Since its inception as a fur trading post in 1816, the city of Thunder Bay, Ontario, has undergone significant transformation. With its roots tied to the historic Fort William, this strategically positioned community along the shores of Lake Superior is now recognized as one of northwestern Ontario’s most vibrant cities.
The city has evolved into one of Canada’s best small cities, attributed to downtown preservation initiatives, the establishment of arts and cultural venues, and abundant opportunities for outdoor pursuits. Thunder Bay offers a range of enjoyable activities, from exploring Fort William to visiting art galleries and museums, as well as navigating its extensive network of hiking trails and nearby provincial parks.
For further insights into the year-round tourist attractions in this lively city, consult our guide on the best things to do in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
1. Fort William Historical Park
Established in 1973, Fort William Historical Park meticulously recreates the original fortified fur trading post and transportation hub that stood on this precise site in 1816.
Referred to as a “living history” site, this attraction is situated just west of the city center, showcasing 42 reconstructed period buildings available for exploration. These structures are manned by costumed “guides” engaging in tasks common during the era, such as blacksmithing, curing and processing furs, canoe building, and carpentry.
The site also features notable exhibits, including a reconstructed Ojibwa village and a farmstead, both authentically recreated to depict life during that period. A recent addition is the 50,000-seat amphitheater, utilized for hosting year-round events. Additionally, a visitor’s center housing a gift shop and café is conveniently located on-site.
2. Marina Park
At the heart of the extensive revitalization of Thunder Bay’s waterfront area, Marina Park is a must-visit destination. Situated near the historic northern downtown core, this charming green space provides some of the finest views overlooking Lake Superior and the Sleeping Giant.
Intersected by walking trails and a boardwalk, the park includes the docks of the public marina, play areas for children, picnic spots, various captivating sculptures and monuments, and heritage buildings like the former CN Rail station. Adding to its allure is the Thunder Bay Tourist Pagoda, constructed in 1909 and distinguished by its distinctive hexagonal shape.
If you’re seeking excellent accommodations in Thunder Bay, Marina Park is home to several new hotels, including the recently opened Delta Hotel, and offers delightful dining experiences.
For those intending to thoroughly explore this area, consider staying at the beautifully renovated Courthouse Hotel. Positioned on a hill within Thunder Bay’s old courthouse, this meticulously restored historic building affords breathtaking views of Lake Superior, the north downtown area, and Marina Park.
3. Climb Mount McKay
Situated on the Fort William First Nation’s Reserve, Mount McKay (Anemki Wajiw) is a must-include destination in your Thunder Bay travel plans. Standing at an elevation of 305 meters, it holds the distinction of being the tallest and northernmost peak in the Nor’Wester Mountain range.
This remarkable landscape, shaped around 1,100 million years ago, offers breathtaking panoramic views of the region, including the renowned Sleeping Giant.
For the finest vantage points, head to the Mount McKay Scenic Lookout. Positioned at the 152-meter mark, the lookout features an easily accessible boardwalk that provides some of the most stunning views. Adventurers looking to reach the summit can follow a narrow trail leading to the top of Mount McKay. While recommended for experienced hikers only, the journey is immensely rewarding.
4. Thunder Bay Museum
While Thunder Bay is renowned for its natural surroundings and numerous nature-oriented attractions, it also caters to those interested in cultural activities. Among the region’s top cultural destinations is the Thunder Bay Museum. Established in 1972 by the Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society, which dates back to 1908, the museum occupies a stately historic building in the downtown area.
Each of the museum’s three floors is brimming with captivating displays and exhibits covering topics ranging from the area’s earliest human settlers to the prehistoric era of dinosaurs. Notable highlights include exhibitions showcasing Thunder Bay’s vibrant musical history and its military heritage.
For additional insights into the city’s military history, visitors can explore the Thunder Bay Military Museum and the Northwestern Ontario Aviation Heritage Centre, both conveniently located nearby.
5. Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park & Eagle Canyon
Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park offers an exciting wilderness experience for exploration. Situated an hour northeast of Thunder Bay, this day-use park provides breathtaking panoramic views of Ouimet Canyon. The canyon spans 150 meters in width, featuring dramatic cliffs that descend about 100 meters to the canyon floor below. Accessing some of the most stunning viewpoints is made easy by a pleasant, level trail and boardwalk connecting the parking area to two viewing platforms.
Just a short 15-minute drive to the east lies the equally remarkable Eagle Canyon. Here, Eagle Canyon Adventures operates an adventure park that takes full advantage of the spectacular topography, offering thrilling and adrenaline-pumping experiences. Highlights include two suspension bridges spanning the canyon, with the longest measuring 183 meters—the world’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge.
Another exciting attraction is Canada’s longest zipline, stretching half a mile, and providing an exhilarating journey over the treetops at speeds of up to 72 kilometers per hour.
6. Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
Established in 1944, Sleeping Giant Provincial Park provides an excellent opportunity to intimately explore Thunder Bay’s most iconic landmark. Situated on the Sibley Peninsula, just a scenic one-hour drive from the city center, this 244-square-kilometer park is a magnet for hikers and sightseers drawn to its remarkable natural beauty. It also hosts one of the best campgrounds in Ontario.
With over 100 kilometers of hiking trails, the Top of the Giant Trail stands out as a favorite. This 22-kilometer round-trip hike, not suitable for the faint of heart or unfit, may take a few hours. However, the trail’s highlight—the “Top of the Giant” lookout point, nearly 305 meters high—is a rewarding vantage point offering spectacular views over Lake Superior.
Various hiking trails lead to notable geological features, including the renowned “Sea Lion,” a distinctive arch sculpted by wave action and erosion, often captured in photographs.
Don’t miss the park’s visitor center, featuring displays of the region’s wildlife, which includes diverse bird species, deer, wolves, and even lynx, along with exhibits on cultural history. For those wishing to extend their stay, rustic full-service cabins, available year-round, or seasonal campsites can be booked for an overnight experience.
7. Terry Fox Monument
While exploring Thunder Bay, tourists have the opportunity to learn more about one of Canada’s national heroes: Terry Fox. Terry Fox is an emblematic figure in Canada, symbolizing hope for cancer awareness. In 1977, he underwent an amputation due to bone cancer but decided to embark on a cross-Canada run to raise funds for cancer research. The run commenced in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
After 143 days, he reached Thunder Bay, only to discover that the cancer had returned, preventing him from continuing. A nine-foot-tall bronze statue now serves as a memorial to the Canadian hero, allowing visitors to pay their respects while enjoying sweeping views over Thunder Bay.
To this day, an annual Terry Fox Run is organized in more than 60 countries worldwide.
8. Niagara of the North: Kakabeka Falls
A quick 25-minute drive directly west of Thunder Bay leads to the breathtaking Kakabeka Falls. Located in the village of the same name, this is where the Kaministiquia River cascades 40 meters into a remarkable gorge carved out of the Precambrian Shield.
Given the nickname “Niagara of the North” due to its size (and being only 11 meters shorter than Niagara Falls), the falls are easily accessible and safe, making them suitable for visits with children.
From the parking lot, an uncomplicated boardwalk trail offers access to the top of the falls, providing excellent views over the gorge. Numerous nature trails diverge from this point, allowing for further exploration of the paths once traveled by the original Voyageurs engaged in fur trading. These same trails are accessible in winter for those who enjoy cross-country skiing.
9. Boulevard Lake
While Lake Superior might be the most renowned lake in Thunder Bay, it is by no means the sole one. Boulevard Lake, a local favorite, stands out as a popular destination for both residents and tourists during the summer.
Established in 1914, Boulevard Lake covers an expansive 650 acres and serves as an ideal location for activities such as swimming, hiking, boating, and leisurely relaxation. The lake owes its existence to a dam constructed along the Current River.
Encircling the lake is a 3.2-mile paved walking trail, offering optimal viewpoints from all perspectives. Along this trail, visitors will encounter an 18-hole disc golf course, multiple beaches, a mini-putt area, canoe rentals, and a playground. Head north on the trail for one of the most scenic views of the lake.
During holiday evenings, the lake transforms with an LED light display illuminating the dam and casting reflections on the mirror-like surface of the lake.
10. Mission Island
Easily reached from downtown Thunder Bay via a road bridge, Mission Marsh Conservation Area is an enjoyable destination for families and travelers who prioritize accessibility. Renowned for its diverse waterfowl and fish populations, as well as its untouched native vegetation, the most captivating areas can be effortlessly accessed through an extensive boardwalk trail that provides a close encounter with the richness of nature.
Several self-guided “learning trails” have been established, offering nature enthusiasts an opportunity to deepen their understanding of the surroundings. An interpretive pavilion has also been constructed, offering valuable information about both the human and natural history of the area.
11. Hillcrest Park
Situated atop a hill, as its name implies, Hillcrest Park is a public area offering some of the most stunning vistas in Thunder Bay. The scenic overlook provides panoramic views of the waterfront, including the renowned Sleeping Giant Natural Monument.
A favored location for a serene interlude or a picnic, the park is adorned with a lovely garden and playground. Additionally, it features a memorial dedicated to the individuals from the Lake Superior Regiment who served in World War II.
Q: Is Thunder Bay a year-round destination?
A: Thunder Bay offers activities throughout the year, making it an ideal destination regardless of the season.
Q: What is the best time to visit Kakabeka Falls?
A: The summer months provide the best weather for exploring Kakabeka Falls and its surrounding trails.
Q: Are there family-friendly activities in Thunder Bay?
A: Absolutely! From parks to cultural attractions, Thunder Bay caters to visitors of all ages.
Q: Can I enjoy outdoor activities in winter in Thunder Bay?
A: Yes, winter opens up opportunities for activities like skiing and snowshoeing in scenic landscapes.
Q: Are there vegetarian options at Hoito Restaurant?
A: Hoito Restaurant offers a variety of vegetarian options, ensuring everyone can savor its historic dishes.