At the Top of the Giant, I strolled out of the poplars and onto wind-blown, pulpit rocks where the view nearly bowled me right over.
Sheer 200-metre cliffs dropped precipitously at trail’s end; Lake Superior, dotted with whitecaps and container ships, stretched past the horizon; Thunder Bay appeared on the far shore like little more than a hamlet from this impressive vantage. This panorama blew my expectations right through the stratosphere, a sentiment that continued throughout my exploration of stunning Sleeping Giant Provincial Park.
With knee-weakening lookouts atop the world’s largest lake, sun-bathed beaches, serene protected waters and idyllic campsites, Sleeping Giant Provincial Park is a true gem of Northwestern Ontario. Located less than an hour east of Thunder Bay and occupying densely wooded Sibley Peninsula, which stabs into Superior like a pointed finger, it’s easy to access yet still feels remote. Sure, it can get a bit busy on summer weekends—but there is always an empty shoreline somewhere within its 24,400 hectares. (Well, maybe a prancing white-tailed deer, wily fox or dive-bombing peregrine falcon will offer accompaniment.)
If you’re looking for reasons to visit Sleeping Giant this weekend, start with these seven highlights:
1. Hike to the Top of the Giant
If you were to choose only one adventure, this would be it. (You’re not afraid of heights, are you?) After a lengthy lakeside stroll followed by a stout climb, you’ll be rewarded with a series of impressive vistas looking both west and east over Lake Superior, culminating with the step-stones of the Giant’s Knees. Here, after tracing a rocky ridge that’s said to resemble, well, a “sleeping giant,” the trail ends abruptly at a terrifying gorge, where sheer granite cliffs plunge 200 metres toward the forested shoreline of Lake Superior before tumbling another 90 metres into the massive lake. The view over this inland sea is vertigo inducing, breathtaking and surely one of Canada’s most impressive. You’ll have to sweat for this prize—the full length from Kabeyun South Trailhead is 22 kilometres. (Tip: the first 7.5 kilometres are multi-use. Bring a mountain bike to make short work of the flat stretch then lock it up at the start of the climb.)
2. Rejuvenate at Middlebrun Bay
The flat-and-easy hike to Middlebrun Bay is the spiritual antithesis of the Top of the Giant Trail. Rather than a sweaty grind to one of the highest viewpoints in Ontario, this is a literal walk-in-the-park to a calm, cool and rejuvenating nook on Lake Superior. The full trail is 4.8 kilometres one-way, but the slate-grey crescent moon of Middlebrun Bay will present itself just 40 minutes after you leave the parking lot. The water is protected, refreshing and begs a swim. Bring a beach blanket. Pack a picnic. Spend a day. The bulk of park visitors will stick to easier-access shores, so even on weekends you’re sure to find tranquility at Middlebrun.
3. Paddle on Marie Louise Lake
Lake Superior’s wild waters are best suited to sailboats and experienced kayakers. Look instead to calm Marie Louise Lake, located in the centre of Sibley Peninsula, which welcomes canoeists of all calibres. Rentals are available onsite and a vehicle-access public dock assists launching. Get an early start, as wind tends to pick up in the afternoon, and enjoy a misty morning of exploration along 19 kilometres of ragged, mixed-woods shoreline. Make sure to grab a fishing licence and your angling gear too, as these waters are rife with northern pike and smallmouth bass.
4. Snap a Selfie at Thunder Bay Lookout
Consider this a buildup—or, perhaps an alternative—to the Top of the Giant. Accessed by vehicle or mountain-bike, Thunder Bay Lookout is an impressive cantilevered platform that juts out from 100 metres above the wild shores of Lake Superior. Get there by driving nine kilometres west from Highway 587; look for a turnoff about five kilometres after entering the park. The road is rough, and only gets rougher towards the end, but the vista is well-worth it. Plus, it’s one of the few places you’ll get cellphone service in the park—so make that Instagram post count!
5. Camp on the Waterfront
Step one: make a reservation. As a favourite getaway for Thunder Bay locals, you’ll need to plan accordingly if you hope to scoop one of the waterfront campsites at Marie Louise Lake Campground. But the benefits are rich—thanks to welcoming and temperate water, campers can start and finish every day with a long swim, right from their sites. Some cast a line mere steps from their tent, angling for the freshest of fish dinners. Listen to loon-song echo across the waves, savour fiery sunsets and count flocks of visiting ducks—this is what camping in Northwestern Ontario is all about. (Searching for solitude? Try a backcountry site instead—Tee Harbour is a personal fave.)
6. Escape to Comfort
Ontario Parks sells their glamping-getaways without much flair—dubbed “Roofed Accommodation,” the plain moniker hardly does these delightful cabins justice. Perched alongside Marie Louise Lake, with fully equipped kitchens, woodstoves, firepits, sun-decks and accessible bathrooms, Sleeping Giant’s woodsy six-person cabins make family getaways easy. Just bring your crew, your gear and some chow and the rest will be waiting. Or, book one of the ready-to-go trailers—you’ll need to bring bedding and mess-kits for these—another fine option for a simple summer escape.
7. Book a Beach Day
The golden-sand of Marie Louise Lake’s public beach epitomizes the simplest of summer pleasures: a beach day. Family-friendly, kids can splash in the protected swim zone or prance around an onsite playground. Ducks waddle through; eagles soar overhead; stress floats away like clouds above Thunder Bay. Sneak a sidetrip to the nearby Wildlife Habitat Trail (2.1 kilometres) at day’s end for a chance to spot moose or deer.