Thunder Bay, located in Northern Ontario, offers a variety of family-friendly activities, a mecca of outdoor experiences and attractions that are perfect for travellers of all ages. It is located on the northwestern shore of Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes, and is known for its natural beauty, outdoor recreational opportunities, and rich history. Thunder Bay and the surrounding area offer a plethora of outdoor activities for nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers.
Thunder Bay is one of the top Ontario Destinations to experience with the family. Want to read more? Check out Ontario’s Top Travel Destinations here.
Best Thunder Bay Outdoor Activities
Here are some of the best Thunder Bay outdoor activities you can enjoy with the family:
Provincial Parks Close To Thunder Bay
Visit one of the many Provincial Parks close to Thunder Bay! Northern Ontario boasts a lot of outdoor opportunities and of course, there are a few Ontario Parks locations to explore. Outside Thunder Bay, the parks we visited are Sleeping Giant, Ouimet Canyon and Kakabekka Falls Provincial Parks. All of which offer excellent family-friendly hiking and exploring opportunities. Each park offers a variety of trails with varying lengths and difficulty levels, providing opportunities to experience the region’s stunning natural beauty. Be sure to pick up an annual pass from Ontario Parks and book your day trip parking to visit in advance at popular locations.
Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park
Ouimet Canyon gives hikers panoramic views of its 150 m wide gorge and 100 m vertical cliffs from two viewing platforms overlooking the edge of the canyon. It was just my luck that the day I go, it was raining and foggy. While the weather doesn’t normally bother me, I was disappointed thinking I wouldn’t get to see anything. While I didn’t get the iconic photo I desired, it was just as beautiful and incredible and worth exploring. So in any weather, see it!
Ouimet Canyon gets its name from a French-Canadian fur trader and explorer named Léonidas Ouimet. In the mid-1800s, Léonidas Ouimet worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company and was part of the expedition that explored and mapped the region where the canyon is located.
This day-use-only park features a short 1.7 km loop trail, with sections of boardwalk and gravel that offer access to those with mobility needs that require barrier-free access. The geological wonder that is Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park is located near Dorion, just over an hour’s drive from Thunder Bay, east, along Highway 17.
Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park
At 40 m tall, Kakabeka Falls is the second-highest waterfall in Ontario and you can check it out all year round. The highest waterfall in Ontario is Niagara Falls. Kakabekka Falls is one of the most popular and accessible waterfalls in Northern Ontario. The falls are situated in Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park. Park your car and walk 50 feet. Take a few steps down the stairs if you really want, but if you can’t, it’s not a worry! This is a good place to bring a stroller for ease of viewing with the youngest members of tHe family.
A barrier-free boardwalk from the main parking lot extends around the top of the falls with a few viewing pods and all-over scenic views of both the waterfall and the Kaministiquia River below. If you’d like to continue the exploration, hike along the Mountain Portage Walking Trail (1.25 km loop) to follow in the footsteps of early travellers and voyageurs.
Kakabeka Falls gets its name from the Ojibwe (Anishinaabe) First Nations people, who have inhabited the region for centuries. In the Ojibwe language, the falls are known as “Ka-kabeka,” which translates to “waterfall over a cliff” or “waterfall with a noise.” When European settlers preserved the Indigenous name to honour the local heritage and history.
For those who want to spend more time in the area, Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park offers campsites with service and non-service. The park is located a short 30-minute drive west of Thunder Bay, located directly adjacent to the Trans Canada Highway 11/17, making it a convenient tourism stop for cross-Canada travellers who need the perfect place to take a walk.
Cell phone service on the boardwalk trail was adequate.
Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
The highest vertical drop in all of Ontario and one of the coveted bucket list hikes of the entire country can be found in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. Located just east of Thunder Bay, the park is named after its most prominent feature – the Sleeping Giant. The name was given to a landform formation, which stretches for about 8 kilometres along the lake’s northern shore. It is made up of mesas and cliffs, giving it the appearance of a reclining figure with a distinct head, body, and feet.
The Top of the Giant Trail is a popular and challenging hike that leads to the top of the Sleeping Giant, providing absolutely stunning panoramic views of Lake Superior and the surrounding wilderness. This hike covers a distance of approximately 22 kilometres round trip and can take a full day to complete.
About two-thirds of the way up the trail, you’ll reach the Silver Islet Lookout, which provides stunning views of Silver Islet and the surrounding islands on Lake Superior.vAs you near the top of the trail, you’ll reach the Thunder Bay Lookout, offering panoramic views of Thunder Bay, the city of Thunder Bay, and Lake Superior. It’s a great spot to take a break and admire the scenic beauty of the region. The culmination of the hike is the awe-inspiring summit of the Sleeping Giant. From this vantage point, hikers can witness the incredible vista of Lake Superior and the vast wilderness below, providing a truly unforgettable experience.
This is an experience that only those in good physical condition should take on as it is challenging to return should there be a medical emergency. Kids can absolutely accomplish this trail if they have the mental willpower to pull it off.
Hot tip – There is very limited cell phone service should any situation arise. New iPhones can ding a satellite at specific points along the trail for safety. As the Top of the Giant Trail is a challenging hike, it is essential to come well-prepared with proper hiking gear, sturdy footwear, plenty of water, snacks, and a map or GPS device.
This provincial park does offer an extensive network of trails for all skill levels, not just for the bucket list thrill seekers. The entire family can venture onto the Sea Lion trail for some incredible views.
Family-Friendly Outdoor Attractions In Thunder Bay
There are also a lot of family-friendly outdoor attractions in Thunder Bay that don’t include huge hikes, vertical drops or potential wildlife encounters. The best Thunder Bay outdoor activities also take place in the form of attractions.
Be sure to visit the Terry Fox Monument and Lookout dedicated to the inspiring Canadian hero, and enjoy the panoramic views of Thunder Bay from the nearby lookout. It’s a great spot for a family hike or picnic and a place to also take a moment and think about the legacy Terry Fox leaves behind and the advancements made in cancer care and awareness from his run.
Located on the waterfront, Prince Arthur’s Landing features a skate park, splash pad, and scenic walking trails along the shore. It’s an ideal spot for family outings and picnics.
Let’s dive into more experiences here!
Seeing and exploring a city from the water is one of the best ways to do it. Rent a catamaran or Zodiac from Sail Superior to take your group for a fun filled water adventure on Lake Superior.
Here’s why you should do that:
- The views are unparalleled and outstanding of the Thunder Bay harbour. You’ll see Sleeping Giant from the water as well as lighthouses, the breakwalls and the horizon.
- You’ll learn about the history of the harbour and Thunder Bay area from your experienced Captain
- It’s a relaxing experience for the group.
Tours can be booked for 2 hours or from 4 to 6 hours of even longer depending on the itinerary your group desires. It’s really an amazing way to see and appreciate Thunder Bay and the area surrounding.
Amethyst Mine Panorama
Did you know that you can dig your own Amethyst just outside of Thunder Bay? If that’s on your family’s to-do list, look for amethyst Thunder Bay opportunities. The one we recommend is Amethyst Mine Panorama, approximately 60 kilometres east of Thunder Bay. At Amethyst Mine Panorama, you can dig on your own, wash them, weigh what you dug up and pay for your treasures.
Amethyst Mine Panorama is currently owned by Tim & Lori Lukinuk and has been in the Lukinuk family since 1980. When you arrive and enter through the gift shop, you are taken on a tour and information session on this family-owned and operated mine.
Kids will love how easy and fun it is to dig and find their own amethyst. At Amethyst Mine Panorama, you are literally walking on amethyst throughout the whole digging site, you just need to bend over and select the types and sizes of pieces you’re after. Families can go at their own comfort and interest level and spend hours or minutes in the dig portion.
The admission price to the mine site is $10.00 per person, children aged 5 and under are free. Dig-your-own amethyst is priced at $5.00 per pound.
Fort William Historical Park
Step back in time at Fort William Historical Park, a living history site, where guests can experience the fur trade era through interactive demonstrations, workshops, and guided tours. This is a working community site that boasts skilled tradespeople from the era and they are at work in the village. The blacksmith, tinsmith, carpenter, cooper ad birch bark canoe builder craft the products according to the 19th-century tools of their trades.
You arrive in Fort William into the year 1815 and you find yourself at the headquarters of the North West Company and the largest fur trading post in the area. In the summer at Fort William, French-Canadian voyageurs, Scottish businessmen, Indigenous people and others from around the world gather at this trading post to make trades and firm alliances.
From the Indigenous village outside the Fort walls, to the living quarters through the apothecary shop, to the fur trading room and on to the dining room, you will be treated to an informative and interactive experience. Of note – this site is mere kilometres from the original site of the Fort, making this a close to true historical site.
The experience at Fort William can easily take a few hours to go into each building and explore the Indigenous village.
Attend a Pow Wow
Anemkii Wajiw (Mount McKay), in Fort William, which bounds beside Thunder Bay* has been a meeting place and the site of traditional First Nation ceremonies for thousands of years. It is here where the Fort William First Nation peoples hold Pow Wows more than once a year. In terms of spiritual and cultural enticements, this is one of the best outdoor Thunder Bay activities.
A Pow Wow is a traditional First Nation celebration. It is a celebration of First National culture. At a pow wow, people from diverse Indigenous nations gather for the purpose of dancing, singing and honouring their ancestors.
Attending a Pow Wow is highly recommended if you are interested in developing a deeper understanding of and connection to First Nation culture. During a Pow Wow, you enjoy the drumming, the dancing and the food at a Pow Wow. This is not tourist attraction, and do not arrive anticipating to find one. A Pow Wow is open to the public and everyone is invited to attend. However, you must be respectful of the etiquette and traditions.
The Grand Entry and Opening Prayer are performed by an elder. There are many times during a Pow Wow that photos and videos are not permitted such as during the Grand Entry and Opening Prayer. A rule of thumb is to ask before taking the picture.
A dancer’s regalia is how they dress and identify with their spirit. Never touch without asking. Do not take photos without asking. Please respect that the dancer’s regalia may have taken years to create. It is not a costume and should not be referred to as such and there is much spiritual and cultural significance to the regalia.
If you’d like to show respect to an elder, please offer tobacco. Never be afraid to ask a question if you are unsure.
The City of Thunder Bay has been built on the traditional lands of Fort William First Nation signatory to the Robinson Superior Treaty of 1850.
Hopefully, this has inspired your family to consider Thunder Bay as a base for some of the best outdoor activities and cultural experiences.
From provincial parks to low impact waterfront sightseeing, this Lake Superior city has it all for your travel group.
Thanks to Thunder Bay Tourism for hosting us. the outdoor activities are just the tip of the iceberg as to what you can do there.