About the Author:
Heather’s passion for travel compelled her to change careers, and start writing to encourage anyone who feels stuck in their life to find fulfillment with travel. Among Heather’s loves are yoga, scuba diving, and exploring the world. Come on over and say hi at The Travel Type or find me on Facebook
Overnight Camping on Flowerpot Island
Flowerpot Island isn’t named for the island’s wildflowers, but for its distinctive rock pillars – the ‘flowerpots’. Technically called ‘sea stacks’ these two cone-shaped rock formations were left behind by erosion, and today they solemnly guard the edge of the island. The plants sprouting from their flat tops make them look like – you guessed it – flowerpots. These grey giants are the celebrities of Flowerpot Island, to get close to them without crowds of summer visitors you need to camp overnight on the island.
As part of Fathom Five National Marine Park, Flowerpot Island is a protected natural area. Visitors hike the trails to the sea stacks, climb up to the inland sea caves, and explore historic Flowerpot Lightstation. The loop trail around the island leads to all the highlights and takes one day to hike (the island is only two square kilometers), making Flowerpot Island a day trip for most visitors.
With only six campsites (to limit the impact on the environment), few people have the opportunity to stay overnight to enjoy Flowerpot Island without the crowds. Eager to experience quiet and solitude on the island (and get the sea stacks all to myself), I booked a site weeks in advance to make sure I was one of those lucky few.
After picking up my camping permit at the visitors centre, I bought my boat ticket to the island. The only way to get to Flowerpot Island is to take boat from the town of Tobermory, Ontario. There are two companies to choose from: Blue Heron Company and Bruce Anchor Cruises. Both have glass-bottom boats that tour Tobermory’s shallow, well-preserved shipwrecks before heading to Flowerpot Island.
I had just made out the shape of the island through the mist when the captain announced that we were passing by the flowerpots. I scanned the foggy shoreline and two pillars appeared on the island’s edge. They stood on the rocky shore like statues as the boat passed by. At the dock I hauled my gear off the boat and waved goodbye to the crew. The day-trippers headed to the right, towards the trails; I headed left, to the campsites.
If you went right with the boatload (literally) of tourists you’d see there’s no sand; the beach is made of jumbled rock-slabs layered on top of each other, reaching out into Georgian Bay. The water is clear and blue, you can see the broken rock edges disappearing into the deep.
To get to the flowerpots, start on the island’s trails from the dock and follow the signs, making your way onto the beach to get close. Clamber over the piles of flat broken rock on the way to the sea stacks, and you’ll find treasures at your feet. The cracks and crevices hide wildflowers, smooth pebbles, and still pools of water.
Spend time on the beach and you’ll find the flat rock pieces stack easily; so easily that signs discourage making inuksuk statues. Man-made figures take away from the ‘natural’ look of the beach, and Flowerpot Island isn’t about building monuments, it’s about admiring them.
At the edge of the flat beach rocks, the sea stacks rise up abruptly, overlooking turquoise water. The flowerpots are tall: the smaller one is seven metres high, the bigger one nearly twelve metres. Despite being narrower at the bottom than the top they’ve stood strong for millions of years.
After taking in the flowerpots, continue along the trail, and you’ll come to a wooden stairway leading away from the coastline. Climb the stairs to the sea caves, now in the island’s interior. Go inside to learn more from the interpretive plaques about the erosion that formed the caves, the sea stacks, and Flowerpot Island itself. Keep hiking to the end of the trail to reach Flowerpot Lightstation. Formerly a residence and lighthouse, it’s been replaced by technology. The old house is maintained by volunteers, and you’re free to wander through the memorabilia-stuffed rooms. Visit early, the lightstation can get crowded with day trippers.
But if, like me, you went left to the campsites you’d discover a different Flower Pot Island. The campsite looked out on the water, with a wooden tent platform (big enough for two tents), a picnic table, and a wooden food locker. I set up my tent and tarp, stashed my food in the locker, and set off to explore the island without worrying about catching the last boat. Sunset to sunrise, without hurry the island was peacefully mine.
When to go:
- Boats run to the island from May to October
- Peak (busy) season runs from late June to September
What to expect:
- Boat companies only sell same-day tickets unless presented with a valid camping permit for Flowerpot Island
- Campers and their gear often go by speedboat rather than glass-bottom boat
- Free parking at the boat company long term lots
- Two composting toilet facilities on the island
- No food or drinking water available on the island
- No garbage facilities on the island, pack out what you pack in
How to book:
- Book a campsite in person at the Visitors Centre or in Tobermory or by phone at 519-596-2233
- Boat tickets available online, by phone, or in person in Tobermory