed from years and years of wave action. The natural landscape of the Saugeen Bruce Peninsula rivals the most picturesque in Canada. Moreover, hiking the Bruce Trail (at least, a tiny portion of the 900-km path) was certainly worthwhile. How about backpacking from Tobermory to Niagara?
The Grotto hike will take about 30 minutes to reach the main cave. I’d recommend at least 1.5 hours for the 4 km trek, and longer if you’re planning to spend time by the water.
The Grotto hike in Bruce Peninsula Park has become even more popular during the pandemic. Most outdoor attractions have seen more visitors over the past two years. While outdoor recreation can be tremendously helpful for physical and mental health, sometimes natural attractions bear the brunt of increased visitation. We all have a part to play to keep our environment healthy.
Georgian Bay Swimming
Highly recommend swimming in the beautiful Georgian Bay. Many visitors stop at Indian Head Cove and hangout on the ledges near The Grotto. But keep going to find more secluded swimming spots. There’s plenty of rock beach to go around, resembling a Mediterranean scene. Also, you’ll find toilets and change rooms near The Grotto.
Practice caution along the cliffs. There have been injuries and fatalities at The Grotto. There are no lifeguards present and swimming is at your own risk. Children should be closely supervised at all times.
Lake Huron and Georgian Bay
Did you know that Lake Huron is the fourth largest freshwater lake in the world at 59,600 square km? Lake Superior is the world’s largest freshwater lake by surface area at 82,103 square km. However, Lake Huron and Lake Michigan together can be considered one body of water due to their identical surface elevation. They’re also connected by the Mackinac Strait. So Lake Huron-Michigan can be called the largest freshwater lake in the world—at 117,611 square km! How cool is that?
Lake Huron and Georgian Bay surround the Saugeen Bruce Peninsula. Unfortunately, these waters are becoming contaminated by human activity.
We tested water quality and found traces of microplastics—only visible through a microscope. As plastics enter lakes and oceans, they break down into smaller and smaller bits. These tiny plastic pieces cause harm to animals and ecosystems. Learn more about micro plastics and pledge to keep plastics out of our lakes and ocean.
Know Before You Go
Parking: During the summer months, parking fills up quickly and requires reservations.
Toilets: Toilets are available at the trailhead and near The Grotto. If nature calls when you’re not near a toilet, dig a cathole 70 big steps away from the trail and water sources.
Garbage: There are no garbage bins along the trail. Pack it in, pack it out. Don’t leave anything behind.
Pets: Your pet must be on a leash at all times. Always pick up after your pet.
Safety: When I visited, no climbing or swimming in The Grotto due to physical distancing requirements.
When To Visit: The busiest months to visit The Grotto and Indian Head Cove are July and August. Summer long weekends tend to be very popular as well. Consider planning your trip during shoulder season or choose a weekday. During peak season, be prepared for longer wait times, limited parking availability, and large crowds. I’d highly recommend visiting in September.
What To Bring: I recommend bringing water, snacks, and a first aid kit (just in case). I usually bring a full Nalgene bottle along. If you’re looking for a great day pack, you can’t go wrong with the Osprey HikeLite 18.
Parks Pass: You’ll need to purchase a day pass or a Parks Canada Discovery Pass.
Accessibility: This path is not wheelchair accessible and is not meant for strollers.
Drones: All national parks in Canada are “no drone zones.” Please leave your drone at home.
The Grotto Hike Map
Thanks for reading! Have you explored The Grotto in Bruce Peninsula National Park? What was your experience like? Leave a comment below.
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Thomas is currently participating in the 11-month Ocean Bridge program through Ocean Wise, a globally-focused conservation organization on a mission to protect the ocean. As an Ocean Bridge Ambassador, he is creating a series of blog posts for the outdoor community to share information and spark motivation for ocean and freshwater conservation in Canada. Thanks for reading!