6 Best Places to go Trail Running in Ontario
A wide range of topography and endless trail networks provide many options for trail runs in Ontario. Want to weave through towering white pines? We’ve got that here. How about tracing scenic paths alongside crystal-clear water and cobblestone beaches? That’s here, too. Are you looking for challenging ups and downs on ancient mountains clad in sugar maples? No problem, you’ll find plenty of options with a variety of distances.
The secret to finding wild trails is to venture north. Skip the crowds that come with trail running in Southern Ontario. Jump onto the Trans-Canada Highway and point north towards the Canadian Shield.
Thunder Bay – Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
“Sleepy G” is one of the best spots to trail run in Northern Ontario. There are plenty of options, from leg-numbing ascents to leisurely cruises along double-track. Nearby Lake Superior keeps things cool and is never too far away for a mid-run dunk.
The park is located about an hour’s drive east of Thunder Bay on Highway 17 and Highway 587. Buy a day pass and park at the South Kabeyun trailhead. You have many out-and-back options, starting with a 2-km round-trip run to the Sea Lion (a unique rock formation on the Lake Superior shore). Make a 12-km round-trip by continuing to Tee Harbour or Sawyer Bay. Add in a run up to the “Top of the Giant” for an incredible view of Lake Superior, with some serious elevation gain that will set your quads on fire.
Experienced runners can attempt the 24-km circumnavigation of the peninsula. This is one of the most remote runs, so it’s important to know your limits and be prepared. Cell service is spotty for most of the trail. Great camping is available at Sleeping Giant’s Marie Louise Lake campground, but you’ll want to reserve a site in advance.
If you want to stay closer to Thunder Bay, check out the excellent Shuniah Mines trail system, which is maintained by the Blacksheep Mountain Bike Club. Be on the lookout and give right-of-way to the bikers. There’s a mix of doubletrack and singletrack, with fun switchbacks, flowy descents, and grinding climbs. Park your car at Trowbridge Park or Cascades Conservation Area to get into the trails. Maps are posted throughout the system, or you can use the Trailforks App to navigate while you’re there.
UpRiver Running is the local trail running club in Thunder Bay. They organize autumn races in Shuniah Mines (10 km, 25 km and 50 km), and can provide advice for any other running routes in the area. Fresh Air Experience is Thunder Bay’s local running and active-sports store. You’ll be able to get anything you might need for a trail run here, or at the local Running Room.
Wawa – Lake Superior Provincial Park
There’s so much variety in Lake Superior Provincial Park. Take a heart-pumping hill climb like the 11-km Peat Mountain Trail or run as far as you’d like on the 24-km out-and-back Towab Trail, which follows the Agawa River through hardwood forests up to an excellent swimming hole.
The crown jewel of the park is the 65-km Coastal Hiking Trail. This trail hugs the shore from the Agawa Visitor Centre in the park's south end up to the beautiful and remote Warp Bay beaches. There are different access points along this trail, from which you can also start and finish your run. Expect slow going on the headlands, with cobble boulders, slippery surfaces and sparse trail markers - all part of the fun. Each access is close to the lake for a refreshing post-run plunge into Superior.
Camp at one of the two campgrounds in the park: Agawa or Rabbit Blanket. Both have great trails to run in the immediate vicinity. While you’re in Lake Superior Provincial Park, make the time to go fishing, canoeing or see pictographs as well.
Sault Ste. Marie – Algoma Highlands
Fall colours erupt across the Algoma Highlands, home to the most elevation in the province. These granite hills make up an ancient mountain range, located just north of Sault Ste. Marie. Worn down by the massive ice sheets that blanketed the region 10,000 years ago, these hills were taller than the Himalayas at one point.
A trail-running paradise lies 30 minutes north of the city at Stokely Creek Lodge. Home of the Stokely Ultra, one of the premier ultrarunning races in Ontario, this lodge has trails for all types of runners. Even if you aren’t participating in the 170-km /100-mile mega-run, you can still enjoy running the nordic trails through the summer and fall. The nordic trails are impeccably maintained, and you’ll enjoy the rolling hills weaving through hardwood forests.
Sudbury – Lake Laurentian
The multi-use trail network surrounding Lake Laurentian is prime for anyone staying near downtown Sudbury. Run the 10-km Lake Laurentian loop, or add on a few extra k’s with the various offshoots. This trail is a fantastic urban nature trail run, and chickadees will undoubtedly accompany you as you dodge through the white birch and jack pine forests.
If you’re in town for a while, be sure to also check out the excellent multi-use trails at Kivi Park, a large greenspace with over 50 km of trails to explore just south of downtown. Nearby are the Walden Trails, host of the midsummer Apex Rush trail races.
Terrace Bay – Casque Isles Trail
Terrace Bay is located on the North Shore of Lake Superior, looking out onto the open horizons, about a 2.5-hour drive east of Thunder Bay. One of the most exposed sections of the coastline, it’s no wonder the beaches here are a hotspot for freshwater surfing. Terrace Bay is a gateway to the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area and the eastern edge of the Casque Isles hiking trail. Fifty-three km of rugged coast, connecting secluded bays with dense boreal forest, steep climbs, and technical descents. It’s one of the most challenging Ontario running trails, and runners should be experienced and self-sufficient to run this remote route.
Run the trail segments as out-and-backs or, ideally, with a pick-up and drop-off. It’s built and maintained by locals, keeping with a minimalist ethos. You’ll navigate the trail searching for small trail markers or rock cairns, keeping in line with the natural feel. Prepare to tiptoe across cobble and scramble up some scree slopes as you go. For a shorter run, take a 5-km trip from Aguasabon Beach to the Falls and back. Or stretch it out to Lyda Bay as a 12-km run.
After trail running, swim at Aguasabon beach or join a Park Canada program at the boardwalk pavilion. There are some fantastic provincial parks nearby, with Neys 35 minutes east and Rainbow Falls 20 minutes to the west. Both these parks have great trail running opportunities and outstanding waterfront campgrounds for overnight stays.
Mattawa – Nature’s Harmony and Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park
Just north of Algonquin Provincial Park and near the Quebec border, Nature’s Harmony Ecolodge boasts over 25 km of trails great for running and hiking, located within a 3-hour drive west of Ottawa on Highway 17. The trails run through the transition zone between boreal and Great Lakes-St. Lawrence forest, where you will be treated to large maples and vistas atop the ancient Laurentian Mountains. They host the Run Off The Grid trail race in September, with 12-, 25- and 50-km lengths. Day users must purchase a pass for this private property, or you can choose to stay at the eco-retreat and access the trails. Stay in the chalet, log cabin, or one of the options like staying in a canvas tent, yurt, or insulated geodesic dome. Guests at the retreat can use the canoes available onsite to explore Bang’s Bay on the Ottawa River.
A short distance away is Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park. Make a reservation to stay at one of the more than 200 campsites and enjoy the trails in the park. The Etienne Trail System has four loops, from 2.5- to 9 km. Other than running, the park is best explored by water. Rent a canoe at the park and paddle the scenic Mattawa River.
Plan Your Trip Now
This is just the beginning of options for trail running in Ontario. There are great trails all over the province, and often the best trail running in Ontario is at provincial parks or nordic ski centres. The flow of cross-country ski trails is perfect for running, with combinations of hills and flats, usually through scenic areas.