Things to do in Thunder Bay – For Every Traveler
Thunder Bay, Ontario is one of the province’s, if not Canada’s, top outdoor cities. With green and blue as far as the eye can see, Thunder Bay is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. Set on the shores of the expansive Lake Superior, at the foot of Mount Makay, and less than an hour’s drive from the Grand Canyon of the North, Thunder Bay will satisfy the nature lover, the great Canadian hiker, and any adventure seeker.
But don’t let its wealth of outdoor activities sway you if your interests are more akin to the arts, history, and great grub. Thunder Bay has something for everyone, even those on the hunt for street art. It’s a great stop on your Northwestern Ontario road trip. Or a short flight for a weekend getaway from both the US and parts of Canada. So, move on over Banff, Ottawa, and Toronto – there’s a hidden Canadian gem of a destination for everyone. And here’s the best of things to do in Thunder Bay!
Where in the World is Thunder Bay?
Thunder Bay is located in Northwestern Ontario. While it’s a great road trip from Toronto, it will take you over 15 hours and cover nearly 1400 kilometres. If you’re going the road trip route, I suggest this itinerary, with two night stays on the way there, and one on the way back. Or you can always fly into the Thunder Bay Airport.
Things to do in Thunder Bay – Outdoors
Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
Located 45 kilometres east of Thunder Bay, Sleeping Giant Provincial Park is a must for all outdoor enthusiasts. Set on the Sibley Peninsula that stretches out into Lake Superior, the Park is home to over 80 kilometres of trails, over 24,000 hectares of natural beauty, and natural wonders fit for any bucket list.
One of the top things to do in Thunder Bay 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. From the top you’ll have numerous options for epic views, including one that will have you standing atop the highest cliffs in 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.
Related Post: Hiking in the Land of the Giants
Forget about heading to the United States folks, Ontario has its 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. The canyon floor is home to rare Arctic flora that is usually found 1,000 kilometres to the north.
The views from the platforms are outstanding. 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.
Looking for a sweeping view over Thunder Bay? Then head to the top of Mount McKay. Park at the 500 foot level, enjoy a picnic and the view. And if you’re up for a hike, take the trail to the top. At 1000 feet over the city, the top of Mount McKay will award you with views of Thunder Bay, Lake Superior, and beyond.
Thunder Bay is home to a handful of amazing waterfalls. And a day spent chasing waterfalls is a day well spent. But the most popular and biggest of them all is Kakabeka Falls. Just a half hour outside of Thunder Bay is Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park. Kakabeka Falls is known as the ‘Niagara of the North‘, with its meaning stemming from an Ojibwa word meaning ‘thundering water‘. A boardwalk trail will lead you nearly all the way around the falls. 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!
Related Post: Top Places to Experience Nature in Ontario
Things to do in Thunder Bay – Art
Prince Arthur’s Landing Public Art
Along Thunder Bay’s downtown lakeshore you’ll find the city’s largest series of art installations. These unique and thought-provoking pieces of art, in various mediums, will captivate and inspire you. Pick up a flyer from the Thunder Bay Pagoda to guide you on a Prince Arthur’s Landing public art self-guided walking tour. From the Spirit Garden with odes to the Ojibwe to the 2 Beacons who speak to each other, and the over dozen benches with poems, excerpts, and moving pieces that share the spirit of Northwestern Ontario’s culture. This walking tour is a great way to end the day and appreciate the artistic spirit of Thunder Bay.
Some form of street art can be found in almost every city. And Thunder Bay is no different. From the art installations along the lakeshore discussed above to the alleyways full of street art in the heart of the downtown core, Thunder Bay has some fun and striking pieces. Wander down Cooke Street for some traditional graffiti street art, or head to 226 May St. South to see a scene of Metis canoeists, and for a truly impressive sight head to the Thunder Bay Public Library. And if you want to take a tour of the city’s street art head to the Definitely Superior Art Gallery Facebook page to find their map of all the locations.
Things to do in Thunder Bay – History
Heritage Architecture Walking Tour
The City of Thunder Bay offers 4 self-guided walking tours on their website here, where you can learn about the city’s rich history and see its diverse architecture. You can choose to do one or all, each takes roughly one hour, and are a great way to see the city. There are nearly 100 buildings across the four tours. Some highlights include the Pagoda, the oldest continually operating tourist booth in Canada, the Prince Arthur Hotel, whose architect was also responsible for the New York Grand Central Station, and the Whalen Building, that’s exterior is covered in decorative carved art from animals to flowers.
Fort William Historic Park
Fort William was the hub for the Canadian fur trade. This living history attraction is home to a reconstruction of the Fort William fur trade post just like it was back in 1816, along with a Native camp, fur stores, farm, and Great Hall. Step back in time and learn from costumed characters dressed in early 1800’s wares.
Located just outside the city, the Fort William Historic Park is a great place to spend the day and perfect for families
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 of Lake Superior, Sleeping Giant, and is truly an awe-inspiring stop during your Thunder Bay stay.
Things to do in Thunder Bay – Food
Eat a Persian
No, I’m not recommending you eat someone from the Middle East or some Middle Eastern cuisine. This is a purely North American treat. Who doesn’t like sweet treats? And any visit to Thunder Bay should include a trip to The Persian Man. There are two locations in the city. The one on Balmoral Street is a café that also offers light meals and other baked goods. But the best reason to visit is to purchase a Persian. This mouth-watering treat is cinnamon roll meets frosted donut, and will have you wanting more!
There is a large population of Finnish in Thunder Bay and has been for a long time. And in 1918 the Hoito Restaurant was established in the bottom floor of the historic Finnish Labour Temple. Located on Bay Street in the multi-cultural Bay & Algoma neighbourhood of downtown. The restaurant serves Finnish and Canadian home cooking in a family-friendly environment. And they’re well-known for their delicious Finnish pancakes. These light, sweet, and crepe-like pancakes are a must try on any Thunder Bay to do list!
There are so many more things to do in Thunder Bay! A few other suggestions include; the Centennial Conservatory, Thunder Bay History Museum, Thunder Bay Art Gallery, and the Amethyst Mine.
Have you been to Thunder Bay? Or are you considering a visit?
Pin this image for reference later!