Climbing Mount McKay – Thunder Bay’s Thunder Mountain

Thunder Bay may be known for the Sleeping Giant, however, comparable views can be found closer to home and with a fraction of the sweat. These are my tips and takeaways from climbing Mount McKay, Thunder Bay’s Thunder Mountain.

Where is Mount McKay?

Mount McKay looms just south of Thunder Bay. At 1,580 feet tall, it’s hard to mess. It’s the highest point of the Nor’Western Mountains and is an important part of the Fort Williams First Nations reserve.

Traditionally known as Thunder Mountain, the Ojibway have long used the mountain for sacred ceremonies. Today, it is a beautiful location for Pow Wows and events.

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How To Get to the Mount McKay Trailhead

Access to the Mount McKay trailhead requires a short drive up a hill and some searching as it is not well marked. This is a common complaint with reviews of the hike online.

There is a gate and booth where you can purchase a permit. With permit in hand, proceed to the first gravel lot on the left. From there, follow the unmarked trail in the woods. Be sure to check out the incredible Ojibway elder monument on the way in. It beautifully frames Mount Mckay.

Monument to the Ojibway Elders

How Much Does Climbing Mount McKay Cost?

At the time of posting, car permits cost $10 per day. Motorcycles are $6 and if you prefer to walk up to the trailhead it will be $2. Also note, gates are open 0900-2200 during the summer. For the latest hours and prices, please visit the Fort Williams First Nation website.

Read what other travelers have to say about Mount McKay on Tripadvisor

Climbing Mount Mckay

Climbing to the top of Mount McKay takes you through a nice tree-lined path and around the side of the mountain before turning upwards. The trail is pretty rugged and there is some scrambling so I would not recommend anyone unprepared for the challenge. There are a couple of scenic viewpoints to catch your breath along the way. In total, it is a 4.7 km return trip.

How Long Does It Take To Climb Mount McKay?

I had heard climbing Mount McKay would take 30 to 40 minute minutes. I did it in 17 minutes up. This is not a brag, as I am in horrible shape so I would suggest this would be even closer to 15 minutes. With the steep scramble, it took me 25 minutes on the way down.

Once on top of Mount McKay, you are greeted by a large rock painted with a celebratory “you made it!“ Your reward for the sweaty climb is a sweeping view of the city, Lake Superior, and the surrounding mountains. In the distance, the Sleeping Giant is in full view

Views aside, I was also rewarded with swarms of blackflies. A light breeze kept them away but fair waring, as soon as the breeze goes away outcome the flies. Also, the sulphur smell from the nearby pulp mill is pretty pungent, especially if you are gasping for air like I was.

What else is at Mount McKay?

If the climb, blackflies, and sulphur smell are a little much for you, there is a beautiful boardwalk by the Pow Wow grounds that offer comparable views. I hung out here for some time and watched many locals come and go, many of them parking to enjoy a picnic in their car with a view.

Worth a Visit and a Climb

Despite my poor conditioning and the blackflies, I enjoyed the climb and will do it again. It’s an accessible hike from Thunder Bay and it’s not an all-day outing like heading to the top of the Sleeping Giant – although I highly recommend that if up for a challenge! Those that want the views without the work also have the option to drive up and check out the scenic boardwalk.

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