10 Best Things To Do in Northern Ontario

Hike the Cup and Saucer, see Indigenous pictographs, experience a train ride to Ontario's northernmost reaches–here are some epic, must-do adventures to check out when planning a trip here.

Northern Ontario is a vast land of more than 250,000 lakes and waterways, hundreds of provincial parks, dozens of vibrant cities and small towns, and lots and lots of surprises. Many first-timers to the region can’t get over just how BIG we really are. So we’ve rounded up the best things to do in Northern Ontario. Add these to your Northern Ontario bucket list. 

1. Hike the Cup and Saucer Trail on the World’s Largest Freshwater Island

Views of Manitoulin and beyond from the top of Cup and Saucer Trail 

Where: Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron 

What: 2-hour, 14km hike to expansive island views. Just stay back from the edge if you're afraid of heights. 

Why: New visitors to Manitoulin Island often make a beeline from the ferry to the Cup and Saucer Trail, and for good reason. One of the most famous hikes in Ontario, and one of the top things to do on the world’s largest freshwater island, the views from the top of Cup and Saucer won’t disappoint. Located at the top of a limestone cliff, (the final Northern terminus of the Niagara Escarpment), the entire island–its lakes, forests, and Lake Huron beyond–are spread out before you. Take a moment and take it all in. 

Visitors to the Cup and Saucer Trail have three options for reaching the top–the blue trail is the most popular and the most straightforward, while the red trail offers a longer, more substantial hike. The yellow “adventure” trail is a lot of fun but not for the faint of heart–be prepared for ladders, scrambling over boulders, and navigating a few crevasses. While you’re on the island, check out Bridal Veil Falls as well. A short walk on a gently sloping trail gets you to this glorious, low-key waterfall in the round where you can take a dip or even walk behind the falls. Check out our Insider's Guide to Manitoulin Island and our RVers guide on where to camp when you're visiting. 

2. Ride the Polar Bear Express to the Edge of Canada

Get up close to a polar bear and live to tell the tale at the Polar Bear Habitat in Cochrane

Where: Cochrane to Moosonee 

What: Scenic train ride to the top of Ontario. But stop and see the polar bears first. 

Why: For the true adventurer, this is a bucket list voyage to the edges of Canada’s north. The 6-hour journey (it can be longer–patience is a virtue here) begins in Cochrane, the polar bear capital of the world, and ends in Moosonee, the gateway to the Arctic. Start with a visit to the Canadian Polar Bear Habitat in Cochrane before boarding the train. Along the way, you’ll have the opportunity to spot tons of wildlife and see pristine Canadian wilderness, while getting to know the locals who take the passenger train regularly for work, hunting trips, and shopping trips “down south.” Upon arrival in Moosonee (pop. 3,500 and home of the only saltwater port in Ontario) it’s just a short jaunt across the water to Moose Factory and the Indigenous-run Cree Village Ecolodge

3. Experience the Agawa Canyon Train Ride

The Agawa Canyon Train Ride is popular with families and makes a great day trip

Where: Sault Ste. Marie

What: Scenic train trip through Group of Seven landscapes

Why: This scenic day trip is one of the most popular train trips in North America. Leaving from the scenic waterfront city of Sault Ste. Marie, the tour train takes visitors through the rocky Canadian Shield, through the landscape that inspired Canada’s Group of Seven artists, and down 500 feet to the floor of the Agawa Canyon. Learn the history of the Algoma region by listening to stories of the fur traders, Ojibwe, and explorers as you ride, and then enjoy an afternoon exploring waterfalls and gravel trails in the canyon before heading back to the Soo in time for dinner. The Machine Shop and its many restaurants are a short walk from the brand new train depot.

4. Drive Canada’s Most Scenic Highway* from Sault Ste. Marie to Wawa

Hugging the rugged coastline of Lake Superior, this short drive has tons of places to stop and enjoy the best scenery Canada has to offer

Where: The Trans-Canada Highway 

What: The best road trip scenery you can find in Canada. Seriously. 

Why: This 2-hour stretch of road from the Soo to Wawa rivals some of the most scenic drives in Canada and the world. If you’ve already experienced the coastal drive along California’s Highway 1 and you’ve checked out the Amalfi Coast in southern Italy, make Canada’s most scenic coastal highway the next stop on your bucket list. With towering cliffs on one side and Lake Superior on the other, it’s easily one of the most beautiful driving experiences anywhere. With plenty of places to pull over (including sandy beaches and clifftop viewpoints) visitors often take an entire day completing this relatively short drive. Be sure to check out the Agawa Pictographs (#5) along the way, along with Old Woman Bay and Batchawana Bay. On arrival in Wawa, check out the town’s world’s largest Canada goose and enjoy a night at the family-run Lakeview Hotel downtown. Local hangout Woody’s Pub is just off the lobby, making this the perfect place to relax after a day on the road. 

*Some may feel this is up for debate. What about Jasper! Cape Breton! Fine. We're still pretty certain this is the best. 

5. Check out the Agawa Pictographs

Red ochre images await visitors at Canada's most-visited Indigenous site

Where: Lake Superior Provincial Park, located on the Trans-Canada Highway between Sault Ste. Marie and Wawa

What: One of the most important sites for Indigenous art in Canada.

Why: It’s hard to believe you’re still on planet earth once you’ve descended into the forested, rocky pathway leading to the edge of Lake Superior and the famous Agawa Pictographs. This short hike leads you down through narrow crevasses covered with green plant life where the sounds of the lake echo and sunlight is scarce. Once you’ve emerged onto the windswept shoreline you’ll have views of the world’s largest, and deepest freshwater lake, dotted with islands covered in bent, beautiful trees. Follow the shoreline to the Agawa pictographs–one of Canada’s most-visited Indigenous sites. These ochre paintings were left on the cliffs here centuries ago by the Ojibwe people. Take note: the pictographs are very close to the shoreline which can be slippery. They are viewable only in calm weather. Read more about the history of the pictographs here

6. See Niagara Falls of the North 

Thundering water and a viewing platform overlooking the crest of the falls makes Kakabeka Falls an essential stop when visiting Thunder Bay

Where: Kakabeka Falls on the Trans Canada Highway near Thunder Bay

What: Ontario’s second highest waterfall after Niagara Falls. 

Why: With easy access off the Trans-Canada highway, this scenic stop is a no-brainer. With far less crowds and more water flowing over it per minute than its southern counterpart, Kakabeka Falls is truly a majestic sight. Take in panoramic views from the boardwalk along the falls (there’s even a bridge that lets you walk right over the top), and bring a picnic so you can sit and take it all in over lunch or a snack. All accompanied by the thundering sound of the falls. 

7. Visit the Terry Fox Memorial

The dynamic sculpture captures the spirit of Canadian athlete Terry Fox // photo courtesy of Richard Keeling, Wikimedia Commons

Where: Outside Thunder Bay on the Trans-Canada Highway

What: A monument to Canadian marathoner Terry Fox

Why: Pretty much every Canadian is familiar with Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope. In 1980, the cancer survivor and humanitarian ran the equivalent of a marathon every day for 143 days in order to raise money for cancer research. Fox began his run in St. John’s, Newfoundland and ended the run just outside Thunder Bay, after his cancer unfortunately returned. This bronze monument with an amethyst base, erected in 1982, stands as a testimony to 5,373 kilometres (3,339 mile) odyssey. This is a moving tribute to one of Canada’s most inspirational figures, and must stop when visiting Thunder Bay. A visitor’s centre with washroom facilities is located on site. Next, explore everything Thunder Bay has to offer. 

8. Hike the Crack in Killarney

Where: Killarney Provincial Park, about 2 hours from Sudbury 

What: A challenging 2-hour hike with epic views of Georgian Bay

Why: The summit of Killarney Park’s the Crack offers one of the most scenic views in Ontario. After a meandering start through the boreal forest, the trail begins to ascend revealing bare quartzite rock. After a short but challenging vertical climb up some boulder “stairs” through a deep crevasse that gives the trail its name, hikers will be treated to a rewarding view of Georgian Bay and beyond. The majority of the trail is considered moderate, with the final section rated “difficult.” Check out AllTrails for a detailed trail map. Start early and wear good sturdy shoes. Insider tip: grab a to-go lunch from Killarney Mountain Lodge’s Curds and Whey restaurant, and enjoy a well-earned lunch at the summit of the Crack. Nearby Killarney Outfitters has all the gear, trail maps, and expertise you need before heading out. 

9. Discover Ouimet Canyon

An autumn view of Ouimet Canyon–views for days!

Where: Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park, ten minutes off the TransCanada Highway, about halfway between Thunder Bay and Nipigon

What: Canada's answer to the Grand Canyon but with more trees and less red dust. 

Why: This dramatic, forested gorge is also a bit of a hidden gem–rarely busy but one of the most incredible sights you'll find in Ontario. The sheer, 100-metre cliffs drop straight down from the viewing platform, making it feel as if you're standing at the edge of a brand new world. With lots of marked paths and a boardwalk, this is an easy place to stretch your legs and take in the views. Read more about Ouimet Canyon here

10. See the world's largest coin

Sudbury's world-famous nickel is a great spot for a selfie  // photo courtesy of Motorbicycle, Wikimedia Commons  

Where: Sudbury's Dynamic Earth

What: It's the world's largest coin. Selfie time! 

Why: You knew the big nickel would make it into our top ten, and here it is. This giant coin (the world's largest) on the grounds of Sudbury's Dynamic Earth science centre is a tribute to the city's lucrative mining history. The unusual landmark is the result of one man's fever dream to create a world class tourist attraction for the city of Sudbury. What most people don't know is that the big nickel used to have a bunch of friends–it was part of the now defunct Canadian Centennial Numismatic Park which displayed a number of large coins including a U.S. half-dollar, a U.S. penny, and a Canadian penny. It was meant to be, in the words of its original backers, "the greatest tribute or salute to numismatics since the earliest coins were struck in the eighth century B. C. in Lydia, Asia Minor.” A lofty goal. What became of these other coins, no one is quite sure. But the nickel (all 13,000-kg of it) remains atop the city's highest hill, where it continues to welcome visitors from around the world. While you're in Sudbury check out the Alex Trebek tour, enjoy some patio dining, and find a unique place to stay

Add these sites to your travel bucket list. No matter where you choose to explore in Northern Ontario, you're guaranteed to leave with incredible memories. 

About Jennifer McCartney

Jennifer McCartney is a New York Times bestselling author. She has written a number of books including So You Want to Move to Canada, Eh? Her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Vice Magazine, Teen Vogue, and CBC.

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