What to See and Do on a Two-Day Visit to Thunder Bay This Summer

Leif Pettersen who made the seven-hour drive from the Twin Cities last summer has suggestions for a perfect two-day itinerary noting how Thunder Bay has undergone a heartening revitalization that will surprise people who haven’t visited the city for a few years.

You will appreciate the impressive improvements made to the Lake Superior waterfront at Prince Arthur’s Landing alone, resulting in a magazine photo shoot-ready harbor adorned with wonderful public art. Condos and a five star hotel are being developed showcasing the city is clearly on the rise, it's quite a thing to see.

I didn't know any of this when I arrived with my family for a late summer weekend with rooms booked at the Best Western Nor’wester under the mountains on southern edge of the city and then the historic Prince Arthur Hotel in the downtown Waterfront District. Instead the continual surprises we encountered only made our visit all the more pleasing.

Sail Superior boats

Water, obviously, is a defining characteristic of Thunder Bay located on the northern shores of Lake Superior, so we wasted little time getting on a sailboat tour with Sail Superior. Captain Greg took us out for a three hour tour (with five passengers, no less - the urge to sing the "Gilligan's Island" theme song was crippling), gliding by gigantic cargo ships, out to the Welcome Islands all the while sharing nuggets of local history and sailing tips for Lake Superior. Most groups bring a picnic lunch (including alcohol, if you like), but our trip was sumptuously catered by Lincoln Street Eatery, an outstanding food truck with a brick and mortar location opening soon.

Seeing the harbor and the distant Sleeping Giant formation of mesas and cliffs on Sibley Peninsula in this stately if slightly wet manner was a hit with my family, but the experience is also available in more compacted, pulse-quickening fashion on a flying tour with Wilderness North.

Fort William wall

Another Thunder Bay highlight was visiting the massive reproduction of Fort William Historical Park. The real-life, frontier-era fur trading post was not on this location, though one could easily be fooled into believing otherwise what with the impressive size and scope of the fort and surrounding park. The remarkably accurate structures, furniture and tools, all depicted by costumed re-enactor tour guides, will cumulatively captivate kids and adults alike.

Fort William inside buildings

However, any fanciful thoughts of 19th-century Voyageur life will quickly evaporate during the visit to the fort's infirmary, where a detailed explanation of various tools and horrifying medical practices of the time will cause one to have newfound appreciation for a Wallgreens or a Shopper’s Drug Mart.

Thunder Oak Cheese

Equipped with a rental car, we took a few trips outside Thunder Bay, including an indulgent visit to the Thunder Oak Cheese Farm. Started in 1995 by Dutch immigrants from respected cheese-making families, Thunder Oak makes eight different varieties of gouda, including the thick wedge of sun-dried tomatoes and basil that I acquired after much indecision. If one arrives on Monday or Friday around 11:00 AM, it's possible to watch the cheese-making in action, while sipping on coffee from the on-site café. I also couldn't resist an impulse buy of Ontario's Chocolate Cow Fudge, sold here in limited supply.

Kakabeka Falls2

Finally, we acquiesced to the widely regard as de rigor visit to Kakabeka Falls. Known as the "Niagara of the North," it is indeed, larger (and louder) than any other falls in the region and a surprisingly low-impact attraction, with the viewing deck being only a few dozen paces from the parking lot.

Kakabeka Falls fallsview

Admittedly, this was a frantic, action-packed two days in Thunder Bay. Moving at an easier pace and adding some of the second tier attractions, not to mention thorough dining exploration, perhaps "Four Days in Thunder Bay" would be a better title for your visit.

About Leif Pettersen

Leif Pettersen is a freelance writer, world traveler and polyglot from Minneapolis, Minnesota.

He’s visited 51 countries (so far) and can be found on Twitter @leifpettersen.

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