Thunder Bay, Canada, does nature big. During my summer visit, I sailed on Lake Superior, the world’s largest freshwater lake, and enjoyed panoramic views of a giant gorge and spectacular waterfalls called Niagara of the North. I got my adrenaline rush by crossing over the longest suspension bridge in the country.
With more than 193,000 square miles of wilderness, Thunder Bay makes the perfect basecamp for outdoor adventure any time of year. In the warmer months there’s also fishing, diving, kayaking, mountain biking and rock climbing.
When the snow comes, there’s skiing, sledding, snowshoeing, ice racing, snowmobiling and ice racing.
Things to Do in Thunder Bay Canada in the Summer
Explore Prince Arthur’s Landing
Located just steps from our hotel, Prince Arthur’s Landing opened in 2011 on what had formerly been an industrial area. It now includes a waterfront walkway, landscaped area and parks, marinas, public art, restaurants and bars.
I took a walk along Marina Park one morning, enjoying the meandering path, gardens and views of the lake.
Sail on Lake Superior
The skies were a bit cloudy the night we set sail on Lake Superior on our sailboat harbor tour with Sail Superior, which left from Prince Arthur’s Landing. We were on Frodo, a 40-foot sailboat made in Finland.
While our cruise was a relaxing one with plenty of room for our group for just a few hours, our captain told us Frodo can house up to six people on overnight trips. I took a peek down below to see the sleeping spaces – a bit too cozy for my sometimes claustrophobic self. I’ll stick with the day trips.
Sail Superior has a variety of cruises, from a few hours to several days, including options for seven-day trips. Here’s my tip: make sure you really like being close to your fellow travelers.
We were at a resort on Peter Island in the British Virgin Islands and the staff told us that sometimes a person would just appear on the beach, suitcase in hand, dropped off from a sailboat. They would beg for a room after either being kicked off the boat or asking to escape. It seems those quarters were a bit too close.
Hike to Ouimet Canyon
It’s a fairly easy hike on a loop trail to get to the two spectacular overlooks at Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park. It’s known as Canada’s Grand Canyon although it doesn’t quite compare in size. We took an easy hike over some boardwalks and over a bridge before arriving at the first overlook.
In addition to the magnificent gorge, we could see a large rock formation known as Indian Head, which of course has a legend connected to it that includes love, death, thunder and being turned to stone.
The gorge is 164 yards wide with cliffs that are 110 meters tall. This is a day-use park only with no camping allowed.
See the Sea Lion at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
One of the most popular things to do in Thunder Bay, Canada, is to visit Thunder Bay Lookout and head to the hiking trails at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park.
Sadly for us, cloudy skies prevented much of a view at Thunder Bay Lookout. But we were able to see the sea lion on the Sea Lion Trail, a 1.4-mile hike that offers a view of a rock formation that used to resemble the sea animal until its head crumbled into the water.
The hike also has access to a beach full of tiny stones on Perry Bay where I had to take a few moments to dip my foot in Lake Superior and try skipping rocks over the water trying to remember the form used in the opening of “The Andy Griffith Show.”
Experience Canada’s longest suspension bridge and zipline
Sometimes, it’s best not to know too much about things before you do them. That would be the case with me walking across Canada’s longest suspension bridge at Eagle Canyon Adventures.
On a drizzly summer day we hiked up a dirt path to the top of a huge gorge where we found the first and longest suspension bridge, the length of two footballs fields, hanging over a gorge that was 150 feet below.
From this angle it didn’t look too bad and I slowly inched my way across, never taking one hand off of the side cable. Thankfully, it was just me and one other person on the bridge so the anxiety-inducing swaying and jiggling were kept to a minimum.
After a short walk, I came to the second bridge that would take me back across the gorge, this one half the length of the others. I breathed a sigh of relief when I hit the other side.
There are also wilderness trails and a half-mile zipline that’s 175 feet high and goes up to 45 mph.
I was waiting for the others in my group in the small gift shop/ticket office and chatted with the man selling tickets, who turned out to be the owner of the property. He told me that he and his late father built the bridges in five weeks. They welcome close to 30,000 visitors a year and it seems no one has fallen into the canyon yet, so I decided not to dwell on the fact that I had just walked across a father-son bridge project, no engineers involved in its making.
View Kakabeka Falls, the Niagara of the North
I’ve seen a lot of waterfalls. But few put me in awe like Kakabeka Falls. I’ve been to Niagara Falls a few times, but there you know what to expect. I’ve known they were huge and mighty since I was a child and watched people in a Woody Woodpecker cartoon splash down them in barrels.
But I’d never heard of the Kakabeka Falls on the Kaministiquia River and found the 130-foot falls astonishingly beautiful. I walked onto a series of boardwalks on one side to get views from several angles, then crossed over a bridge and walked along more boardwalks to view them from the other side.
These falls are a definite must-see during a visit to this area.
Learn about the fur trading life at Fort William Historical Park
Confession: I hate visiting forts. My aversion to large fortresses of defense stems from my many lengthy tours of them that can usually be summed up with one sentence: not much really happened here. Plus, they are usually dusty, hot and don’t have many restrooms.
Occasionally I have been rewarded with a stunning view or a dramatic tale of victory, but those were exceptions.
With expectations low, I headed to Fort William Historical Park where I found a fascinating collection of buildings, real-life re-enactors and a dramatic story of fur trading and life of the people who lived and visited here in the early 1800s.
The first thing to know is that Fort William is huge, one of North America’s largest living history sites.
After boarding a large golf cart at the visitor’s center, we rode to the entrance of the fort, located along the Kaministiquia River. There are 40 stops marked on the map and we visited several, learning about how the fur trappers, First Nation people and fur traders worked together.
The most fascinating stop was at the fur stores where we saw dozens of beaver pelts hanging and learned how they treated them, packed and shipped them.
While I enjoyed learning about the Bacchanalia-style feasts the executives of the trading companies enjoyed during the weeks they visited that included elaborate dishes and massive consumption of alcohol followed by drunken shenanigans, it was disheartening the hear the women were never invited.
We were also treated to a lively dance performance by several young workers dressed in period costume.
Even if you share my dislike of forts, you’ll want to see Fort William Historical Park.
Things to do in Thunder Bay Canada in the Winter
Climb up a frozen waterfall
If climbing on frozen ice is your thing, Thunder Bay is the place for you. Some of the routes are up to 300 feet high. Everyone from beginners to advanced climbers can participate with the Thunder Bay chapter of the Alpine Club of Canada.
Ride the trails on a snowmobile
A snowmobiler’s paradise, Thunder Bay has miles and miles of trails through forests and by waterfalls. Buy a permit and learn more from the Thunder Bay Adventure Trails Snowmobile Club.
Hit the slopes on skis or snowboard
Thunder Bay has two ski areas. Mount Baldy, located on the north shore of Lake Superior, has three lifts and also offers tubing.
The largest ski area is Loch Lomond Ski Area, south of the city. Here you’ll find 17 runs. You can also enjoy tubing and snowshoeing.
Cross-country ski on miles of trails
If more level ground is your thing, you’ll find plenty of trails near Thunder Bay to cross-country ski.
Four places to check out are:
• Lappe Nordic Ski Centre has close to 9 miles of trails from beginner to expert with lights for night skiing.
• Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park has 9 miles of trails and views of the Kaministiquia River Valley.
• Kamview Nordic Center offers cross-country skiing on 18 miles of well-lit trails from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. most of the year. Kamview also has more than 12 miles of snowshoe trails.
• Sleeping Giant Provincial Park has views of Lake Superior and more than 60 miles of trails.
Race a car or motorcycle on the ice
Even stepping on a frozen body of water is a true marvel for someone like me who is from the South where lakes never freeze. So driving a car on one? Totally nuts. In Atlanta, where I live, just a hint of ice on the roads and drivers start ramming into each other like a kindergarten class in bumper cars.
But yes, it’s a thing and people have been doing it in Thunder Bay for 40 years in cars specially outfitted for more traction on the frozen lake. Find out more about the races at the Thunder Bay Autosport Club.
Other winter activities in Thunder Bay include ice fishing, fat biking, dog sledding, ice skating, snowkiting and curling.
Where to Eat in Thunder Bay
I ate well in Thunder Bay, from feasting on a chef’s tasting meal for dinner one night to enjoying one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had for lunch one day.
My most memorable meal was at Tomlin’s where we indulged in the family-style tasting menu, my favorite way to eat. I had no idea how many courses we’d have or what we’d be eating.
This popular restaurant doesn’t take reservations so I suggest you do what we did: put your name on a list and then check out local bars for a drink. We wandered over to Lakehead Beer Company for a pint and then to The Brew Pub at Prospector Steak House for a drink.
It’s not a great idea for me to have two drinks prior to dinner, so it was definitely time for me to eat by the time we sat down.
Then the food kept coming. Asparagus, fried green tomatoes, green beans and pork belly, two pastas and more. My favorite dish was gnocchi with kale, bacon, mushrooms and zucchini.
Another stellar dinner was at Bight Restaurant & Bar, located on Port Author Landing a short walk from our hotel where I enjoyed salmon served over pearl couscous.
For breakfast I enjoyed a Greek omelet at Rooster’s Bistro and Finnish pancakes with strawberries and whipped cream at Kangas Sauna. Yes, it’s both a restaurant and a sauna. If only you could sweat out the calories from the whipped cream.
Fun fact: It’s estimated there are about 15,000 people of Finnish descent living in Thunder Bay. Their ancestors came to work on the railway or in the lumber industry.
For a nice Mediterranean meal, convenient to the airport, try Naxos, which draws crowds for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
And that best sandwich ever? I got that at Nomad on Bay where they sell sandwiches by the weight, a novel concept I’d never seen. I got the winner of Sandwich of the Year, Tyler Height’s, made with roast beef, with gouda cheese, horseradish and parsley pesto on rye. Fantastic.
If you don’t have a chance to grab a sandwich there, you can also find a location inside the airport.
Getting to Thunder Bay and Where to Stay
From Atlanta I flew on Air Canada to Toronto then to Thunder Bay. It’s a small airport with seven airlines with regular service.
I stayed at the Delta Hotels by Marriott Thunder Bay, a perfect location for walking downtown and along the waterfront.
For more information on Thunder Bay, please check out Visit Thunder Bay.
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– Jan Schroder, Editor-in-Chief