fall in love with grey/bruce counties
forests, beaches and grassy farmland
Located just a couple hours northwest of Toronto, the two adjacent counties of Bruce and Grey have been flirting with each other for years.
So much so, that they have now partnered together like two lovebirds, at least in terms of marketing initiatives. There’s also sometimes a three-way with nearby Simcoe County, making up the Georgian Triangle, but let’s leave that story for another time.
The region is quite extensive, and includes thousands of acres of forested land, kilometres of sandy beaches along both Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, and endless rolling hills of grassy farmland. Some of the more well-known destinations are Collingwood/Blue Mountain, Tobermory/Manitoulin Island, Sauble Beach, and Owen Sound, however there are dozens of towns, villages, and hamlets scattered throughout the region that are worthy of note, such as Chesley, Lucknow, Paisley, Point Clark, Ripley, Teeswater, Walkerton, and Wiarton.
As with many parts of Canada, much of this region was exclusive Native territory until the first European settlers started to arrive in the early 1800’s. Today, there are still several active First Nation Reserves, including Cape Croker, home to the Chippewas or Nawash, and Saugeen, home to Ojibway. Both of these are very active in the community, hosting several public events, with the largest being the annual Pow Wow’s. These are a great opportunity to experience a time-honoured tradition of Canadian heritage. The Grey Roots Museum and Archives is also a great starting point to gather some knowledge of the region.
Most visitors make the trek up during the summer months to take in some of the most beautiful beaches Ontario has to offer, from Wasaga to Sauble. However, this is most definitely a four-season destination, with autumn being an optimal time to visit. The magnificent changing colours of the leaves is unbeatable, and nearly every town has some sort of fall fair or harvest festival happening. One that’s been gaining recognition over the years is Port Elgin’s Pumpkin Fest, held the first weekend of October, and includes a pub crawl, markets, and all sorts of pumpkin themed activities for everyone.
Another crisp weather activity to take in is to visit many of the lighthouses in the region. Many have been restored, and some still light up the night, continuing the tradition of when their primary use was for navigational purposes. Today, they stand as a testament to the past when shipping reigned king. The Kincardine Lighthouse and Marine Museum make for a good introduction. The more adventurous may also want to venture out on the waters to view some of the many lost vessels that have sank to the bottom of these lakes. One of the most opportune places for this is on Lake Huron near Southampton, where there are reportedly more than 100 marine disasters that happened over the years.
Bruce County is home to two great outdoor marvels, the Bruce Peninsula and the Bruce Trail, running nearly 1,000 kilometres along the Niagara Escarpment. Its northern terminus is in Tobermory, the jumping off point for Fathom Five National Marine Park. Day trips, or extended overnight excursions are feasible almost anywhere with proper planning, and there are local outfitters who offer guided tours with all the necessary equipment needed. Greig’s Caves in Lion Head make for an exciting outing as well, but definitely not for the claustrophobic.
Fall camping is unbeatable, and for those who fear the thought of cooler evenings in a tent, there are plenty of other options now available, including ready-to-camp perma-tents, yurts, and even cabins in many of the provincial parks. MacGregor is one such park that offers such amenities, and is open year-round for the true nature lovers. There are several kilometres of trails for hiking and biking, many fall festivities planned, and always a warm shower at the end of the day. Inverhuron is another great park to set up camp at for a night or two.
Road and mountain biking enthusiasts also have plenty to explore. The Inverhuron Mountain Bike Park, Stoney Island Conservation Area, and the Kincardine Trails network are all ready for a day of action packed adventure. As well, at the north end of the Kincardine beach, the Penetangore Path, runs inland 4 km along the Penetangore River to Geddes Property Environment Park.
For those with a preference to water-based activities, canoeing and kayaking options are plentiful, especially along the Saugeen River where multiple day excursions can be done. There are many camping and other accommodation options along the way, making it easy to plan a route of varying lengths suitable to all levels of paddlers. Thorncrest outfitters in Southampton offer all the equipment rentals needed, and even offer drop off and pick up shuttle service to the various trailheads. For those wanting something a bit less active, pick up a copy of the Apple Pie Trail Guide, or the Saints and Sinners brochure that outlines all the breweries, wineries, and cider houses in the area.
With all these outdoor pursuits, there’s definitely much needed time for some rest and relaxation, and there are plenty of unique dining, entertainment, and accommodation options available throughout the two counties. The upside to fall travel is the savings obtained on accommodations and the serenity of dining without feeling rushed or crowded. For a worthy treat, try the Westin Trillium House at Blue Mountain. The rooms are quite spacious, with many suites to choose from, and the Heavenly Beds will have you not wanting to get up in the morning. That’s fine, as there is room service, however you don’t want to miss an opportunity to dine at the onsite Oliver & Bonacini Café and Grill. There’s also a year-round outdoor heated pool.
More pampering can be found at the nearby Scandanave Spa, offering a full Scandinavian Baths experience that includes a Finnish Sauna, Eucalyptus Steam Room, Thermal and Nordic Waterfalls, Hot Baths, Cold Plunges, and relaxation areas. There are also Registered Massage treatments and a great bistro serving healthy local foods, teas, and other detoxifying treats.
This fall make your way up to Grey Bruce and be sure to check in with some of the local LGBT associations in the area to find out if there are any special events planned. The Grey Bruce Pride organization has their annual event mid-June, but are also a great resource for events throughout the year as well. Lesbian musician Kate Reid is performing in Owen Sound on October 13th at Ginger Press. Another new live music venue recently opened there is Heartland Concert Hall. Other LGBT resources are the Southwest Health Line, Target Youth, and Q Links.
There are many individuals representing all spectrums of the LGBTTIQQ2SA communities (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer/Questioning, 2 Spirited, Allies) that are living and working in the area, and many others who choose to vacation there. Overall the communities are quite open and accepting, and you’ll often see rainbow stickers on storefront windows, or flags proudly displayed at businesses, such as Duffy’s Fish & Chips in Southampton Be sure to check out their jam-packed Karaoke nights that attracts a diverse crowd of both locals and visitors.
Finally, anytime of year is great to watch the sunsets over the water. Add the beauty of the kaleidoscope of colourful autumn foliage, and you’ll have memories to last a lifetime. The most direct route heading north out of Toronto is to take Highway 10 off the 401. Kitchener/Waterloo residents have the option of many different side roads, and those from the Barrie/Orillia area can follow Highway 26.
For those without a vehicle, there are public transit options that will get you close to most of the major areas as well. Check in with either the Grey Bruce Air Bus that offering daily shuttle service between Pearson International and many of the communities, or Park Bus that offers regular Toronto departures with a variety or tour packages that includes accommodations.
Oct 10 - Owen Sound Salmon Tour includes a salmon feast, along with sampling of local beers, wines and ciders as well.
October 10-12 – Blue Mountain Apple Harvest Festival celebrates all things apple – pies, ciders, and more.
October 17 – Markdale Rotary Oktoberfest – ompapa with locally crafted sausages, and micro-brewed beers
October 22 – ACA Field to Fork - Grey Bruce Agriculture & Culinary Association features great local foods from across the region. This year it’s held at the historic Meaford Hall.
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