If you ask anyone in the world what they envision when they think of Canada, there’s a good chance they’ll unknowingly describe Northern Ontario. The region’s incredibly lush landscapes, expansive fields, craggy rocks, brilliant lakes, and vibrant colors are classically Canadian. It may look like a postcard, but, happily, it’s real and quite accessible to visitors. Even better, it’s budget-friendly -- you can get more bang for your buck in Northern Ontario than in most any other part of Canada. Finally, it’s home to some of the country’s best hiking trails!
I know the area well. My husband’s family is from Northern Ontario, and we’ve spent a lot of time there. My favorite time to visit is the fall, when the mosquitos are scarce and the autumn colors are incredible, but with a little planning you can enjoy these special hiking routes year-round (some are perfect for snowshoeing in winter!). And whether you like your hikes more or less challenging, there's a trek for you.
Here are my favorites.
1. Bridal Veil Falls, Manitoulin Island
Located directly off of Highway 540 and only about 2 hours away from Sudbury, Ontario, the trail to the top of Bridal Veil Falls (35 feet high) is hugely rewarding. The falls, of course, are beautiful, but the surrounding area is stunning as well. There are two parking lots and two approaches: one from the top of the outdoor steel staircase next to the falls and another from a few hundred yards down the trail, past some of the rapids. Both are considered easy hikes, and the paths are well groomed. Bring your swimsuit so that you can splash in the pool at the base of the falls when you're done!
Every successful hike should be followed by a hearty meal. Lake Huron Fish & Chips Co. on Manitoulin Island’s south shore is a local favorite and offers fresh, locally caught fish.
2. Devil’s Rock, Temiskaming Shores
This granite escarpment, roughly halfway between North Bay, Ontario, and Timmins, Ontario, is more than 2 million years old and rises 300 feet above Lake Temiskaming. Although it’s hugely popular with rock climbers, travelers who prefer an easier hike will still love trekking to Devil’s Rock. It's one of Ontario's prettiest hikes. While this hike is only moderate in difficulty, the rocky path might slow you down, and proper hiking shoes are recommended.
Without even realizing it, you might have “seen” Devil’s Rock before. This region was home to Canadian writer Leslie McFarlane, the ghostwriter behind many cherished childhood classics, including several of the Hardy Boys novels. The local environment influenced many of McFarlane’s works, especially The House on the Cliff (published under the name Franklin W. Dixon).
Literary fans aren’t the only ones who will enjoy this area. History buffs should be sure to visit the nearby Cobalt Mining Museum to learn about camp life during the area’s silver boom.
3. Duchesnay Falls, North Bay
Just a short distance from Highway 17, Duchesnay Falls might just be the perfect break from a long drive through Northern Ontario. Just outside the city of North Bay, this is the perfect day hike for anyone visiting the city.
The waterfall is picturesque, with two drops of nearly 15 feet each. The moderate hike to the falls is approximately 1.8 miles long and, while there are no sharp drops, the rocks are slippery when wet, and there are no fences. In particular, there are a few steep areas at the beginning of the trail, and there are no handrails to help you keep your balance as you go. This steepness isn’t present throughout, but when you aren’t expecting it, it can feel daunting. Sturdy hiking boots and poles will be tremendously helpful here.
4. Cup And Saucer, Manitoulin Island
With more than 7.5 miles of hiking trails to explore, Cup and Saucer is the gateway to the highest peak of Manitoulin Island and one of the most popular hiking areas in Ontario. Hikes range from 15 minutes to 4 hours and include many different degrees of difficulty, so there will be something for every traveler.
The area is located 11 miles west of Little Current, Ontario, at the junction of Highway 540 and Bidwell Road. Many people start off on the “wrong” trail -- here’s a great resource on how to tell the trails apart. Don't worry -- not all of the hikes involve heights!
If you feel like giving your legs a different kind of workout, Manitoulin Island is a fantastic place for cycling. Otherwise, you can give your legs a break entirely and try motorcycling, which is quite popular in the area.
5. Caribou Mountain Tower, Temagami
About half a mile from Highway 11, an hour’s drive north from North Bay and 2 hours from Sudbury, is Caribou Mountain in Temagami. The summit is home to a 100-foot-tall fire tower with a remarkable history. A tower has stood on or near the site since 1910, and, until about 25 years ago, it was an invaluable tool for local rangers trying to prevent forest fires. You can expect some amazing views along the hike and, of course, at the summit -- you don’t want to leave your camera behind! The $3 admission fee includes entrance to the interpretive center, which little ones will love. This is the perfect place to take the grandkids.
Lake Temagami is a great spot for paddling and fishing, but even recreational fishing requires a license. This can be obtained easily and inexpensively from a number of authorized local outfitters.
6. Edmund Fitzgerald Lookout, Pancake Bay Provincial Park
Just north of Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario, on the shores of Lake Superior, Pancake Bay Provincial Park is one of Ontario’s most underrated outdoor destinations. It offers gorgeous views, friendly staff, and is generally pretty quiet, even in the middle of summer. While the park offers several different hikes and nature walks to accommodate all visitors, none can compare to the 3.7-mile round-trip hike to the Edmund Fitzgerald Lookout.
The SS Edmund Fitzgerald was a ship that sank during a fierce Lake Superior storm in 1975. The tragedy was immortalized by Gordon Lightfoot in his song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” The moderately difficult hike to the lookout culminates in beautiful views of Lake Superior and, specifically, Whitefish Bay, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald’s final resting place.
Inside Pancake Bay Provincial Park’s small gift store, you can pick up bottles of maple syrup made from the sap from the park. While the entire province is famous for maple syrup, there’s something about buying it in Pancake Bay that makes it extra tasty.
7. The Boardwalk, Pigeon River Provincial Park
Just outside Thunder Bay near the Canada-United States border, Pigeon River Provincial Park offers a wide range of hikes, but my personal favorite is the easy and accessible Boardwalk Trail. At about half a mile, with the option to continue on to the connecting Finger Point Trail, it’s a relaxing walk along the water, complete with benches, informational plaques, and outdoor art.
This area offers great bird-watching opportunities. Gray catbirds, rose-breasted grosbeaks, common ravens, and Canada jays all call the park home.
No matter which route you choose, remember your hiking safety basics! Hiking in Ontario is generally safe, but it's always best to exercise caution. Regardless of the weather conditions and intended length of the hike, bring plenty of water, healthy snacks, protective products (sunscreen, bug spray, a jacket, and a first-aid kit), and communication devices (with the understanding that you may not always have reception). Always let someone know where you’re going and when you intend to be back, and remember to take nothing but photographs and leave nothing but footprints.
Planning a outdoor excursion in Ontario? Check out the province's best campgrounds.