The Grotto, Tobermory is one of the most popular scenic destinations in all of Ontario. This is an area of rocky cliffs and carved-out caves along the Georgian Bay side of Bruce Peninsula. Although it’s not possible to swim in or explore the caves right now, The Grotto is still beautiful enough to warrant a visit.
Over the years, The Grotto has grown in popularity (as have the nearby parks and town of Tobermory). It is becoming increasingly difficult to experience the beautiful of Bruce Peninsula and The Grotto without feeling like you’re at a zoo. So in this guide, I’ll provide you with tips on how to visit The Grotto while avoiding the crowds.
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What is The Grotto, Tobermory?
A grotto is a natural or artificial cave, and The Grotto near Tobermory is so spectacular it has been dubbed THE Grotto. Here the turquoise waters of Georgian Bay have carved the soft stones cliffs, leaving behind caves, tunnels and archways. The water is so clear here that it appears the rocks below are glowing gold when the sun shines down on them.
Where is the Grotto?
The Grotto is located in Bruce Peninsula National Park, at the northeastern end of Bruce Peninsula. The nearest town the The Grotto is Tobermory, and the nearest cities are London and Toronto (both of which are about 4 hours away).
Once you’re in Bruce Peninsula National Park, The Grotto is a short walk from the Cyprus Lake Campground and the park office.
The map below is by Parks Canada. You can see at the top in the centre the label “Cyprus Lake”. Follow that line down and you’ll see a tiny label for The Grotto. (If you click on the map, you should be able to make it larger and download it. You can also find it here.)
Although hard to see on the map, the chart in the top-right corner has the hiking distances between major sights and campgrounds.
Parking at The Grotto
Parking is hands down the hardest part about visiting The Grotto. The parking lots are not large, and there tend to be way more cars than the parking lots can accommodate. In the past, this meant a lot of people got turned away or were forced to sit around waiting for someone to leave. The park has implemented a reservation system to help mitigate this.
Between May 1st and October 31st, you are required to reserve parking online and in advance. This is true for parking at both The Grotto and at Halfway Log Dump (another parking lot). When you make your reservation, you get a 4-hour time slot. This is enough time to view explore The Grotto.
Technically, there are a couple of other parking lots that are on a first-come-first-serve basis, however these require longer hiking distance and are full very early in the morning. Don’t risk it; book your parking in advance!
Is The Grotto Overhyped?
As I’ve gone through the trouble of writing this 2,000-word guide to visiting The Grotto, you’d expect my answer to be an astoundingly “OF COURSE NOT!” but I’m actually a little torn.
The Grotto was awesome when I visited. It really is beautiful. However, I camped in the park and hiked to The Grotto on a Friday morning, so I didn’t have to worry about fighting for parking spots and there weren’t many people there.
So yes, The Grotto was totally worth the effort and I wouldn’t say it is overhyped at all.
BUT, my friends have showed me pictures from when they visited on a sunny summer Saturday and it looks like pure madness. If I’d had their experience, I would totally agree that The Grotto is overrated.
My best advice for avoiding crowds at The Grotto
Take a day off work, either on a Friday or Monday, camp overnight in the park and visit the Grotto in the early morning. To make the trip worth the extra days, I also recommend doing an additional hike in the national park and visiting Lion’s Head Provincial Park on your way out.
Below I’ve embedded the video I made about my overnight trip to Bruce Peninsula. Toward the end, you can see how (not) busy The Grotto was when I was there. Barely any people are in the frame! I’ve included more information about camping near the Grotto and camping in Tobermory below.
Hiking at The Grotto
The hike from Cyprus Lake Campground to The Grotto is about 30 minute each way. Leaving from the campground, you pass on the west side of Marr Lake, arrive at The Grotto and come back the way you came.
The Grotto via Marr Lake / Horse Lake
This loop begins the same as the one above. If you go clockwise, you’ll take the trail to Marr Lake and the nearby Boulder Beach before reaching Grotto. Then you’ll return via the trail to Horse Lake. You can also make a quick detour to Halfway Rock Point. The loop is 3 km and takes between 1.5 to 3 hours to complete, depending on hiking speed. Part of the trail is wide, smooth and flat. However, some parts become very rocky. Take your time and be careful!
While you’re in the park, there are a few other hikes you can do:
Cyprus Lake Loop
This is a 5 km loop that takes about 2.5 hours and goes around Cyprus Lake.
Halfway Log Dump
You can park at Halfway Log Dump and do a quick (~30 minute) walk to the rocky beach. You can also walk along the Bruce Trail in either direction, but you’ll need to return the same way you came. You can hike to The Grotto from Halfway Log Dump, though it’s about 7 km each way.
The Bruce Trail enters the national park at Crane Lake and then traces the coastline to Little Cove. This is the trail you’ll be on if you’re hiking to either of the backcountry campsites. The trail is fairly rugged and the park deems it “difficult”. There isn’t a lot of elevation gain, however it is incredibly rocky and becomes slippery in the rain.
Camping at The Grotto
Since The Grotto is a four hour drive from my place in London, I knew there was no way to make visiting The Grotto a day trip. Instead, I opted to camp in the park. There are two options for camping in Bruce Peninsula National Park: car camping and backcountry camping.
Cyprus Lake Campground
If you prefer car camping, you’ll want to stay at Cyprus Lake Campground. The campground is very close to The Grotto – about 30 minutes of walking (each way), and part of the hike is on a gravel trail.
Cyprus Lake Campground has 232 sites across three campgrounds: Birches, Poplars and Tamarack. All of the campgrounds are along Cyprus Lake (however not all individual campsites are along the lake). The sites can accommodate tent camping and non-electric tent trailers, however none of the sites are serviced for RVs.
There are also 10 Yurts (semi-permanent canvas tents) that can be rented for a minimum of two nights. This would be an excellent way to camp in Bruce Peninsula National Park if you don’t have all your own camping gear.
There are two backcountry campgrounds in Bruce Peninsula National Park, called Stormhaven and High Dump, both of which require at least 3 km of hiking to access. If you’re visiting BPNP specifically to see The Grotto, I recommend Stormhaven as it is 2.7 km from The Grotto. I stayed at High Dump, which was 7 km from The Grotto and resulted in a LOT of walking.
If you are considering backcountry camping in the park, I recommend reading my post The ULTIMATE Guide to Camping in Bruce Peninsula National Park.
Tip: One of the easiest ways to ensure you get to visit The Grotto is to camp at the park. Not only does this guarantee you’ll have a parking spot, but it means you can visit The Grotto early in the morning, when there are way fewer people.
Alternatively, you could camp right outside the national park in the town of Tobermory. You won’t have a guaranteed parking space in the national park, however many campgrounds around Tobermory offer more facilities than Cyprus Lake. For example, some have beaches, swimming pools and restaurants nearby.
Important Things to Know About Visiting The Grotto
Can you explore the caves at The Grotto?
As of May 2022, you cannot explore inside the caves at The Grotto.
Technically there is a hole you can go down to access to the caves and you could go swimming there. However on my visit, the Park Staff were asking people not to do this as it poses safety hazards. The primary reason they gave is that the trail is steep, unmaintained and there is no supervision around the swim spot. If someone was to be injured down there it would be very difficult to do a rescue.
SO, you’re not supposed to and I don’t encourage people to go against park staff. But technically, you could physically get down and explore the caves.
Can you swim at The Grotto Tobermory?
As of May 2022, you cannot swim at the caves at The Grotto. (Unless you climb down that hole, see above.)
Instead, you can swim on the Georgian Bay shoreline nearby. There are no lifeguards and the waves can be very strong, with rip currents and under-toes.
How long is the hike to the Grotto Tobermory?
From the Cypress Campground, the hike to the Grotto Tobermory takes about 30 minutes each way. The trail is fairly wide and gradual, and is suitable for beginners. The hike features ancient cedars growing out of cracks in the granite ground and cliff faces; in the spring the trail is lined by different varieties of wildflowers, like orchids.
How difficult is the hike to the Grotto Tobermory?
The hike to the Grotto Tobermory is not difficult. The trail is wide and gradual; it is suitable for non-hikers and children. However, the terrain around the Grotto itself is uneven and very rocky; while it is not physically tiring, navigating the rocks can be a little tricky. Take it slow and you’ll be fine!
How to avoid crowds at the Grotto?
Visit in the off-season: I highly recommend visiting The Grotto in October. This is when I last went and it was beautiful! There were very few people in the park, the leaves were turning yellow and it was overall a really enjoyable experience.
Visit on weekdays: BPNP is a madhouse on weekends. Between June and August, weekdays are also pretty busy but they’re still better than weekends. Expect that in the middle of the day, every day in the summer, The Grotto will be at full capacity.
Visit early in the morning: This works best if you are already camping in the park. By visiting early in the morning, you beat the crowds of people who are still in their cars driving in.
Is The Grotto open in the winter?
Yes, the Grotto is open in the winter! Winter is a great time to visit the Grotto because there are significantly fewer crowds during this time. Be aware that the area is entirely covered in snow, so you’ll want to bring winter boots and maybe ice cleats or snowshoes for the hike, depending on the conditions.
How much does The Grotto cost?
During the regular season, the daily rate is $7.90 per Adult and Youth are free. Parking is $11.70 per vehicle. It costs $6.00 to make your reservation. So for two adults driving one vehicle, you’re looking at $33.50 + tax.
Bruce Peninsula & The Grotto – Final Thoughts
I hope this guide has proved helpful in planning your trip to the Bruce Peninsula Grotto. I strongly encourage you to visit in the off season and to camp in the park, as this will make your experience infinitely better. The Grotto is beautiful, but it can be a busy nightmare at the wrong time. Plan your trip accordingly, and I’m sure you’ll have an excellent time!