We started off camping season this year with a weekend (two-day) trip to Bruce Peninsula National Park in early June. It’s about a 3 & 1/2 hour drive from my house and it was me, my two kids Wolf (7) and Sun (3), my old friend from highschool and her two kids (same ages) and my BFF and her husband and two kids (10 & 8) were at a cabin in nearby Tobermory.
I have been to the Bruce Peninsula before, with aforementioned BFF & her husband about 20 years ago. We were backpacking along the Bruce Trail and enjoyed that part of the park which lies high on the cliffs. There were Massassauga Rattlers everywhere then, and we saw a small bear or two. We stayed in back country the entire trip, sleeping more than one night out on the giant boulders on the beaches. So this was an entirely different trip, to me, it didn’t even seem possible it was the same area!
The Bruce Peninsula is an adventureist’s wonderland and it forms the core of UNESCO‘s Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere Reserve. You’ll not find a more diverse array of ecosystems with an abundance of wildlife, including many unusual species in all of Ontario. At Bruce Peninsula and her sister park Fathoms Five, you can see and do just about any kind of outdoor activity you want: hiking, bouldering, spelunking, swimming, scuba diving, kayaking, canoeing, cycling, birding, plant and animal investigations, climbing, explore shipwrecks, and of course camping and backpacking. There are over 55km of trails on which you could take a 30 minute stroll, or a strenuous multi-day hike. It is also a Dark Sky Preserve, great for stargazing!
Cyprus Lake Campground, The Bruce Peninsula National Park
We stayed in the Cyprus Lake Campground, at unserviced site Poplar #23. The site itself was OK, there was enough room for two large family tents, and probably our screen room if we had set it up. As it was, the bugs were not bad at all, nothing a little application of bug-spray at dusk couldn’t keep at bay. Two picnic benches and firepit, some already-hung clothes lines and a little room for the kids to play; it was surrounded by a thin line of trees and swamp. When it rained puddles formed near our picnic area, but our tents, which were on slightly higher ground stayed out of water. The site seemed well-maintained. We were right next to the flush toilets, which is great when you have little kids.
I have to say, the bathrooms were immaculate when we first arrived and after each time they were cleaned (which seemed to be at least twice a day). Even my daughter, normally very shy of strange bathrooms felt comfortable in there. I have to say, the cleaning staff were exceptionally friendly and chatty, despite having quite a bit of unreasonable work to do during our stay. Big Kudos to them!
There is poison ivy everywhere along the roadside and in between the campsites. We had to do a very thorough check and note the areas to the kids. Even that wasn’t enough, because their frisbee kept flying into the stuff. It’s basically unavoidable. If anyone in your family has a strong reaction to poison ivy, this may not be the place to take them camping. Also, while there was the typical poison ivy, there were plenty of atypical poison ivy too, so the rule “Leaves of three, let it be” was never more important! If you’re not sure if it’s poison ivy, it probably is and just leave it alone.
The wildlife there is very bold, which generally says that people tend to leave food out. We had a resident squirrel who was small, but mighty. Twice she climbed down into our garbage bag in broad daylight and rummaged around in there. There was a nightly visit from our friend “Racky” the raccoon. Cutest little raccoon I have ever seen, and bolder than most. He had no problem coming right up to us! I’m positive he’s been fed by human hands. He was difficult to get out of our campsite, even though we had no food out after dark, except what might have been in our hands. Even the birds seemed perfectly comfortable landing on our picnic table when we were making food!
So that all sounds alright, right? Worst! Campground! Ever!!! In nearly 40 years of visiting national and provincial parks here and abroad, I have never encountered a more frustrating experience than I did that first night at Cypress. There was an extremely large group of people, we’re talking at least 30, and they spread over about 4-5 campsites nearby. If they were loud and obnoxious during the day, it was 100x worse at night, and it didn’t stop until after 2am! We could hear them partying in a site just one over from ours, and they would come in groups of 4-5 frequently to the bathrooms. They kept us awake, and woke up our kids: it was absolutely terrible.
They were extremely disrespectful to the park. They showered with buckets in the bathrooms, so the floors were flooded. These are just flushtoilets and sinks, not a full bathroom of any kind! They washed their dirty dishes at the communal taps, leaving a terrible mess. But the worst was just the sheer level of noise. It was completely unacceptable for a campground that has a “strict” quiet and fires-out rule for 10pm. Even when confronted by other campers who were all extremely put out by their behaviour, they just laughed it up and seemed to turn things up even louder. There appeared to be absolutely zero staff intervention. I wanted to
cast a curse on bless those people with the knowledge of how to be good campers.
Of course, we along with every other camper in the Poplars that night complained in the morning, but our night had already been ruined, and when you are camping, one bad night like that can really throw off your whole trip. Either large groups like that need to be accommodated in a group camping area, or there should be designated park wardens or other security staff checking on their sites frequently, especially after hours. It was completely unacceptable and avoidable.
We had planned to stay for three nights, but were too exhausted after that first night and came home one day early.
Tips for the Cyprus Lake Campgrounds
- The noise–I’m not sure how you ensure the issues with the partiers doesn’t happen to you, it’s really up to the park to enforce their own standards. There is a number on the back of the Cypress Lake Campground pamphlet to call if there are park disturbances, but no one had cell reception on the sites. I have heard that Tamarack is the quietest area within the campground, so maybe think about booking there. Also: don’t ever be those people.
- Our firewood was wet, though it was stored covered. To make matters worse, they don’t sell kindling, only firestarters. So be prepared, bring your hatchet and give yourself lots of time to get a good fire going if you plan to cook on it.
- There are no showers. If you’re staying longer than a few days you can shower at public showers nearby, or make sure to bring a camp shower.
- The wildlife is intense! Follow their “Bare Campsite Program” and you’ll be fine. Don’t and you’ll get plenty of unwanted visitors. the squirrels and racoons are cute, but the bears, cougars, wolves and coyoters may not be. Also, it’s not good for any animals to become camp foragers, it endagers their lives.
Kid-Friendly Activities at Bruce Peninsula and Fathom Five National Parks
Stop by the Ranger’s Station or Visitor’s Centre and ask about the Club Parka programs when you visit a National Park. My kids love belonging to any kind of club, but if it has to do with nature and they get cool SWAG too?–It’s a MUST. You will get little booklets, which help the kids to explore the park on their level, with information and activities to complete. My kids take these books very seriously. They tend to want to complete every activity within and refer back to them time and again long after our trip is finished. I guess it becomes a bit of a memory book for them. Anyway, they are great in-and-of-themselves, but they also come with prizes!!
When they complete a booklet (and they don’t have to be completely done, there’s no teacher at the end of this checking for accuracy or compliance!), they take it back to the ranger’s station for congratulations and they earn a “souvenir” which is currently these awesome dog tags!
The beach at our campground was on the shores of Cyprus Lake. There is a lovely, easy trail that circles the lake that takes you through a gnarly forest that makes you feel a part of a Fantasy Fiction novel of some sort. The trail is famous, and it’s a great activity to do with the kids. Though it is 5.2K and considered “moderate”, its extremely easy to navigate and there are plenty of stop-off points where you can rest and even have a swim. The tangle of roots and rocks can be a bit treacherous for little feet especially, so it’s not something you really want to tackle in sandals. Did I mention poison ivy? It’s everywhere, so stay on the trail.
We saw large rabbits and a number of interesting insects along the way.
You don’t have to do the whole trail to get to the beach from the campground, or Cyprus Lake parking lot. It’s quite accessible with several boardwalks leading in from the campground road. Or you can choose to hike just a little ways in, stopping at one of the many mini-paths to the lake.
The extreme shallows make it ideal for kids. They can wade out quite far and never have the water go above their hips. It’s calm and clear, which is great for beginner canoeists or kayakers. The bottom is a muddy-sand that is soft and squishy, but there is a large number of rocks and pebbles, so those with more sensitive feet will want water shoes.
The lake itself is extremely interesting. You get the idea that you are swimming in a bog, except the water is quite clear and not cluttered with swampish plants. In the shallows, the water was quite warm, surprisingly so considering it was still early June. As you move out, it suddenly gets very cold, but most of the kids didn’t care, it was a really hot day! There were nibbly minnows which tickled our feet. The kids were harvesting crayfish by the bucketload. We saw the occasional larger fish and a multitude of snails.
The crowning wildlife experience was when Wolf got a leach on his foot. We didn’t even notice it until nearly an hour later when we had gone back to the campsite and were changing into dry clothes. It was huge! We removed it, examined it, and as it was his first experience with leaches, congratulated Wolf on how much the animals really seem to love him (they do, actually).
They did find a few glass beer bottles and caps, which we removed to the shores, but it could be a hazard.
The actual beach area is very small, but enough for our group of four adults and six kids, as well as a a number of others to enjoy.
First we walked along the Forest Beach Loop trail, which is a 3K moderate hike. We took a few side trails to the beach. There were a number of Orchid Groups out, fanatically hustling along the paths, photographing the amazing collection of wild orchids present at Bruce Peninsula. There was dizzying assortment of colours and sizes, I’ve not seen so many wild orchids before! My kids learned a lot, and were identifying a few different species of orchids by the time we got back to the campgrounds (which also had several in and amongst the poison ivy).
Though the trail is classified as moderate, I thought it was super-easy and the kids easily monkeyed around any obstacles. It was a bit hot for them, so it was fortuitous that the trail provides many offshoots along the shoreline!
I don’t think any photograph has captured the other-worldly feel of the beach at Singing Sands. I’m not even sure my words could paint a picture of what it felt like on those shores. It was slightly eerie, but also beautiful.
As we came off the trail, there was immediately to our left a small river or sorts that flowed crystal-clear water from the direction of the bogs (oddly enough) into Lake Huron. The water was freezing, but shallow and the kids enjoyed cooling their feet as we walked toward the great lake. Just look at that amazing clear water!!
Next the kids played for about an hour or two in the shallows of Singing Sands. It is extremely shallow, with little mud/clap peninsulas jutting around all through it. It was a kid’s paradise. There is, however no shade whatsoever. So that’s worth planning for.
On the walk back we found this egg, weird right? I’m quite sure it was somebody’s hardboiled lunch that got lost, but the kids were convinced it was a “wild” egg.
The kids learned about the carnivorous pitcher plants, which are in abundance on Singing Sands shoreline.
Tobermory, The Visitor’s Centre and the Bruce Trail
It rained quite a bit on our second night and morning. Our camp-mates were all sleeping in, but my kids (as usual) were up at the crack of dawn. I had been debating tarping the site all weekend, but ended up not doing it (I should have!). At any rate, we decided it was too wet to have breakfast at the site and raining too much to even put up the tarp at that point. We got in the car and headed to Tobermory.
I didn’t realized that nothing would be open in Tobermory on a Sunday morning at 7am. No sleepy diners or breakfast spots. The ferry was up and running, which was cool to see, but no food! We headed into the visitor’s centre in Fathoms Five (which was also closed) to regroup.
Luckily, we had our entire food supply in the van, so I made an impromptu breakfast for us all a little ways into the Bruce Trail.
There were lots of little sculptures and things for the kids to explore around the Visitor’s Centre, but we decided we were up for a little hike along the Bruce Trail.
We hiked in a bit, and then back out in time for the Visitor’s Centre to be open. Here they filled in most of their Explorers Booklets for Fathoms Five National Park. The Visitor’s Centre is great, as they most are. We enjoyed a short film about the sister parks, then headed through the interactive museum to fill out our booklets and learn more. It’s a great rainy-day activity and the kids even went through twice! There is a little lounge area in the front, which includes a little cabin with toys for the kids to play in. It’s a wonderful place to unwind and plan your next move.
We had thought to take a boat ride around Flowerpot Island, but the kids were just too exhausted at that point and we decided to just return to the site, break camp and head for home. The ride home was long, made worse than it should have been by my absolute fatigue created on that first night. However, it was well worth the trip to Bruce Peninsula! We definitely plan to return to see more, and do more. Maybe a longer trip if we can find a better place to make camp.
Our Bucket List for Return Trips to Bruce Peninsula and Fathoms Five National Parks:
- Boatride-There are a few companies out of Tobermory offering glass bottom boat rides to and around Flowerpot Island and over the shipwrecks.
- Visit Cabot Head
- Greig’s Scenic Caves
- Halfway Log Dump hike
- Walk around Tobermory
- Visit Lion’s Head
- Dyers Bay
- Kayak Miller Lake & Cyprus Lake
- BP Lighthouse Tour: Point Clark, Kincardine Light, Chantry Island, Saugeen Front Range, The Big Tub, Flowerpot Island, Cove Island, Cabot Head, Lion’s Head,Cape Croker
- StarGazing at Cyprus Lake
- The Corran/Spirit Rock
- Things we’re saving for when the kids are a bit older:
- The Indian Head Grotto
- Camping on Flowerpot Island
- Cape Croker: The Jones Bluff Loop
- Devil’s Monument
It feels like we packed a lot in to two short days, and there’s obviously so much more to do!