The sun glittered over the top of the pine trees and its rays glinted off a bay of almost ethereal beauty. Its water was crystalline turquoise and the rocks beneath the surface were clearly visible many feet from the shore.
Swimmers stepped into the water’s depths and snorkelers floated lazily on the surface. Far beyond the bay, boats motored across the horizon.
Florida? Not even close. A Caribbean island? No way.
Although this place is called a scuba-diving paradise, it’s in … Canada.
The temperatures may be a bit cooler. The water may be quite a bit chillier. But there are a lot of similarities here.
The Bruce Peninsula is a slender finger of land that points northward into Lake Huron north of Toronto. At its tip are two national parks, one land-based and the other beneath the lake’s waves.
And along the peninsula’s 1,000 miles of coastline are sand beaches, swimming coves and turquoise-rimmed bays surrounded by summer cottages. Sauble Beach is, in fact, the second longest freshwater beach in the world.
Offshore, the peninsula invites kayakers, boaters and sailors to explore its beaches and cliffs. Boat-based tours take visitors to explore islands as well as beneath the water to scuba the 22 ship wrecks lying on Huron’s bottom.
Finally, within the bogs and woodland of the peninsula’s interior grow a wide variety of plants, some exceedingly rare like the tiny dwarf lake iris. Most notable, perhaps, is the fact that the Bruce Peninsula is a special spot where some 40 types of wild orchids grow, celebrated each year in the local Orchid Festival.
The Bruce Peninsula is where the rocks of the Niagara Escarpment, which runs roughly from New York to Illinois and whose most well-known feature is the cliff over which the Niagara falls, meet the waters of Lake Huron. It has formed spectacular scenery and a unique ecosystem.
The United Nations named the peninsula part of the UNESCO Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Reserve in 1990. The northern part of the peninsula has some of the country’s darkest skies and so has been recognized as a Dark Sky Preserve by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.
The country itself has recognized the place’s special status by creating not one, but two national parks here.
The one above the waters is Bruce Peninsula National Park, a 60-square-mile sanctuary that encompasses coastline, wetlands, forests and lakes.
Most popular is the Grotto, a deep cove of turquoise blue on the east side of the peninsular. It’s such a favorite with tourists that rangers must regulate the number of people allowed to hike in to glimpse it during the summer.
The second park, Fathom Five National Marine Park, exists beneath Huron’s waves. The clear waters and numerous islands within the park have led to its title as the “Scuba Diving Capital of Canada.”
While the busiest time on the peninsula is the summer, activities take place year around.
During most seasons, tourists can engage in water sports, hiking, birding, fishing and rock climbing. In the winter, visitors can try out cross-country skiing, ice fishing and ice diving.
The 550-mile Bruce Trail stretches along the peninsula’s eastern side and is Canada’s oldest and longest footpath . It tracks along the coastline of the Georgian Bay, the northeastern arm of Lake Huron, from the peninsula’s tip to the town of Owen Sound.
Events throughout the year celebrate the peninsula’s uniqueness and include the Orchid Festival, the Sauble Beach Sandfest, a maple syrup festival, several Pow Wows and many more.
From June through August, members of the Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Association’s Bayside Astronomy set up telescopes every Friday and Saturday night at Lion’s Head Marina. Visitors are invited to listen to a “Star Talk” that points out what they can see in the night sky then invited to get a closer look through the telescopes’ lenses.
There are many types of accommodations for visitors to the peninsula, ranging from public and private campgrounds to cabins and hotels. Restaurants in the small communities scattered across the peninsula make getting a meal easy.
So next time you’re thinking of a blue-water Florida vacation, expand your sights a bit.
There’s a bit of the Sunshine State awaiting in Canada.