With easy access to regional parks, rugged Lake Superior coastline and the massive monolith of Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, Thunder Bay is a true hiking hub.
And nothing tastes better after a hard hike than a craft beer. We’ve done the legwork and interviewed folks at Sleeping Giant Brewing Co. to find the best of both:
Poplar Point Trail
(4 km; Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park)
This accessible, multi-use trail carves around the Whispering Hills Campsite and is best reserved for families with young children — though any hiker can appreciate a poplar stand in fall foliage. When the leaves drop and the snow comes, tackle this route on skis.
Whiskey Jack Trail
(2.5 km; Quetico Provincial Park)
Starting on a boardwalk, this trail introduces walkers to the bounty of Quetico — Labrador tea, wild mushrooms, horsetail and bunchberry — easing from a wooded path to a meandering trail as it skims the outskirts of one of the region’s wildest parks.
Pickerel Lake Trail
(10 km; Sleeping Giant Provincial Park)
Though a reasonable length, this multi-use trail is still a leisurely introduction to one of Ontario’s great parks: Sleeping Giant. Wander through stands of white pine — or ski, in winter — comforted by the fact you can come or go at several access points. (Main access at Rita Lake.)
(4.2 km; Sleeping Giant Provincial Park)
Follow the stony shoreline of Lake Superior to a secluded beach — nice for a chilly dip when it’s warm or for dramatic ice formations when it’s cold — passing a biodiverse fen (wetland) along the route. Amateur botanists will appreciate the plant life endemic to this fragile ecosystem.
High Falls Trail
(2 km; Pigeon River Provincial Park)
Pigeon River is a park formed by volcanoes and glaciers and because of this, High Falls, at 28 metres in height, is suitably dramatic. This trail can be accessed via the park itself or from crown land on Northys Bay Road; either way, expect breathtaking vistas of a Canadian Heritage Waterway and the trademark waterfall, which is shared with Minnesota.
According to Sleeping Giant Brewing Co.’s Kevin Brewer, the perfect beer for after an easy hike is their Armoury Ale (5%): “Our take on a Scottish Ale — crafted with five different malts to create a very smooth-drinking craft beer full of flavour that you’ll want to enjoy until the last drop.”
Middle Falls Lookout Trail
(4 km; Pigeon River Provincial Park)
This is not a long hike, but it has many sections of steep, slippery rock. The payoff? Stunning views over Lake Superior, all the way to Michigan’s Isle Royale, as well as a rest stop at the namesake, six-metre-tall Middle Falls.
Little Falls Trail
(2.5 km; Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park)
Short and sweet: a rugged trail with a waterfall payoff. Wander along the Kaministiquia River, keeping an eye out for beavers and deer, and enter picturesque woodland before climbing sharply uphill to the vista of Little Falls.
Pines Hiking Trail
(10 km; Quetico Provincial Park)
If you fancy a night in the wilderness, pick up an Interior Camping Permit before trekking along this trail. Or do it in a day. Either way, sandy beaches on Pickerel Lake, stands of red pine and general seclusion throughout make it well worth the sweat.
Sawyer Bay Trail
(12 km; Sleeping Giant Provincial Park)
Once a logging road, Sawyer Bay Trail leads past lush berry bushes to the base of the mighty Sleeping Giant. The trail is regarded for its expansive lake views; many lookout points offer a panorama of the imposing stone Giant. (Mountain-bike friendly.)
Centennial Park to Cascades Conservation Area
(11 km; Centennial Park)
Starting at Centennial Park, right near downtown Thunder Bay, this trail crosses the Current River as it leads to Trowbridge Falls, then on to Cascade Conservation Area, before meandering through the woods back to Centennial. Perfect for an active afternoon.
(12 km; Sleeping Giant Provincial Park)
This undulating, scenic trail was, like many routes in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, once a logging road. It is wide and gentle, leading past tempting beaches and lichen-stained rocks. The trail finishes at the base of Sleeping Giant — as part of the Kabeyun Trail, industrious hikers can continue on for an overnight route. Or just go for a swim and head back.
Mount McKay Trail
(2 km; Mount McKay Scenic Lookout)
Easily done on a weekday evening (before the light fades), a climb to the summit of this volcanically formed 275-metre prominence is rewarded with an unobstructed overlook of the Thunder Bay area. You’ll also find picnic areas and a lookout point halfway up (if you’re feeling tired).
After a good half-day hike, try Sleeping Giant Brewing Co.’s 360 Pale Ale (5%). “Our original flagship English Style Pale Ale is full of flavour and balanced extremely well between bitterness/citrus/hop flavours to cure the thirst from that longer hike… you’ll probably need two,” says Brewer.
Top of the Giant
(22 km; Sleeping Giant Provincial Park)
It would be impossible to discuss hiking around Thunder Bay and not include Top of the Giant. The signature hike in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, this strenuous route travels a portion of the Kabeyun Trail, past Tee Harbour, before starting its three-kilometre upslope grind, climbing nearly 300 metres above Lake Superior to the best lookout in the province.
Finger Point Trail
(5 km; Pigeon River Provincial Park)
After climbing this steep, 2.5-km (one way) trail, dry your sweaty brow while appreciating an international vista — views extend well into America. The trail is full of character beyond the natural environment, from the sculpted boardwalk on which it starts to the artistic bench from which to enjoy the view at the terminus.
French Portage Trail
(5 km; Quetico Provincial Park)
Expect slow going through the tricky, technical and low-lying terrain of watery Quetico Park. (There’s a reason it’s better known for canoeing.) French Portage Trail traces a route used by First Nations, as well as European explorers, for centuries. Historically, it led into Manitoba, but it’s also a great morning hike.
Talus Lake Trail
(18 km; Sleeping Giant Provincial Park)
Another of Sleeping Giant’s classic routes, Talus Lake Trail is accessed from Kabeyun Trail, at Tee Harbour, and leads from Sleeping Giant to Thunder Mountain. Expect steep cliffs, scenic beaches, pleasant meadow and even a waterfall along the route.
Nipigon River Recreation Trail
(8 km; North Shore of Lake Superior)
This undulating, linear trail connects the towns of Nipigon and Red Rock — the trailhead starts about an hour’s drive east of Thunder Bay. You’ll find secluded lakeshore, scenic viewpoints and wetlands as it leads towards the 49th Parallel. If you still have energy at Red Rock, tackle the four-kilometre trail up Eagle’s Ridge to burn it off.
(40 km; Sleeping Giant Provincial Park)
One of the few designated backpacking routes in the area, this linear hike starts at the Thunder Bay Lookout, leads into Sleeping Giant Provincial Park (around the Giant’s “feet”) and continues on to the terminus at Highway 587. By the end, you’ll feel at-one with the lake, as its cobalt-blue expanses provide companionship throughout.
Sleeping Giant Brewing Co. invites tired hikers to try their Hoppet IPA (6.5%). “After a hard hike, you deserve a beer worth the work. Our Hoppet IPA combines the hop-forward beer you crave after that long journey with notes of pineapple and citrus flavours. So go ahead, earn that beer; we’ll keep it cold in the fridge for you. Cheers!” says Brewer.
Join hosted hikes or find out more about the region’s trails at tbha.ca.
Find out more about Sleeping Giant Brewing Co. at sleepinggiantbrewing.ca.
Find information on Ontario’s provincial parks at ontarioparks.com.
This article originally appeared in our Fall 2014 issue.