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How To Vacation With Kids in the 1000 Islands

Tourism 1000 Islands hosted me to vacation with my kids in the

1000 Islands during our Stage 3 of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Our opinions are always our own and as always we aren’t coerced into having a good time.

I was incredibly fortunate to have grown up in Belleville, Ontario. Looking back now, the close distance proximity to the Thousand Islands was something my parents took great advantage of. And I’m all richer for it. We had a motorboat, a Regal. Not a large one, but we used to tow it behind our Oldsmobile named Gertrude and subsequently behind a station wagon I think my dad named Bessie and we took “Bypass” the boat to the Thousand Islands and dropped her in at the Ivy Lea boat launch summer after summer while we camped in the area. These are some of my favourite childhood memories.

Welcome to Gananoque, Ontario. Sign on road driving south to downtown.

The Canadian Gateway to the Thousand Islands is Gananoque in Southeastern Ontario.  Fortune was mine when I had the opportunity to take my own children to Gananoque for an end of summer adventure. I get to have the chance to show my kids around and reminisce about the camping, hiking and boat tour spots of my youth AND take them to a couple of new places I had yet to be.

I love Gananoque tourist picture

How To Vacation With Kids in the 1000 Islands

We stayed and based ourselves in Gananoque during our stay. Nothing in Gananoque is far away from each other. An easy 5-10 minute drive really anywhere. Or you can walk really. The one surprising aspect of this town of slightly more than 5,000 people was the location of Tim Hortons. It was on the far east side, not central. However, that means that locally owned businesses in the downtown, high pedestrian trafficked area have a chance to flourish. And they are worth it!
Downtown Gananoque
Miss M, Little Man and I got a pretty cool itinerary set up that includes a helicopter ride, a hike, kayaking and a scenic boat ride. That means we get to explore the islands from land, from the sea and from above.
Kids in front of the dam in Gananoque
The town of Gananoque is quaint and family-friendly. The waterfront park area is built around a park that boasts a splash park and play structure for the kids. As a single parent, I look for “easy” places to go and experiences to have so a lot of my time isn’t spent chasing two children at two different developmental and age stages in life. Taking kids on vacation in the Thousand Islands satisfies that. Logistically, it’s a good idea for a couple of days, trust me on that, especially during the COVID-19 time frame we find ourselves in. Plenty of opportunities in uncrowded areas to practise social distancing.
Splash pad at Joel Stone park in Gananoque in 1000 Islands
We must acknowledge that the name “Gananoque ” has a couple of meanings and is indigenous land first; “ Water Rising over Rocks” or “Garden of the Great Spirit”.
If anyone is inclined to learn about the history of Gananoque, it was a Loyalist stronghold base and supplies can in and out of The St. Lawrence River between Montreal, Cornwall and Kingston. There are remains of the canons that were used to protect the town are there. You’d have to picture that from here, you would be able to see American forces coming from across the water.
kids on a canon

Where To Stay In Gananoque, Ontario

During our stay, we are at the Colonial Resort and Spa, in the west end of Gananoque. Price point wise, this is a very affordable place for families to base themselves from.

Here is what I liked about the Colonial Resort and Spa and especially during the COVID-19 travel time frame:

  • Motel-style parking outside your door. We did not have to go into any internal hallways or pass by other guests inside
  • Outdoor pool for the kids to play in
  • Ample outdoor space for the kids to stretch their legs and play
  • The gift shop at the check-in desk area – could purchase bottles of water and sweaters for late summer air chills so you didn’t have to travel elsewhere
  • Free wifi throughout the grounds. Great in the room, seemed a little slow by the pool.
  • Fairly contactless interactions and a clean room when we arrived.
My jeep at the Colonial Inn and Spa where we stayed in Gananoque

 

Here is what surprised me about the Colonial Inn and Spa:

  • There were more Quebec license plates than Ontario plates parked in front of the rooms. I normally would not have been bothered by this but since it’s not encouraged to travel province to province right now, I was taken aback. There’s no law or rule saying it cannot be done, so game on I guess.
  • On the first day we had arrived, there was a large group gathering taking up all that common area space. This was a huge family group. I suspect it may have been more than one family and they did not pay attention to the signs stating the maximum amount of people permitted at the pool area. No one from the hotel seemed to be monitoring the situation. There were timed entry sign up sheets that were basically blank.

Kids playing in exterior pool at Colonial Resort and Spa in Gananoque

This is what I disliked about the Colonial Resort and Spa:

  • Construction crews working on adjacent rooms
  • The worn inside state of the room. It’s not fancy or new by any stretch. Trust me when I say the kids don’t mind.

Interior room and beds in Colonial resort, Gananoque

Thinking of booking a trip to Gananoque? Compare pricing and locations in the handy map below from Booking.com. I might make a small commission if you choose to book your accommodations through this link.

Booking.com

1000 Islands Helicopter Tours

Have you ever thought about taking your kids for a helicopter ride? You can in Gananoque and soar over the 1,864 islands in the St. Lawrence River and quite honestly, the view you are going to have is unrivalled. 1000 Islands Helicopter Tours and Kouri’s Kopters is the best way to see the islands, both Canadian and American from the air and give you the absolute best views.

Stunning 1000 Islands from helicopter

Up to 3 people can join the pilot, so I and my two kids work out perfectly. You must wear your facemasks for safety purposes.

Little Man, who is now 6 years old declared this helicopter ride as the best time he has ever had. EVER! He will be talking about this and the “poop lake” to all his friends for weeks to come.

Kathryn and son selfie in helicopter over 1000 islands

Truthfully, this was my first time in a helicopter and it was pretty damn exciting. Like a trip of a lifetime exciting. Like having a private chauffeur in the air! He knew the region, gave a personal narration and was very professional.

There is something extremely mesmerizing of seeing the 1000 Islands from the air. Seeing the islands, the colour of the water, the boats, the cottages and houses. Believe it or not, the water is fairly clear!

Approaching 1000 Islands in a helicopter

1000 Islands Helicopters offer a dozen tours of historic landmarks and regional activities. Their 20-minute Boldt Castle tour is a Destination Ontario Signature
Experience and their 30-minute Two Castle tour is a Destination Canada Canadian Signature Experience. What I wouldn’t give to see Boldt Castle from the air too! Next time for sure.

1000 Islands Helicopter Tours

Gananoque, Ontario from the air

 

1000 Islands Kayaking With Kids

The kids and I had an incredible morning on kayaks in Gananoque. One of the best ways to see the 1000 Islands National Park is by curving in and out of her channels and inlets by kayak. This was Miss M’s first time on her own in a kayak and she’s a natural. Little Man came tandem with me and sometimes dipped his oars into the water because it was the thing to do. It’s alright, he’s six years old.
kayaking with kids in the 1000 islands #1000islandskayaking
You know what? I am so glad we got to share that experience together. Miss M constantly surprises me with what she can do, she’s a lot stronger than she looks.
Family kayaking selfie in 1000 Islands

Our guide, Danni was super helpful and friendly and took the time to make sure the kids were cool. She knew the waterways expertly. I would absolutely recommend spending time on the water with them. The rent you the gear as part of the package so you don’t have to worry about having to strap your own to the roof of your car. The boats, life jackets and paddles are all cleans and disinfected between usage. Kayaking is a very safe, socially distant activity, just stay in your own boat.

Wildlife as seen from kayak in 1000 islands
1000 Islands Kayaking offers fully guided full-day, half-day and overnight kayaking excursions along the mighty St. Lawrence River for all experience
levels. Personally, I cannot wait until I get back out into the water there. I feel like I’m Moana and it’s calling me.
https://www.1000islandstourism.com/experiences/kayak/
Entering the harbour at Gananoque by kayak

Go For a Hike With The Kids In 1000 Islands

My dad was the driving force in my youth to getting me outside, camping, on the trails, on skis, at a campfire. I work hard to give my city kids the same experiences I was lucky enough to have as a kid. Whether they appreciate their time in nature or not, that’s a conversation for another time. Anyway, I had plans to get them hiking, but didn’t tell them ahead of time and did not dress for the part as part of the element of surprise.

Hiking trails in Landon Bay, 1000 islands

On our way to Rockport for an island boat cruise, we stopped at the Landon Bay Centre and hiked to the lookout point. This gem of a view is barely a kilometre hike from where you park and super easy for kids to get to!

hiking in Landon Bay 1000 islands

There is an extensive trail network at Landon Bay. Quite honestly, you could spend an hour like we did or you could hike all day there.  But I will tell you, the view from the Lookout Trail has long been recognized as the best natural view in the Thousand Islands area.
Hiked to the Landon Bay look out in 1000 Islands with kids for the best view

1000 Islands Boat Cruise on Rockport Boat Line

Another way to explore the islands is from a sightseeing boat. We headed over to Rockport, where incidentally the kids and I also enjoyed some ice cream at a picnic table and wandered by their marina in hopes of seeing some sunfish. Spoiler: ice cream is good. Fish sightings? Few and far between by the kids wanted to keep looking anyway.
take the kids to rockport, ontario for Rockport Cruise Lines sightseeing in the 1000 islands
All passengers are COVID screened before boarding and you must purchase reserve and purchase tickets in advance. The cruise we took was 90 minutes long and masks were required at all times onboard.
The cruise took us around islands, we saw Boldt Castle – which as a child I was lucky enough to arrive there by my dad’s boat and explore. Unfortunately, we are unable right now to dock and get off to visit Heart Island as it is on US soil. What we did see though, was outstanding! Brought back so many memories for me.
https://www.1000islandstourism.com/experiences/rockport-boat-line/
Boldt Castle on Heart Island in 1000 Islands as seen from Rockport Cruise Line sightseeing boat

Those Coveted Thousand Islands Sunsets

You might know the 1000 Islands for the waterway and St. Lawrence River, but what if I told you that some sunsets from Gananoque, Ontario are parallel to none?

Sunset at the marina in Gananoque, Ontario in 1000 islands

Until I saw it myself, I had no idea. These photos were taken at Joel Stone Park in Gananoque. What’s awesome about this area is that the kids can play at the park and catch the majesty of the sky.

Sunset at Joel Stone Park in Gananoque, Ontario

Where to Eat in Gananoque

The kids are I were in Gananoque for two dinners. We ate at Muskie Jake’s Tap & Grill and had a nice sunset view from the balcony.
We also ate at The Maple Leaf Restaurant, which is famous for authentic Czech cuisine including schnitzel, pierogis, and spaetzle.
Be sure to drop by Panache Bakery & Café at 162 King Street East for coffee and pastries in the morning.
exterior of Panache Bakery & Café at 162 King Street East, Gananoque
For a small town, this Gateway to the Thousand Islands has it all. Gananoque and the 1000 Islands region is a welcoming place with plenty of open-air and distance. Never did the kids and I feel unsafe, smothered or that we were in danger. There were plenty of activities to satisfy their interests and it’s a very outdoor place.
How To Vacation With Kids in the 1000 Islands, from kayaking 1000 islands to helicopter 1000 islands, hiking 1000 islands and where to stay in the 1000 islands

How To Camp With A Dog

I was fortunate enough to have grown up with a dog. His name was Sarge and he was a Sheltie. Where we went, Sarge came along. Road trips and stays in motels along the way? Yep. We had a pop-up trailer and a couple of tents we camped in for most of my formative years and drove to Newfoundland and back again to our home in Belleville. Sarge was along for the ride too! My children and I are on waiting lists for a dog and I cannot wait to get out and camp with a dog.

Lots of people must have adopted dogs and pets during the pandemic and quarantine. I am seeing so many posts where people are saying they’re going camping with a dog for the first time! Since I have years of experience in my formative years and I am in prep mode for next summer for taking our new family pet camping, here are some things you need to know.

 

How To Camp With A Dog

Straight up, camping with a dog is different. You’re going to have to accept that you have a little less freedom and if you have camped with toddlers, this is something you should basically understand. For purposes of my own expertise, I’m going to speak from the experience of tent camping. I cannot speak from the experience of bringing a dog RV camping.

how to camp with your happy dog - wordpress stock image

Don’t Leave Rover alone

The first thing you have to realize, your dog cannot be left on your site, in a tent without a human. RVs and trailers are a different story. Dogs bark. So even though you think and know that you have a well-behaved pooch, you have no idea what could set your dog off in unfamiliar territory. A squirrel or a blue jay coming too close to the tent might upset your dog. Essentially, the campsite is their new turf. So anything on their turf is fair game to protect from. Long story short, if your dog is zipped into a tent and you leave, the dog could bark a lot, get upset, rip through the canvas, get lost and has the potential to upset other campers.

Unless your dog is coming with you; not everyone can leave the tent site. If you need an escape from your kids, this is a good thing. 

The author with sister and dog as children

Leash Your Dog

It’s a good idea to keep your dog on a leash at all times. Most parks indicate this rule via signage. No one’s dog is an exception to the rule, not even yours because they don’t run away. It doesn’t matter how awesome your dog is, you cannot account for the potential of other animals. If you are going camping, you’re in the woods and in the woods live foxes, coyotes and other wildlife.

Also, don’t forget that adults like to break rules themselves when camping so you cannot account for poorly trained humans that you might run across. Kindly keep your dog on a leash or a long tie when at the campsite

How To Camp With Your Dog - dog tied up outside a tent, wordpress stock image

Bring The Dog Into The Tent At Bedtime

This should probably go without saying because it’s just like the whole idea of leaving your dog alone in unfamiliar surroundings. That and bugs and animals outside all night with your dog is like a recipe for disaster. It’s just not a good idea to have your dog tied up to your picnic table or chair all night when you are cozy in your tent.

Children sleeping with dog in tent

Your Dog Needs Food and Water Too, But Don’t Leave It Out

It’s a good rule of thumb to store your dog’s food where you store your food. Most experienced campers know how to protect their food from coyotes, bears and other wildlife, so do the same for your dog’s food. And seriously, same with their toys. Don’t leave a chew toy or bone out, it’s bait for wild animals.

Just like at home, your dog will need lots of clean drinking water. Possibly more so than at home as your dog won’t have access to being inside air conditioning. Lake or river or creek water is not always best for your dog to drink because their stomachs could get upset due to the chemicals, e coli and whatever else is floating around in there. Think of it this way, if you wouldn’t grab a glass and drink it, don’t offer it to your dog.

family at campfire with dog

Water Baby

A lot of places that you find yourself camping at have natural bodies of water and they might have a beach that dogs can access. This is good, bring the dog, have a blast there. 

If you do your research ahead of time and find that the beach where you are does not welcome dogs, don’t be that person who brings the dog anyway and cleans up after them. One, you could be asked to leave by park staff. Some parks may levy a fine against you. Other campers might not like your pooch as much as you or some people actually have canine fear due to past experience in life and might be there because the beach is canine free.

wordpress stock image

In the end, your dog will just want to be where you are and will likely be a happy camper. As long as the dog is with his people, is exercised, loved and fed, it should be a positive experience for the family. Hope this helps you to prep for your future and how to camp with a dog.

 

 

How To Camp With A Dog - You’re going to have to accept that you have less freedom and if you have camped with toddlers, you will basically understand. Food, sleep, water, it's all covered here

 

 

Ride The Bine – Safe Wine and Beer Tours in Ontario

Amanda from Ride The Bine hosted me (again) and my colleagues on this tour so we can witness first hand how to safely take beer and wine tours during our current times.

Welcome to the summer of 2020. It will affectionately be forever known as the summer where we couldn’t go anywhere except exploring in our own backyard. While the past few months have been utter emotional garbage for many, including myself, I’m turning my thoughts to the silver linings. There are a lot of positives on staying local, less travel time in the air with the kids and hearing them ask “are we there yet?”. I’m becoming an expert in southern Ontario. Seeing some of the same highways in different directions and at different times of day means seeing something new all the time. On that vein, once again, I find myself in Norfolk County.

Happily, I’m back on Ride The Bine, a fully guided beer and wine tour with my friends and fellow co-founders of the Toronto Bloggers Collective, Chris Mitchell and his wife Bri, Chris Rudder and Kevin Wagar. We are safely, in our new COVID style world order, reconnecting and enjoying some social distancing fun.  It’s been months since we’d all laid eyes on each other in person and I cried like a baby all over Chris Rudder’s shoulder. For real, wrecked my eye make up before I even left Toronto. This period has been hard on everyone.

Back to our day trip – Ride The Bine was started in March of 2017 by Amanda and Susan – 2 local girls with a passion for all things Norfolk. Amanda was our tour animator for the day and she is FUN!

We are just about to board the Ride The Bine van at the Sobey's in Simcoe, it's bine time!

Ride The Bine New Safety Measures

Since the last time I had been on Ride The Bine, there’s been a bit of a change in the world. A global pandemic, health safety measures, that kind of thing. Not to sound too blaise about the whole scenario, but at this point in the journey, we have to have a laugh about something somehow. And really, I need a laugh, so bear with me.

Boarding the Mercedes Benz sprinter van, all passengers are required to put their masks on. There is a clear plastic barrier between the driver and the passengers in the back. I’m going to admit, it’s right out of a strange parallel world. I’m a hugger and very physical. Yet, I’m restricted from touching others. Hands to myself! I can do it, I can do it…

Boarding the Ride The Bine van with hand sanitizer

We were limited to a maximum group amount of eight people. In total, our group size was 5. We were able to safely spread out between the four rows of the cab. We also had generous amounts of hand sanitizer pumped into the palms of our hands as we boarded. Hand sanitizer was everywhere we stopped.

Inside the sprinter van with Ride The Bine - barrier between driver and passengers

Stop # 1: Bonnieheath Lavender and Winery

Like many places in Norfolk County, Bonnieheath Lavender and Winery is a former tobacco farm. As we were lucky enough to visit in July, the lavender fields were IN FULL BLOOM. Like, perfect. Lavender is in bloom from approximately the last week of June through to the first week of August here.

If there is a reason to come to Bonnieheath in the summer, this is it. Excuse me, here are some obligatory lavender field photos with us.

The founders of the Toronto Bloggers Collective in the lavender at Bonnieheath Lavender and Winery
Photo courtesy of Ride The Bine

Bonnieheath Lavender and winery, Kevin Wagar dancing through the lavender fields

Bonnieheath Lavender field with me in it. Photo taken by Kevin Wagar

Onto the winery! I visited Bonnieheath two summers ago and fell in love with their ciders. Happy to say that they are just as good as I remember! Known for their Folkin’ Hard ciders – named after the county of Norfolk, they are a blend of 100% Norfolk apples, along with other local seasonal fruits including sour cherries, blueberries, and strawberries. Good information to note – Amanda from Ride The Bine is an apple grower and her apples go into the cider blend. Hometown proud!

The tastings here were done in their production facility, which is inside. We were served by the owner who was wearing a face mask and a face shield.

Tasting the ciders in Bonnieheath, owner is wearing a face mask and shield, safety first!

We sampled their Fresh Apple, Cherry Bomb (cherry), True Blue (Blueberry and Lavender), and their Sweet Lips (strawberry and maple syrup) ciders. My favourite is Cherry Bomb by a long shot. It’s all for sale in their shop and yes I bought a couple of bottles to take home. 

Also for sale in the shop is lavender products! Lavender is harvested and distilled in former tobacco kilns on-site. From there, they create their array of lavender products including soaps, pillow sprays, essential oil and sanitizer.

Bonnieheath Lavender and winery 3 - the ciders, We sampled their Fresh Apple, Cherry Bomb (cherry), True Blue (Blueberry and Lavender), and their Sweet Lips (strawberry and maple syrup) cider

Stop #2: Burning Kiln Winery

 

For the third time, I find myself at one of the biggest and best wineries in all of Ontario – Burning Kiln Winery. The wines here pay homage to farm’s history as they are named after some element of tobacco farming. 

Before I talk about the wines, I’m going to tell you about their safety measures. In a usual year, Burning Kiln is host to multiple outdoor concert events and the vineyard provides a stunning backdrop for hosting weddings. The tastings were taking place in the outdoor canopy as weddings are not happening on the property this year. The staff all behind plexiglass poured the sample into a shot glass and then the shot glass into our sample glass. The sample glass was reusable and we all got to take our individual glasses home with us.

Burning Kiln winery safely serving us the sparks

Having sampled some wines there in the past, I know a little bit about what I like the most here. Normally I go for a red, however since it’s summertime, a chilled white wine is my preferred drink. On this day, my favourite was the Sparks, a sparkling rosé made in the Cuvée Close method. Since I was there, I also bought the flagship red wine, Kiln Hanger. At $50 for a bottle, kiln-dried grapes, and barrel-aged for close to 3 years, it results in an incredibly flavourful and complex red. I’m going to save it for a special occasion.

Burning Kiln social distance tastings

Lunch: Canned Heat on the Patio at Burning Kiln

Canned Heat is in its 2nd year running food service on the patio at Burning Kiln Winery. With a huge focus on local food and ingredients and showcasing the best of what Norfolk, Ontario’s Garden has to offer, daily menu items feature local seasonal produce and a great variety of local fish fresh from lake Erie and local beef and lamb. Spoiler – I had the lamb burger and it was divine!

 

Stop #3: Hometown Brew Co. at Long Point Eco-Adventures

A couple of summers ago, my kids and I stayed at Long Point Eco-Adventures. Some craft beer on-site would have been nice. My wish has seemingly turned into a command!

Started by 3 local young guys in their 20s, here you can sip on brews and enjoy incredible views of the Turkey Point marsh, Lake Erie and Long Point. Hometown Brew Co. has several beer styles available to try including their famous Blueberry Saison featuring blueberries from the farm of one of the owners. The logo for Hometown Brew Co. features a lighthouse – reminiscent of the one in Port Dover and also Long Point. Being “home” at the lake is huge for Norfolk County folks – many residents own boats, cottages, or simply just enjoy being down at the beach after a long week of work, or a long hot day of working on the farm.

Hometown Brew tasting flight at Long Point Eco-Adventures

Here physical distancing is not a problem. Lining up for your beer, you have to adhere to markers on the patio. Tables are spaced fairly far apart so you can cheers your friends from a distance.

My favourite beers to try here are the Southern Ale and Southern Light. I also sampled the IPA and the Blueberry Saison.

Hometown Brew cheers to Christopher Rudder from Rudderless Travel

Stop # 4: Inasphere Wines

 

Want to know where to enjoy incredible views of the Inner Bay of Lake Erie and Long Point? It’s at Inasphere Wines? Currently a family-run, working vegetable farm and winery, this is the lowest elevation farm in all of Norfolk County.

Ryan and his wife Shantel, are the 3rd generation to own and work the farm. Ryan is a winemaker and studied at Niagara College and Jackson Triggs to hone his winemaking skills. What’s incredibly unique is that he has grown up on the property, manages the vines and also produces the wine. Very intimate knowledge of the land and what he is putting in bottle for people to enjoy.

Admiring the view with my glass of wine at Inasphere Winery in Norfolk County

We didn’t enter their building except to use the washroom, we conducted tastings outside from a distance. We sampled their Dry Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Grey Area (lightly pressed Pinot Noir – red grape but produced as a unique white wine), and also their Cabernet Franc. Grey Area was fantastic!

Enjoying the view at Inasphere winery

Having done this tour with Amanda and Ride The Bine, I can unequivocally say that our safety, social distancing and hygiene was of the utmost importance. I have confidence recommending this tour to anyone wanting a safe and enjoyable guided beer and wine tour with a fantastic animator who knows everything there is to know about the area!

CHECK OUT OUR DAY HERE – VIDEO COURTESY OF RUDDERLESS TRAVEL:

And as a bonus, you might even be able to get a stop at Cider Keg Farm Market, a popular stop for boaters and cottagers to grab fresh, local produce to enjoy on their way to the lake. Ice cream, baked goods, meats, snacks, cheeses, preserves and a plethora of local produce is available for purchase. Heck, you’re in Ontario’s Garden, enjoy it!

Ride The Bine - Safe Wine, Beer and Cider Tours in Norfolk County. We safely re-connected, sampled some of the best cider, beer and wine Ontario has to offer and enjoyed some social distancing fun #itsbinetime #ridethebine #beertour #winetour #ontariosgarden

The Port Rowan Inn – Small Town Gem On Lake Erie

I was hosted at The Port Rowan Inn in January 2020 for a solo stay.

It was lovely and I would do it again. I’m not being coerced into a nice review.

The pace isn’t fast in the small town of Port Rowan in Norfolk County, in Southern Ontario. In this town with a population of 1300 on the shore of Lake Erie, you won’t find fast food establishments. In Port Rowan, you will find the County Fork, a local restaurant just over 3 years old that is happy to offer home-style breakfast, lunches, dinners, local goods, giftware and catering. There’s also The Boat House, a quaint fish and chip homestyle dinner restaurant overlooking the water. There are food trucks in the summer and a well-known ice cream shop. At the centre of it all is the newest gem of the town, The Port Rowan Inn, a boutique hotel with four eclectically decorated rooms and cozy modern amenities.

Owners, Sara and Ian took possession of the former CIBC building in November 2018. The PRINN opened on September 9, 2019.

Front vestibule of the Port Rowan Inn in Norfolk County

 

How The Port Rowan Inn Came To Be

Owners of The PRINN, Sara and Ian are proud Port Rowan residents. Almost by accident, they saw the unique home they now own, loved the quiet and fell in love with the contrast to the busy city.

After commuting to their jobs in downtown Toronto for years, they decided after starting a family they had enough of Bay Street and wanted to change up their work and life situation. The opportunity to purchase the former CIBC building came up and they jumped on it.

The address of the Port Rowan Inn has a long history in the town. Hanson House was a 1900 turn of the century establishment that burned down thanks to a kerosene lamp in 1907. From these ashes rose the St. Charles Hotel on this site. Rumour has it, a brothel was once operated in that hotel and as recent as the 1960s, a lady could not enter the Men Only Door or even Ladies and Escorts without an Escort.

Fire strikes again in the 1960s and St. Charles Hotel burns to the ground. A building was erected for National Trust in 1972, which later became CIBC. In July of 2018, the bank closed its doors.

Exterior of Port Rowan inn with historical photo in front of it marking the history of the block

 

Step Inside The Hotel In Port Rowan

Walking into the lobby, you’re wowed by the interior design, layout and artwork. Pride of ownership shows in every corner. It’s a considerable place to gather with friends or those who would be friends to have a glass of wine and an amazing conversation.

No restaurant on-site for guests, but there is a kitchenette to store some food and a coffee maker to get you going in the morning. The venue is licensed for alcohol,  but there isn’t a bar per see. If there is an event booked, or the whole venue booked, service can be arranged.

Lobby of the Port Rowan Inn

There are four cozy guest rooms in this converted bank. They are the signature Anchor Suite, The Bay Room, The Dockside Room and The Rowan Room. The names a nod to the nautical nature of Port Rowan being on Lake Erie.

Each room sleeps two people comfortably with either a King or Queen sized bed. I had the pleasure of staying in the signature Anchor Suite during a solo retreat.

Anchor Suite at Port Rowan Inn

While it was more space than I physically needed, it was a mental space that I treasured. A fancy washroom all to myself? Sliding into a king-size bed at night with no one to bother me? Freedom to move around? Check!

Each room has a walk-in shower, a flat-screen TV and there is complimentary wifi in the building.

The vast majority of the artwork in the lobby and the guest rooms is done by a local artist named Scotty. Scotty lives right up the street and all the artwork in there is for sale.

Reverse shot of the anchor suite in Port Rowan inn

 

Wine, Dine And Stay By The Bay

The Port Rowan Inn is perfectly situated for short getaways from hustle and bustle. Only 2 hours from Toronto, it’s an easy drive with great scenery. Plus you can walk out the front door of the Inn to the lake for stellar views.

Be sure to check out Ride the Bine – go for a wine tour (tell them I told you to!), have a nice meal in town and then stay at a cool hotel. There is a package you can book with the PRINN and Ride the Bine and you won’t have to think about doing anything other than reserving that package.

Seating area facing the door in Port Rowan Inn

How To Find The PRINN

Google maps decided to name the town of Port Rowan, Vittoria. No clue why. The PRINN can be found at 1007 Bay Street in Port Rowan, Norfolk County, Ontario.

Sara and Ian hope people come here and find what they love so much. The owner’s pride in the quaint town amenities and aesthetics. It’s a unique place. To make a booking at The Port Rowan Inn, be sure to visit their website linked here and tell them I sent you!

 

Things To Do In Port Rowan

Port Rowan is in Norfolk County in Southwestern Ontario and I have mentioned this area a few times in my writing. There are a few things I recommend doing and a lot you can find in this post here: Family Friendly Fun in Norfolk County, Ontario, looking to do a wine, beer or cider tour? Definitely contact and book your selves with Ride The Bine! Find out about my wine tour with the hostess with the mostess, Amanda here: Three Wineries In Norfolk County You Need To Get To With Ride The Bine

Just visiting the area for the day? Definitely take the time to revel in a trip on the lake with Long Point Island Hugger Tours and enjoy some time on a pontoon boat with Captain Graham. Visit Long Point Beach, take the kids to Carousel Stables, Backus Mill Conservation area, Long Point Bird Observatory Studies (once it reopens to the public), and of course, since you are in Ontario’s Garden, be sure to look for some fresh berries to pick, seasonally dependent.

There is quite a selection of antique and thrift stores in Norfolk County. If picking through dead people’s things is your hobby, the options are there! That is not a dig at antique shopping. merely the name of a popular antique store in Prince Edward County.

Boutique Hotel - The Port Rowan Inn on Bay Street in Port Rowan, Ontario in Norfolk County. There are four cozy guest rooms in this converted bank. They are the signature Anchor Suite, The Bay Room, The Dockside Room and The Rowan Room. The names a nod to the nautical nature of Port Rowan being on Lake Erie.

Top 5 Things to See And Do In Tobermory Ontario

One of my family’s favourite summer destinations is Tobermory, Ontario on the Bruce Peninsula. The first time we visited was in the summer of 2017. We designated Tobermory as a two night stop on our way to Lake Superior Provincial Park from Toronto.

The drive to Tobermory from our home in downtown Toronto is approximately 4 hours. However, with the rate at which my children (and ex-husband) need to exit the vehicle for a pee, hunger and leg stretching, it honestly took closer to 6, yes SIX hours at that time.

We enjoyed our time in Tobermory that summer so much that we decided we would return in the summer of 2018 as well. And you know what? It is safe to say, I will return again. Tobermory has an abundance of things to do!

Tobermory, Ontario Lighthouse

Here are our Top 5 things To See And Do In Tobermory, Ontario!

 

1.) Take a Boat Tour to see the two Shipwrecks in Big Tub Harbour

Really and truly, nothing beats scuba diving shipwrecks if you are a certified diver. If you are not a diver or a snorkeler or you are travelling with your children and do not have other care for them while you are on a dive, then viewing from a boat is the next best thing here. The two wrecks you can see in Big Tub Harbour in Tobermory are called Sweepstakes and City of Grand Rapids.

The Sweepstakes went down in 1885, spoiler alert – no treasures left and currently lies in roughly 6 metres of water. It is one of the best-preserved shipwrecks of its time in the Great Lakes. The City of Grand Rapids wreck is from 1907, it was a double-decker steamer that caught fire while mooring. It was released from the dock and left it to burn in the harbour. It sank where it lies.

Totally worth seeing – see if you can get on one of the glass bottom boats to do this!

Sweepstakes, shipwreck in Tobermory - Top 5 Things To Do In Tobermory, Ontario #topfivelist #tobermory #singingsandsbeach #provincialpark #brucepeninsula #flowerpotisland #thegrotto #brucepeninsulagrotto #parkscanada #smalltownsinontario #familytravelvlogger #familytravelblogger #ontariobloggers #ontarioroadtrips #thingstodoinontario #thingstodointobermory #shipwrecks

 

2. Take a boat to Flowerpot Island

Flowerpot Island is only accessible by boat from Tobermory and is one of the best experiences in Fathom Five National Marine Park! The island is famous for its natural “flowerpot” rock pillars, caves, historic light station and rare plants. This is a great spot for easy to moderate level hikers – my kids had no problem. Here you will find great swimming and snorkelling, picnic areas and overnight camping if you are adventurous. Be sure to bring your bathing suit in a day bag with you and have sturdy shoes. Hiking pro-tip: I don’t recommend that you come in flip flops and try to do the hiking.

Flowerpot Island 3 - Top 5 Things To Do In Tobermory, Ontario #topfivelist #tobermory #singingsandsbeach #provincialpark #brucepeninsula #flowerpotisland #thegrotto #brucepeninsulagrotto #parkscanada #smalltownsinontario #familytravelvlogger #familytravelblogger #ontariobloggers #ontarioroadtrips #thingstodoinontario #thingstodointobermory

We were not prepared for the beauty here – it is so awe-inspiring! The water really is the colour of these photos – no filter! The rookie mistake we made when we went was not packing a cooler. There is really nothing to purchase here, bring your own food and water! Also, there are not a whole lot of places to dispose of garbage here, so please plan to take back with you what you bring.

Word of wisdom to the Instagram Models of the world – please do not try to climb the Flower Pots. It’s dangerous to you if you fall, but it’s also disruptive to nature. Imagine being the asshole who damages one of these natural structures so terribly that it changes the appearance?

Flowerpot Island 1 - Top 5 Things To Do In Tobermory, Ontario #topfivelist #tobermory #singingsandsbeach #provincialpark #brucepeninsula #flowerpotisland #thegrotto #brucepeninsulagrotto #parkscanada #smalltownsinontario #familytravelvlogger #familytravelblogger #ontariobloggers #ontarioroadtrips #thingstodoinontario #thingstodointobermory

There are a couple of boat charter companies to get you here from Tobermory, Ontario. You do have to pay for tickets to get out to the island and back. You can combine a shipwreck viewing tour or simply take an express boat direct and they have ticketed return times when they drop you off. According to the Parks Canada website, they recommend that you spend 4-5 hours to hike and see it all. Plan to spend the day – at least an afternoon, please don’t short change yourself on time here. Buying tickets from any of the suppliers in the harbour area of the town in advance is a good idea to ensure your plans for the day are not disrupted.

Flowerpot Island 2 - Top 5 Things To Do In Tobermory, Ontario #topfivelist #tobermory #singingsandsbeach #provincialpark #brucepeninsula #flowerpotisland #thegrotto #brucepeninsulagrotto #parkscanada #smalltownsinontario #familytravelvlogger #familytravelblogger #ontariobloggers #ontarioroadtrips #thingstodoinontario #thingstodointobermory

 

3.) Visit The Grotto in Bruce Peninsula National Park

The Grotto, found in Bruce Peninsula National Park, just outside of Tobermory, is a place that is so popular, we couldn’t get in the first year we tried. I severely underestimated that it is one of the top attractions in the province and that just showing up would suffice. It turns out it requires a little more planning to be able to see and experience this magical place.

We did our planning and did get into the Grotto in the summer of 2018. During the peak season of July and August, there are a couple of ways to make sure you are in Bruce Peninsula National Park and can access the Grotto:

1.) Be there already as a camper at one of the backcountry sites along Georgian Bay or in Cyprus Lake Campground.

2.) Reserve parking in advance if coming from outside the park. Parking is assigned by time blocks and only a certain amount of cars are permitted per time slot.

3.) Head up there in the off or shoulder seasons of April/May/June or September/October when the demand to visit is much less.

There’s a twitter hashtag you can follow for more information – #GrottoParking

As of June 1, some Parks Canada places began a safe, gradual reopening of some outdoor areas at national parks, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas.

Reservations for parking at the Grotto for the remainder of the 2020 season opened on Monday, June 29th, 2020 at 8:00 a.m. EDT. Important to note – Visitors will not be permitted to climb into the Grotto since physical distancing is not possible. Parks Canada is asking that you enjoy the view from above.

feet over ledge at grotto - Top 5 Things To Do In Tobermory, Ontario #topfivelist #tobermory #singingsandsbeach #provincialpark #brucepeninsula #flowerpotisland #thegrotto #brucepeninsulagrotto #parkscanada #smalltownsinontario #familytravelvlogger #familytravelblogger #ontariobloggers #ontarioroadtrips #thingstodoinontario #thingstodointobermory

 

4.) Have ice cream at The Sweet Shop on Bay Street

There’s this sweet little ice cream shop with a lot of brilliant Canadian flavours of yummy ice cream. Located at 18 Bay Street, overlooking Little Tub Harbour, the locally owned Sweet Shop makes candy, fudge, chocolate and brittle onsite. Come after dinner, sit and relax! Walk around and see the boats in the harbour with ice cream in hand, you won’t be sorry!

5.) Visit Singing Sands Beach

Singing Sands Beach is located off of Dorcas Bay Road south of Tobermory. This large sandy beach with shallow waters is part of Bruce Peninsula National Park. I admit, when my family rolled up to this beach, we were not impressed. It looked like it was full of weeds, there were not a lot of people there and it was windy. My family is a little spoiled. The kids are used to Prince Edward County and Caribbean beaches.

The water was warm and you could walk really far out before the kid’s lower bodies became submerged. The kids even had a good time. For those who are squeamish about things touching their feet in the water, I recommend wearing a pair of water shoes. It’s not really so bad once you walk out in the water for a bit. Admission here is free.

Tobermory Beach, singing sands beach - Top 5 Things To Do In Tobermory, Ontario #topfivelist #tobermory #singingsandsbeach #provincialpark #brucepeninsula #flowerpotisland #thegrotto #brucepeninsulagrotto #parkscanada #smalltownsinontario #familytravelvlogger #familytravelblogger #ontariobloggers #ontarioroadtrips #thingstodoinontario #thingstodointobermory

And as a bonus for you history buffs – there are historical walking tours available in town.

mariner's monument on Bay Street in Tobermory, Ontario

For those of you looking for the video blog – here you go!

 

 

Take your family on a road trip – check out BOOKING.COM today (affiliate link, I make a small commission if you make a booking at no extra cost to you)


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What You Need To Know About Going to The Grotto at Tobermory

The Grotto, in Bruce Peninsula National Park, has become one of Southern Ontario’s most popular tourist destinations in the summer. Located near Tobermory, it’s close to lots of other tourist destinations such as Fathom Five National Marine Park where you find Flower Pot Island. I have been the poor soul who once tried to get into The Grotto and was turned away due to the volume of people already there for the day. I learned the tactics and did make it in the following summer! Seeing quite a few posts on Instagram and Facebook during summer months from others who attempt to go to the Grotto and are turned away, I decided to put together this question and answer post of What You Need To Know About Going to The Grotto at Tobermory for other travellers before they attempt the journey and are disappointed.

What You Need To Know About Going to The Grotto at Tobermory

Due to the health pandemic that has spent the world, Canada is still being cautious. As of June 1, some Parks Canada places began a safe, gradual reopening of some outdoor areas at national parks, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas.  It will be at least June 29 before the following areas are reopened: The Parks Canada Visitor Centre, Grotto, Halfway Log Dump, Cyprus Lake Campground and the portion of the Bruce Trail between Crane Lake and Little

Reservations for parking at the Grotto for the remainder of the 2020 season opened on Monday, June 29th, 2020 at 8:00 a.m. EDT. Important to note – Visitors will not be permitted to climb into the Grotto since physical distancing is not possible. Parks Canada is asking that you enjoy the view from above.

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What Is The Grotto?

The Grotto is a shoreline sea cave with beautiful blue waters. It looks like it’s straight out of the Caribbean! The Grotto is a unique natural wonder and memorable place to experience. An underwater tunnel extends from the pool inside the cave through the cliff to Georgian Bay. This often makes it appear as though the pool is glowing on sunny days.

I do not believe there are other grottos located in Canada. If there are some that anyone else knows of – please let me know.

man on Rock Face at the Grotto
Rock Face at the Grotto

 

Where Is the Grotto?

The Grotto is specifically located close to the Cyprus Lake Campground in Bruce Peninsula National Park. The national park is on the northern tip of the Bruce Peninsula, just outside of Tobermory, Ontario. It is about 300 kilometres or a 4-hour drive northwest of Toronto. It’s on the Bruce Trail.

How to get to the Grotto
map courtesy of Parks Canada

 

 

How Do I Make Sure I Can Get Into The Grotto?

During the peak season of July and August, there are a couple of ways to make sure you are in Bruce Peninsula National Park and can access the Grotto:

1.) Be there already as a camper at one of the backcountry sites along Georgian Bay or in Cyprus Lake Campground, then hike over there.

2.) Reserve parking in advance if coming from outside the park. The fee to park is $11.70 per vehicle plus an applicable reservation fee ($6.00 online, $8.50 by phone) and an individual fee. Parking is assigned by time blocks and only a certain amount of cars are permitted per time slot. Parking does book up well in advance on weekends. You might have more luck during the week if you can try to go then.

3.) Head up there in the off or shoulder seasons of April/May/June or September/October when the demand to visit is much less.

What You Need To Know About Going to The Grotto at Tobermory - my selfie in the grotto
“What You Need To Know About Going to The Grotto at Tobermory” Me at the Grotto

 

How Do I Get To The Grotto?

To get to the Grotto, you will have to hike the Georgian Bay Trail from P1 of Cyprus Lake Campground. It takes roughly 45 minutes with younger kids. It can be done in 30 minutes if walking at a good pace. The trailhead to the shoreline at Indian Head Cove is rated as easy. It’s a man-made trail that is wide and scenic. Once you get to the shoreline, it’s a rocky hike. It is not wheelchair or other mobility device accessible. Watch your footing and keep children supervised. The portion of the Bruce Trail leading to the Grotto does require some climbing over slippery rocks and tree roots.

Once you reach Indian Head Cove, the Grotto entrance hole is approximately 100 metres away to the west, so don’t be confused when you arrive. Indian Head Cove is a great place to swim. As you carry on to the west, you will come across the Natural Arch, you can see the water through the hole, you’re still not there yet. Keep going.

Indian Head Cove, east of the Grotto
Indian Head Cove

There is a hole that you have to slide down to get into the actual Grotto and it’s not marked, no signposts. Watch for others going in and out. Once you corkscrew down through the hole, you have to climb down a small escarpment.

I had to remove my backpack and have it passed down to me as I did not fit with it on my back.

Side note – the climb in and out is not something you can do if you are excessively overweight. You won’t fit through the hole. You will have to attempt a climb down and back up the rock face or swim around from Indian Head Cove.

The climb can be done wearing running shoes or barefoot if you are comfortable. I do not recommend attempting this with flip flops or water shoes that do not have good grips.

If you are not physically fit, you might need to rely on assistance from others to get back up and out.

 

Is The Grotto Safe For Kids?

The hike from Indian Head Cove to the Grotto can be challenging for children, elderly and those with mobility issues. Kids have to recognize that there are dangers to running off on their own here and parents need to understand that there is a risk of injury or serious consequences if children are not kept under control. There is no barrier on the hike and there is no life guard to supervise in the water. 

As mentioned, you have to slide down a hole and climb down an escarpment to get into the Grotto. My children, ages 9 and 4 did it with assistance from myself and their father. We are both fairly fit (gym rats) and assisted the children with no problem. This is not something the kids could have done on their own.

We did have to assist other kids with families coming into the Grotto through the hole and climbing back out.

The water will be cold for them and the rocks are slippery. Please keep your children close to you at all times. The water is shallow enough close to the cave that they can walk around and the water won’t be past most older kid’s shoulder height.

Girl at the grotto
My daughter at the grotto

 

How Cold Is The Water At The Grotto?

We visited the second week of August and I found it cold, but tolerable. I’m also a hearty Canadian who can swim in lakes and bays, so take my opinion on this with a grain of salt. My kids froze, their dad froze, they enjoy pools heated to over 80 degrees. If I could have carried more items in my backpack, I would have brought a wetsuit for the kids as well as floatation devices.

feet over ledge at grotto
My feet looking at the grotto

 

Where Else Is There To Stay In The Area?

If you are not camping in Bruce Peninsula National Park, there are many BnB’s, AirBnb’s and motels in the Tobermory Area. We’ve stayed at Cedar Vista Motel and also at the Blue Bay Motel. We recommend Blue Bay Motel. Accommodations in Tobermory fill up fast in the summer time. Be sure to plan and book your trip in advance or try going in the shoulder seasons of spring and fall.

BOOK YOUR ACCOMMODATIONS IN TOBERMORY HERE:



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I made a little video with my GoPro camera that we took down there… Check it out!

 

 

I hope this helps you with What You Need To Know About Going to The Grotto at Tobermory. Did I miss anything you need or want to know? Ask below! I’ll get back to you.

 

What You Need To Know About Going To The Grotto outside of Tobermory in Bruce Peninsula National Park #grotto #tobermory #brucepeninsula #discoverontario #parkscanada #grotto #brucepeninsulagrotto #tobermorygrotto #hikingthebruce #brucetrail #dangerousplaces #rockyterrain #bestfamilytraveltravelblogger #ontariofamilyadventures

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