Best Weekend Escapes within a Drive From Minneapolis & St. Paul
Look across the international border to this wild corner of Ontario for countless opportunities to experience sublime nature and inspiring culture. Even better, it’s close enough for travellers from the Twin Cities to enjoy an action-packed weekend or relaxing long-weekend getaway. Here’s our short list of unforgettable Ontario escapes.
Thunder Bay: Culture, Cuisine and Outdoor Adventure in the Lakehead
Foodies and culture buffs take note: Thunder Bay’s vibrant culinary scene reflects the city’s diverse mosaic of traditional heritage and modern influences. Whether you're looking for farm-to-table fine dining, authentic artisanal gelato, a locally made craft brew, a Scandinavian breakfast, or a frosted dessert with a cult following, Thunder Bay has it. Experience the Lakehead’s gustatory delights on an urban walking tour with Seek Adventure and Tours—they offer a variety of themed food tours from two to three hours in length, so you can get your fill of sights and tastes around Thunder Bay’s waterfront and historic districts.
With the largest concentration of Finnish people outside of Finland, Scandinavian culture is woven into the fabric of the city—from the world-class cross-country ski trails at Lappe Nordic Centre to grabbing a morning steam and a plateful of pancakes at Kangas Sauna.
For a cultural experience of a different kind, engage with Canada’s fur trade history hands-on at Fort William Historical Park—a replica fur trading post that is one of the largest living history attractions in North America and host to many of Thunder Bay’s finest festivals and events. Learn about the Indigenous culture of the Ojibwe at one of Fort William First Nation’s traditional Pow Wows, held annually in the spring and fall.
Thunder Bay’s extraordinary geography—embraced by the Nor’Wester Mountains and the world’s mightiest lake—makes for the ultimate, year-round adventure playground. Two downhill ski and snowboard areas—Mount Baldy and Loch Lomond—are popular day and night. Winter fat bikers share summer mountain bike trails at Centennial Park and Shuniah Mines. Petrie’s Cycle and Sports rents both. Rock and ice climbers can explore dozens of crags within a 15-minute drive of the city—contact Outdoor Skills and Thrills for instruction and advice. More sedate outdoor experiences can be had along Thunder Bay’s revitalized waterfront at Prince Arthur’s Landing in Marina Park—stroll lakeside walking paths or enjoy open-air skating in winter. Afterwards, savour a fresh farm-to-table meal and craft beer right in the park at Bight Restaurant & Bar.
Read more about Thunder Bay’s tasty pairing of top-notch food and adventure here.
Taste of Quetico: The Canoeing Capital of Canada
Ontario’s answer to Minnesota’s famed Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Quetico Provincial Park shares its southern border with the BWCA. These two vast wilderness areas are roughly the same size, yet Quetico has just 20,000 annual visitors compared to Boundary Waters’ 250,000 annual visitors. Diehard canoe trippers can spend weeks exploring the park’s endless lakes, abundant wildlife, and virgin pine and spruce forests, but a weekend stay in Quetico can be just as rewarding.
Whether you’re a seasoned paddler or an eager novice planning your first Quetico visit, it’s a good idea to contact a local outfitter for route advice and assistance with shuttles, permits, and equipment rental. Based near the friendly gateway town of Atikokan, just 3 miles west of the main Quetico Park entrance, Camp Quetico is an experienced, full-service outfitting centre. Stay in one of their waterfront cabins on Eva Lake and enjoy day-tripping in the park, or embark on a fully outfitted guided or self-guided overnight canoe trip.
Short on time? Voyageur Wilderness Programme provides custom nature-based tour packages from one day/one night to multi-day eco adventures. Their Voyageur Lodge offers comfortably rustic accommodations on an exclusive island in Nym Lake, accessible by free shuttle boat. Guests can enjoy the lakeside sauna, paddle a replica 36-foot Voyageur canoe, and feast on traditional fur trade fare.
For a drive-in camping weekend, head to Quetico’s Dawson Trail campground. Situated on French Lake, the campground features great swimming beaches, natural heritage programming, kayak and SUP rentals, and access to 35 km (22 miles) of hiking trails. Three rustic cabins are available for rent year-round, with winter transforming the trails for skiing and snowshoeing.
Sleeping Giant: Four-Season Fun on the Sibley Peninsula
Viewed from across the waters of Lake Superior, the stepped mesas and towering cliffs of the Sibley Peninsula take the form of a giant figure in repose. Few roads venture onto this densely forested point, accessible from the Trans-Canada Highway just 40 minutes east of Thunder Bay. Summer or winter, it’s well work the drive to visit spectacular Sleeping Giant Provincial Park on the peninsula’s tip. Over 100 km (60 miles) of trails lead hikers, mountain bikers, snowshoers, and cross-country skiers to spectacular vantage points atop the highest cliffs in Ontario and remarkable geological features like the “Sea Lion” arch and Tee Harbour. To see all that this lovely park has to offer, plan to spend a night or two at Marie Louise Lake Campground. As well as drive-in sites, the campground also has five rustic cabins that are perfectly cozy for winter visitors.
Just minutes from Sleeping Giant Park, situated in a private cove overlooking Lake Superior, Beyond the Giant Nature Retreats offers the peninsula’s most charming and comfortable year-round accommodations. These stunning log cabins are perfect for a romantic weekend escape, family vacation, or for paddlers, hikers, and Nordic skiers seeking a little pre- or post-outing pampering. Nearby attractions include Silver Islet—once home to the richest silver mine in North America and now a quirky summer community—and the Thunder Cape Bird Observatory, where you can arrange a tour to learn about this critical migration stopover. See more ideas for local sightseeing and things to do here.
Ultimate Lake Superior: Get on the Water
How do you experience the world’s largest freshwater lake in just one weekend? These Thunder Bay-based outfitters can offer a few suggestions. See this incredible lake from the intimate vantage point of a sea kayak or voyageur canoe on a guided sunset tour of Thunder Bay Harbour with Such A Nice Day Adventures. Or set sail aboard one of Sail Superior’s graceful sailboats—cruises range from a 90-minute harbour tour or evening wine-and-cheese cruise, to a variety of all-day excursions visiting remote islands, lighthouses, hiking trails, and even an authentic Finnish sauna. Sail Superior also runs Zodiac tours if you prefer to travel at top speed!
For the ultimate Lake Superior experience, sail to far-flung Porphyry Island, where you can stay for a long weekend at a working lighthouse station and experience what it’s like to live on a remote island. Immerse yourself in the island’s history, black-sand beaches, hiking trails, and panoramic views by day, then relax in the sauna, sit by a campfire, or be awed by the starry skies after dark. Learn more about Porphyry Island retreats here.
PLAN YOUR TRIP NOW
Whether you are looking for an action-packed weekend or a serene long-weekend getaway, Ontario offers countless opportunities—plus you’ll save money with the exchange rate. Book your Ontario escape now.