Fathom Five National Marine Park
Storied shipwrecks and lighthouses, ancient caves and rock formations, rare orchid species and sparkling azure, indigo and turquoise waters… this might sound like the setting of a Caribbean adventure, but it also describes Canada’s first National Marine Conservation Area.
Fathom Five National Marine Park covers 112 sq km in Georgian Bay, an arm of Lake Huron. It was established in 1987 to protect and conserve one of Ontario’s most unique and significant freshwater ecosystems and marine heritage sites. The creation of the marine park represented an important development for Canada’s national parks diversifying from land-only to marine conservation.
The park is located off the tip of Bruce Peninsula, with the coastal town of Tobermory serving as the main base from which to explore the area. Tobermory is a 3-hour drive from Barrie, along the Georgian Bay shoreline and up the peninsula, and just under four hours northwest of Toronto.
Visitors travelling south from Manitoulin Island can reach Tobermory via the seasonal state-of-the-art Northland M.S. Chi-Cheemaun, a 100+ metre long ship that ferries over 600 passengers and 140 vehicles between South Baymouth on the island and the Tobermory harbour. The scenic two hour trip cruises through the waters of Fathom Five National Marine Park and passengers are treated to striking views of surrounding islands, light stations and the mainland shorescape.
Defining attractions in the park include striking islands and shorelines with weathered forests, sheer cliffs and dramatic rock formations. The stone monoliths, formed from dolomite build up over 420 million years ago, rise up and reflect in the clear, shimmering waters of Georgian Bay. Flowerpot Island is the most well known, featuring a stacked limestone structure that resembles its namesake, a flowerpot.
The area is also home to over 30 different types of orchid species, some extremely rare, such as the Calypso Orchid, which only grows on Flowerpot Island. And, most notably, 22 fascinating shipwreck sites have been found in Fathom Five.
These underwater shrines inspired the name of the park, taken from a melancholy passage in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. A verse in ‘Ariel’s Song’ laments ‘full fathom five thy father lies’. Five ‘fathoms’, about 9 metres, was then considered a fatal and irretrievable depth.
For up-to-date information and reservation details on Fathom Five National Marine Park, we recommend you visit the park's website. For information about other places of interest to explore nearby, keep scrolling to see what Destination Ontario recommends.
More about Fathom Five National Marine Park
There are a number of exciting ways to explore Fathom Five National Marine Park in the summer and fall.
Flowerpot Island is great for a visit. There are a handful of basic backcountry campsites on the island, as well as hiking trails and great swimming holes. Get to the island by boat or kayak.
Follow the craggy shorelines and circle the rocky islands by sea kayak. Or board a glass bottom boat from Tobermory to tour the park and take in the sights both above and below the waterline.
But the best way to view the sunken shipwrecks and the rugged lakebed topography is to get beneath the waves. Fathom Five is Ontario’s most popular scuba destination, often referred to as the ‘Scuba Diving Capital of Canada’. There are several scuba diving and snorkeling adventure companies in town ready to guide you on a fully outfitted day trip.
For a full overview of Fathom Five National Marine Park, stop in at the Visitors’ Reception and Information Centre. The facility also provides background and information on the mainland Bruce Peninsula National Park. Climb the 20 metre lookout tower for spectacular aerial views of the peninsula and Georgian Bay beyond.