Why in particular does Thunder Bay attract hikers? The Canadian Shield topography is reason number one. It lends itself to spectacular lakeside trails – from easy to expert – offering up stunning vistas and boreal wilderness; some just a stone's toss from downtown Thunder Bay. The range of trails is abundant and the interpretive signs and displays found in area parks are well appreciated. Go admire the geological features of the Shield and unique natural environment it creates but don't forget to bring your camera; your photographic eye is sure to get a workout too.
Difficulty: Challenging due to steep incline
Length: 700 metres, round-trip
"A lung buster." That's one way to describe the hike up Mount McKay. Climb it for a bird's eye view of the surrounding area; views afforded by its height, 270 metres above the lake.
About: McKay sits just past Thunder Bay city limits and is an instantly recognizable landform to those who call the city home. It's located on the Indian Reserve of the Fort William First Nation and was originally known as "Thunder Mountain". in Ojibwe. Long before recreational users scrambled up its trail, the mountain was used for sacred ceremonies.
If the McKay's shape appears a bit curious, you're right. It's a product of magmatic activity, formed some 1,100 million years ago.
The trail: A trail up the east face delivers hikers to a lookout offering unobstructed views of Thunder Bay, the harbour and the Sleeping Giant. This is also the trail's midpoint. Take a moment to admire city and harbour views. This spot also marks a small Aboriginal memorial, commemorating those who served in the wars. Those who push on from here will ascend for about another half hour. This hike is popular among locals and the trail offers a great work out.
Flora: Hardwood forests shroud this northernmost peak of the Nor'Wester Mountains. Along the trail you may spot red and sugar maple, poison ivy, warped jack pine trees and yellow birch.
Little Trout Bay & Mount Mollie
Length: 3 kilometres, round trip
About: Little Trout Bay and the conjoining Mount Mollie Trail sit nestled in the Little Trout Bay Conservation Area on the shores of Lake Superior. Hike up the East side of Mount Mollie for great views overlooking Little Trout Bay, Big Trout Bay, Cloud Bay, Pine Bay and several Lake Superior Islands. The area lies 45 minutes south of Thunder Bay.
The trail: The Little Trout Bay Trail begins in dense, moss-covered woods where hikers can hear the gentle ebb and flow of Lake Superior through the trees. Views in this section are scarce as the trail winds its way through the forest loop.
For better views and more of a challenge, the Mount Mollie Trail sits just across the road, and sends hikers scrambling up the poorly marked, but easy to follow trail. Watch your footing, it's laden with small boulders and arched tree roots. From the top, visitors are treated to sweeping views.
Flora & fauna: The entirety of the Little Trout Bay Conservation Area is covered in boreal forest. It's blanketed in spruce, fir, and pine trees that shade the forest floor, allowing moss coverage to thrive. While the trout, salmon, pickerel, and whitefish make the bay area prized for its fishing, it is also home to a number of bird species. Look to the skies to spy peregrine falcons, great blue heron, and bald eagles. Although rarely seen, moose and black bears live in the area as well.
Current River Greenway
Centennial Park-Trowbridge Falls-Cascades Conservation Area
Difficulty: All levels
Length: 50 km
About: Located in Thunder Bay's northern Current River neighbourhood, the extensive greenway is comprised of nine area parks. 'Linking parks' may not sound off the grid, but explorers can rest assured, they're not all manicured city parks. Once in the thick of it, it can be hard to believe the greenway is only five minutes from the Thunder Bay's downtown district.
Trail: With 50 kilometres of trails running through the greenway, there is no shortage of hiking prospects. While some areas like Centennial Park offer paved trails and family-friendly activities, other areas are rugged. Trowbridge Falls Park and Cascades Conservation Area are the best for challenging treks through the craggy river terrain.
Flora & fauna: The birch forests of the river meld with the boreal which envelopes Thunder Bay. While the Current River provides excellent trout, perch, and sculpin fishing, the proximity of Thunder Bay to the greenway keeps wildlife to a minimum. Spotting one of the many moose or black bears that live around the city is rare, and you have a higher chance of seeing white-tailed deer, grouse, geese and mallards.
Red Rock Falls (aka Wolf River Falls)
Length: 3 kilometres
About: Located 30 kilometres north of Dorion, Red Rock Falls (also known as Wolf River Falls) is an oft looked over gem compared to its neighbour, Sleeping Giant Provincial Park.
Trail: The Red Rock Falls Trail may be short in length, but the steep natural rock stairway which descends into the rugged gorge presents a good challenge. Aching hamstrings are a small price to pay to explore waterfalls as picture perfect as these.
After tackling the staircase, the trail splits into two forks. Right leads to sweeping views over the surrounding area and to the top of the falls. The left fork takes hikers down a wooden ladder and along some rope hand holds to the bottom of the falls. From here, visitors can get up close and personal with one of nature's most powerful forces by walking behind the wall of rushing water as it makes its 9-metre drop.
Flora & fauna: Aside from moss, there isn't much vegetation surrounding the Red Rock Falls. The area's coniferous forest sits further up on the rim of the gorge. However, there is no shortage of red sandstone to contrast against the surrounding green forest and rushing white water.
Top of the Giant
Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
Difficulty: Leisurely through strenuous
About: Sleeping Giant is located on the Sibley Peninsula, roughly an hour's drive from downtown Thunder Bay. Hiking here treats adventurers to unbeatable views of Lake Superior and the vast surrounding wilderness. With over 100 kilometres of hiking trails within park boundaries, route options abound.
Pickerel Lake Trail - 10 km
In the winter, this scenic trail passes through one of the park’s impressive White Pine stands. It's also part of a cross-country ski trail network. Pickerel is accessed at multiple locations but parking in the lot at Rita Lake is a convenient option.
Kabeyun Trail - 40 km, strenuous. Save this trail for mild weather and an overnight hike. It's a scenic, coastal trail with a trailheads at Thunder Bay Lookout and Highway 587. The portion that rounds the tip of the peninsula - known as the Sleeping Giant's feet - ending at Lehtinen's Bay is a challenging one. The section leads hikers through twists and turns over boulders amid a talus slope. Watch your ankles!
Top of the Giant Trail - 27 km. As the highest point in Ontario, no outdoor excursion in the Thunder Bay area is complete without attempting to tackle the giant.
Top of the Giant Trail can only be accessed via the Kabeyun Trail. At Tee Harbour take the Talus Lake Trail and follow it north to reach the Top of the Giant Trail. Note: weather conditions on and near Lake Superior are subject to sudden and sharp changes. Sunny days can quickly become cloudy, cool and wet. From the pinnacle of Top of Giant, hikers will get panoramic views of the boreal forests and Lake Superior. One of the most striking features is the dramatically sloping cuestas of sedimentary rock that form the sleeping giant shape.
Park flora & fauna: White-tailed deer and black bear are common throughout the Sleeping Giant. The provincial park is also well known for the 200 different species of birds that soar above the trees.
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