Road Trip to Thunder Bay
Updated: May 18, 2021
At the beginning of 2020, Dan and I booked two weeks off in the summer to go on an international trip together- somewhere like Iceland or Ireland etc. Well, as we all know, Covid hit and travel has been extremely restricted this year. We were struck with these two weeks off that could hold so many possibilities-yet so little with the state of the world. My twin brother Damian and his fiance Natalie live up in Thunder Bay (for reference, we live in the Niagara Region) and we thought it would be the perfect time to go visit them. We decided we would drive up (yes, the whole fifteen hour journey) and make a road trip out of it. We would have minimal contact with other people and spend some much needed time together and in nature. The best part was that we could easily bring Navi and she was so excited to hit the road! We decided that we would do the fifteen hour drive spread across two days so we could have time for stops along the way. So, we packed our car tight and hit the road- Niagara to Thunder Bay here we come! We are typically light packers but we were bringing some things up from Niagara to Damian and Natalie haha.
Here are some of the stops that we made along the way up to Thunder Bay:
One of my best friends, her boyfriend and her doggie Willow live up in Sudbury- which was on the way up so of course we had to make a stop! Stops that include ice cream are even better in my books. We stopped at Flurple's, a really yummy vegan ice cream shop that is a little walk-thru window (hello covid friendly). I got birthday cake of course! This shop is named after the owners old dog, and their ice cream is technically dog friendly as its made with coconut and vegan ingredients! Check out their facebook page here and their instagram here!
Cabin Stay in Goulais River:
We drove a bit more and finally stopped in a little town called Goulais River, about 25 minutes outside of Sault Ste Marie. We rented a quaint and cozy little cabin on Harmony Beach River that we found on AirBnb. If you are interested, the link to the accommodation on AirBnb can be found here. This cabin was situated on the back of the owners property, in a private area surrounded by trees, right along the river. The river connected to Lake Superior and had a lovely sandy beach just around the corner. The property had a fire pit, chicken coop (Navi made a lot of friends and enemies that's for sure) a massive vegetable garden and a cabin private cabin with everything you need!
The only thing it didn't have was a shower- which we were fine with as we were only staying for one night. The cabin did have running water though and even a compost toilet. We were actually super impressed with the compost toilet, as we had never experienced one before. It didn't even smell guys! Sorry, I know- taboo topic. Anyways, the cabin was the very cozy with a wood burning fireplace and rustic decor. We didn't want to leave!
We had to check out the beach around the corner from our cabin for a misty morning walk before we hit the road again. This is a great "locals" beach, and has a campground across the road if you wanted to extend your stay.
This waterfall was a great, quick stop and historically marks the halfway point of the Trans Canada Highway. This spot is a popular rest stop due to its roadside parking, and features a short path to reach the falls. This is a good stop for kids- or fur babies like Navi haha.
Pancake Bay Provincial Park:
Pancake Bay features 3km of sandy beach, with camping nearby. This would be be a great spot to spend the day on the beach, however for the interest of time, we opted for a quick stop to look around to enjoy the sunshine!
We had to stop in Wawa to see the giant canadian goose statue-obviously! Apparently this special goose is one of the most photographed landmarks in North America. Wawa is situated at the intersection of the Trans Canada highway, and the goose was created in 1960 to help entice travelers to stop in their town. Wawa means "Wild goose" or "Land of the Big Goose" in Ojibway, so of course they need a giant goose as the town greeter! Navi loved this giant goose and was starting to look like a real tourist.
White River is known for their boreal forest, mining industry and of course, as the birthplace of Winnie The Pooh. Of course there's a giant monument that Navi had on her bucket list. A little black bear cub from White River became the inspiration for A.A Milne's story book about a bear names Winnie the Pooh. Navi meet Winnie:
They also had a fry truck, which is a road trip right of passage- duh!
Aguasabon Falls and Gorge:
This was our last stop before making it to Thunder Bay- and quite possibly the best! This stop held spectacular views of the falls and gorge that provide hydro power to Terrace Bay and the pulp mill. There is a beautiful boardwalk and viewpoint of the falls, making it an accessible stop. We noticed a stairway down to a path that led to closer views of the waterfall. However, there were chains closing off the stairwell. With no reason in sight for the chains we opted to hop them and adventure down....shh!
Now for the main event- Thunder Bay. We spent the next 6 days exploring all that beautiful Thunder Bay had to offer. Here is our day by day recommendations:
Thunder Oak cheese farm is the first farm in Ontario to produce their own gouda cheese. With over 13 different flavours and other dutch delicacies- the farm store was such a delicious stop. I haven't seen this many flavours of Gouda since I was in the Netherlands!
To continue my lactose intolerant girl in a dairy indulgent world tour, we stopped at Slate River Dairy. Say hello to the freshest dairy products that you will ever taste. We opted for lots of chocolate milk and yogurt and we were very happy with our choices.
A favourite of the locals, this park shows amazing views of the harbour, city and Sleeping Giant.
Dan and I each have Bachelor's degrees in Fine Art and always love checking out local art galleries and museums when we travel. We were thoroughly impressed with this galleries permanent collection, presentation of Indigenous Art and the current exhibition called The Drive. The Drive was previously shown at the Art Gallery of Guelph, a gallery where I worked while completing my undergrad, so it was cool to see that connection! The Drive, using the work of Tom Thomson as its cornerstone, featured work revolving around the complexities of landscape and how it's represented in art and media especially in Canada's industrial age.
We were especially interested to see that the Thunder Bay Art Gallery will be expanding and opening a brand new gallery on the waterfront in the next few years. The arts is a field that unfortunately doesn't get a lot of funding or have the financial means to do these sorts of things so I am definitely rooting for them and excited to see their new gallery take shape!
Photo credits below:
Top Right by Sarah Anne Johnson
Bottom Right by Tom Thomson
We enjoyed a healthy and delicious dinner at Growing Season. This restaurant features many health conscious and vegan options! I got the "Harvest Salad" and would highly recommend it.
Sunset Hike at Cascades Conservation Area:
Located at 1157 Balsam St, Thunder Bay, ON P7G 1Y2, the Cascades is a lovely riverfront forest hiking spot with beautiful views and the opportunity to swim! The dogs (and Damian haha) loved swimming here!
Kakabeka Falls is a spectacular force and beauty ironically nicknamed the "Niagara of the North"-minus all the las Vegas type development and tourism traps. Being from Niagara, it was such a treat to see this waterfall in its natural state with no shining bright lights and souvenir shops surrounding it. It's how we always wish, and wonder Niagara Falls to be like. Kakabeka Falls is actually the second highest waterfall in Ontario after Niagara Falls! There are accessible boardwalks all around the falls to experience it from all angles. Please note admission is free, but parking is $5.
There is a lovely hike just off of Kakabeka Falls that not alot of people know about. We saw lots of cool mushrooms and of course I had to document them all haha. This 40 minute hike will bring you to Little Falls- a cute little hidden gem.
I have hiked this mountain once before, so I was bracing myself for this tough, uphill, rocky hike.
Mount Mckay is located on Fort William First Nation reserve and has an entrance fee of $5. The mountain is still used by the Ojibwe for sacred ceremonies, and the land should be respected while you hike there. The hike was tough- especially for someone who doesn't exercise, but it wasn't as bad as I remembered it and was definitely worth it for the amazing views. You can experience 360 degree views of the whole city and harbour. We were even treated with a never ending supply of wild Northern Ontario blueberries growing everywhere! Northern Ontario blueberries are small in size but pack big flavor- they seriously taste like candy! If you decide to take on Mount Mckay- make sure you take lots of water with you and wear good gripping shoes- there's lots of rocks to climb up!
We deserved a sweet treat after our day of hiking and decided to go to the Thunder Bay famous drive in Ice cream shop. I got one scoop of coconut chocolate chip and one scoop of chai tea!
This was probably my favourite thing that we did on this trip! The Amethyst Mine Panorama is a unique opportunity to visit a family run Amethyst mine, have a tour of the grounds, and even dig for your own Amethyst. Even better- it's only $4 per pound. I scored a big bag for some fun future projects and DIY's! Did you know that Amethyst is the official gemstone of Ontario!?
Note: Amethyst Mine Panorama is only open during the Summer months.
Eagle Canyon Adventures is a privately owned adventure park featuring Canada's longest suspension bridge and zip lining. We opted for the suspension bridge which was a terrifying yet exhilarating experience. This bridge was 600 feet long, but don't worry, there's also a 300 foot long one too (yes TWO bridges). It was a very windy day, and it also didn't help that Dan thought it was funny to shake and jump on the bridge...now I know why they made us sign a waiver before entering...I literally had to hold onto my hat, and all my other belongings so they didn't blow away into the canyon!
Cost for adults is $20 and for children it's $10 (under 4 is free)
We had a quick stop at Ouimet Canyon for some panoramic views of the 150 wide gorge, cliffs and canyon. There is an accessible boardwalk and platforms to take in all the views!
We were starving after all of our adventures so we stopped for some AMAZING poutine from La Poutine. They had every topping combo you could think of it and it was definitely so hard to choose. I picked the mac and cheese poutine- enough said!
We really worked up an appetite after all of our hiking that we needed a second dinner, and after many recommendations we decided on Bight restaurant. This beautiful restaurant was located at the marina with lovely views of the water and boats. It was the perfect send off to our time with Damian and Natalie.
Day 4, 5 and 6:
Dan, Navi and I spent the last 2 nights in Thunder Bay camping at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. This beautiful park offers beautiful views of Lake Superior. We ended up choosing a campsite in the "300's" area. This area had only 6 campsites and was a good 15 minute drive from the main campsites area. Although there were no washrooms with running water in the this area- this small inconvenience was worth it for the privacy. These sites were separated by a mass amount of trees and had water access. Navi loved getting to run into the water whenever she wanted, and also loved chasing the chipmunks around that mocked and giggled at her the whole time. We checked out the other campsites in the main area and honestly- they weren't great. There was no privacy and the sites were small and right on top of each other. If you are planning to camp at the Sleeping Giant, we recommend the 300's camp area! Don't forget the bug spray!
We spent time reading, eating, fishing and enjoying each others company. Navi also did lots of napping.
With over 25 different hiking trails, we picked the classic Sea Lion trail. This trail is relatively easy, which was much appreciated by our tired feet, and held amazing views of the natural Sea Lion rock sculpture.
We took 2 days to drive back from Thunder Bay to Niagara after all of our adventures. Our drive included lots of navi naps, pretty views and one roadside motel. All in all, it was an amazing trip and many memories were made. If you are looking for a great getaway with a real Canadian experience- I highly recommend Thunder Bay. Don't let its distance scare you away - it has many amazing sights to see.