Tucked away in the northwest corner of Ontario lies Thunder Bay, a hidden gem surrounded by stunning landscapes and vast wilderness. With Lake Superior as a backdrop, Thunder Bay emerges as the perfect jump-off point for unforgettable adventures through some of Canada's most epic landscapes and provincial parks

 Thunder Bay Marina

During our visit last month, we set out to explore everything Thunder Bay had to offer. After visiting the city, we set off on a series of trips to uncover the treasures the area held.

 The options are endless, but here are our favorite places to spend a few hours or even a full day in the Thunder Bay area.

Sleeping Giant Provincial Park

View at the Thunder Bay Lookout

With its distinctive shape resembling a slumbering giant against the backdrop of Lake Superior's vast waters, Sleeping Giant Provincial Park is an absolute must-visit. Encompassing 244 square kilometers, this provincial park boasts numerous hiking trails and breathtaking viewpoints. During our time in Thunder Bay, we had the opportunity to visit twice, and yet we barely scratched the surface of all the hikes and activities it offers.

Our first stop was Silver Islet, a tiny community nestled at the tip of Sibley Peninsula, which serves as the gateway to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. We made our way to the Silver Islet General Store, a century-old establishment steeped in history. Here, we grabbed a map and some treats and set out for a day of hikes and exploration.

Because we had limited time, we opted for a couple of short hikes to get a feel for the park. We started with the Middlebrun Bay Trail, an easy hike along a forest trail that opens up to a secluded bay and beach. Here we sat down on the sandy beach, spread out our picnic blanket and indulged in the treats we picked up earlier at Silver Islet General Store. It was blissfully quiet, safe from a couple dipping their toes into the cold Lake Superior waters and the soft sound of the water gently lapping onshore. 

If there's only one thing you can experience at Sleeping Giant, it's the Thunder Bay Lookout. We traveled along a rugged 9km dirt road, navigating steep inclines until we reached the end of the road. Several hikes start from here, including Kabayun Trail, the longest hike in the park at 37km one way. But the main highlight is right there at the parking lot. We walked up to the viewing platform which extended out from the rocks, daringly suspended over a sheer drop. With every step we took, the view became more exciting and nerve-wrecking. The 180-degree panorama revealed a mirror-like expanse of Lake Superior beneath us, flanked by towering rocky features on either side.

The Sleeping Giant

As the sun started to set, we headed to the Sea Lion trail. The hike led us on a brief journey through the forest and along the shoreline of Lake Superior and its rugged rocky coastline, resembling the landscapes found in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest. Eventually, we arrived at the Sea Lion, a rock formation sculpted by centuries of water and wind erosion. Despite its name, the arch-shaped feature no longer resembles a sea lion as the lion-like figure eroded over time, leaving only the arch behind as a testament to its former glory.

While this trail may not offer direct sunset views, the sky was filled with a magnificent array of beautiful hues, transforming the landscape into a picturesque canvas. We spent some time lingering near the arch, taking in golden hour, that magical time when day gently transitions into dusk and the sounds of the nocturnal creatures begin to fill the air.

Other hikes: Among the more renowned hikes in the park is the trail leading to the summit of the Sleeping Giant. Unfortunately, we didn't have enough time to embark on this adventure, as it typically takes 7 to 8 hours. Those who do venture to the top will be rewarded with panoramic views of Lake Superior and the stunning formations that define the Sleeping Giant.

Good to know: You can spend days exploring Sleeping Giant, so make sure to plan ahead and decide which hikes and spots you would like to tick off.

From Thunder Bay: 1h east of the city


Kakabeka Falls and Pigeon River Provincial Park

Kakabeka Falls

Kakabeka Falls

Kakabeka Falls, often hailed as the "Niagara of the North," stands as a striking waterfall within the region. The forceful surge of the Kaministiquia River cascades down a 40m drop, making it Ontario's second-highest waterfall after the renowned Niagara Falls.

Several boardwalks surround the waterfall, which lead us from breathtaking vistas over the valley on the east side, all the way to the west side via a bridge, offering the perfect vantage point to appreciate the falls from every angle. 

We spent a couple of hours here, admiring the falls and hiking short nature trails. On the west side, you'll find a variety of hiking trails, including one that leads to Little Falls. This moderate trail can sometimes be a bit muddy, but it rewards you with a descent to the scenic shores of the Kaministiquia River.

Girl viewing Kakabeka Falls

Another trail worth exploring is the Mountain Portage Trail, a 1.25km trail which takes you on a brief loop along the canyon's edge. Along the way, we saw sweeping panoramic views of the valley and the falls as well as some local wildlife making an appearance. Tiny squirrels danced playfully on the trail before darting into the forest where we saw a BlueJay spreading its wings, its striking blue color standing out against the variety of brown hues of the trees.

This idyllic setting served as the ideal spot for a quick breakfast. Before reaching Kakabeka Falls, we made a pit stop at the village of Kakabeka Falls, where we found a plethora of options ranging from food trucks to charming coffee shops.

Pigeon River Provincial Park

Pigeon River Provincial Park

After our stop at Kakabeka Falls, we headed all the way to the US border with Minnesota for a visit to another stunning set of falls and a short hike in the area. Pigeon River is part of the Boundary Waters/Voyageur Waterway Canadian Heritage River, with informative historic plaques scattered along its trails. Unlike many parks, this collection of hiking trails remains accessible throughout the year, allowing you to witness the captivating sight of High Falls even when frozen during the winter months.

The park can be accessed from either the US or Canadian side, with each offering a different hiking and viewing experience. Since we didn't have our passports, we opted to park at the information centre on the Canadian side and start our hike from there. The High Falls Trail Loop spans a picturesque 2km, featuring both uphill and downhill sections all the way to the viewing platform. We spent some time here, taking in the sight and enjoying the refreshing spray from the falls, which provided a welcome relief from the scorching sun. The trail continues further, leading to another viewpoint of the falls, but we decided to head back to the visitor centre where we found several picnic tables providing the perfect setting for our lunch.

Lady at Pigeon River Provincial Park

After our picnic, we took another short trail that started from the parking lot where winding boardwalk paths led us all the way to Pigeon Bay. Once there, we found a small viewing platform that offered a peaceful little corner where we took a moment to enjoy the beauty of the bay while squirrels rustled and scurried all around us.

Other stops along the way:

-        Thunder Oak Cheese Farm: The first farm to produce Gouda cheese in Ontario, Thunder Oak Cheese Farm has an excellent farm store where we picked up a few delicious cheeses and biscuits to enjoy as a snack on our trip.

-        Mount McKay: On your way back from Pigeon River, we headed to Mount McKay, Animikii-wajiw, to enjoy spectacular sunset views over Thunder Bay, Sleeping Giant and Lake Superior.

Good to know:

-        There is a campground at Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park in case you want to stay a little longer.

-        Grab a delicious sandwich or salad from Nomad in Thunder Bay for your picnic.

From Thunder Bay: Kakabeka Falls: 30 min drive west of the city, Pigeon River Provincial Park: 45 min south of the city. Kakabeka Falls to Pigeon River: 46 min

Fort William Historical Park:

Dancing at Fort William Historical Park

Just outside Thunder Bay, Fort William Historical Park offers an immersive experience into the fur trading era. We spent a few hours here, exploring meticulously reconstructed historic buildings, witnessing interactive demonstrations and delving into the vibrant past of the region. Having visited several forts across Canada, we can confidently say that Fort William is one of the most impressive we have encountered. The characters strolling through the fort transport you back in time, vividly recounting tales of life at the fort in 1816.

Originally established in 1803 by the North West Company, Fort William was a major fur trading post situated on the shores of Lake Superior. It served as a central hub for the fur trade in the Northwest and was one of the largest inland posts in North America at the time. The fort had a major impact on the economic and cultural development of the region. The Ojibwe, or Anishinaabe people, played a significant role at Fort William. As skilled hunters and trappers, they were key partners in the fur trade, providing furs and pelts to the European traders in exchange for goods. They acted as middlemen, facilitating trade and sharing their knowledge of the land, wildlife, and trapping techniques. The Ojibwe established relationships with the fur traders and their families, creating a diverse community at Fort William. Today, the park honors their contributions through educational programs and cultural demonstrations, recognizing their vital role in shaping the history of the region.

Farm at Fort William Historical Park 

We were amazed to discover that everything within the fort, including food and canoes, is produced and repaired on-site. It creates a unique atmosphere of a small working village frozen in time, faithfully preserving the essence of the 1816 era.

During the summer, Fort William hosts a variety of events, with their 50th-anniversary celebration being a highlight this year. The main festivities will take place during the Great Rendezvous Celebration from July 8th to July 16th.

This celebration will be a nod to the historic Great Rendezvous held annually at Fort William. The Great Rendezvous was an annual gathering during the fur trade era where fur traders, Indigenous people and others converged for trade, cultural exchange and socializing.

Good to know: Fort William is also home to the state-of-the-art David Thompson Astronomical Observatory, home to one of the largest telescopes in Central Canada.

Opening hours and fee: Fort William is open 7 days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., $14 per Adult, $12 per Senior and Student, $11 per Youth, Children 5 & under are free

From Thunder Bay: 15 min east of the city

Ouimet Canyon and Eagle Canyon

Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park

Ouimet Canyon is an impressive gorge that reaches a depth of 100m, spans 150m in width and stretches over 2,000m. The park is exclusively open for day-use, offering visitors the chance to explore a brief hiking trail renowned for its breathtaking panoramic views of the gorge and surrounding area.

As we strolled along the trail and boardwalk, which connect two lookout platforms boasting magnificent views of the canyon, we were captivated by the sheer beauty and tranquility of our surroundings. It was a serene and picturesque walk, as we were fortunate to have the park entirely to ourselves.

This remarkable geological wonder is thought to have originated when a billion-year-old diabase sill was fractured, either by the immense pressure exerted by advancing glaciers or the substantial release of water during their retreat. The ongoing erosion caused by wind and rainfall has contributed to the gradual formation of the canyon's distinctive features. At the bottom of the canyon, a unique environment sustains Arctic plants that typically thrive 1,000 kilometers farther north.

Bridges at Eagle Canyon Adventures

After our short visit to Ouimet Canyon, we drove to Eagle Canyon Adventures, another beautiful spot where you can easily spend a day exploring. Eagle Canyon Adventures is primarily known for its impressive claim to fame: it boasts the longest suspension bridge in Canada. However, there is so much more to do here, making it a perfect destination for a full day of adventure. As we made our way from the parking lot to the entrance, we already caught a glimpse of the towering canyon wall in the distance. Once we completed the necessary paperwork and signed the waiver, we set out to the bridges.

Following a short but steep hike, we soon arrived at the canyon edge, where the two bridges came into view. The longest of the two measures an impressive 600 feet in length and hangs suspended 152 feet above the canyon floor. The second bridge, though slightly smaller, still commands attention at 300 feet long and 125 feet high.

Our pauses allowed us to appreciate our surroundings, particularly the impressive canyon cliffs. The telltale features of wind and water erosion on these cliffs served as a powerful reminder of the dynamic nature of our environment.

After traversing the bridges, we made our way down the stairs meandering through the forest and rock faces to the canyon floor. A peaceful walk along the lake gave us another moment to take in our surroundings. In summer, it’s the perfect spot to go for a boat ride or have a relaxing picnic on the lakeshore.

Eagle Canyon Adventures also features a single zipline, 175ft high, half a mile long and reaching speeds of up to 45mph. Unfortunately, the zipline won’t operate this year, but the canyon and suspension bridges alone make this worth a visit.

Other stop along the way:

-        Amethyst mines: Go out and mine your own amethyst, Ontario’s official gemstone. The most productive amethyst mines can be found between Thunder Bay and Nipigon. Only a short drive from both canyons, you’ll find three mines open to the public from mid-May to mid-October where you can visit the open pit mines and pick your own amethyst. We visited the Blue Points Amethyst Mine where we picked and cleaned the amethyst we found. It was a bustling operation, with both families and couples trying their luck. In case you can’t find the purple gemstone or are short on time, the shop has a variety of gemstones, of all shapes and sizes on display and for sale.

Good to know: At Eagle Canyon Adventures, make sure to sign-in, sign the waiver and pay admission when you arrive. Only cash or debit is accepted, no credit card. Adult $22 | Child $12 (4-8 years old) | Under 4 FREE

The park is open from May - October

From Thunder Bay: 45 min drive east of the city

Good to know in summer:
View of Lake Superior with Islands

●       Pass: A park’s pass is mandatory at all Provincial Parks. At some parks, you can purchase one upon entry, or online. You can choose between a 2-h or a day pass if you plan to visit more provincial parks the same day. Find more info here.

●       Sun: You’ll be walking through many of these sections in full sun. Make sure to wear a hat and use sunscreen often.

●       Ticks: Summer means tick season. Make sure you stay on designated paths, but if you do walk through long grass, it’s important to do regular tick checks.

●       Mosquitos: Those pesky flying creatures are everywhere in summer, especially around lakes and standing water. Wearing long sleeves and long trousers is your best bet to avoid them, but it’s not always feasible in hot weather. Bring bug spray!

●       Wildlife: Always be vigilant for wildlife, whether you’re driving on the highway or hiking through the forest. Moose and bears live around the region. Make sure you know what to do if you encounter one.

Bio: Lies and Ash are digital artists who have lived around the world and the travel writers and photographers behind Non Stop Destination.

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