Ride Lake Superior

Why Ontario's Epic Motorcycle Route Should Be On Your Bucket List

The most spectacular long-distance ride in Ontario, Ride Lake Superior can be tackled in one epic 1,300-mile/2,080-km tour—half in the U.S., half in Canada—or in a variety of smaller trips. Make sure you give yourself enough time to really experience the natural splendour and local colour of this unique, epic motorcycle route. This isn't a ride that should be rushed.

Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake, and the sparsely populated region straddling Algoma Country and Superior Country offers many restorative sights for the weary city rider, with miles of mountains, forests and water. What sets Lake Superior apart from the other great lakes is the distinctive topography, reminiscent of Highway 1 down the California coast. With towering quartzite cliffs on one side, and the never-ending blue of the lake on the other, Highway 17 sweeps and climbs in a breathtaking roller coaster of curves.

Starting points for those planning a long haul of the northern shore are either Sault Ste. Marie or Thunder Bay. But for the best views, riders should consider clockwise navigation around the lake. Riders approaching from the south might consider starting in Duluth, Minnesota.

Where to Start or End the Journey

Plan to spend a day or two in Thunder Bay to kick off or finish your journey—there are some amazing gems here. With its unique cultural history of Finnish and Polish settlers, it has some distinct traits that riders won't want to miss.

persian
(Photo credit: The Persian Man)

There are many excellent restaurants in the city that are a must. But one thing that Thunder Bay is renowned for, and you have to try, is a Persian. It’s an oval-shaped pastry, similar to a cinnamon bun, that’s fried and frosted with pink berry icing. You can pick up Persians from The Persian Man.

Take a day trip out to Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park—the 40-mile drop into a Precambrian Shield Gorge creates one of the most impressive sheets of water in Ontario. And if you're looking for something fun to do out of the saddle, try a harbour tour with Sail Superior. They run sailing tours every day for a different perspective of the city.

Kakabeka Falls Thunder Bay
The Niagara of the North, the Kakabeka Falls plunges 40 metres over sheer cliffs and some of the world's oldest fossils. (Photo credit: Mike Jacobs)

Just an hour from the bright lights of Thunder Bay is the peaceful peninsula of Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. Fill up in Thunder Bay—there's no gas on the peninsula. The road to Silver Islet is one of my favourite roads in the province and leads riders to the quaint village of Silver Islet. Plan to stop for a homemade cinnamon bun at the General Store there; a charming, peaceful spot at the end of the road, it's a great spot to wander with an ice cream cone, past sweet sleepy cottages and several antique stores and galleries.

Rossport Ontario
Trans Canada Hwy 17, Rossport, Ontario. (Photo credit: Mike Jacobs)

Leaving the peninsula, the road turns inland for 100 km/60 mi on the way to Nipigon. Fill up and have lunch before you head off along the north shore to Terrace Bay, where you'll find several inns, motels, and bed and breakfasts. Charters to the Slate Islands leave from Terrace Bay, taking riders across the big water to the sheltered bays and ancient rock formations that are home to a herd of protected caribou.

Hwy 17 from the Soo to Wawa
Hwy 17 from the Soo to Wawa.& (Photo credit: Mike Jacobs)

Continuing east from Terrace Bay, Highway 17 veers north around Jackfish Lake and twists through the forest and around smaller lakes inland—dropping down to shore sporadically for a surprise big water vistas before tucking back inland again -- for most of the way to Wawa, about 260 km/160 mi.

youngs general store wawa
Don't forget to check out the old-fashioned pickle barrel at Young's General Store. (Photo credit: Mike Jacobs)

In Wawa, plan to spend at least an hour at Young's General Store, chock-a-block full of souvenirs, snacks, fishing accessories, and a giant pickle barrel. It's a must-see, from the stuffed moose on the porch to the jalapeno fudge. If you're done for the day, the Wawa Motor Inn is a great place to stop, with motel-style rooms or private cabins, and a perfectly paved parking lot. And don't forget to snap a photo at the iconic Goose on your way out of town.

The ride between Wawa and Sault Ste. Marie is some of the most exhilarating coastlines along the Canadian part of the route. In 230 km/140 mi, the road goes inland just once -- through the deep green of Lake Superior Provincial Park—before bringing riders to the absolutely stunning Agawa Bay, where peach-coloured sand stretches out for miles.

Agawa Bay, Old Woman Bay and Batchawana Bay are great places to stop for a swim or a picnic, to just bask in the sunshine or soak your feet in the clear, blue water.

After a few days on the road, Sault Ste. Marie offers a great variety of historic and cultural sights. If you're interested in old machines (as many riders are), you could get lost for hours in the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre. Housed in an old airplane hangar right on the river, it's not only a repository of 25 bush planes and waterbombers but an educational centre dedicated to preserving the history of Bush Flying and Forest Protection in Canada.

The downtown core of Sault Ste. Marie is really quite beautiful, with some gorgeous old heritage buildings and interesting coffee shops and eccentric fashion houses. It has an interesting vintage feel, with the old store signage and diners like Mike's Lunch, but vibrant and alive at the same time. It's also home to the historic Ermatinger-Clergue National Historic Site, the oldest log house northwest of Toronto.

From border to border, the Canadian leg of the Lake Superior Circle Tour has something for every rider: exhilarating roads, breathtaking scenery, and perfect beaches just made for a relaxing afternoon. It's home to some of the best hiking in Ontario, fabulous restaurants, intriguing museums, and some truly unique and excellent shopping.

So whether you're a long-distance rider, or just up for a long-distance dash over long sweepers in the sunshine, Ride Lake Superior on your bucket list for this summer.

Sault Ste. Marie is:

  • 345 mi from Detroit, Michigan
  • 465 mi from Chicago, Illinois
  • 282 mi from Green Bay, Wisconsin
  • 430 mi (700 km) from Toronto, Ontario
  • 1000 mi from New York, New York

Thunder Bay is:

  • 340 mi from Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • 700 km from Winnipeg, Manitoba
About Mike Jacobs

Mike is an avid Northern traveller, having spent years traversing its backroads, and visiting its remote lodges and fun cities by car, RV, motorcycle, and boat. There's always something new to discover in the North and Mike never shies away from the next great adventure. Mike is the chairman of the board for the Tourism Technology Company.

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