My Canada 150 Northwestern Ontario Road Trip
Last Weekend I returned from my #Canada150 Northwestern Ontario road trip. For a week leading up to Canada Day I chose to hop in the car and head north along the Trans-Canada Highway. Starting out in my hometown of Innisfil, Ontario (just an hour north of Toronto) I would be heading to Thunder Bay, Ontario. That’s an over 1,300 kilometre journey – one way!
While my final destination was Thunder Bay, there would be numerous stops along the way. Instead of driving straight through, a 13 hour drive, I opted to take a few days to get there. And I wanted to stop at many of the Ontario’s iconic sights and parks along the way.
Canada has such a wealth of natural beauty to behold – and the truth is you don’t have to go to British Columbia to experience it. Every province and territory have something unique to offer. And we’ve got a great deal right here in Ontario!
So, in celebration of #Canada150 this year I’d love to share some of the highlights from my Northwestern Ontario road trip. And I hope you’ll be inspired to take your own road trip into the great north!
14 Stops on a Northwestern Ontario Road Trip
French River Provincial Park
The Park’s French River is a river of National historic significance. It is the first river to be designated a Canadian Heritage River. The French River Provincial Park is a great stop on your Northwestern Ontario road trip for its historic Canadian importance and for its natural beauty. After you wander the Visitors Centre’s small museum exhibit, called ‘Voices of the River”, head down the trail to the 500 foot long suspension bridge offering sweeping views of the French River Gorge. And before you go, don’t forget to check out their fabulous gift shop – one of Ontario’s Park’s best!
Killarney Provincial Park
Killarney Provincial Park is one of Ontario’s most breathtaking parks. Encompassing nearly 50,000 hectares, it stretches from the northern shore of Georgian Bay to the La Cloche Mountains and is home to over 50 lakes. It’s also home to around 12 different trails, taking you to the tops of the cliffs to the bogs around its lakes. And if you’re looking for a great short day hike, then I suggest Granite Ridge Trail. This moderate trail takes you through the forests, across the Canadian Shield, and up to two incredible views. To the north you’ll see the dynamic La Cloche Hills and to the south the grand Georgian Bay waters.
Sault Ste. Marie
While Sault Ste. Marie is the third largest city in Northern Ontario, it’s full of small town charm. Located on the St. Mary’s River, a stone’s throw from Sault, Michigan – its twin city in the USA, it’s actually one of North America’s oldest settlements. From the Ojibwa to the Jesuit Missionaries, Sault Ste. Marie has been inhabited for at least 2,000 years.
The Soo, as it’s affectionately called, is about the midway point to Thunder Bay, and a great stop for the night, or consider spending a few days. Spend the day hiking or biking the Hub Trail, which circles the city. Or visit the Ermatinger-Clergue National Historic Site to delve into history. And don’t forget to visit Roberta Bondar Park – named in honour of Canada’s first female astronaut who is from the Soo!
Lookouts along the Trans-Canada Highway
The Trans-Canada Highway is no ordinary boring highway. This highway stretches from St. John’s, Newfoundland across Canada’s ten provinces to Victoria, British Columbia and is nearly 8,000 kilometres in length. And all along the highway are various lookout stops, from lake views to sweeping vistas, and all worth a stop to appreciate. And one such lookout is at the halfway point of the Trans-Canada Highway at Chippewa Falls.
Not only is this a great stop as it’s the halfway point on the Trans-Canada Highway, but also for the beautiful Chippewa Falls that is right here. Hike along the falls or cross the footbridge to enjoy this gem that once inspired the Group of Seven’s A.Y. Jackson. And I must admit, for any fan of the famous Canadian artists, the Group of Seven, this road trip is chalked full of many of the awesome locations in Ontario that once inspired so much of their amazing art. There are many info boards set up around the Algoma region, created to look like easels, sharing some of the places that inspired the art behind their art.
Lake Superior Provincial Park
It’s one of Ontario’s gems and it will leave you slack-jawed and speechless at every turn. Lake Superior Provincial Park is 155,000 hectares, one of Ontario’s largest provincial parks, and hugs the eastern shores of the lake. With a shoreline of 4,385 kilometres around, it is the world’s largest lake. In the Park you’ll find a wealth of natural beauty, from inland lakes to waterfalls and the Algoma Hills to picturesque stretches of beach.
The Trans-Canada Highway runs right through the Park, giving you stunning views from the road. But if there is one place you must explore it is Lake Superior Provincial Park. While there is so much to do and see, I have a few recommendations for a day well spent in the Park, but there is one must stop.
One must stop is to see the Agawa Rock Pictographs. This is one of only a few pictograph sites in Ontario that are accessible by foot. There are 35 ancient rock paintings on a large cliff face right along the shore of Lake Superior. The trail out to the pictographs is a short half a kilometre but is of moderate difficulty as it takes you over rugged terrain. But it’s all worth it when you reach the rocky shore! To see the pictographs you must traverse a narrow rock ledge that slopes right into the looming lake. But these historic and slowly fading images are unbelievable!
(For more highlights on my visit to Lake Superior Provincial Park stay tuned for my upcoming post all about it!)
A road trip through Northwestern Ontario isn’t complete without a stop in Wawa. Here, perched just off the highway soars a giant goose. Representing the town for over 50 years, the Wawa Goose stands nearly 30 feet tall and has a wingspan of 20 feet. And it’s only fitting that they chose a goose as their mascot of sorts, as Wawa in Ojibwa means “Land of the Big Goose”.
Another fun stop along your northern road trip is in White River. Here you’ll meet an iconic bear whose origin is from right here in Ontario, Canada. Winnie the Pooh! Just off the highway stands a statue of the adorable bear we all grew up with. But did you know that White River is his birthplace? The bear cub that was named Winnie, short for Winnipeg, by a soldier who purchased it, later went on to live at the London Zoo where it was a beloved by visitors. One such visitor, A.A. Milne, went on to write stories about the bear for his son, Christopher Robin. And the rest is Disney history.
While Terrace Bay may be small it’s certainly worth a stop. Just off the highway you’ll see a massive lighthouse and may wonder why it’s here instead of by the water. This is a replica of the lighthouse you’d see if you turned off the highway to visit downtown Terrace Bay, on the shores of Lake Superior. And from its hilltop location off the highway, it offers sweeping views of the surrounding area and the mighty Lake Superior. All you have to do is climb the stairs to the top.
Another great stop in Terrace Bay is the Aguasabon Gorge, also right off the Trans-Canada Highway. A boardwalk trail leads to a lookout over the Gorge. You’ll most definitely hear it before you see it, but plunging into the gorge is a gorgeous waterfall. The lookout not only gets you up close to the mist rising off the falls but also an awesome view of Lake Superior in the distance.
Rainbow Falls Provincial Park
Rainbow Falls Provincial Park is set over two separate locations, 5 kilometres apart. But a stop at the Whitesand Lake location is another great stop on your Northwestern Ontario road trip. This site offers three hiking trails, one is the 52 kilometre Casque Isles Trail which follows the northern shoreline of Lake Superior. But all you need to do is hike a tiny portion of this trail, called the Rainbow Falls Trail. This boardwalk trail leads you along the river, with various lookout points, and takes you over a bridge spanning the river. Here you’ll see the beautiful cascade Rainbow Falls. If you have a little extra time continue along the trail up to an awesome lookout view of Lake Superior.
Forget about heading to the United States folks, we’ve got our very own Grand Canyon. Affectionately dubbed the ‘Grand Canyon of the North’, Ouimet Canyon is a remarkable sight. Located 64 kilometres northeast (1 hour) of Thunder Bay is Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park. A one kilometre loop trail takes you to two viewing platforms overlooking the canyon. The canyon is 500 feet across, 3 kilometres in length, and has over 350 foot vertical cliffs plunging into the delicate canyon floor. Strangely, on the canyon floor rare Arctic flora lives, and this flora is usually found 1,000 kilometres to the north.
The views from the platforms are breathtaking. From the sheer cliffs to the fragile canyon floor and out to Lake Superior in the distance, it’s hard to image this grand canyon is still so unknown. From one of the platforms you can see a large rock formation that appears to be watching over the canyon. Named ‘Indian Head’, the rock formation has a legend behind it – like so many natural wonders in Northwestern Ontario.
Legend goes that a giant named Omett fell in love with Naomi. After moving a mountain he noticed a part of it fell and killed his love. He desperately hid the body, in fear of her father, Nanabijou. While looking for his daughter, Nanabijou sensed something underground and sent a thunderbolt to split the ground open, creating the canyon. After discovering her there he turned Omett into stone to watch over her grave forever.
Terry Fox Monument
Just before the turn off for Thunder Bay’s downtown is the Terry Fox Monument, and a must stop to pay honour to this incredible Canadian. For those who don’t know, Terry Fox became a national hero when he set out to run across the country for cancer research back in 1980. At a young age he lost one of his legs to cancer, making this cross-country journey even more incredible. He began his Marathon of Hope in St. John’s, Newfoundland, but sadly his journey was cut short near to where his 9 foot tall monument stands today just outside of Thunder Bay when his cancer spread to his lungs. He died nine months later. Every year after his death a Terry Fox Run has taken place continuing his legacy.
The Terry Fox Monument, located on a hilltop, offers stunning views over Lake Superior, Sleeping Giant, and is truly an awe-inspiring stop on your Northwestern Ontario road trip.
Thunder Bay is the second largest city in Northern Ontario and is a great place to base yourself for a few days. There is much to do and see in the area and don’t forget to save time to explore the city itself. From amazing green spaces all around to a beautiful lakeshore and history at every turn, Thunder Bay will not disappoint. Right in the city you’ve got a rich history in its buildings, neighbourhoods, and at the Fort William National Historic Site. And a wander along its lakeshore, through Marina Park will offer incredible views, thought-provoking art installations, and so much more. The following are my top picks for must stops just outside of Thunder Bay.
Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
Located 45 kilometres east of Thunder Bay, Sleeping Giant Provincial Park is a must for all nature addicts. Set on the Sibley Peninsula that stretches out into Lake Superior, the Park is home to over 80 kilometres of trails, a wealth of natural beauty, and wonders fit for any bucket list.
But the ultimate prize is summiting the Top of the Giant. While this trail is not for the faint of heart it will be all worth the pain and sweat in the end. After seeing one of the viewpoints for the top (there are a bunch) in a photo online a couple of years ago I instantly added it to my bucket list. And standing atop the highest cliffs in Ontario will not only leave you breathless but will blow your mind, making you ask yourself, ‘am I in Norway or Ontario?’
- But don’t worry, there are a ton of great, less intensive hikes throughout the Park leading to beautiful spots like the Sea Lion, Tee Harbor, and Lehitnen’s Bay to name of few.
(Stay tuned for my post on my epic hike to the Top of the Giant)
A half hour outside of Thunder Bay is Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park, and home to one of Ontario’s grandest waterfalls. Kakabeka Falls is known as the ‘Niagara of the North‘ with its meaning stemming from an Ojibwa word meaning ‘thundering water‘. From a boardwalk trail you can walk nearly all the way around the falls, with most spots sharing the mist of this mighty waterfall. At 230 feet across and plunging 130 feet into a gorge carved out of Precambrian Shield, Kakabeka Falls is home to fossils that are 1.6 million years old!
Have you explored Northwestern Ontario?
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