Weekend Getaway to Parry Sound

Parry Sound is a vibrant eclectic harbour town that sees a big population boost during the summer months when avid tourists, boaters, cottagers, and day trippers descend on the town, all anxious to explore Georgian Bay’s beautiful 30,000 Islands. It is a fun town to visit during the height of boating season and also in the early fall when the leaves begin to change and days become cooler.

Located at the base of the Seguin River the town was incorporated in 1887 and holds the world record for deepest natural commercial fresh water harbour.

View of Seguin River from Trestle Brewery

Cruise ships and float planes, pleasure craft and commercial vessels – it is important to know your “rules of the road” when navigating through this busy harbour. And when the west wind blows, the current can become an added challenge especially at the base of the swing bridge.

Heading south through the Swing Bridge

There are two routes into Parry Sound, and although very different journeys, each has it’s merits. The route approaching from the west through the Sound is beautiful but wide open, passing Killbear Provincial Park and “Hole in the Wall”, while the South Channel is more protected, with many cottages and traffic however you must time your arrival to coincide with the Wasauksing Swing Bridge opening times (unless your vessel is able to go under). And that can be a challenge – it is a very enjoyable route but lengthy, slow, and with “no wake” zones in areas.

Entering Hole in the Wall
Hole in the Wall

I find it is much easier to catch the swing bridge when leaving from a local Parry Sound marina so I save my return trip for this route; the bridge doesn’t stay open for long and trying to time the arrival just perfectly when travelling the long and narrow South Channel is difficult!

It is important to check the swing bridge hours and that it is operational, also ensure you monitor 16 for securites as the Island Queen travels this route. Here is a link for info on the swing bridge: https://www.sac-isc.gc.ca/eng/1604582527720/1604583507506

To Know Before you Go:

The marinas can get quite busy so I recommend calling ahead to reserve a slip, regardless the time of year. There are various options for transient slips but Big Sound Marina and the Town dock are closest to downtown which is important if you need provisioning. Both are managed by the town with reservations handled through Big Sound.

Big Sound Marina
View looking west from top deck at Big Sound Marina

My transient experience has only been at Big Sound – George, Andy and the team have always gone out of their way to ensure a memorable stay. With clean washrooms, laundry facilities, wi-fi, ice for purchase, water/hydro at each slip and barbecues available for boaters to use, this is a perfect marina for a refresh. Note that Big Sound has no pump out or fuel facilities; pump outs are available at the Town dock and for boaters requiring both pump out and fuel, Sound Boat Works is an easy option. They also offer transient slips and monitor 68. Here is the link for both:

https://www.bigsoundmarina.com/

https://www.soundboatworks.com/

Once docked and secure it is time to enjoy the many activities right at your doorstep; here are some of my favorites:

For Hiking and Swimming: The Waterfront Fitness Trail is a well groomed easy to walk trail and can be picked up at the Stockey Centre, just steps from Big Sound Marina. For swimming follow this trail west, past the Coast Guard base to Waubuno Beach at the foot of Prospect Street.

Shopping and Provisioning: There are numerous small shops (hardware store/gifts/food/art galleries) along Seguin, James and Bay Streets, including LCBO. All within walking distance of Big Sound and the Town dock. Larger grocery stores are a little further away and will require a cab.

On Tuesday mornings in the summer there is a market at the town square with local vendors offering vegetables, crafts, clothing, and baked goods, including “Buns on the Bay” – delicious freshly baked Chelsea buns. This local bakery will also deliver to boats at anchor in the Franklin Island/Snug Harbour vicinity but orders must be received in advance. You can message them through their Facebook page.

And I must mention Bearly Used Books – located on James Street, just a 10 minute walk from Big Sound, this is heaven for book lovers. Guaranteed you will find a book you like and occasionally they have some harder to find ones about Georgian Bay history. It is the perfect place to get lost in for an afternoon, the kind where they won’t complain should they catch you reading with your eyes closed, provided you don’t snore or leave without buying the book…LOL!

Restaurants: The restaurants are plentiful and get busy in the summer. There are some “chain” style restaurants along with “Tailwinds” Diner at the town dock. If you’re up to a walk, the Fitness Trail leading east from Bay Street follows the old railway bridge over the river, delivering you to the doorstep of the “Trestle Brewery” where you can enjoy a flight of frosty cold brew! This is a fun place for lunch and located close to Tower Hill which is another definite must see! Note that the Trestle Brewery is dog friendly.

Tower Hill and the Museum: Georgian Bay history buffs will enjoy the West Parry Sound District Museum.

I had the opportunity to visit last month and was amazed at the model train display – the incredibly detailed work presented the history of the railways, the creation of Depot Harbour and the many changes the area has seen over the past century. And there were also a few items that reminded one of just how far boating technology has improved over the years! Anyone still have one of these kicking around in their garage or boathouse?

Here is their website noting hours and info: http://museumontowerhill.com/

For stunning views of the Harbour and Sound climb the 30 metre high Observation Tower located just outside the museum entrance. The view is especially breathtaking in the fall when the leaves begin to change. And don’t forget to walk the beautiful Heritage Gardens at the base of the Tower, they provide a serene and peaceful place on a warm summer day.

And a few other important mentions – the Stockey Centre for the Performing Arts is within a 5 minute walk of Big Sound and the Town dock. They have some amazing events throughout the year, including the iconic mid summer classical music series “Festival of the Sound”. And hockey buffs will enjoy the hometown hero Bobby Orr ’s “Hall of Fame” located in the building.

After dinner enjoy an ice cream while walking the Town dock where the Island Queen and other tour boats depart. There is always lots of action here in the summer and the larger Great Lakes cruise ships also dock here when in town.

Pearl Mist at Town Dock

A visit to Parry Sound is a fun filled break from the remote anchorages of Georgian Bay and also a great fall getaway, especially with the weather getting a little cooler. A perfect town for boaters to recharge, provision, wine and dine, plus learn a little about the fascinating history of this beautiful town.

Georgian Pearl westbound into the Sound

The Wild Western Islands

The Western Islands are a chain of low lying rock islands and shoals situated almost 9 nautical miles west of O’Donnell Point.

Barren and exposed with little vegetation, they offer no protection from wind or currents; when the Bay starts to churn this is not the place you want to be! But when on her best behaviour the Bay can transform even this remote and rugged rock pile into a place of serene and magical beauty, particularly in the evenings!

The best way to plan a visit is not to plan at all, but rather wait for that perfect mix of sunny seasonal temperatures (less chance of squalls/thunderstorms if not too humid), and a long term forecast of very low winds. And remember to take a good assortment of ropes, grappling hooks, anchors and most of all patience!

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Shebahonaning

For boaters starting to plan their summer itineraries, the village of Killarney situated in the NW corner of Georgian Bay is a fantastic destination to visit!

The beautiful La Cloche mountains form the backdrop to this charming historical village that has welcomed mariners for over 200 years. Originally named Shebahonaning – Ojibwe for “canoe passage” – the name was later changed to Killarney shortly after the establishment of a fur trading outpost in 1820. The village is one of the oldest settlements in Canada and in the summer months attracts boaters from all over the Great Lakes.

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Caribbean of the North

Located on southern Georgian Bay are three beautiful islands I refer to as Canada’s “Caribbean of the North”, but without the salt!

Christian, Beckwith, and Hope Islands are an Ojibwa Indian Reserve, forming part of the Beausoleil First Nation lands. With their golden sandy beaches, clear fresh water, stunning sunsets, and various local shipwrecks to explore, it’s no wonder these islands are so popular with the local boaters during the summer months.

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No Reservations Required

Many of the beautiful islands that dot Georgian Bay’s eastern shores are provincial parkland, or government owned, making them available for boaters to enjoy day picnics on or spend a few nights anchored or tied to shore.

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Some are accessible by canoe, kayak, sea doo, or small sail boat while others require an over night vessel.

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Rock on! Often you get lucky and will have the whole island to yourself to explore!

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And a few have docks available if you prefer to spend time with other boaters or feel safer tied to a dock. Check your charts for locations.

The 30,000 islands of Georgian Bay comprise the world’s largest freshwater archipelago and they all have something special to offer. Be it an isolated getaway, an evening sunset, photographing wildlife, or meeting new boating friends, exploring these islands should be a priority on every boater’s “bucket list”!

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