Located in Ontario, Georgian Bay Islands National Park is a truly picturesque corner of the province with its wind-swept pines and rugged, glacier-shaped terrain. Made up of 59 islands, this is an entirely water-based national park. Georgian Bay Islands was given official status as a national park in December 1929.
The Park operates throughout the year, but sometimes freeze-up and break-up can limit access to the islands. Be sure to check on this with Parks Canada if you are planning to travel to Georgian Bay during the fall or early spring.
Just two hours north of Toronto, this area attracts a lot weekend getaway visitors, but you need to keep in mind that you can only access these islands by boat. You will need to bring your own boat to Georgain Bay Island or take advantage of one of the water taxi services in the area. The park recommends that canoeing or kayaking trips to the islands only be undertaken by the experienced paddlers.
The largest of the islands is Beausoleil. There is a Visitors Centre on it and heritage education programs available, as well as camping sites and overnight and day docking.
Because of the park's location on the edge of the Canadian Shield (a mixture of wet and dry environments), there are both northern and southern plant and animal species on the islands. The Georgian Bay Islands are also well-known for their variety of reptile and amphibian life. Georgian Bay Island is home to the endangered Eastern Massachusetts Rattlesnake. Parks Canada offers important safety tips that you should look over before entering the park so you are prepared if you encounter one of these snakes.
Besides wildlife watching, visitors to Georgian Bay can engage in a variety of water-based and land-based activities. These include sailing, boating, swimming, fishing, canoeing and kayaking, as well as hiking and picnicking at scenic spots like Ojibway Bay and Papoose Lookout. There is a series of trails on the islands ranging from 2.5 kilometres to over 8 kilometres.
Parks Canada offers a variety of educational programs at Georgian Bay for the individuals and schools. These are special Summer Programs and also school programs (including activities and lessons for teachers through their outreach program) throughout the year.
Besides the natural history preserved in the park, there is also a rich cultural heritage visitors to Georgian Bay Island can learn about. There have been remains of pottery, tools and hunting equipment found on Beausoleil Island have lead archaeologists to the conclusion that this island was used as a summer hunting camp. Beausoleil also served as an Ojibwa Reserve from 1836-1856, but the island's sandy soil made it difficult to farm and the majority of settlers moved to another island, though some did choose to remain on Beausoleil.
One of the nicest ways to experience Georgian Bay is by renting a cottage in the area and exploring the Islands at your leisure. Several companies and private individuals offer Georgian Bay cottages for rent. Many of these companies also specialize in boat rentals, docking facilities and vacations packages. Whether you are planning on staying for just a few nights or a few weeks, Georgian Bay cottages offer you a real home away from home.
Parks Canada features an On-Line Guided Tour of the Park if you are interested in exploring the park virtually before your visit.