Budget Bliss: Explore Northeastern Ontario Without Breaking the Bank

These affordable spots in The Seven offer inexpensive (and sometimes free) activities for everyone.

It’s true, planning a vacation with a tight budget isn't getting any easier. But that doesn’t mean you should give up hope on travelling if you feel like money’s tight—you just need to look in different places and dream of different activities.

Consider the opportunities in Northeastern Ontario, for example. The Seven is only a short drive north yet once you’re there, the family-friendly adventure and cultural activities seem like they’re a world away—with pristine beaches perfect for family fun, heart-pumping wilderness trails, skyscraping natural views, tremendous waterfalls, unique activities, and rich and authentic cultural experiences.

Best of all: there’s no catch and no hustle. The biggest splurge on our list will set you back barely $120 and the majority of our suggestions are free.   

The Seven's Budget-Friendly Beaches 

Moonlight Beach, Sudbury

 a sandy beach surrounded by green grass and trees, along a large, very blue lake under a blue sky. The beach is dotted with people.
Moonlight Beach is a beachgoer's delight and a perfect place to spend a day.

Sudbury is home to 330 freshwater lakes, making it a perfect spot to enjoy a day at the beach. Moonlight Beach on Ramsey Lake lives up to its idyllic name, with western exposure for amazing sunsets and a sandy, family-friendly dropoff. It’s located just south of Bancroft Road, in close proximity to the Trans-Canada Highway. Access is free.

Shabogesic Beach, North Bay

One of Ontario’s largest lakes casts a watery horizon looking west from downtown North Bay. The Gateway City celebrates its Lake Nipissing waterfront with several amazing swaths of sugary sand, including Shabogesic Beach, located on Memorial Drive.

Lake Temiskaming Beach and Boardwalk, Temiskaming Shores

boardwalk trail along the Lake Temiskaming waterfront provides easy access to one of Northeastern Ontario’s finest beaches, minutes from downtown Temiskaming Shores. Follow to the shoreline south for beach volleyball courts.

Shabogesic Beach in North Bay; a white sandy beach lined with distant green trees, under a clear blue sky and setting sun. Temiskaming Boardwalk Trail; a wooden walkway lined with green grass, extending along the edge of a huge blue lake under a sunny blue sky.
Shabogesic Beach (credit Tourism North Bay) and the Temiskaming Boardwalk (credit City of Temiskaming Shores)

Top Trails for Hiking and Biking

Lake Laurentian Conservation Area, Sudbury

bikers peddle up a small hill on a trail surrounded by green shrubbery at sunset.
Making the most of these beautiful trails is a day's entertainment free of charge.—Lake Laurentian Conservation Area // Photo credit Conservation Sudbury

It’s hard to believe you’re so close to Northern Ontario’s largest city when you are immersed in the boreal forest and Canadian Shield scenery of the Lake Laurentian Conservation Area. This 950-ha protected greenspace is a setting for outdoor adventures in all seasons, including dozens of kilometres of hiking and mountain biking trails and canoe portages to backcountry lakes. The trails are accessible at no charge (outside of cross-country ski season, when permits are necessary to use the groomed Bio-Ski trails) and there’s free parking at two entry points on South Bay Road, as well as from Moonlight Beach.

Voyageur Multi-Use Trail System, Mattawa

Known locally as “VMUTS”, this vast network of trails for ATVs, mountain bikes, dirt bikes, snowmobiles and more radiates across an incredible 275 km in the Laurentian Hills, near Mattawa. Whether you prefer powersports or choose to go self-propelled, this is adventure riding at its finest; enthusiasts assert it would take weeks to sample all VMUTS has to offer. Daily, weekly and annual permits are available at bargain prices.

Cup and Saucer Trail, Manitoulin Island

Cup and Saucer Trail; Two people sit at the top of an extremely high rocky outcropping, overlooking a treed valley under an orange sunset.
You can't beat views like the ones on Cup and Saucer Trail. // Photo credit Peter Baumgarten

The trailhead for Manitoulin Island’s best hiking trail is located a short drive from the community of Little Current and the Highway 6 swing bridge, at the junction of Highway 540 and Bidwell Road. You’ll find several options for hiking on well-marked trails, with the namesake 8-km Cup and Saucer trail climbing to lookouts on the crest of the Niagara Escarpment. There are no fees to access or use the trail.

Chasing (Ontario's) Waterfalls 

Duchesnay Falls, North Bay

Duchesnay Falls; a rocky waterfall surrounded by thick green forest, the leaves slightly turning to red for autumn.
Duchesnay Falls is really a must-visit and free to view.

One of Northeastern Ontario’s most scenic cascades is located adjacent to the Trans Canada Highway on the western edge of North Bay. Duchesnay Falls is a great place to stretch your legs on a road trip or capture some great landscape photography of water tumbling over 70 m. Trails radiate from the parking area on Highway 17 along the river’s edge and eventually to the campuses of Nipissing University and Canadore College. Some are groomed for cross-country skiing in the winter. These great trails are free year-round.

Bridal Veil Falls, Manitoulin Island

You couldn’t ask for a more scenic waterfall than Bridal Veil, located on Manitoulin Island. Like a natural garden fountain, water flowing from Kagawong Lake spills over a limestone shelf and tumbles 10 m into an idyllic pool below. Bring protective water shoes if you wish to take a dip beneath the falls, and certainly bring your camera. Bridal Veil Falls is located within a short walk from a free parking area on Highway 540, near the hamlet of Kagawong. 

Bridal Veil Falls; A woman and young girl skip across some large rocks that cross a glassy water pool in front of a large waterfall surrounded by lush trees.
The almost magical Bridal Veil Falls.

Recollet Falls, French River

One of Canada’s great heritage waterways, the French River served as an aquatic highway for Indigenous people, European explorers and the voyageurs of the fur trade—and it remains a popular canoe route today. For a quick, budget-friendly adventure on dry land, pick up a day-use permit from Ontario Parks at the French River Visitor Centre, just off Highway 69, and hike along a rockbound gorge to Recollet Falls. You’ll encounter plenty of glacier-scoured Canadian Shield granite along the way. The 3 km return trip to this historic cascade takes about 90 minutes to complete.

Try Something New in The Seven

Disc Golf, Sudbury

Have you heard of disc golf? It’s an athletic pursuit that marries the strategy of golf with the fun of tossing a frisbee and promises a low-cost afternoon in the outdoors. The Lions Club Disc Golf Course in downtown Sudbury is rated as one of the best in Ontario, with 22 holes that will challenge players of all abilities. Access is free. Contact the Sudbury Disc Golf Club for rental equipment.

Birding, Timmins

Try it for yourself and you’ll understand why birdwatching can quickly become an obsession. There are countless birding hotspots in Northeastern Ontario, including Gillies Lake in Timmins, where 133 species have been observed. The Gillies Lake Conservation Area is located minutes from the city centre and includes a boardwalk and picnic area. Autumn is a great time to watch for migrating shorebirds like sandpipers, as well as scaup, loons and other waterfowl, as they take a rest on their incredible journeys from breeding areas in the Canadian Arctic to warmer destinations for the winter.

A closeup of a chickadee resting on the fingertips of a hand holding some birdseed. Snow and forest are in the background. A group of smiling paddlers in canoes with race numbers attached to their bows, paddling down a glassy river in front of green forest on a sunny day.
Make some feathered friends—credit to Mattagami Region Conservation Authority. // The Mattawa River Canoe Race is fun for paddlers and spectators alike—credit North Bay-Mattawa Conservation Authority.

Canoe Marathon, Mattawa

Do you love to paddle? Challenge your skills in the Mattawa River Canoe Race, a one-day event held each June. The main event is a 64-km marathon following a historic fur trade route with rugged portages around several waterfalls and rapids. There’s also a 13-km category for first-time canoe racers and families. This fun, volunteer-run event comes with modest registration fees. It’s also exciting for spectators.

Explore History and Culture 

An indigenous woman and child in traditional dancing clothes at a pow pow on a sunny day. The child is pointing and speaking to the woman, who is smiling. Grandstands and a crowd are in the background. The Temagami Fire Tower; a tall metal lookout tower next to bright orange autumn trees against a cloudy sky.
Attending a pow wow is an experience you will never forget. // The Temagami Fire Tower, photo credit Temagami Chamber of Commerce.

Climb the Temagami Fire Tower

Once upon a time, a network of fire lookout towers scattered across the wilds of Northern Ontario, tended by rugged individuals, served as a critical warning system for identifying wildfires. The easy walk to the Temagami Fire Tower gives you a sense of a lonely, long-lost career choice, as well as a panoptic view of iconic old-growth white pine forests, rockbound lakes and the quaint town of Temagami, far below. The steel tower, built in 1951, soars 30 m above the summit of Caribou Mountain—and higher still above the surrounding terrain.

Experience a Pow Wow in Northeastern Ontario

Northeastern Ontario is the traditional home of many Indigenous communities, which continue to care for and receive sustenance from the lands and waters. Many community pow wows are open to Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike, including the Audek Omni Kaning Traditional Pow Wow on Manitoulin Island and the North Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre’s pow wow, both held in June. For more events check out this list of Pow Wows in Ontario.

Visit a Gold Mine, Kirkland Lake

The gold mines of Kirkland Lake rank amongst the world’s most productive. To get a sense of what old-time mining was like, take a free, self-guided outdoor tour of the non-operational Toburn Gold Mine, on Highway 66. Interpretive signage and multimedia QR codes explain the geology of Northeastern Ontario and the risks and rewards of working underground. Meanwhile, the Kirkland Lake Miners’ Memorial on Government Road is a tribute to the thousands of people who toiled in the area’s seven gold mines.

About Conor Mihell

Conor Mihell is an award-winning environmental and adventure travel writer based in Sault Ste. Marie. Read his work in the Globe and Mail, Explore, Cottage Life, Canoe & Kayak, ON Nature, and other magazines and newspapers. He's been a sea kayak guide on Lake Superior for close to 20 years, and has paddled from Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay. 

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