Are you searching for what to do in Thunder Bay, Ontario? Read on for this three-day guide on the best sights, activities, and eats in the “Canadian Lakehead.”
Located on the northwestern shores of Lake Superior and miles from big city anything is one of Canada‘s most underrated tourist destinations. With a storied past of fur trading, silver mining, and the Ojibway who have called the area home for centuries, Thunder Bay has much to explore. With the emergence of craft breweries, artisanal coffee shops, and trendy restaurants, Thunder Bay also has a metropolitan side on the rise.
I was lucky enough to spend three days exploring all corners of the city. Here’s my takeaway on what to do in Thunder Bay along with where to eat and drink.
Get In and Out
Thunder Bay is located on the Trans Canada Highway and makes for a natural stop for anyone driving between Ontario and the Western provinces. The closest major cities are Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario (800 km to the east) and Winnipeg (700 km to the west.)
You can fly direct to Thunder Bay from Winnipeg (WestJet), Toronto (Air Canada and WestJet), and Toronto Island (Porter). Bearskin Airlines offers regional service to Sault Ste. Marie, Dreyden, Fort Frances, and Sioux Lookout.Compare prices on flights to Thunder Bay with Skyscanner
Where To Stay in Thunder Bay
On my three days in Thunder Bay, I stayed at the new Delta Hotels Thunder Bay. This beautiful and modern hotel offers views of Lake Superior and the Sleeping Giant from the bulk of its rooms. On top of a comfortable and cool stay, the Delta Hotels Thunder Bay is located in the rejuvenated Prince Arthur’s Landing. Downtown Thunder Bay also steps away. This made for enjoyable evening strolls along the waterfront and to downtown eateries.
On a previous visit, I stayed at the Valhalla Inn Hotel and can recommend it for its rustic modern rooms and claims as being the most unique hotel in the city. The onsite Viking themed bar is also a nice touch!
What to do in Thunder Bay – Three Day Guide
Normally for my guides, I break down my favourite activities, sights, and places to eat. Since I covered such a large area while in Thunder Bay I have broken this guide down by leg and day. You are free to follow these days in any order. I suggest planning around the weather for outdoor activities.
Day 1 – Fort Williams, Mount McKay, Kakabeka Falls
Start your day with Finnish pancakes from Niva’s, Rooster’s Bistro, or the Java Hut. Thanks to the Finnish folks that settled in Thunder Bay, these crepe-like pancakes are locally loved and be found at most eateries around town. Coffee lovers head to St. Paul’s Roastery for a fresh cup to go.
Tour Fort Williams Historical Park
Fueled on Finnish pancakes and great coffee, make your way to Fort Williams Historical Park and take a peek into Thunder Bay’s past. This expansive 250-acre park recreates what life was like in Thunder Bay at the height of the fur trading industry. Several heritage buildings with interesting artefacts inside help transport visitors back to 1816. On a tour through Fort Williams, you will meet characters from all walks of life.
Aside from learning about the day-to-day life of the trappers, explorers, and the Ojibway that would pass through the Fort, visitors can take part in the fun. You can paddle a voyager canoe down the Kaministiquia river, fire a musket, and visit the livestock at the on-site farm. Plan to spend two to four hours at Fort Williams and be prepared to walk quite a bit.
Visit Thunder Oak Cheese Farm
From Fort Williams, make your way south to Thunder Oak Cheese Farm. Although known for their delicious Gouda, don’t sleep on the cheese curds. They make it in a few flavours and I can recommend the garlic ones. There’s also a small grocery shop where you can pick up supplies for the rest of your afternoon outing.
Visit Kakabeka Falls
Armed with cheese curds and snacks, head north to Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park. There you will find boardwalks lining “the Niagara of the north,“ a 40-meter cascading waterfall. There’s also plenty of green space and picnic tables, perfect for your afternoon snack.
Hike Mount McKay
At 1,580 feet tall, “Thunder Mountain” looms large over Thunder Bay. It is the highest point of the Nor’Western Mountains and has been an Ojibway site for sacred ceremonies for centuries.
Visitors can drive up and get a beautiful view of the city and Lake Superior. There is a short boardwalk worth a stroll. Those that are up for a few more steps can climb to the top of Mount McKay. This trip takes around 45 minutes up and down and involves a rugged trail with some scrambling required.
Celebrate at Sleeping Giant Craft Brewery
Cap off your active day exploring Thunder Bay with a visit to Sleeping Giant Beer Company. Home of some great award-winning beer, Sleeping Giant Beer Company also features a great outdoor space to enjoy a pint or two. If hungry, food trucks are on-site to serve you.
Prince Arthur’s Landing Sunset Stroll
Conclude your day with a walk along Thunder Bay’s stunning waterfront. Prince Arthur’s Landing is lively on summer nights with plenty of activity along the water. There are seaming endless paths along the piers and several park benches to enjoy the sunset from. I enjoyed a stroll each night of my visit while watching sailboats come and go as the sun dipped into the distance.
Eat at Bight
If you are looking for a classy yet casual spot for dinner, head to Bight Restaurant + Bar. The menu is modern with elevated pub fare thrown in. I enjoyed their local Lake Superior trout and chips with a Dawson Trail Craft Brewery IPA. 👌
Day 2 – Terry Fox and the Sleeping Giant
After exploring east Thunder Bay, it’s time to make your way west. This day trip covers some of Thunder Bay’s prettiest parts with plenty of Canadian history along the way.
Before heading out of town, you are going to need to stock up on supplies. There’s no better place in town to do just that than Nomad. On top of excellent coffee, Nomad bad serves up some of the best sandwiches in Ontario. Everything from the bread to the cheese and meats is sourced locally and served up fresh.
I highly recommend a hearty breakfast sandwich to enjoy on their patio as well as a sandwich to go. I had the Recharge sandwich (Smoked Turkey, Dill Gouda, Parsley Pesto, Aioli, Pickled Red Onion, Cucumber, Spinach on a hearty Powerloaf bread) and took it to go for my hike in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park.
Hike Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
Located a short 1-hour drive east is Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, home to some excellent hiking and biking trails as well as the infamous mountain of the same name.
Depending on your timing and activity level, you have a few options. For this itinerary, I suggest the 12.4 km Tee Harbour Trail and the detour trip to Sea Lion Rock on the way back. For those with more time on their visit, camping is available in the park. Also, don’t sleep on the hike to the top of the giant. This seven-hour trip is a grind but the Fjord like views are unlike anything else in the province.
Visit the Silver Islet General Store
Post-hike, make your way to Silver Islet. This hamlet was once home to the richest silver mine in the world! Although you can see remnants of this in some of the former miner’s homes turned vacation cottages, there’s no better place to take it all in than the Silver Islet General Store.
This 150+-year-old facility is a treasure trove of artefacts and history. From a refurbished Brunswick pool table to miners hats and a safe full of trinkets, there’s no shortage of interest here. Owners Jeff and Sandy are more than happy to share their knowledge and history so don’t be shy to ask questions!
If the history doesn’t grab you, the cinnamon buns certainly will.
Visit the Terry Fox Memorial
On your way back into town, stop in to pay your respects to Canada‘s hero, Terry Fox.
On April 12th, 1980, Terry Fox set out to run across Canada to raise awareness and funds for cancer research. This, by any means, is a gruelling task. In Terry’s case, unimaginable as he was attempting it on one leg.
At just 18 years old, cancer took his right leg. Not to be beaten, Terry set out on his Marathon of Hope. Sadly, after 143 days and covering 5,373 kilometres, Terry’s cancer returned, this time in his lungs. He was forced to stop his journey just outside of Thunder Bay.
On that very spot, a memorial can be found including an information centre and statue commemorating this national hero. It’s a very fitting tribute for someone who has raised over $800 million since then for cancer research.
Note, the gates close at 5:00 pm.
Explore Downtown Thunder Bay
Although compact, downtown Thunder Bay has some great highlights. If you are coming from Princ Aurthur’s landing, head across the railroad overpass and into town. There you will find some of the city’s best restaurants and bars. The Red Lion Smokehouse has a great patio and serves up the largest selection of craft beer in the city. They also serve excellent bbq dishes and fall-off-the-bone ribs.
Cap off the day with a cone or cup from Prime Gelato. This local favourite serves up authentic gelato thanks to owner Anne-Marie Calonego training in Italy. She brought this knowledge home to Thunder Bay and makes for a truly beautiful mix of Italy and Canada. Try the Salted Maple Caramel and tell me I’m wrong.
Day 3 – Set Sail or Hit the Links
With one day left in town, spend it sailing the blue waters of Lake Superior or take in one of the local golf courses. Either way, start your day with a Persian!
A Persian in Thunder Bay is a sweet pastry. Think cinnamon roll with pink frosting. Oddly, its origins have nothing to do with the Middle East or an immigrant baker.
The story of the Persian dates back to the 1940s when an American general named Jack Pershing met local baker Art Bennett. Art had just created the sweet treat and decided to name it after his new American friend.
Since then, the Persian has become a locally loved treat. It can be found at the Persian Man Bakery (two locations in town) and at local grocery shops.
From the sailboats that dot the harbour and shoreline each night, you can see that sailing is in Thunder Bay’s blood. If the weather aligns, head out on the water with Sail Superior. They offer a variety of tours on sailboats, catamarans, and zodiacs and range from half-day to full-day outings. Private wine and cheese and harbour tours are also available.
Golf Thunder Bay
With several public courses in and around Thunder Bay, there are plenty of options for those looking to swing their clubs. On my might visit, I got to golf at the Thunder Bay Country Club and the Strathcona Golf Course. I found both laid-back with a nice mix of challenging and straightforward holes along the way. On top of that, there was some wildlife to take in with foxes playing on the Thunder Bay Country Club back nine.
Wrapping Up What to do in Thunder Bay
There you have it. Three days highlighting the best things to do in Thunder Bay and beyond. With a mix of outdoor fun, great food, and craft beer, Thunder Bay has a ton to explore. Those that take the time to get off the highway or spend a few nights will find plenty of historical sights unique to the area and Canada. Thunder Bay has become one of my favourite stops on my now annual road trip across Canada and look forward to visiting again soon. I hope you do too!