Locations

Tobermory, Ontario Paddling

Floating over Sweepstakes shipwreck

Big Tub Lighthouse

UPDATED: Summer 2022

Don’t want to read the blog? Get all the details on YouTube!

Location:

Little Tub Harbour, Tobermory, Ontario

Located as part of the Fathom Five National Marine Park in Georgian Bay which is part of Lake Huron (1 of the 5 Great Lakes)

Fathom Five National Marine Park was created in 1987 and was the first National Marine Park in Canada.

The park has over 20 shipwrecks making it a popular place to SCUBA dive and snorkel. There are also some other non-shipwreck dive sites. I’ve been diving here once and went with Divers Den.

Paddle in and out of coves, inlets, around and to islands and over shipwrecks along the rocky shoreline. The rocky cliffs along the shoreline are a part of the Niagara Escarpment and can be as high as 61 meters (200’) above the green waters of Georgian Bay.

Tobermory is also home to The Bruce Trail northern terminus cairn.

Parking:

Street parking along Bay St and beside the boat ramp in the harbour and a Public Parking lot at Hwy 6 and Nicholas St. $3 per hour or $15 per day (on-street and Municipal parking lots) Paid parking in effect May 15 to October 15. Parking via app or machine on-site for pay and display. If you pay via app you can extend your time, assuming you didn’t pay for the full allotted time, from your phone if you need to.

The entire area by the boat ramp and Bay St gets very busy. I would recommend getting there early to avoid the busy boat launch and get a limited parking spot close by (roughly 30 spots).

Launch:

Easily accessible with a boat ramp and floating docks. However, the area gets very busy with car and boat traffic as well as pedestrians. 

There is a small ramp fee ($5) you need to pay at the boat lunch. In the summer months, there is someone at the boat ramp collecting money (cash or credit card) or you can walk to the office to the left of the boat ramp past Blue Heron Cruises but before the ferry docks (approx 3-5 min walk one way)

Check out my Tobermory YouTube video for full visuals and for two other launch location details in the area.

    Little Tub Harbour Boat Ramp Launch 2020

    Little Tub Harbour Boat Ramp Launch 1989

    Shoreline close to Little Cove Beach

     Weather:

    It’s very important to check the marine forecast for this location. Georgian Bay is part of Lake Huron and the weather can be volatile and unpredictable on the Great Lakes

    Keep in mind that not only does the wind play a role in waves on the Great Lakes but boat traffic and reflection from the rocky shore will too. 

    With a rocky shoreline & cliffs, there aren’t always places to get on the shore quickly or hide from the wind.

    Route:

    The route will depend a lot on the weather, your paddling ability and your aim for the day (a few hours/a full day, other activities like hiking or snorkelling)

    Little Tub Harbour (main marina) to Big Tub Harbour is a must with the easily visible shipwrecks (most famous: Sweepstakes), the Big Tub Lighthouse and a short paddling distance.  You can also drive to Big Tub Lighthouse and launch here (rocky launch point). Keep in mind that it’s a very congested area in the summer with limited parking ($5/hour for a max of 3 hours). 

    Little Dunks Bay and Dunks Bay around the eastern coastline of the peninsula are great options to paddle too or launch from as well (small paid parking lot at Dunks Bay). 

    The popular Grotto is located further down the same side of the peninsula and is a beautiful spot however this is too far of a paddle for most people when launching from Little Tub Harbour in Tobermory (over 16 km one way).

    If you are looking to do the Grotto I’d suggest getting to it by Little Cove Beach (New for 2022: reservations required) The paddle from Little Cove Beach to the Grotto is approx 18 km paddle round trip. Be sure to check the weather including the wind and swell. I wouldn’t recommend this paddle for beginners. Another option is to book a reservation at Halfway Log Dump. This is approx a 10 km paddle round trip and requires a 1km walk from the parking lot to the water. You can also see the Grotto by visiting the main entrance to the Bruce National Park at Cypress Lake.  Entering from the main park entrance you need to book your visit to the Grotto at the Bruce National Park (day trips April 30-October 31 need to be booked in advance. Camping also requires advance reservation)  and hike from the parking lot to the Grotto (approx 1.5km and the launch is a rocky beach). Cypress Lake, located in the Bruce National Park, is also a good paddling spot.  For both launch locations, you’ll need to drive there from Tobermory. Roughly 10 mins back down the peninsula. Parking and National Park fees apply for both Little Cove Beach and Cypress Lake.

    Flowerpot Island (6.5km from Tobermory) and other islands are great ones to paddle to however this is for experienced paddlers and the weather also plays a big role. The Fathom Five Marine Park fee applies when docking at Flowerpot Island. See more info on Fathom Five

    Flowerpot Island makes a great day trip. You can always go to the island on a cruise.  Blue Heron or Bruce Anchor – options for tours and drop-off shuttle. 

    You might find that once you get out of Little Tub Harbour (launch area) it’s too wavy or windy. Know your limits. You can always stay in Little Tub Harbour where it’s protected.

      Watching the Chi-Cheemaun ferry dock

      Tobermory boat launch 1989

      Big Tub Harbour

      Tips: 

      • Pack out what you pack in. It’s a busy hot spot so be mindful and respect the flora & fauna of this beautiful location so we can all enjoy it for generations to come.
      • Washrooms and porta-potties are located close to the launch ramp.
      • Lots of places available for food and drink within walking distance of the boat ramp. Tobermory downtown isn’t very big! 
      • Plan in advance. It’s a very popular destination so accommodation and camping sites book up quickly. You might end up driving over an hour to and from this launch site. It’s an hour to Sauble Beach, one hour and twenty minutes to Owen Sound. 
          • There are tons of activities and places to check out. See Explore The Bruce for more information on the area 
      • Bring snorkelling gear and an underwater camera to check out the shipwrecks! 
      • Bubbles coming up from the bottom indicates there are SCUBA divers below so check them out! I’ve seen a number of them when paddling here. Divers also have to have a flag close by. A red flag with a white diagonal stripe or a blue-and-white pennant tail Alpha flag. 
      • Georgian Bay is beautiful clear green water but cold! 
      • Check the conditions: wind and swell can get large. Keep in mind the water will reflect off the rocky store and create an echo swell. Learn more about reading the wind.
      • Check the Chi-Cheemaun ferry schedule. It’s a different loading and unloading dock area than the boat launch however traffic getting off and on the ferry makes HWY 6 (only 2 lanes) and Tobermory very busy. 
      • Watch for boat traffic and their wakes. 
        • The Chi-Cheemaun ferry is a large boat that runs from Tobermory Ferry Dock to and from Manitoulin Island three times a day. It can easily be avoided but you have to be aware of it.
        • There are a number of tour companies, boat shuttles and dive companies that leave from Little Tub Harbour and other locations in the area. 
      • Check out other spots on the Bruce Peninsula like Lions Head.
      • There are a number of kayak, canoe and board rentals in the area. 

      Overall:

      • This is a must-paddle location but requires planning in advance. 
      • Tons of exciting activities to do in the area in addition to paddling.
      • It’s a great vacation spot and worth making it a trip!

      Have you paddled around Tobermory? Any other tips?

      Leave a comment below.

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      13 Comments

      • Tony F

        What a wealth of information for a single site, almost like a Paddle Adventurer Location Wiki! Love how thorough you are and the suggestions you give, and also the media images and maps. Super informative!

        • Marybeth

          Thanks, for your kind feedback! It’s a beautiful location and worth a visit; I wanted to provide as much information as possible for people to have successful and fun adventures!

      • Layla

        Thank you so much for this! I’m going this weekend and just wondering which Harbour has the shortest distance kayaking to see the shipwrecks (specifically the Sweepstakes)?

        • Marybeth

          You are very welcome! It’s a beautiful spot!
          There is really only one harbour and that’s Little Tub Harbour. Big Tub Harbour is where Sweepstakes is located and is mostly cottages and one tour boat operator (Blue Anchor Cruises). You can park at the Big Tub Lighthouse to launch from the rocky shore to be closer to Sweepstakes however it gets super busy and congested and chances are there won’t be parking. I’ve heard you can launch from the left of Blue Anchor Cruises but it’s not an official launch spot and I’ve never done it. From Little Tub Harbour the paddle to Sweepstakes in Big Tub Harbour is approx 2km. If you’re worried about boat traffic it’s easy to avoid (just watch the wake) and I never felt unsafe.
          Hope this helps. Let me know if you have any more questions!

      • SC

        Parks Canada informed me that all boats, including kayaks must be permitted to access Little Tub and the wrecks. We did obtain a permit but no further info was provided. Are kayaks allowed to be at the wreck when divers are? I thought this was a restricted zone to times when diving wasn’t allowed? Divers are allowed only 4 pm to 1 pm M-F and noon – 4 pm Sunday
        Just hoping to clarify that no before we actually paddle.
        Thanks

          • Marybeth

            The permit you’re talking about is likely the fee at the launch ramp in Little Tub Harbour unless you’re going to Flower Pot Island or other Fathom Five Islands.
            I’ve never heard of or seen any restrictions for accessing the shipwrecks for paddlers; doesn’t mean there isn’t some and things could have changed with the increased popularity of the area. Sweepstake shipwreck in Big Tub Harbour is the most popular and I can see dive boats not being allowed there until later when the cruise boats aren’t going.
            You can identify SCUBA divers by two types of flags and bubbles as described in the blog.
            If you’re unsure or looking for more answers, I’d recommend going to the visitor center.
            Have fun and be sure to check the conditions before heading out!

        • Caroline

          Hello,
          Great video for Tobermory! I am surprised though that you suggested launching at the lighthouse. I’ve seen people there with kayaks and SUPs before but when I went searching on Parks Canada for rules I discovered that kayaks and SUPs are prohibited in that area. Have you looked into this? Maybe I am misinterpreting it as I’ve definitely seen people doing it!
          Thanks
          Caroline

          • Marybeth

            Thanks for your comment, Caroline!
            This is the first I’m hearing of non-motorized vessels being restricted from launching at Big Tub Lighthouse. Information and rules on day passes, time of use etc are difficult to find and can be unclear so I could totally be wrong. Do you mind pointing me to where you found that it’s against the rules to launch from the Lighthouse?
            I know there was proposed restrictions for Big Tub Harbour summer of 2022 (video was made and blog was updated early June 2022) but I believe those were mostly around speed, discontinuing permits for private motorized boats and expanding shipwreck areas.
            I mention the launch as I know people who do it and I wanted to provide all the info for the area however I don’t prioritize it because the parking lot is small, access is rocky and difficult and it’s an overall busy area. I highly recommend launching from the main marina in Little Tub Harbour – easier, more parking and not a far paddle to Sweepstakes shipwreck.

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