Hiking in Northwest Ontario is rewarding and as challenging or easy as you want it to be. Visitors to North of Superior and Thunder Bay are consistently charmed by the views of nature and spectacular scenery around almost every corner of abundant regional trails. If you go that extra distance, there are even more hidden gems, clandestine delights you’ll find when avoiding the beaten path. Several Provincial Parks, including Quetico and spectacular Sleeping Giant, offer unparalleled opportunities for exploring and sightseeing in the great outdoors.
7. Boardwalk Trail
In Thunder Bay’s Pigeon River Provincial Park, there’s a 1.5 kilometer hike perfect for taking it easy and enjoying the sights rather than huffing and puffing along the way. The Boardwalk Trail runs adjacent to Lake Superior’s shoreline, a great endeavor with younger kids. Informational signs along the boardwalk offer details about this area of Ontario–don’t forget to look down and try to find the paddle-shaped boardwalk boards, an interesting addition to the locally built trail. The sculpted bench found on the shoreline is a great place to stop and take in the view and from there, you can turn back around, or, for added measure, continue on a little bit farther and take a walk along the sandy beach and hop back on the boardwalk via a short, forested trail. To continue on even farther, head to the end of the beach where signs point to additional trails including High Falls Trail and Finger Point Trail.
6. Middle Falls Lookout Trail
A moderate, 4-kilometer trail is a good jaunt for anyone with the motivation to get out into nature, get some exercise, and explore back country scenery. Also in Pigeon River Provincial Park, Middle Falls Lookout Trail is less popular than High Falls but is definitely worth the trip at any time of year. The Lookout Trail is picturesque, climbing to the peak of a cliff overlooking both Pigeon River and Lake Superior, two lakes forming a border between Minnesota and Ontario. In years past, the trail has been well groomed but the park has stopped operations in the area and it’s fairly overgrown but still accessible. Walk through the campground along the stream from the old park structures to get the best view of Middle Falls. Walk back downstream, into the bush and to your right where you’ll cross a small wooden bridge and then follow the Pigeon River trail while negotiating steep stairs before hitting the lookout point.
5. Poplar Point Trail
In Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park, there’s a well-known, 4-kilometer hike called Poplar Point Trail, a multi-use path carving through the lovely Whispering Hill Campsite. The trail is a perfect spot to take kids (the trail is broad and easy to make your way through by any method), and not just for a hike but also for a short cross country skiing trip or a bicycle ride. The looped trail makes its way through a thick forest of white birch and poplar trees, hence the name. Kababeka Falls, also called Niagara of the North, cascades down more than 130 feet over steep, craggy cliffs and also over some of the world’s oldest fossils. There are several platforms jutting out from the falls and trails adjacent to the gorge where a bird’s eye view is the best reward. Once used by early explorers, the trail and park hold some of the richest history in the area.
4. Middlebrun Bay
Once again in Sleeping Giant Provincial, another, extensive 4.2 kilometer is hike possible, one of the many within this provincial treasure. The path along Lake Superior’s rocky shoreline leads to a peaceful beach. In the warmer months, have a snack or lunch, take a swim, and enjoy the scenery. In summer, the bay water is extremely clear, showing off interesting features like stromatolites, the oldest known fossils on earth. If hiking in the winter months, the beach steals the show, presenting magnificent ice formations along the shoreline. En route there’s a fantastic wetland filled with life and showcasing rich, lush habitat for all types of species. Following the beach to the very end, a path leads to Finlay Bay, You’ll find a roughhewn peninsula and at the southern tip, fabled and fabulous Sleeping Giant. Explore backcountry through boreal forests and follow rugged paths to the peak for unforgettable views of Lake Superior.
3. Little Trout Bay Conservation Area
Little Trout Bay Conservation Area is about a half-hour from Thunder Bay but well worth a mention when discussing hikes around the city. Hop on Little Trout Bay Road via Highway 61 and take it to the Lake Superior shoreline. Carving through the forest and crossing the rugged expanse of rocks along the shoreline, there is a fantastic hiking trail leading to a scenic lookout at the top above the picturesque lake. Sure-footed, adventurous hikers, can also take another trail located across from the broad parking lot. Unmarked, though still easy to find, the trail begins where tall grasses part naturally, adjacent to the dirt road. Entering the forest, tall, arching trees and a swath of boulders are found alongside the cliffs to the left. Following the steep hill, take the meandering trail over a tree-lined ridge arriving at a pretty lookout point. Facing north, Mount Mollie comes into view, flanked by rugged landscape and boreal forest expanding into the distance.
2. High Falls Trail
For moderate effort with a big pay off, hit the 2-kilometer High Falls Trail in Thunder Bay. Located in Pigeon River park, the landscape was created by glaciers and volcanoes that formed dramatic, 91-foot-tall High Falls. Access the trail via Northys Bay Road through crown land (no entrance fee) or through the park. Both entryways offer spectacular sights of a Canadian Heritage Waterway and the beautiful waterfall, shared with the state of Minnesota. Take the logging road to the Canadian edge of the boundary waters, and take in the scenic High Falls view. Hikers can see an authentic model of the historic wooden logging chute and then head back along Pigeon River to see its abrupt, enclosed gorge and take a short tour of the area where the old chimney was installed.
1. Whiskey Jack Trail
Whiskey Jack Trail is technically west of Thunder Bay but is a must on the list of best hiking trails in the area for Quetico Provincial Park and the bounty of natural attractions within it. The wilderness retreat of Quetico is a protected area receiving international attention and acclaim. Almost 500,000 hectares of pristine rivers and lakes, once used by fur traders and Ojibway, are now routes used by kayakers and canoeists seeking glimpses of wildlife in one of the most peaceful areas in the province. The park features a network of points for accessing unspoiled interior. One of these routes begins on the park’s boardwalk, an ideal introduction to Quetico and its many walks and hiking trails. Horsetail, Labrador tea, bunchberry, and wild mushrooms–these are only some of nature’s bounty found en route as the wooded, 2.5 kilometer trail eases into a winding path, skirting the outer reaches of the area’s wildest provincial park.