How to Spend Three Perfect Days in Thunder Bay

Ontario, Canada (Summer or Fall)
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Nestled beneath the gaze of the Sleeping Giant, the city of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, tempts travelers with natural wonders and legendary tales, cultural gems and culinary surprises, living history and thrilling adventure. Explore how to spend three perfect days in Thunder Bay…this is Canada’s natural wonderland! Let’s get started…

Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area, hugs the shoreline of Thunder Bay. It seems that everywhere you go in Thunder Bay, the Lake is with you. It’s in panoramic views, invigorating breezes, inlets and streams that eventually spill into the lake, and the water used to grow and produce the food and beverage you enjoy during your trip to Thunder Bay.

Canadians live and play to the rhythm of the lake, and travelers can dip their toes into everything that makes this gateway to 150,000 lakes so special. 

Set against the Canadian Shield, an ancient landscape sculpted over a billion years, and a lush boreal forest filled with legends and mystery, you’ll find a city that honors its past. From the Indigenous people who paddled these waters for centuries, to the largest North American fur trading operation, to the people and cultures from around the world who settled this wild frontier, Thunder Bay has much to explore. Silver and amethyst mining created legends, riches, and tragedy; the deceptively fertile land and clean water support a thriving and growing community.

The Waterfront District is your launching point for this three-day itinerary in Thunder Bay. Enjoy walking along the waterfront and its three piers, taking in the public art displays including the Celebration Circle Panels in the Spirit Garden, and water feature at the Baggage Building Arts Centre. From here, you can travel as far or as near as you like and still not see everything. But you can have a lot of fun trying!

Famous for outdoor adventure and being the sunniest city in eastern Canada, Thunder Bay is the most populated city in the northwestern part of the province. It welcomes visitors every day, all year round. Because I didn’t experience the coldest winter weather, popular for skiing, curling, and other “brrrrr” outdoor fun, in this article, I’ll share warm or cool weather things to do in Thunder Bay. Also, be sure to scroll down to see the Thunder Bay videos.

But first…here’s how to get there.

Getting To and Around Thunder Bay

Sailboat in thunder Bay harbor-Lake Superior Sailing - how to spend three perfect days in thunder bay

Wouldn’t it be great to get around Thunder Bay on the water? With more than 150,000 lakes and rivers to enjoy there are lots of options! The Waterfront District in Thunder Bay is the perfect jumping off point for the 3-day Northern Ontario adventure.  ©Dawn Damico

You can fly into Thunder Bay International Airport (YQT) directly from one of the bigger cities in Canada, like Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, and Vancouver. Travelers from the U.S. may not find a direct flight from the U.S. to YQT yet, so look for something with a single stopover at another Canadian airport. More flight options may be available during peak travel season. Two stopovers may be cheaper, but the peace of mind of a single stopover (because of the potential for travel delays) is worth paying a little more. 

Not a fan of flying? Set sail with one of the cruise lines now making port in Thunder Bay. Viking Cruise Lines, Hapag Lloyd Cruises, Ponant Cruises, and American Queen Voyages provide vacations that stop here. Although you may not have time in port to venture off into some of the hikes mentioned here, you can enjoy some day trips, spend time in the city to get a taste of the culinary masterpieces and craft breweries, and enjoy the city’s arts and events on the waterfront. Be forewarned; however, once you get a taste of Thunder Bay during your port stop, you’ll want to return!

Once you are in Thunder Bay, plan to rent a car because this is an outdoor playground with lots to do and see!

Where to Stay in Thunder Bay

Views of the harbor from Delta by Marriott, Anchor and Ore Restaurant - the recommended luxury hotel for this three perfect days in thunder bay, Ontario, Canada

The recommended luxury accomodations at Delta Hotel Thunder Bay by Marriott in the Waterfront District have a waterview restaurant in the lobby. ©Dawn Damico

The Waterfront District, also known as Thunder Bay’s Entertainment District, offers a front-row seat to the ever-changing moods of Lake Superior. It’s where the summer splashpad transforms into a winter wonderland as the seasons change, and it’s where you’ll stay as a “home base.” You can walk to downtown restaurants, breweries, and shops by easily crossing the main street from the overpass. 

The downtown area is popular and parking spots can fill up quickly even though there are over 1500 public parking places, with an additional 400 in the Waterfront/Marina Park area. You don’t have to worry about parking when staying on the waterfront!

The Waterfront District Business Improvement Area (BIA) includes over 170 Thunder Bay businesses working together to create a great experience for travelers and locals. As I walked this area, I could see the transformation of a city unfolding, driven by the love, passion, and planning of its community and business owners. 

Waterfront Luxury

Delta Hotels Thunder Bay by Marriott anchors the revitalized waterfront. It is surrounded by a boat-filled harbor, Baggage Building Arts Center, Marina Park, fine dining, Waterfront Plaza, a water garden and Skateboard/BMX plaza. You’ll enjoy outdoor seating areas, Lake Superior views, and the historical train station, currently home to a coffee shop. Like much of Thunder Bay, the hotel is pet-friendly. I enjoyed their accommodations and appreciated the modern feel and comfy beds. The hotel was perfect after a day filled with hiking Thunder Bay’s trails. Check-in and check-out is a breeze. The Marriott brand is good at choosing prime hotel locations and attracting amenities that give travelers a great experience. If you want breakfast with a view, Anchor and Ore is conveniently located in the lobby. Large windows provide expansive harbor views. I experienced this lodging and recommend it!

Historic Charm

Prince Arthur Waterfront Hotel & Suites is on the other side of the overpass. Built in 1911, they have water-view rooms and an impressive past guest list, including the Queen. Our guide told us that the window in her room had to be made smaller for security purposes. I scanned the facade but couldn’t see which room she might have stayed in! I was also told that renovations to this hotel should happen in the future after a few infrastructure details are sorted out (updating heating and air). The location is good, and although I didn’t see the lobby or the rooms, it receives good ratings online.

The Courthouse Hotel is a 40-room boutique hotel that was formerly, as you can guess, a courthouse! This historic gem with its time-worn elegance, is one of the oldest buildings in the city. Built around 1924, it served as the Superior Court of Justice for Port Arthur. The location is above the downtown area, with some rooms providing Lake Superior views. I walked to the hotel because I was curious about its stately design. It’s a few blocks off the water, although still close enough to get to everything downtown. I didn’t stay here, but online reviews are favorable. The historical factor of the building will appeal to history lovers.

Camping Adventures

There are plenty of options for outdoor lovers who really want to get close to nature in Thunder Bay! Camping in Thunder Bay comes with a full menu of options providing space for everything from tents to RV’s to rustic cabins. There is a KOA on the outskirts of downtown Thunder Bay, camping at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, and a RV and tent campground at the Fort William Historical Park. Check here for where to camp near Thunder Bay for your type of camping.

Day 1 in Thunder Bay

Start your three-day adventure by sailing on Lake Superior. From the Waterfront District, enjoy the short walk to the dock at Prince Arthur’s Landing to meet your captain and guide for a sunset cruise. Enjoy a culinary treat and an introduction to Thunder Bay’s craft beer scene.

sailing adventure on Lake Superior - three perfect days in Thunder Bay, Ontario-what to do in thunder bay

Sail Superior Sailing Adventure: 

Start your three-day adventure right by sailing on Lake Superior. After checking into your hotel (on the waterfront *wink), enjoy the short walk across the park-like setting of the plaza to the dock at Prince Arthur’s Landing. Here you’ll meet your captain and guide for a sunset cruise with Sail Superior. Stepping onto the sailboat is like stepping through a portal that transports you from the chaos of everyday life to the relaxing and adventurous spirit that awaits you in Thunder Bay. Your vacation has officially begun! 

Sailing Lake Superior-guided sailboat sunset cruise-three perfect days in Thunder Bay, Ontario-what to do in thunder bay

Sail Superior offers several on-the-water adventures, including learning how to sail and multi-day excursions. ©Dawn Damico

As you sail the world’s largest fresh-water lake, you feel the presence of seafarers who have glided along these same waters for centuries. There is nothing like feeling the water’s mist on your face, the soft breeze in your hair, and the gentle rocking of your sailboat as it carries you around the harbor for a 90-minute cruise. Close your eyes and awaken your senses to the sound of gulls flying above, sails flapping in the wind, and the smell of the fresh-lake water teaming with life. 

Our guide, Josh, was an excellent source of information about Thunder Bay. He is well-versed in its history, where to go for great adventures, good food, and other things to do. Oh, and since we returned safely, he is skilled at sailing too! Looking from the water to the shore helps you get your bearings of the city. You see remnants of industry in the old grain mills and learn about which structures are still in use and how they are important for the port city. You’ll learn about the wall that was built to protect the city from the temperaments and weather of Lake Superior. That barrier allowed the city to grow and thrive. You can also see where the new science center will be built, a mark of continued progress for Thunder Bay.

Of course, you’ll make a reservation for the on-water sailing experience. Check out their website and choose your adventure. They have private and public charters that depart at various times of the day on three types of vessels: catamaran, sailboat, and kodiak. The fun thing about the summer months is that it stays light longer, so choosing to cruise close to sunset (which could be after 8:00pm) may allow you to enjoy dinner before boarding.

interior restaurant bar at Bight in thunder bay - three perfect days in Thunder Bay, Ontario-what to do in thunder bay

Bight Restaurant’s menu satisfies the discriminating diner, and the approachable atmosphere is warm and sophisticated with memorable views of Lake Superior. ©Dawn Damico

Dinner at Bight Restaurant and Bar

You cannot miss the larger-than-life sculpture of water droplets at the entrance of Bight Restaurant and Bar. As you’ll learn on the self-guided public art tour, the sculpture and restaurant are located at the historic junction of the Great Lakes, the world’s oceans, and western Canada. It seems fitting that a waterfront restaurant where friends and family gather is located here.

You feel as if you are enjoying a gallery showing on your way to dinner because of the bright, beautiful artwork on the walls. Once seated you can indulge in a culinary journey where dishes like Pear & Radicchio Salad, Southwest Flatbread, Duck, and Steak Frites elevate your taste buds. I enjoyed a perfectly prepared salmon served over pearl couscous with edamame and snap peas, paired with a glass of Sangiovese.

craft beer flight with three types of beer - part of the three perfect days in Thunder Bay, Ontario-what to do in thunder bay

The craft beer scene has exploded in the past few years, outpacing sales of “traditional” brewers. Sample a few of Thunder Bay’s craft beers and you’ll quickly see why!  ©Dawn Damico

Nightcap at The Brew Pub at Prospector Steakhouse

Wood, brick, and stone walls, twinkle lights on the ceiling, blue lights along the bar, and a wall of spirits welcome you as you open the heavy wooden door to The Brew Pub. Live music keeps your toes tapping on select nights. Look for special events when they serve their most popular selections. Newly renovated and tucked into a historic downtown building that was once a bank, this is where you can watch a game or people watch as you take your final sip of the evening. 

Their steel vats for Prospector Brewing Company are in the basement. You can enjoy a flight, local craft brews from Ontario, or a colorful mocktail or cocktail. Be sure to see the artwork, artifacts (including the vault), and stamped tin ceilings. And, even if you’ve already eaten, indulge in the freshly baked buns that will leave your taste buds wanting more!

Day 2 in Thunder Bay

After a restful night, you’re ready for your first full day in Thunder Bay. You’ll embark on a journey to experience Thunder Bay’s majestic canyons, learn about ancient legends passed down for generations, meet a Canadian hero, and immerse yourself in living history.

coloful mural - street art in the Waterfront District - Part of what to do and see in this perfect three-day thunder Bay Itinerary, ontario, canada

Street art in downtown Thunder Bay makes walking the streets interesting and fun. Grab the map and be sure to check them out. ©Dawn Damico

This will be your first full day in Thunder Bay. Depending on the season, you could enjoy sunset after 8:00 pm, allowing for an ideal amount of daylight to get a satisfying taste of Ontario’s outdoor wonderland. There are a couple things to take note of to get the most out of your day.

You will need a car. I will mention a couple of great hikes suitable for all ages and abilities, but feel free to take a longer trail or skip some. This is your vacation so enjoy the outdoors at your own pace. Don’t worry. Anything you miss will most likely be here when you return for your next trip to Thunder Bay!

Plan for the day’s food. You’ll be out and about, so you need to consider your food and water needs throughout the day. You’ll eat breakfast and dinner in town. That leaves lunch and snack times open for your own interpretation! While I am often okay with a piece of fruit and a protein bar, others would require a “proper” lunch after a morning of activity. 

Some options are to pack water and drinks in the car, prepare a picnic lunch from ingredients found at the grocery or specialty store in town, or stop at a restaurant near the Terry Fox Monument. There are few cafes along the route in this itinerary, so I’m including one spot that gets excellent reviews online and looks like a place I would try myself when I return to Thunder Bay. 

Let’s get started!

Roosters Bistro

Roosters Bistro may not open at the crack of dawn (opens at 9:00 am), but there is no confusion about the theme of this locally-loved and family-owned restaurant in downtown Thunder Bay. I usually prefer a light breakfast; however, the heavenly aromas from the kitchen and one look at the colorful, hearty breakfasts being served to the guests around me, led me directly to the three egg vegetarian omelet.

The omelet was perfect. But, here is where you’ll get your first introduction to something about Thunder Bay that nobody tells you about. The bread. Seriously! I’m no longer a big bread eater, but I’m happy to make an exception when I get an opportunity to enjoy bread that leaves you wanting more. I believe the bakery that delivers their bread is called Five Star. It’s an appropriate name.

hearty vegetarian breakfast omelet with a side of toasted whole wheat bread - Part of what to do and see in this perfect three-day thunder Bay Itinerary, ontario, canada

The breakast is complete with 5-star bread and a perfect vegetarian omlette. ©Dawn Damico

Looking through their floor-to-ceiling downtown windows is a site history and architecture lovers will appreciate. The Whalen Building is a Heritage Site built in 1913-1914. According to the Rooster’s Bistro owner, the building was brought over on barges. Historical documents tell us that the dream was the building would attract businesses and create the “Chicago of the North.” Take a close look at the architecture, and you’ll see an interesting collection of sculptures depicting human and animal faces cast in stone on the exterior of the building.

Explore the Canyons

Today, you’ll venture into the heart of Thunder Bay’s wild beauty, which can be enjoyed by all ages and abilities, including those with mobility challenges. The views are rugged, the mountains are ancient, and the canyons are timeless, echoing stories that span thousands of years. Like, back to the Ice Age!

It’s an ambitious goal to explore all three options presented here because of the time it takes to drive to each location, and the number of oohs, and aahs, and stops, and photos you’ll want to take along the trail!

I suggest adding the breathtaking suspension bridges at Eagle Canyon Adventures as one of the options. Then, choose your next destination. Both are amazing…you won’t be disappointed. If you hustle, you may get all three. But you would have to rush! 

One thing about the trails that I loved: Thunder Bay and Ontario Canada have been very intentional about creating infrastructure for inclusive travel. In many cases, they built boardwalks on the paths. Be sure to check ahead to learn more about conditions if you have special needs or requirements so you are prepared to enjoy the trail you take.

Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park in Dorion

Immerse yourself in a tunnel of natural greenery formed from the plants and towering trees that surround you, as you journey along the short 1.1-mile loop trail and boardwalk that link two panoramic lookout platforms at Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park (pronounced like “we met”).

You’ll witness cliffs that drop straight down over 300 feet, which is comparable to the height of the Statue of Liberty, including the base upon which she stands. Scanning the canyon walls you’ll notice a distinct column-like appearance, sculpted and formed over time. On the canyon floor are stacks of rocks that have tumbled loose from those columns.

Oimet Canyon views - with water on the horizon - Part of what to do and see in this perfect three-day thunder Bay Itinerary, ontario, canada

The trail leading to this incredible view at Ouimet Canyon is a boardwalk, accessible for all abilities. The intentional creation of groomed trails and boardwalks that make nature more accessible for everyone was an impressive aspect of Thunder Bay and Northen Ontario. ©Dawn Damico

Amidst that rubble is a species of arctic plant that has survived thousands of years, a testament of adaptability and endurance…something I’m sure more than one cell phone did not have after being dropped (or thrown) off the cliff! But there is more to this place than rocks and flora. It’s a landscape etched with a tale as compelling as the canyon itself.

From the lookout, cast your eyes to the left. You’ll spot a rock formation that looks eerily like the profile of a human head. As you’ll discover in this land of mischief and magic, you cannot have a natural phenomenon that looks like a human (or animal) form, without an enduring story to go with it. In Ouimet Canyon, the story is about a god, a giant, love, tragedy, and divine wrath.

The legend unfolds with Nanabijou, a god, enlisting the help of Omett, a giant, who helped Nanabijou when he wanted to make a mountain or create a lake. The partnership worked well until the giant fell in love with the god’s daughter, Naiomi. 

Naiomi was impressed by the giant and encouraged him to show off his strength. Omett was happy to do that, with gusto! Maybe too much gusto. In a tragic twist of events, a fragment of a mountain fell off and killed Naiomi. Oops. Omett, this giant of a man, feared Nanabijou vengeance. So, he did what any good giant would do. He hid the body in a shallow lake. smh…

That decision changed everything.

Driven by anguish, Nanabijou went looking for his beloved daughter. His journey brought him to a colossal rock shield where an inexplicable vibration stirred his soul. He drove a thunderbolt into the ground, splitting it open into a vast canyon, and found his dead daughter. Filled with grief, he buried her at the canyon’s base. Rare flowers bloom there today. 

And what about the giant, Omett, whose love and folly set this chain of events in motion? Nanabijou turned him into stone. He then placed him on the canyon wall to watch over his beloved daughter for all eternity. That stone face gazing down from the mountainside is said to be Omett, the giant, watching over the beloved Naiomi.

Eagle Canyon Adventures-Suspension Bridge

Eagle Canyon Adventures:  Seven weeks. That’s how long it took the owner and his father to build the very first suspension bridge that spans the breathtaking gorge of this remarkable property.

But that’s not all. In a mere five weeks, he replaced one of the two bridges, a feat that speaks volumes about his dedication and skill. The result? Engineering excellence manifested  with sturdy footbridges that give you an air of invincibility…or at least make you feel safe as you walk on air above the canyon floor.

this suspension bridge over the canyon is just part of how to spend three perfect days in thunder bay

There are two suspension bridges, several hiking trails, and stairs that descend to the valley below. If you’re looking for an afternoon of outdoor for suitable for all abilities, Eagle Canyon Adventures has you covered! ©Dawn Damico

One bridge stretches an impressive 300 feet in length, suspended 125 feet above the canyon floor; the other is 600 feet long and holds the record for Canada’s longest suspension footbridge. There is a large two-handled pot precariously placed on the top of a tall rock spire by the second bridge, where you can toss in a coin and make a wish.Both suspension bridges give you a birds-eye vantage point of Instagram-worthy landscapes.

While the zipline attraction is temporarily closed, you can still descend a seemingly endless staircase that leads to the canyon’s base and walk along the winding river that cuts through the middle. There is a network of trails to explore, and you could spend an afternoon here, just be sure to bring snacks. As of this writing, there is an entrance fee of $22 for adults, $12 for children ages (4-8) and under age four is free. Opens at 10 am.

Mine for Amethyst (optional) 

As you head back towards town, you’ll stumble upon two spots near the road where you can mine for amethyst, Canadas’ official gemstone. Open-pit mines welcome the curious traveler, avid collector, or budding treasure hunter. Choose either a hands-on experience to unearth your own gems, or head to the gift shop to admire the polished stones. Guided tours led by knowledgeable experts, or self-guided tours are offered. Learn more about Amethyst Mine Panorama and Diamond Willow Amethyst Mine.

Lunch

If you are looking for a restaurant to stop and eat, The Missing Horse Restaurant is near the highway. I didn’t eat here, but it gets good reviews online. Also, MacKenzie Point Conservation Area is near the restaurant if you plan to stop there.

2005 Lakeshore Dr E #2001, Shuniah, ON P7A 0L4, Canada

Alternatively, if you packed a lunch, you can continue to the Terry Fox Memorial for a picnic. The park-like setting overlooking Lake Superior is lovely.

MacKenzie Point Conservation Area

Located at the end of Coral Bay Drive, MacKenzie Point Conservation Area is known as a great place to watch the sunset, and the flora and fauna is a draw for photographers. Although time constraints didn’t allow us to stop here, I have it on my list of places to see when I return to Thunder Bay. There is a $5.00 entrance fee per vehicle to help pay for work done by the Lakehead Region Conservation Authority. Or, you can use your Explore Card Parking Pass.

Terry Fox Memorial – Canada’s Hero

savannah georgia usa fountain at forsyth park - aerial view-circular pattern

An incredible story of one young man’s inspiration and determination to make an impact. If you have experienced a loved one’s cancer diagnosis then this story, this place, will touch your heart. ©Dawn Damico

Have you ever wondered if one person can make a difference? The remarkable answer to that question can be found at the Terry Fox Monument at the Terry Fox Tourist Information Center in Thunder Bay. 

Imagine this: You are a high school athlete who excels in basketball and distance running, envisioning a future brimming with promise. Suddenly, a persistent pain gnaws at your knee for longer than what seems normal and you seek medical advice. Within days, a life-altering decision is made and your leg is amputated above the knee.

They told him to throw his athletic dreams away. But for Terry Fox, this setback was the catalyst for a new dream.

His journey began with a symbolic dip of his prosthetic leg into the Atlantic Ocean in Newfoundland, where he collected two bottles of Atlantic seawater. One was meant as a keepsake, the other destined for the Pacific Ocean when he got home. However, one bottle washed out to sea, perhaps as a sign. Then, he started running. 

That was April, 1980

During Terry’s hero’s journey, he stopped all chemo and cancer treatments and ran a marathon a day with the goal to run the entire distance of Canada, from coast to coast. Yet his mission extended beyond the physical act of running; he became a voice for those afflicted by cancer to raise awareness and funds for cancer research.

The Marathon of Hope, as his quest came to be known, carried him within just 12 kilometers from Thunder Bay. There, at what is now mile marker 3339 which is the distance he had run, cancer’s relentless advance forced him to stop running. 

So, did he make a difference?

Look closely at the monument which stands on a base of amethyst pulled from local mines and you’ll see the sweat on his brow and the determination on his face. Initially erected closer to Lake Superior, they relocated it due to the massive influx of visitors who came from far and wide to pay respects to this young hero. Visitors enjoy a beautiful setting, tourist information center, views of Lake Superior, and a serene green space to relax and reflect.

During my trip to Thunder Bay, a young man had just completed a marathon-a-day journey, mirroring Terry Fox’s run, in an effort to raise money for cancer research and awareness. When  I heard his story, he was en route to the Terry Fox Foundation in Toronto to drop off the $100,000+ he raised.

Terry died on June 28, 1981, but echoes of his spirit and resolve endure even today. He set out to raise the equivalent of $1 from every Canadian to go towards cancer research, which he accomplished before he died. But it didn’t stop there. 

According to the Terry Fox Foundation website, the organization has raised over $850 million for cancer research in Terry Fox’s name, which has funded over 1300 research projects. I think you would agree that yes, one person can make a difference.

Fun Fact: Rod Stewart’s “Never Give Up On a Dream” is inspired by Terry Fox’s run, and Stewart’s 1981-1982 Canadian tour was called the Terry Fox Tour.

Fort William Historical Park Living History Experience

historical tent pitched along the river - a thunder bay experience

This award-winning living history experience is more than a museum. I was surprised to feel how warm a tee-pee was with just the embers of a small log and very good natural insulation from pine needles and animal skins. ©Dawn Damico

What is Fort William Historical Park

The online description says, “Travel back in time to 1815 and discover Fort William. This is the inland headquarters of the North West Company, the world’s largest fur trading enterprise with posts stretching across North America. This is a place where cultures meet, and relationships are forged between Indigenous Peoples and non-Indigenous newcomers. Come experience this unique place and time in history through the eyes of people’s past who lived and worked around Fort William!” 

Sounds intriguing, right? But there is more to it than meets the eye.

Beyond the guided and self-guided tours, the award-winning living history museum offers historical programs, vibrant festivals and events, and stargazing at the David Thompson Astronomical Centre with one of Central Canada’s largest telescopes. A scenic campground is walking distance to the river and the fort, where you can enjoy your own outdoor adventures! 

Fort William Historical Park is a meticulously crafted, life-sized replica of the original 1815 structure. The blueprints for this historical gem were pieced together from thousands of pages of historical documentation. The end result? 

A place where you can walk through the same gates, see the same buildings, experience daily life, taste the food and see how it’s grown, and listen to the sounds and music of a bygone era when fur trading reigned supreme over a century ago. Oh, and you can huddle around the glowing embers inside a teepee and feel how warm these homes really were and learn about life within them.

The magic lies in the fact that you’re having fun while soaking up knowledge without even realizing it. And it’s dog-friendly! 

Check the website for opening hours (typically 10:00 am – 5:00 pm) and tour times.

Tomlin restaurant classic frontage - a culinary travelers must-do destination in Thunder Bay

If you look closely in the window, the sign says “closed!” We shut the place down after enjoying a 5-course dinner which my photos could not do justice. The creativity in the kitchen, the service, and the taste were a culinary travelers dream. ©Dawn Damico

Dawson Trail Craft Brewery

Stop off at Dawson Trail Craft Brewery on the way back to town. They have a lovely outdoor patio, a good beer selection in cans and on tap, and a place to play. Appropriate for a brewery near a golf course, On the Links is in the same building where golf (and hockey) enthusiasts can enjoy a virtual indoor golf experience. Grab your clubs (or use what’s provided), and a few friends or family, and enjoy Date nights, family fun nights, or good times with your friends.

Dinner at Tomlin Restaurant

On Tuesdays, the line is out the door with people hoping to get in for burger night. And for good reason! Yet Tomlin Restaurant does so much more than burgers; the kitchen is a hotbed of culinary creativity, especially when it comes to locally sourced ingredients.

We opted for the Family Style Tasting for dinner, consisting of several courses meant to be shared around the table. I was amazed at the variety and flavors of each dish. From the very first bite of appetizers, this tasting journey had me hooked. 

Imagine grilled asparagus perched on top of eggplant, fried green tomatoes crowned with dill aioli, and pork belly paired with compressed watermelon, cucumber, and a touch of mint. And that was just the first course! 

The pasta course included mouthwatering homemade gnocchi, followed by Argentine prawns and other delectible bites. A beautiful presentation of aged beef with rustic vegetables was served in a brightly colored heavy cast iron pot. And let’s not forget the sweet finale, an assortment of desserts that left our taste buds dancing with joy and perhaps our waistlines a little bit, ahem, fuller.

My food photos don’t do justice to this culinary parade. Suffice it to say, it was a dining experience to remember, and I would definitely order that way again!

Day 3 in Thunder Bay

After yesterday’s full day of outdoor fun in Thunder Bay, we’re not slowing down yet! Today you’ll venture out to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park and stand at what seems like the top of the world. Of course, we’re going to enjoy great food and local craft brews. Let’s get started!

misty view for the Sleeping giant lookout - part of the perfect 3 day itinerary for thunder Bay

Mystic and enchanting, the fog from the Lookout cloaked the endless views of Lake Superior, but it was still a beautiful experience. ©Dawn Damico

Breakfast at Kangas Sauna Little House of Pancakes

Fun fact: Thunder Bay has the largest Finnish population outside of Finland. Because of that, it’s of little surprise that you will find many places to order plate-sized Finnish-style pancakes. What’s unique at Kangas Sauna Little House of Pancakes is you have the chance to immerse yourself in another Finnish tradition – the sauna. Imagine coming in on a cold winter morning, taking a steam, and then sitting down for a plate of pancakes topped with fruit and whipped cream.

Sleeping Giant Provincial Park

By this point, you’ve seen the formation from Thunder Bay’s waterfront of the massive rocks on the horizon that resemble a sleeping giant, so a trip to Thunder Bay wouldn’t be complete before going to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. 

After breakfast, you’ll take a scenic hour-long drive to reach the park on Sibley Peninsula. Make sure to pack your essentials for a morning of hiking, and don’t forget the bug spray if you’re visiting during peak mosquito season. 

This protected parkland covers a staggering 61,157 acres (24,751 hectares) and has an extensive network of more than 50 miles (100 km) of nature, hiking, and backpacking trails. Which trail is best for you depends on your desired hiking time and energy levels.

Sleeping giant provincial park - sea lion rock formation over blue-green clear waters of Lake Superior

Sea Lion rock has lost its head, yet this short hike give you a great view of the clear waters and stone coves where legends have been made and told for centuries. ©Dawn Damico

We started our hiking day at the South Kabeyun Trailhead, 36.5km south of Highway 587, where we hooked into the Kabeyun Trail that led to the Sea Lion Trail. Unlike the trails experienced on Day 2, this one didn’t have accessible boardwalks; however, it’s an easy walk up dirt footpaths dotted with rocks and tree roots. The reward is views of the Sea Lion rock formation, whose “head” has been dropped into Lake Superior after years of natural erosion. The views are expansive, and the coves covered with small smooth rocks remind me a lot of the Pacific Northwest. 

Year-round camping options are available in and around the park, including cabins. For more information about the trails, camping options, and other activities, be sure to check out the Ontario Parks Resource. 

Take some time to explore the Nature Center, a treasure trove of information about the park’s diverse flora (more than 607 plants), rich fauna (including 36 mammals and 200 species of migratory birds), and captivating history. You’ll discover that humans have roamed the Sibley Peninsula for almost ten thousand years. Learn about the Silver Islet mine and see an intricately detailed model which resembles an underground ant farm, and hear the tragic story of how men died underground after someone didn’t turn on a generator meant to keep the water above out of the human-filled spaces below. There are mounted animals and fish, and a dedicated kid’s corner, an excellent place for families and world-schoolers to learn more.

If your vehicle can handle it (high clearance is recommended), take the road up to the Thunder Bay Lookout. You’ll get a great vantage point 100 meters above Lake Superior. Even in the fog, the view was worth the drive up.

Lunch at Nomad on the Bay

No joking, this place might make one of the best sandwiches around! 

Real meat chunks (not sliced lunchmeat), condiments made in-house, stacked on freshly baked bread (see, there’s that bread again!), and sold by weight (the weight of the sandwich, not you!). 

Build your own sandwich or choose from their suggested combinations. I asked for the turkey, chose hummus instead of mayo, locally made gouda cheese, and then said, “Surprise me!”

“You want a little heat….”

Sure!

*and…get it toasted!

Half of a sandwich was plenty for me, so they are perfect for sharing unless you’re really hungry or want to save the other half for a snack at the top of one of Thunder Bay’s many trails.

With each bite, I just kept thinking, “Yeah…I would cross the border for this!”

If you fly out of Thunder Bay airport, you can take a sandwich with you for your journey home. They deliver fresh food to the airport every morning.

You can eat lunch at the restaurant at the outdoor patio or high-top window-view counter, or grab lunch to-go and then eat at the Falls.

Kakabeka Falls

The thunderous roar of “The Niagara of the North” can be heard from the nearby parking lot. Kakabeka, which roughly translates to “waterfall over a cliff” (accurate!), is the second highest waterfall in Canada at an impressive 40 meters (131 feet). Thousands of cubic square feet of water plunge dramatically right beyond the pedestrian bridge that crosses the Kaministiquia River and then continues its journey through Fort William then onto Thunder Bay, where it eventually flows into Lake Superior.

Bones and mythical tales swirl in these waters.

First, the bones. Over the course of thousands of years, the pounding force of water has chipped away at the hard rock, revealing fossils in the falls that date over a million years old. Imagine the stories those bones could tell!

You’ll be amazed at the thunderous roar of these falls. There are three different lookouts, two on the parking lot side of the falls and one over the pedestrian bridge. If you have time, check all three. There are also hiking trails around the falls.  ©Dawn Damico

And what good would a waterfall of this magnitude in this land of myth and mystery be without a good story with a tragic ending! Princess Green Mantle, daughter to the Ojibway chieftain White Bear, was a good daughter. When the peace-loving Ojibway got word that the war-loving Sioux were going to attack them, Princess Green Mantle took matters into her own hands to aid her aging father. She went to the Sioux encampment, pretending to be lost. They captured her and she convinced them to spare her life if she showed them the way to her father’s camp. 

The Sioux chief believed he was being blessed by the gods for bringing such a willing guide to his door. The next morning Princess Green Mantle instructed the band of Sioux’s to tie their canoes together so they didn’t get lost and follow her as she paddled the river.

Well, you can imagine what happens next. When you look from the pedestrian walkway at the seemingly innocent calm waters preceding where the falls drop, you would agree the warriors were unaware of their eventual fate. 

The legend claims that Princess Green Mantle led those warriors off the cliff to spare her tribe, and died along with them in the falls. The Great Manitou looked kindly on her bravery and sacrifice and today, it’s believed that if you look at Kakabeka Falls from the river bank, you can see the figure of Green Mantle in the mist.

The final story to enjoy at the falls is near the Visitor Center and just beyond the orange Mountain Portage Trail sign, “Portage into the Past.” The Storytime Trail is a great idea for the little ones! The signs along the trail included QR codes that guide you through a children’s story, one page at a time, about all the things they might discover along the trail.

Visitors will appreciate the various accessible boardwalks and lookouts on both sides of the falls, where you can enjoy different views. And hikers can enjoy the other hikes in and around the falls.

Sleeping Giant Brewing Company

Staying true to the Sleeping Giant theme for the day, make a pit stop at Sleeping Giant Brewing Company. Call ahead to book a tour of the facility, where you will have a 30-minute guided tour through the inner workings of the brewery and taste three 4 oz. samples of their award-winning beer. Made with the simplest of ingredients, including the pristine waters of Lake Superior, and the creative genius of their brewers, you’ll enjoy the flavors of their alcoholic and non-alcoholic options. Their labels are pretty fun, too!

Dinner at Red Lion Smokehouse

For a great selection of local craft beer, the Red Lion Smokehouse has got you covered. On tap and by the can, they have a great selection of local brews. Notice the charming red telephone booth that instantly transports you to the streets of London, a nod to the owner’s affection for this iconic city. Finally, you’ll smell the aroma of slow-smoked meat that tempts you with a tasty meal. I ordered the brisket and blue sandwich, although, if I return, I think I would try the tacos topped with one of their homemade sauces…they looked absolutely delicious!

lakehead craft beer steel vats

Lakehead Beer Company is located in an historic downtown building and has parterned with Tomlin Subdivision which makes some really delicious looking pan pizzas in the same building. The atmosphere was friendly and by the time we left, nearly every seat was occupied.  ©Dawn Damico

Nightcap at Lakehead Beer Company

One thing that immediately struck me at Lakehead Beer Company was the vibrant sense of community and overall atmosphere of fun! When the owners undertook the renovation of the space to fit their vision just a few years ago, they stripped away the plaster that covered the walls of what was once an upholstery shop, according to one of the employees. Beer drinkers now enjoy the warmth and history of the exposed brick. Even though it was a regular weekday night, the place was packed. People of all ages gathered here, creating a diverse and welcoming crowd. Many were playing board games at their tables. It’s a great spot to wrap up your day, where you can chill, savor the company you’re in, and get one final taste of your three perfect days in Thunder Bay!

Thunder Bay: Year-round Travel Destination

There are hints of the colder months all around Thunder Bay, like the snow shoes inside Sleeping Giant Brewing Company. Winter sport enthusiasts would be in their element here; although, nature’s playground is open all year round.  ©Dawn Damico

Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, offers a perfect blend: close to nature, craft brews, an emerging culinary scene, and surrounded by water…lots of water! Lighthouse lovers will enjoy a day trip to Porphyry Point Island Lighthouse. Then, you have a city that boasts a rich history filled with legends and mystique. The cultural scene will satisfy your refined nature as you appreciate art, music, and the diverse contributions from the Indigenous people and the heritage of every group who helped settle this rugged and beautiful land. 

With year-round appeal, Thunder Bay welcomes visitors in all seasons, but it’s essential to consider the weather when planning your trip. Winters are very (very) cold – which is perfect for snow sports – and spring is the wet and rainy season and still pretty cold.  Summer is popular. I visited in September and it was a great “in-between” time…still had the summer warmth and just a little cooler giving hints of the winter to come. Choose your season!

I’m looking forward to returning to see the developments planned for the Waterfront District, including the Science Center. Thunder Bay is a great destination for many reasons and as they continue to move into their future development plans, I think the secrets of Thunder Bay will be unleashed! Keep this on your list of must-visit destinations. Personally, I think this may be the perfect annual escape for Floridians seeking an escape from scorching Florida summers…a reversal of the typical “snowbird” migration!

PS – A big Thank You to Visit Thunder Bay, our host Erin Simmons, and Destination Ontario for making this incredible experience possible. As always, the information and views expressed in this Three Perfect Days in Thunder Bay are my own.

Map Itinerary: 3 Perfect Days in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

What to do in Thunder Bay