Along the northwestern shore of Gitchi Gumee or Lake Superior, the largest Great Lake in North America is the city of Thunder Bay, Ontario. There are so many fun things to do in Thunder Bay, whether exploring one of the nearby provincial parks, shopping the market, or visiting an art gallery in its downtown area.
More than just that, it’s a fantastic area to spend a weekend getaway in Ontario, as it’s surrounded by natural beauty, many outdoor activities, a rich fur trade history, art and opportunities to dive deep into learning about or celebrating with our indigenous friends. We are very excited about this! So, let’s jump into the best things to do in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
Getting To Thunder Bay, Ontario
If you planning a weekend getaway, the fastest way to get to Thunder Bay is by plane. You can fly directly from Toronto Pearson International Airport or Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport to Thunder Bay International Airport in about 2 hours.
The train ride from Toronto to Thunder Bay takes approximately 24 hours, while the bus/car ride takes approximately 17 hours. If you are from the east, you can take the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 17) from Sault Ste. Marie. From the west, you can take Highway 11 or Highway 17 from Kenora.
Thunder Bay ON’s History
- Before European explorers and settlers arrived, the Anishinaabe had lived here for thousands of years.
- In the 17th century, French fur traders established a trading post in the region. The British took control of the area in the late 18th century, and it became an important hub for the fur trade.
- The name of this city is taken from the large thunderstorms located at the northern end of Lake Superior, known in 18th-century French maps as Baie du Tonnerre, or Bay of Thunder.
- In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Thunder Bay (then known as Port Arthur and Fort William) grew rapidly as a transportation and industrial center, thanks to its location at the head of the Great Lakes and the development of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
What to Do in Thunder Bay, ON?
There are so many brilliant Thunder Bay attractions, so it could initially seem a bit overwhelming. Luckily, I’ve found some of the best places to visit in Thunder Bay, whether you’re a history buff or an outdoor lover.
Visit Downtown Thunder Bay
The downtown area is one of the fastest-growing spots in Thunder Bay, ON, Canada. Downtown is a great place, from chic boutiques to unique eateries. The Goods & Co Market is a great spot, which features 25 local small businesses in a 20,000 sq. ft. space. This includes food, homeware, art, and clothing, making it the ideal place to get a souvenir or gift.
Speaking of food, as we mentioned at the top, there are also some terrific restaurants around here.
Rooster’s Bistro offers an expansive breakfast menu, wraps, burgers, and salads. Combined with excellent Northern hospitality and a lot of Rooster memorabilia.
We had a terrific experience and a great conversation with the owners, Dani Thunder and Tony Labbe, here at In Common. Everything is hand-crafted, ingredients are foraged, and their cocktails are dangerously good. In Common, charcuterie boards and a charming vibe.
We recommend the Sesame Ginger Hot Bowl (roasted chicken, grains, kale, avocado, sunnyside-up egg and sriracha), Sleeping Giant Brewing (SGB) Stout BBQ Chicken (mozza, cheddar, feta, prosciutto) and the Strawberry Margarita.
Lakehead Beer Company & Tomlin Subdivision
delicious beers in the same space as deep dish, Detroit-style pizza. The Buffalo Fried Chicken Pizza with Fried Chicken, Buffalo Sauce, Bacon, Cheddar and Blues Cheese Dressing is insane 😉
Prospector Steak House
Looking for a more filling dinner instead? Check out Prospector Steak House, which offers all kinds of delicious grilled meat. A Thunder Bay staple, Prospector Steakhouse has been serving up the famous Prime Rib, prime cuts of steak, and unlimited salad bar for decades.
The steak is outstanding, aged and cut in-house from their specialty Prime Ribs, which are prized for their marbling and fat content. Highly recommended by owner and beef guru Leo Hockenhull. Might I suggest the Prime Rib, Regular Cut (8oz) with their Blueberry Wheat Beer?
Do not fill up on the endless, fresh, homemade bread rolls.
Try Local Delicacies
Two very unique delicacies in Thunder Bay are truly delightful. Don’t worry; they’re not like haggis but instead are two sweet treats.
The Persian is a delectable fried pastry similar to a donut. It’s an oval shape, and it’s topped with raspberry icing. The Persian Man is the best place to visit, which specializes in these.
Next, we have Finnish pancakes, which are ultra-thin, buttery, and crispy, much like a crepe. Interestingly enough, Thunder Bay is home to one of the largest Finnish populations outside of Finland and has settled here since the 1870s. Hoito and Niva’s are two excellent spots to get these, as well as anywhere in “Little Finland.”
Be sure to try the famous “Persian” pastry, unique to Thunder Bay, Ontario. It’s an oval-shaped fried pastry with pink berry icing that’s been a local delicacy for decades.
The recipe is a closely guarded secret, but the icing is believed to be the key ingredient that makes it irresistible. Some locals mentioned that they love to freeze them and then enjoy them later as needed.
The Hoito Restaurant
The Hoito Restaurant is known for its delicious Finnish pancakes. Established in 1918, the restaurant was located in the historic Finnish Labour Temple and has been co-operatively owned and operated for almost 100 years.
However, according to locals, a fire has closed the restaurant, and they have a temporary pop-up set up in the Thunder Bay Country Market, which we’ll talk about shortly.
Go Shopping at Amazing Markets
Another brilliant thing to do in Thunder Bay is shopping, as there are many awesome boutiques and food stalls. Let’s start at Thunder Bay Country Market, held on Saturdays from 08:00 until 13:00 and Wednesdays from 15:30 until 18:30. Here; you can get jewellery, candles, jams, art, honey, baked goods, and fresh produce.
Looking for some delicious dairy products? I have two brilliant options. First, I have the Thunder Oak Cheese Farm, which specializes in Gouda cheese in various flavours and maturities. Second, I have Slate River Dairy, which makes cheese, butter, milk, yogurt, and beef products.
Learn About the Fur Trade at Fort William Historical Park
Since opening in 1973, Fort William Historical Park has offered Canadians and tourists a fascinating look back to the country’s early history. This makes visiting the park a great Thunder Bay activity, as you can learn all about fur trading, the First Nations people, and early European settlers.
This is a living history site, so it’s an informative way to educate yourself about the area’s past, including the Anishinaabe people’s role in the fur trade. To make this experience even more worthwhile, locals dress up in period costumes to provide an interpretive experience of daily life in the 1800s.
Check Out the Alexander Henry Museum Ship
Take an adventure into the past on the Alexander Henry Museum Ship. This icebreaker was a lighthouse supply ship that operated from 1958 until 1985. Named after a Thunder Bay fur trader, this ship served an important role in the area’s history and is now a brilliant floating museum.
You can learn all about the history of shipping in the area and Lake Superior. Plus, with their guided tours, you will surely pick up all sorts of things you didn’t know about Thunder Bay.
Be Mesmerised at the Thunder Bay Museum
Thunder Bay is an interesting place to be, and that’s no more apparent than at the Thunder Bay Museum. What’s more, it’s got something for everyone, from an exhibit on the city’s musical past to the photographs of John Forde, a fur trader from between 1890 and 1910.
It’s got three floors of exhibits, including seasonal, travelling, and temporary exhibits on the second floor. The first and main floor contains the Peter McKellar Gallery, which details the 10,000-year history of people in the Thunder Bay region.
This includes all kinds of artifacts and ancient items, such as Ojibwe and Cree beadwork, fur trade relics, items from Silver Islet, one of the continent’s most profitable silver mines, and even recreations of daily life in the past.
Admission is $3 per person, which is hardly anything for one of the top things to do while in Thunder Bay.
Check Out Thunder Bay Art Gallery
If you consider yourself an art lover, then a top thing to do in Thunder Bay, Canada, is visit the Thunder Bay Art Gallery. Why’s this, you may ask? It’s the largest public gallery between Sault Ste. Marie and Winnipeg, featuring work from various regional, national, and international artists.
Moreover, it’s got a permanent collection of paintings, drawings, photography, sculptures, and beadwork. It even has some fine crafts from many Canadian artists, including several Indigenous artists from Turtle Island, Thunder Bay, and Northwestern Ontario.
Feeling inspired? You can sign up for an art class or a tour, which are excellent ways to immerse yourself in art. Lastly, they have free parking, wheelchair accessible, and admission is $5 per person (except for Wednesdays when it’s free).
Visit Pigeon River Provincial Park
Thunder Bay is an ideal spot for hikers and outdoor lovers. That’s because it’s near various provincial parks with many hiking trails and outdoor spaces.
One such park is Pigeon River Provincial Park, found just before the US-Canada border. It’s about 45 minutes outside Thunder Bay, so it’s not too far of a drive for some exquisite vistas, fun hiking trails, and scenic waterfalls.
For a hike with all three of those, I recommend the High Falls Trail, which takes you along an old logging road with some picturesque views of the Pigeon River to High Falls, a 92-foot-high waterfall. If you’re looking for a more casual hike, Boardwalk Trail is a simple 1150-foot route.
Stroll Through the Thunder Bay Waterfront
Another cool Thunder Bay thing to do is to check out the waterfront area, especially on a warm, sunny day. There are loads of walking trails, boardwalks, and a public park. Marina Park is right on the shores of Lake Superior and has views of the Sleeping Giant and the Thunder Bay Lighthouse.
There is also a bunch of public art on display, especially at Prince Arthur’s Landing. This public space is an idyllic place to be, as it’s got a stunning garden, a marina and is close to many eateries.
Go Sailing On Lake Superior
Going to Thunder Bay without doing something on Lake Superior would be a major missed opportunity. So don’t miss out, and join a class with Sail Thunder Bay. They offer beginner classes for children and adults and are a fantastic way to learn new skills.
It’s definitely advised to do this in the summer, as the classes happen between July and August. A four-week course costs $275 per person, so it’s not the cheapest. However, it’s well worth it.
Unwind at Quetico Provincial Park
A bit further out of Thunder Bay (around a 1.5-hour drive) is Quetico Provincial Park, renowned for its rugged beauty. More specifically, it’s an internationally-acclaimed wilderness destination for paddlers, offering many routes.
That’s not all, as it has over 35 kilometres of hiking trails, backcountry campsites, year-round cabins and RV campgrounds. So, there’s a bit of everything to do here, plus some spectacular views in this 460,000-hectare space with over 2,000 lakes.
Hike Up Anemki Wajiw (Mount McKay)
A must-visit Thunder Bay tourist attraction is Anemki Wajiw, which towers over the city. Located on the lands of the Anishinabek Nation, the name translates to Thunder Mountain, which I can get behind as it’s so majestic.
You can hike to the viewing point at 500 feet, where there’s a lookout with vistas of Thunder Bay, Lake Superior, and the surrounding countryside. You can either stop here for a picnic to visit the area’s monuments and memorials, or you can continue on the hiking trail to the top of the mountain. Either way, you’ve got a spectacular way to witness this area’s beauty.
Take in the Views at Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park
Just an hour from Thunder Bay is the majestic Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park, which has a spectacular 150-metre-wide canyon. Ouimet Canyon is definitely the highlight of the day-only park, as it’s over 3 kilometres long and 107 metres deep – it is a geologic phenomenon.
You can look out on the canyon from the two lookout platforms. These are connected by a trail and boardwalk, which are relatively easy to walk across. Besides hiking, this park is a brilliant spot for birding, as on the raised boardwalk, you can get close to the forest canopy to see some of the migratory and endemic bird species.
Get Your Heart Pumping at Eagle Canyon Adventures
About an hour from Thunder Bay is Eagle Canyon, home to Canada’s longest suspension bridge. This is one of the best things to do in Thunder Bay for a fun-filled time, as you can take in delightful canyon views from the bridge. That’s not all they offer, as they have a half-a-mile-long zipline that reaches speeds of over 45 mph.
Next are some picturesque hiking trails if you’re not keen on thrill-seeking activities. Admission costs $22 per person for the entrance fee and an additional $60 for the zipline.
Tip: While it’s pretty steep off the start, it takes 5 minutes to get to the first bridge and another 5 minutes to get to the second bridge.
Appreciate the View at Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park
Kakabeka Falls is the second-highest vertical waterfall in Ontario, at over 40 metres. Also known as the Niagara of the North, this waterfall is a majestic sight and a fantastic place to go to in Thunder Bay.
Luckily for everyone, it’s also an easy spot to get to. This is because it’s wheelchair accessible and begins from the parking lot. Additionally, it has a viewing platform, a pedestrian bridge, and views of the Kaministiquia River and the gorge below. This makes it easy to get that perfect social media shot or enjoy idyllic landscapes.
Other hiking trails, such as the 2.5-kilometre-looped Little Falls Trail, descend into the gorge. Some longer trails include the 4-kilometre Poplar Point Trail, the 4.5-kilometre Beaver Meadows Trail, and the 3.5-kilometre River Terrace Trail.
Go Hiking at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
One of the most popular things to see in Thunder Bay is Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. Okay, so it’s not in Thunder Bay itself, but since it’s only 1.25 hours away, it’s worth visiting.
The extraordinary Sleeping Giant formation is lying on the rugged Sibley Peninsula. It’s a stunning sight that can be seen from the city and is an iconic Thunder Bay landmark.
Beyond this, the park has a 100+ kilometre trail network, including the Top of the Giant trail, a 22-kilometre round-trip hike that takes six to ten hours. It’s a more challenging hike, but the views are worth it.
Try Your Luck at Gateway Casino
Are you looking for a fun night or want to splash some extra cash? Head to Gateway Casino, which has all the classics, like Blackjack, Texas Hold ’em, Mississippi Stud Poker, and Roulette.
Besides these games, they also have e-tables and over 450 slot machines. Additionally, they occasionally hold events where you can enjoy live music. That’s not all they offer. They also have a $5 breakfast and a $7.77 lunch menu.
Visit Terry Fox Monument
Next up for sightseeing in Thunder Bay, we have the iconic Terry Fox Monument. This is a monument that was made to remember his memorable actions. Who was Terry Fox, you may ask? He was an athlete and cancer survivor who went on a cross-Canada run in the 1980s to raise awareness and money for cancer research.
Sadly, after 143 days and reaching Thunder Bay, he discovered that his cancer had returned, and his run concluded. However, his efforts will never be forgotten. In Thunder Bay, a nine-foot-tall bronze statue was erected in his honour, and you can visit it now. It’s open from 09:00 until 17:00 all week.
Visit Founders’ Museum and Pioneer Village
Want another look into Thunder Bay’s history? Pay a visit to the Founders’ Museum and Pioneer Village. It’s a village that consists of 12 buildings that depict life in the late 1800s up until the 1940s.
Each building contains artifacts and objects from the 1800s, and all buildings, from the town hall to the church, are historical buildings from the area. Take a walk back into the past for a unique insight into how our common ancestors lived. It’s open between May and September on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, from 12:00 until 16:30. Admission is donation based, so if you can contribute to help this museum continue.
Go Skiing at Loch Lomond
Now a top winter activity in Thunder Bay is skiing, and one of the best places to visit in Ontario during winter is Loch Lomond. It’s one of the best ski resorts in Ontario, with three chairlifts, a snow tubing facility, snowshoe trails, and cross-country ski trails.
It’s also just a 15-minute drive from Thunder Bay, and with runs of up to 2.5 kilometres, it’s full of fun. There are also slopes for beginners, and equipment rental is available for less serious skiers.
Even better, in summer, the hills get transformed into mountain biking and hiking trails, so it gets year-round usage.
Final Thoughts on Thunder Bay Sightseeing
Thunder Bay is full of things to do and places to visit, whether you’re willing to drive three hours or take a small walk. Whether to delight in stunning views of Ontario or try a freshly-baked Persian, there’s also some fun in this charming city.
What’s more, Thunder Bay is full of character, history, and thrilling attractions that can interest history buffs, art lovers, and outdoor adventurers. All you have to do now is book a trip here because I’ve provided you with all the reasons why. It’s one of the best road trips from Toronto.