North Channel Cruise Line operates one of the most scenic boat tours from Manitoulin Island. These tours, which are both scenic and family-friendly, offer some of the most unique views of the Georgian Bay shorelines.
For those who make the journey across Lake Huron to Manitoulin Island, whether by boat on the Chi Cheemaun Ferry from Tobermory or across from Sudbury on the iconic swing bridge, a new world awaits.
Manitoulin Island is the largest island in a freshwater lake in the world. And it’s truly one of the most unique places in Ontario. While many visitors to the island spend their days hiking the famous Cup and Saucer trail, enjoying the fish and chips in Providence Bay, or exploring the scenic lighthouses that dot the coast, those looking for a unique view of the island and surrounding area stop in Little Current at North Channel Tours.
The North Channel cruise line is run by Manitoulin Island tour boat company North Channel Tours, and they offer a magnificent selection of Georgian Bay cruises to areas such as the Benjamin Islands, Baie Fine Fjord, and Killarney.
I had the pleasure of joining them for a cruise to the Benjamin Islands in the summer of 2020 while I was on a 25-day road trip through Northern Ontario from Toronto to Thunder Bay. And the North Channel cruise was one of the highlights of the trip.
Cruising To the Benjamin Islands With North Channel Tours
Manitoulin Island is a destination that I visit nearly every year. Whether we’re touring up from Tobermory or driving around from Sudbury through the breathtaking Killarney landscapes, it’s always one of our favourite places to visit in Ontario.
The last time my family was in town was in the fall when we were up working with Ford on a project for the Explorer where we were creating Google Street Views of some of the island’s non-mapped regions. That experience was a total riot, but visiting the island without a 20-person film crew following us around is a much more relaxed experience.
We rolled into Little Current first thing in the morning after a night of stargazing at Gordon’s Park. Picking up our boarding passes at the North Channel Tours office was a breeze, and then we waited for our time to board.
And then the weather came in.
Chris, the owner of North Channel Tours, made an announcement that a weather front had been reported and that our tour would need to be delayed. Almost on queue, a bright flash of lightning lit up the sky outside of the boat. We rushed to the window and beyond the tour boat we could see a menacing cloud in the distance. It was heading straight for us.
As the wind kicked up and the lightning flashed on the water around us, we were all more than grateful that the company put safety first.
But as quickly as the storm began, it blew away into the distance. Chris and the North Channel crew quickly got to work prepping the boat for launch. And within moments we were on our way, cruising past the Little Current Swing Bridge along the North Channel.
The North Channel Views
As we began our North Channel cruise from Manitoulin Island, we had the chance to experience some of the angles of the island that many visitors never get the chance to see. One of the more fascinating spots are the ruins of the Mill on Picnic Island which sits just north of Little Current. The Picnic Island Mill ruins can only be reached by water, although you can’t catch a glimpse of them from Low Island Park in Little Current.
The calm waters of the North Channel were stunningly blue, even beneath the cloudy sky leftover from the earlier storm.
On our right as we cruised from Little Current was the spectacular Killarney Landscape. The La Cloche Mountains, which top out at about 540 metres, were once believed to be taller than the Rocky Mountains are today.
The La Cloche landscape is beautiful. There are many lists on where the most beautiful landscapes in Ontario are, in my books, this should make every one of them.
The 67 kilometre journey from Little Current to the Benjamin Islands offered views of Georgian Bay that few people get the opportunity to experience. Past the La Cloche Mountains, we cruised around sunken ships, past quaint lighthouses, and steep, white-quartz cliffs and mountains.
As we pulled into the Benjamin Islands, it was evident that this is a popular place for those who have access to boats on Lake Huron. The bay was dotted with small yachts and sailboats. This was a scene I was used to seeing in remote Caribbean coves. Seeing this same kind of nautical community right here on Ontario’s great lakes was a beautiful thing.
Docking the big North Channel cruise line boat on the raw shores of Killarney Provincial Park can be likened to a gentle, controlled crash. The area doesn’t have a proper dock, so accessing land meant crossing a boarding ramp on the wet, tree-lined shores and then walking along the slick rocks.
It definitely required either bare feet or grippy shoes thanks to the rain from earlier in the day. But passengers and crew all worked together to get safely and comfortably onto the jaw-droppingly beautiful red rock slopes.
We spent the next two hours just lazing around the bay, hiking up the slopes, swimming in the warm waters of the bay. It was, quite honestly, a place I would have happily spent many more hours.
North Channel Cruise To Little Current
Much too soon it was time for us to board our North Channel cruise boat for a tour back to Manitoulin Island. The crew took a different route back circling Little La Cloche Island to gaze at the magnificent towering sheer rock cliffs.
We were served a delicious light meal and spent most of the rest of the journey wandering the boat and taking in the magical scenery that we passed by.
The North Channel Tours tour boat has a stocked bar and snacks available for purchase. There are also clean washrooms for use and both indoor and outdoor covered and uncovered seating spread out across two decks of the ship.
On the way back to Little Current we were treated to even more of the great explanations of the history, geography, and amazing stories that have come out of this section of Georgian Bay. That part of the journey alone was worth the price of the tour.
What To Do In Little Current
When we returned to Little Current we stopped by the Manitoulin Brewing Company for some refreshments and some delicious food truck grub at the on-site Chiblow restaurant. You can also order from the Anchor Inn and have food delivered right to your patio table.
If you’re looking for something a little less casual, head to the Little Current Hotel and Conference Centre to dine in style at their on-site restaurant. Their Aboriginal-themed dining will have your mouth watering.
For a little history, drive just out of town to the historic Centennial Museum of Sheguindah, a log home dating back to the 1860s. This spot also offers sweeping views of the Killarney coastline.
Now It’s Time to Experience the North Channel Cruise For Yourself
There is more things to do on Manitoulin Island than meets the eye. And the North Channel Tour is just one of them. Many of these businesses and restaurants are anxious for visitors after a tough year. So let’s support local and make the most of your Georgian Bay adventure.
Do you have a favourite attraction or restaurant on Manitoulin Island? Head over to the Ultimate Ontario Facebook Community and join the conversation! You’ll find an amazing group of people passionate about Ontario and who love to share their local secrets.
Kevin Wagar is a founder and editor of Ultimate Ontario. He has been working in the travel media industry since 2015 when he founded his family travel website Wandering Wagars – Adventure Family Travel.
Over the years Kevin has developed a deep love for his home province of Ontario and aims to showcase the incredible experiences and amazing small businesses found within it.