Insiders Guide: Staycation On Pelee Island

Saturday August 15th, 2020

Posted at 11:00am

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I love to support and explore local whenever I can, so my previous trips to Pelee Island were always day trips with only a few hours to explore this Lake Erie island gem. Since this year is the year of the Staycation, I planned a multi-day island escape to discover more about Canada’s best kept secret. Follow along on my 4-day trip itinerary, and find a few tips on how to make the most of the island during COVID-19 times.

Remember, you are required to wear a face mask when you enter any commercial establishment. That includes visiting a restaurant space; please wear your mask as you approach any dining establishment, and you can remove it when you are seated on the patio space.

DAY ONE

The trip to Pelee Island starts with a relaxing hour and a half ride on the Pelee Island Ferry. This trip was on the Pelee Islander II (the newest in the fleet). We chose a nice spot on the top deck to appreciate the views, the refreshing breeze, and some space to spread out with the dog.

Our escape to the island is a 3-night/4-day trip, and though there are a few key attractions closed, there is still plenty to do on the island to fill your time (whether it’s a day trip, a couple of nights, or a week of relaxation).

Tip #1 – Plan Ahead

Before you head to the island there are a few things that MUST be booked first: accommodations and travel through the Pelee Island Ferry

Accommodations: due to the impact of COVID-19, some of the many B&Bs and cottages are closed. I suggest checking www.pelee.org for their up-to-date list. I picked the Wandering Dog as it’s full service (including breakfast), has private suites, and they allowed me to bring my dog Gatsby along for the ride.

Travel: capacity on the ferry is reduced by 50% this year, so you need to book early. Some days are full – some days you can get a car on, some days you just get to walk on (or bring your bike). Book as early as possible – and there are often cancellations, so check back often if your dates aren’t available. 

After arriving on the island in the afternoon, we opted to check in to our accommodations for the week at The Wandering Dog Inn. The inn features 5 bunkhouse suites (we had the family suite) and 4 rooms in the main house, each with a dedicated wash room (Note: normally there are 8 rooms with shared facilities – but they have changed the operation to accommodate COVID-19 health & safety recommendations).

Tip #2 – Ferry Etiquette

A few things to know before you get on the ferry this year:

  1. Masks are mandatory on board.
  2. No food or beverage allowed on board – you may bring one bottle of water per person.
  3. Hand sanitizer is available on board.
  4. Social distancing measures are posted – that means some benches and seats are unavailable for seating this year.
  5. Be there early – check-in is an hour prior to departure, and you usually board about 30 minutes before the ferry is supposed to depart.

Even though it’s called The Wandering Dog – you’re probably only going to see one or two dogs while you’re there, or children, too. The family suite is the only room at the inn that allows young children or dogs (or both I suppose), so if you’re planning on bringing either with you when you visit, you need to grab that room – or the only wandering dog you will see is the cute pup Fred, the resident dog of the innkeepers Kevin & Cathy.

We planned ahead for the trip – knowing there are some restrictions on food & drink options on the island right now as not every establishment is open daily, or for the season. We asked ahead – and what was awesome is that The Wandering Dog offered BBQ’s for personal use. Before the trip, we made some mandatory visits to local wineries, local breweries, Lee & Maria’s, and the Butcher of Kingsville to pick up some food to bring with us. Tuesday night dinner was charcoal grilled burgers with a Caesar salad.

After dinner, we relaxed in the hammock on the screened-in patio (every suite has one). If you’d like you can connect with other in the gazebo or connect with other guests around the camp fire complete with a socially distanced Muskoka Chair circle.

DAY TWO

We took full advantage of an excited dog ready to splash in the waves and headed out to catch the sunrise on the shore on the morning o day 2. A quick 20-minute walk lead us to a serene setting as the sun broke over the shore – perfect for Instagram moments, and a must capture when you head to the island. Since day 2 was one of our full days on the island to explore, we wanted to make the most of it.

We returned from our sunrise hike to breakfast at the inn. The Wandering Dog normally includes a breakfast buffet, which clearly can’t happen due to COVID-19 restrictions, so The Wandering Dog pivoted quickly, and now provides pre-ordered breakfast dining options you can enjoy al fresco on their veranda, or take boxed on the road or in the comfort of your room our suite. All you do is select the time and breakfast option you would like, and show up on time to dine. We opted for al fresco on the patio – and breakfast was perfect. We learned that Gatsby has a penchant for all breakfast foods, but especially orange slices.

After breakfast, we found it appropriate to get a mandatory piece of equipment to explore the island -a bike rental from Comfortech Bicycle Rentals. They can handle all your needs on the island – and exploring by bike is super easy and convenient. You can cruise from one corner of the island to the other in about half an hour and Comfortech has bikes for every type. Just remember to explore safely and wear your helmet.

From there, we hit the trails for a mini-exploration (day #3 will be the big bike day) for some lunch and shopping.

Tip #3 – Dining

When you head to the island this year, make sure you look at what’s open and what isn’t – so you don’t go hungry. On some nights there may be no dinner options – on some days no lunch options for purchase, so pre-plan, or save those granola bars from your breakfast!

  1. Check out pelee.org for their most up-to-date list of openings
  2. Pack snacks or meals to be able to prep on your own
  3. Reach out to your accommodation partner to see if they can help you out with prepping your own meal (like the BBQ’s at The Wandering Dog
  4. Many places are open that we got to explore on our trip including The Bakery, The Filling Station, Pelee Island Coneheads, and The Westview Tavern.

A must visit every time we visit the island is The Bakery – full of sweet treats, savoury bites, and delicious dinners. This was our first visit for lunch – and it did not disappoint. What I love about The Bakery is that you know it’s fresh, you know it’s homemade, and you know it’s delicious. The bike ride had us famished – so we took advantage of their fresh smoked meat sandwiches, their delicious butter tarts, and we managed to snag their last carrot cupcake topped with cream cheese frosting. We sampled the homemade iced tea (you can really taste the fresh mint) and the latte with homemade oat milk to quench our thirst.

If you’re looking for shopping, there are a few options to grab some souvenirs and locally made goods. When you pick up your bike rental at Comfortech Bicycle Rentals check out some Pelee Island swag available, or do what we did and head to Pelee Art Works. Pelee Art Works is filled with the hand made goods or local artisans, crafted right on the island. We picked up a Pelee Island Christmas ornament (every trip we go on includes the purchase of a new Christmas ornament), a modern inspired fox painting, and a couple new face masks.

The rest of the day was relaxing as we explored some of the back roads of the island (and some vistas including the grape vines of Pelee Island Winery) before heading to the beach. Don’t forget to head to the Southernmost point of inhabited Canada at Fish Point Nature Reserve. Two separate trails can take you to two points along the lake. If you want to be smart, read the map where it tells you to go right at the orange flag to head to the point, instead of following left and seeing more of the marsh. The marsh is beautiful – but the point and the beach are a lot more exciting.

If you’re lucky, you’ll see some blue-spotted salamanders, fox snakes, or Lake Erie water snakes on your hike – all native to Pelee Island.

There are several public beaches on Pelee Island that are open for the public – and we choose the East Park Campground beach. Walking distance from The Wandering Dog with a wide sand bar that lets you walk out pretty far into Lake Erie to cool off. We were fortunate enough to have warm water, and found a perfect spot to place our picnic bag for an afternoon of relaxation.

We opted to head to The Cheese Bar before the trip and pick up a charcuterie before the trip for some evening bites on the beach paired with a bottle of Pelee Island Winery Lola. Unfortunately, the Pelee Island Winery Pavilion isn’t open this season on the island due to the impact of COVID-19, but you can pick up some local products in the LCBO before you head over the island to get a local taste. You can also explore the vines (see: tomorrows bike trek) to see some of Canada’s largest estate winery.

The beach visit was also the first time (that we know of ) that Gatsby got top dip his toes into Lake Erie. We picked him up as a rescue in November 2019 – and usually he’s scared of a hose, but he loved splashing around in the waves! The opportunity to relax on the beach, watch the dog splash around, and enjoy a few chapters from a new book was a great way to close out a day.

DAY THREE

Day three we set out on a two-wheeled adventure to explore the whole island. Since it’s always a few degrees cooler on the island it won’t be as sweaty and the island breeze will cool you off anyway.

Tip #4 – Stop & Smell the Roses

As you’re out exploring, make sure you check out some of the ‘must see’ attractions and photo ops on the island.

  1. Pelee Island Light House – located on the North East corner of the island, it’s just a 10-minute hike from the road. The newly completed boardwalk gets you there easily, and this lighthouse will be one of your favourite pics from the trip!
  2. Scudder Marina – also the home of The Taco Shack & The Filling Station, you can pick up canoe and kayak and other water fun rentals from here, or if you check out North Shore Road just East of the marina you can find a great bench to sit at and watch the boats go by, or a mini light house for a cool photo op.
  3. The Bakery
  4. Vin Villa – though Vin Villa is closed for the 2020 season, you can peek through the gates to see a part of Canadian wine making history. Plan to visit in 2021 to see their renovated space, including a multi-million-dollar private dining room and lounge built into the former wine aging caves.
  5. The Shoe Tree – just south of The Bakery on West Shore Road, check out the collection of shoes tossed onto this tree. During the Pelee Island Marathon that occurs each Spring you can see the collection grow.
  6. The Stoneman – also on West Shore Road, there are great views of Lake Erie from the Stoneman. You can see mini Stonemen built around the larger project – quarried from rocks on the island.
  7. Mission Hall Project – located on Henderson Road, Mission Hall is a rebuilt church that is perfect for a stop to sit and reflect. Nestled among grape vines, you can also sit by the pond or walk through the lavender field to relax.

We took advantage of the take out options from The Westview Tavern for dinner on our last night on the island. It may be a tavern, but don’t let their menu fool you – this food is for real. Don’t expect pre-formed frozen patties and dry chicken strips – they’re hand forming and hand breading in their kitchen.

We went with clubhouse sandwiches (you can’t say no to fresh roasted turkey and bacon!) since we were worn out from all the bike riding – and spent the evening watching the sunset and then roasting marshmallows over the crackling fire at the inn.

DAY FOUR

Well, Gatsby became a quick staple at breakfasts for the other guests on the island – I guess if you’re staying at a place called The Wandering Dog, you do look for a dog wandering around somewhere.

We had the noon ferry booked – which means you need to be in line around 11am to make sure you get your spot. After our veranda breakfast it was time to pack up and leave – but not before getting at least one more photo op of Gatsby splashing in the island waves.

Tip #5 – The Bakery Take-homes

A few of my ‘must purchase’ suggestions:

  1. The chocolate coconut balls (also gluten free)
  2. Butter tarts (SO ooey gooey and buttery. I suggest pre-ordering when you get there on day one – they sell out fast)
  3. Iced tea
  4. The Big Lebowski (words can’t describe their deliciousness) 
  5. Cocoons (gluten free coconutty deliciousness) 

After a quick stop into The Bakery (again) to grab some bites to bring home with us, we did one last farewell photo from The Stoneman, before hopping on The Pelee Islander II to return to the mainland.

These quick few days away from the mainland and on to the island was a great opportunity to get away from the hustle and bustle of everything going on. There are no TV’s at the inn – your cell phone service is spotty at best, and there are times when you won’t see another person on the island for hours as you’re exploring. It’s truly a getaway from it all kind of place.

There is a saying about the island that I love – and it’s not being said in a negative way – “If you want less, there is more of it.” It really is a place to escape and reconnect with yourself.

Want to see more of my experience? Click here for my instagram stories.

Check out the itineraries below from our MyTrip Digital Itinerary Builder. We have two great options that would work well for this season – my 4 day trip or a quick one day trip.

Originally published on Friday August 3rd by Jason Toner

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