There’s something magical about island destinations. Disconnected from the mainland and surrounded by sky and water, they exude a carefree, relaxed vibe where life moves a little slower and you can stop to savour the moment. With endless lakes, rivers and waterways, Ontario is blessed with beautiful islands just waiting to be explored!
Let the timelessness and tranquility of the island spell engulf you on these floating jewels.
Photo credit: by Suzy Lamont @suzy_lamont @frontenaccounty
Wolfe Island for zen seekers
Wolfe Island, the largest of Eastern Ontario’s 1000 Islands, sits where Lake Ontario meets the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. Free ferry service is provided year-round by the Wolfe Islander III, and the crossing is only 20 minutes from the Kingston harbour to the Marysville dock. Old House Museum is the oldest home in Marysville, the main community on the island, and has some interesting items on display and stories to share. Devour what many consider Ontario’s best butter tarts at the original Wolfe Island Bakery, just east of the dock. It’s a bit of a hike through woodland and wetlands to the beach and rare coastal sand dunes of Big Sandy Bay Conservation Area, but well worth it. Recharge and detox at Shanti Retreat Centre, a secluded, 11-acre waterfront property that offers wellness, yoga and meditation programs, healthy meals and loads of outdoor activities.
Manitoulin Island for Indigenous culture
Straddling the tops of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, Manitoulin Island is the largest freshwater lake island in the world. Home to six Anishinaabe First Nations, the island is steeped in Indigenous history and sacred places. The Great Spirit Circle Trail specializes in authentic Indigenous culinary, outdoor and cultural experiences like canoe heritage tours, traditional song and drum, and preparing bannock and berries. Hike the scenic Cup and Saucer Trail and skirt behind the curtain of water at Bridal Veil Falls. Access the island over the Little Current Swing Bridge or board the MS Chi–Cheemaun ferrying between Tobermory and South Baymouth. Stay at the Indigenous themed Manitoulin Hotel & Conference Centre in Little Current or sleep in a traditional teepee at Spirit Island Adventures or at Gordon’s Park.
Photo credit: Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island
Pelee Island for wine lovers
Head to the southernmost inhabited point in Canada and discover a place like no other. A leisurely 90-minute ferry ride from Leamington or Kingsville will deliver you to the warm shores of one of Ontario’s best kept secrets. This little gem sits on the same latitude as wine making appellations in Portugal, Spain and France, and the pace here is set to chill. Tool around by bicycle or e-bike. Venture out to the very last tip of land at Fish Point Nature Reserve. Keep a keen eye out for migrating shorebirds and butterflies. Tour the picturesque ruins at Vin Villa, the site of Canada’s first commercial estate winery founded in 1866. And relax in the outdoor wine garden at the Pelee Island Winery Pavilion, overlooking Lake Erie.
Accommodations range from camping to cottage rentals, bed and breakfasts and inns. The Wandering Dog Inn is a picturesque spot that reflects the laidback character of the island. If pints are your preference, you’ll find great Canadian craft beers and delicious farm-to-table food at Stone House 1891.
Toronto Islands for urban access
Soak up the breezy island vibe yet keep the city at your fingertips at Toronto Islands, just a short 15 minute ferry ride from the downtown Harbourfront. This car-free clutch of islands connected by boardwalks, pathways and bridges offer so much to do from paddling to cycling to frisbee golf. Or simply park yourself on a beach and do nothing. Check out the oldest lighthouse on the Great Lakes, the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, built in 1808. Centerville Theme Park beckons to the little ones with over 30 rides and attractions like the chair lift, mini golf, log ride and even an antique carousel. Dining options are limited, however just across the harbour downtown Toronto serves up a smorgasbord of culinary choice. On the islands, there’s a small food court in Centreville, the Island Café across from the Ward’s Island ferry dock serves a seasonal menu, and the backyard garden patio at The Rectory Café is the perfect spot to soak up a summer afternoon. Another highlight is exploring the neighbourhoods of charming little cottage-homes with rambling gardens connected by storybook pathways on Ward’s and Algonquin Islands. A handful of these are B&Bs (explore the “I Want…” section on torontoisland.org), so you can feel like an islander for a few days while admiring stunning city views.
Photo credit: Island Spirits
Grasshopper Island for the eco-minded
Join Island Spirits on an off-grid eco-scape. Smack in the middle of Rice Lake, Grasshopper Island is a private 25-acre, car-free getaway that will take you back to a simpler time. Stay in a solar powered eco cabin or pod. Take advantage of the on-site kayaks, canoes, paddleboards and boats and get out on the water. Dive off the floating swimming barge and forage for wild blackberries and raspberries. Visit the sheep, piglets, hens, goats, bunnies and even alpacas that call the island home. Savour the quality of pizza and bread made in the 100-year-old wood-burning oven. Reconnect around the campfire and marvel at the star-studded show above on a clear night.
St. Joseph Island for outdoor pursuits
St. Joseph is the second largest island on Lake Huron, after Manitoulin, and is located just off the shore of Sault Ste. Marie in northern Ontario. Cross the free bridge from the mainland for a weekend water and outdoor adventure. The two main villages, Hilton Beach and Richard’s Landing, offer key amenities from restaurants to shops. The Hilton Beach Marina provides services for boaters like dockage, gas, power, pumpout and more. Opportunities abound for anglers of northern pike, trout, bass and salmon. Country roads meander over diverse terrain, making the island a popular destination for touring by motorcycle or bicycle. Set up camp at the Busy Beaver Campground or book into a cozy bed and breakfast. Also worth a visit, Fort St. Joseph is a National Historic Site of Canada. Once a thriving British outpost, the site features fort ruins, a visitor centre, a museum and nature trails.
Top photo credit: by Suzy Lamont @suzy_lamont @frontenaccounty