Ontario, Manitoulin Island Tour

Text: Scott MacQuarrie • Photography: Scott MacQuarrie

It fills the bill of particulars any rider desires, a destination of friendly people and scenic vistas, of well-paved roads bearing little traffic, and if you were going to design an island for motorcyclists, this might be the place.

Located in Ontario, Canada, on the northern edge of Lake Huron and a day's ride from Michigan, Ohio or New York, Manitoulin Island is shaped something like a horizontal raindrop that's wide in the east and narrow in the west. Covering 1,068 square miles, it's the largest freshwater island in the world. Manitoulin means "Island of the Great Spirit" and it remains the traditional home for the native Anishinaabe people, with a scattering of eight First Nation communities.

The Big Canoe

Visitors access Manitoulin traveling on the ferry from Tobermory to the south, the swing bridge to the north, or by boat or small plane. It's a big island and you can't see everything in one trip. My plan was to ride to Tobermory on the first day, take the ferry over in the morning, spend the following day exploring the island and then ride the ferry back the morning afterwards.

With the general routing of the trip settled, I next turned to securing lodgings. A newspaper article had introduced Jay and Lee Anne Niver and the Meldrum Bay Inn, located at the far western end of the island, and it sounded like just the kind of place to visit for the night. I made reservations in Tobermory and in Meldrum Bay and soon after I set off, heading north on Ontario's Highway 6 to Tobermory, at the tip of the peninsula between Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. Tobermory has the ferry, and it's extremely popular with divers and boaters, with an underwater national park nearby and the Great Lakes, which of course are seas unto themselves.

I arrived at the Harbourside Motel in Tobermory at dusk. The town is small, so any accommodation is close to the ferry and everything else. In fact, things are so close together you'll probably spend more time warming up the bike than it takes to ride past them.

Catching the ferry meant getting up before dawn and riding around the block to the ticket line. Fortunately, motorcyclists get to skip to the front of the line to board the ferry, and nearly a dozen bikes were waiting for the M.S. Chi-Cheemaun, or "big canoe," as the loading began. Ferries have been running here since the 1920s and they are the only way to reach the island from the south. The Chi-Cheemaun has a restaurant, souvenir shop, with several observation decks and can hold 638 people and 143 cars, including 17 buses or transport trucks, so it really is a big canoe. The trip takes a pleasant, scenic hour and 45 minutes to reach South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the November/December 2008 back issue.