11Fantastic Things To Do In Parry Sound

Just over two and a half hours north of Toronto, the town of Parry Sound (population 6,500) is more than just a gateway to northern Ontario. It’s a wonderful place to visit, an ideal base for exploring beautiful provincial parks and nestled in the heart of Georgian Bay.

Georgian Bay is part of Lake Huron, one of the five Great Lakes. But while Lake Huron and its counterparts often feature ferocious winds, high waves, and frigid temperatures, Georgian Bay is comparatively calm, peaceful, and warm. While nature lovers should of course take all the usual precautions while exploring (this is still a powerful body of water), Georgian Bay is a wonderful destination for swimming, kayaking and canoeing, even for beginners. And being close to a pretty spot like Parry Sound makes this outdoor getaway even better.

I got to know Parry Sound well. It has been one of my top camping destinations for more than a decade. And like anyone who knows of my dubious claims of camping prowess, I’m always keen to escape the woods and explore anything that boasts modern conveniences! Parry Sound has been my lifesaver through more than a few camping rainstorms and I look forward to visiting again and again. Here’s what to see and do on your own trip.

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1. Camping and hiking in Killbear Provincial Park

Killbear Provincial Park north of Parry Sound is a great camping, hiking and fishing destination. Yes, bears have been spotted here occasionally (recommendations to secure your food and clean your campsite at night are no joke), but I’ve never seen one. I did sight a bobcat though! Friends have been spying on Blanding’s turtles, but the park’s most famous resident, the endangered Massasauga rattlesnake, remains elusive to me. Visitors will notice that there are special small snake tunnels under the roads designed to help the reptiles avoid encounters with vehicles. An active discovery program includes concerts, presentations and guided hikes to help you appreciate the area’s flora and fauna. (I personally recommend the damsel and dragonfly walk).

2. Relax at Oastler Lake Provincial Park

Located just minutes south of Parry Sound, Oastler Lake’s main attraction is its namesake. This gentle lake is perfect for fishing, swimming and paddling. This family-friendly camping destination has playgrounds and volleyball courts, but light sleepers should note that the railroad tracks are nearby. Be prepared to hear some train whistles in the middle of the night!

Lakefront of Massasauga Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada.
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3. Experience the adventure at Massasauga Provincial Park

This provincial park, unlike the other two, hasn’t made it onto my own campground list, and that’s because it’s a backcountry campground. Weak auto campers like me don’t need to apply! All campsites in Massasauga Provincial Park are water-only accessible and only paddle power is permitted. Brave campers will be rewarded with excellent hiking, fishing, birding and perhaps a chance to see the endangered Massasauga rattlesnake. (Hopefully at a distance!)

The fact that such a small town has three incredible provincial parks within a short drive really underscores how great this is for nature lovers. There are also more parks within a 2 hour radius. If you love exploring the great outdoors, Parry Sound is where you want to set up your base.

Aerial of the islands of Georgian Bay, Ontario, Canada.
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4. Tour the 30,000 islands of Georgian Bay

You could live here your whole life and never really learn about a fraction of the thousands of islands in the area. But cruise on the island queen is an excellent start. You will enjoy a bird’s eye view of beautiful scenery and spectacular wildlife (not to mention some very chic cottages as well as some adorable little ones that capture my heart). The boat was specially designed for these waters and comes very close to the stone cliffs of the bay. In addition to 2-hour (morning) cruises and 3-hour (afternoon) options, you can also take a 2.5-hour Huckleberry Island tour that includes a short guided hike with a naturalist and some free time to swim on a gentle, shallow river Beach.

Even if you don’t have time for a tour, I recommend a stroll around the docks on Bay Street. It’s a pretty area and great for taking photos or having a drink on the terrace with a view.

5. Sail into the sunset

If you want to add a little romance to your trip, consider a sunset cruise or sunset dinner cruise aboard the MV Chippewa III. This boat is much smaller than that island queen and has an intimate feel, perfect for romantic evenings on the water as the sun goes down.

Signage for the Charles W. Stockey Center for Performing Arts in Parry Sound.
The Bobby Orr Hall of Fame is affiliated with the Charles W. Stockey Center.
Lester Balajadia / Shutterstock.com

6. Discover some hometown hockey pride

Parry Sound is the hometown of hockey legend Bobby Orr. At the Bobby Orr Hall of Fame, you can learn about his remarkable career and what it means to a small town to be home to a sports hero. At Orr’s request, the Hall of Fame not only celebrates him, but all local sports stars and over three dozen people have been inducted. The Hall of Fame is affiliated with the Charles W. Stockey Center for the Performing Arts, which hosts a robust calendar of special events, concerts, book readings, and film screenings. I highly recommend taking the time when you visit one to look at the other.

Island Queen Cruise Ship makes its final cruise for the season, Parry Sound, Ontario.
island queen cruise line
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7. Record the sounds of Parry Sound

One of the most notable events at the Charles W. Stockey Center is the Festival Of The Sound. This two-week annual event in late July celebrates classical music. The celebrations attract some of the best artists and composers in the world, and in 2018 the festival added a folk music weekend and a jazz music weekend to round out its offerings. A highlight of the program are the musical cruises on board the island queen.

8. Swing through the markets

Every Tuesday from late June through late August, the Parry Sound Farmers’ Market offers fresh produce, homemade food, smoked fish and meat, and crafts. There’s also the Carling Market in the Carling Community Center (north of Parry Sound) and MacKellar Market in the Northeast, both on Saturdays.

9. Feast on pizza

Parry Sound is home to several fine restaurants and my personal favorite is one that will appeal to foodies and hungry walkers alike. Maurizio’s Pizzeria makes delicious pizzas from the wood-fired oven. My top choice is the Ship Wreck (with pesto, feta, bacon, tomato, herbs, arugula, and balsamic glaze), while my husband prefers the Raptor three-meat calzone. Visitors will find plenty of vegetarian, vegan, and dairy-free options, as well as gluten-free cauliflower crusts.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also recommend the nearby Twiggs Coffee Roasters. This small chain in northern Ontario offers gourmet coffee, light breakfasts and lunches, and baked goods like chocolate cheesecake.

10. Bring on the beer

Parry Sound is in the heart of camping and cottage country so it is only fitting that there is a good pint nearby. Breweries to check out include Norse Brewery in the nearby community of Nobel. It offers a dark ale, a red ale and a golden ale. Trestle Brewing Company is located on the banks of Parry Sound in what was once an old railway station and later a fuel depot. Try the cranberry-raspberry sour and Mexican hot chocolate stout, as well as a small gastropub menu featuring locally sourced ingredients.

11. Stock up on books

For a small community, Parry Sound breaks new ground on the literary scene. It is home to two excellent bookstores and the Charles W. Stockey Center also hosts literary events. Parry Sound Books specializes in new titles and has an excellent selection of children’s books, puzzles and art supplies. A fire in 2020 forced the business to move into the owner’s home for a year, but now they’re back in a beautifully renovated space. The aptly named Bearly Used Books is a quality second-hand bookstore. And yes, you will see a bear on some of their signs and products! Keep an eye out for Sophie, the bookstore’s pet dog.

Pro tip: This simple hotel really delivers

Parry Sound has a decent selection of branded hotels and a variety of inns, but I always return to the town’s Comfort Inn. I know it’s not exactly the most exciting recommendation! But I’ve stayed here several times, thanks to rainstorms washing me out of my tent – my camping misadventures could fill a book. Each visit has included clean, comfortable rooms and a very friendly, helpful staff. Plus, the hotel’s location next to the freeway and a number of chain stores and restaurants made for easy replenishment of all our gear (and liquor). Sometimes standards can vary at more modest hotels, but this Comfort Inn is excellent.

If you want to explore more of the Ontario area, check out these experiences:

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