3 Winter Drives from Thunder Bay: Frozen Waterfalls, A Giant Snowman, and Snowy Hikes
Flip a coin—east or west! Take the drive from Superior Country's main city, Thunder Bay, and discover multiple routes to explore—whether you're looking for dark skies for sky-gazing or immaculate frozen waterfalls to enjoy from the comfort of your vehicle. Choose a direction, grab your favourite travel buddy and explore the great Superior Country.
1. Thunder Bay – Atikokan
Start your day off right in Thunder Bay at Mission Island Marsh Conservational Area. An area treasured by locals, it is the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Located at 106th South Street, Thunder Bay, the island is conveniently located for locals and tourists. View the Sleeping Giant while exploring the paths and boardwalks and view and experience wildlife up close—the island is home to hundreds of migratory birds and a healthy deer population. Many visit the island solely to see the deer. Be sure to bring the camera along to capture your encounters!
From the conservation area, take an easy 30-minute drive west on Highway 17 to see Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park. The park entrance is easily accessible off the main highway and brings you to Ontario’s second-highest waterfall. Once parked, it is a short walk to the viewing decks (less than 100m), from which you’ll see the cascading falls in all her glory. Measuring to 40-meters high, the falls is sure to impress.
Make a day out of visiting the park! There is a lot to do at Kakabeka Falls aside from viewing the falls—like spending the afternoon touring the scenic pathways and snowshoeing or cross country skiing on the groomed trails.
From Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park, you can continue to Quetico Provincial Park. From Highway 17, you’ll be routed onto highway 11 which will bring you 150 km west to the park’s entrance. Covering an area of 460,000 ha, showcasing ample beauty to be seen everywhere you look and memorable experiences to discover. Spend the remainder of your day exploring the rugged beauty the park has to offer, from majestic waterfalls to endless snowshoe trails, there’s endless adventure.
You can choose to make the drive back to Thunder Bay, or you can spend the night at one of their three rustic cabin rentals. There are ample amenities at the cabins to make your stay comfortable, 2 pairs of snowshoes are provided with cabin rentals and full use of park facilities. Recognized as an International Dark Sky Park by the IDA, Quetico Provincial Park is the perfect location to stargaze with a loved one, friend, or fur pal.
Do it in a single day starting bright and early, or make it last the whole weekend, the Thunder Bay to Quetico Park is a perfect route to drive this winter. Enjoy endless scenery from location to location and seek unique Northern experiences to endeavour.
2. Nipigon – Longlac (Greenstone)
Take a tour from Nipigon to Longlac and experience several natural wonders. Beginning at the majestic Gomar Falls, also known as Gorge Creek Falls. Located just 35-kilometeres from Nipigon up Highway 11 is the pipeline station which is the ideal location to park to begin the hike to see this impressive frozen waterfall structure. Across the highway, you’ll see a powerline that’ll bring you up to a small water stream, Gorge Creek. There is a sign to the right marking the trail which follows up along the creek. Once at the base of the frozen waterfall you’ll be amazed of the sheer size and beauty the frozen waterfall encompasses. Take in the incredible up-close view of the falls from the base and be sure to take a moment to admire the amazing view of Orient Bay before heading out.
While driving to Gorge Creek Falls and onward, you’ll be surprised by the natural beauty Greenstone has to offer. Spot countless frozen waterfalls from the highway—you’ll likely see ice climbers embracing the best formations for the sport. In fact, Greenstone is the ultimate ice climbing destination in Canada. The most popular location is The Pijitawabik Palisades. With an escarpment reaching heights of over 130 feet, ice formations can reach up to 30 feet thick making it a prime location. The Palisades is located just another 5 kilometers up Highway 11 from Gorge Creek Falls. There is a dedicated parking space at the trailhead which is located a short 200 meters from the highway and is clearly marked by a blue and white sign. The trek is about 10 kilometers round-trip and is well marked. There are stairs and bridges along the trail, however, it's still a difficult trail. The reward? Exceptional ice climbing conditions and breathtaking views of Orient Bay.
From there, it is about a 25-kilometer drive until you reach Beardmore, home of Canada’s giant snowman. Claiming to be the snow capital of the world, Beardmore is a snowmobile lovers' heaven. The Greenstone Snowmobile Club combines efforts and resources with Geraldton Snow Club and Longlac Snowmobiling Club to maintain over 300 kilometers of groomed trails. Off the groomed trails you’ll be able to experience thousands of kilometers of logging roads, lakes, old railway trails, and endless Crown Lands to explore. If you’re a winter/snow lover, you will not be disappointed by what Beardmore, Geraldton, and Longlac have to offer!
3. Thunder Bay – Terrace Bay “Bay to Bay”
Embrace true north shore beauty as you travel from bay to bay! Thunder Bay to Terrace Bay, that is. Start off in Thunder Bay and begin heading east on Highway 11/17. Just shy of 50 kilometers down the highway is Shuniah’s Flying J Travel Centre—take the turnoff on the right-hand side (opposite to the Centre) that will bring you through Pass Lake and eventually to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. The park has countless winter adventures for you to endeavour! From cross-country skiing and snowshoeing to unforgettable winter scenery, you can easily spend all day at the park exploring.
Further east on highway 11/17, you’ll soon arrive in Nipigon. Before crossing the world-famous suspension bridge, take the first exit on the right-hand side through the downtown area to the marina. There is ample signage to direct you to the waterfront where you’ll be able to get immaculate views of the Nipigon Bridge and Dog Head Mountain right from the comfort of your vehicle! On your way out of town and upon crossing the train tracks, take a right to bring you back to the highway, however, be sure to pull off to the right at the Nipigon Bridge View Tower. The parking area is plowed, and the tower is open for viewers all winter, however, is not always shoveled clear – walk up carefully! After taking in the panoramic views of Lake Helen and the Nipigon River, continue to cross the first-ever built cable-stayed bridge in Ontario.
After about 20 kilometers heading eastbound Highway 17 it starts to run alongside Lake Superior offer spectacular views all along the way to Terrace Bay. About 25 kilometers into the drive, you’ll be able to see the Kama Cliffs, which you can hike up to get awe-inspiring views of Nipigon Bay. If you’re up for the hike, park at the lot on Kama Bay Road just off the highway on the right-hand side and carefully cross the highway to the clearly marked trailhead. The well-marked 6-kilometer trail is considered moderate – difficult but well worth it once atop the cliffs, so be sure to bring your snowshoes!
Continuing east on Highway 17 to Terrace Bay, take your time to enjoy the spectacular views along the remaining 80-kilometer drive. Upon entering Terrace Bay be sure to check out Aguasabon Falls and Gorge. Another spectacular frozen wonder! There is a dedicated parking lot and boardwalk to the falls during peak seasons, however, it is not maintained during the winter but still open for viewers to walk down to see the frozen falls.
So, the only question that remains: east or west? Take the drive from Superior Country's Thunder Bay, and explore your beloved region! Before travelling, be sure to check road and weather conditions and plan your route accordingly.