Autumn is a great time for outdoor adventure on land and water in Thunder Bay, Ontario (and the surrounding region along the north shore of Lake Superior). Packed with important Indigenous history and art alongside an eclectic culinary scene, Thunder Bay is perfect for history buffs and those who prefer to stay indoors as well.
Thunder Bay is the largest city in Northwest Ontario and has an international airport served by Air Canada, Porter Airlines, and Bearskin Airlines, offering easy access from the United States, Manitoba, and the rest of Ontario. If you’re flying in, rent a vehicle to get around the city and waterfront and enjoy the rich fall reds and yellows. Just a short distance from the city are loads of outdoor adventures in places like Provincial parks, amethyst mines, and canyons.
Note: Thank you to Visit Thunder Bay for hosting my visit. Though I was hosted, all opinions are mine.
Things To Do In Thunder Bay In The Fall
The range of outdoor experiences depends on the distance you are willing to drive; however, there are plenty of outstanding experiences close to the city and along the waterfront.
1. Take A Harbor Cruise Or Day Cruise With Sail Superior
Sail Superior offers sailboat and Zodiac tours to enjoy waterfront views of Thunder Bay. You can get up close to operating (and abandoned) grain and ore elevators, then cruise by old wood piers and an abandoned “laker” that was used to carry bulk cargo on the Great Lakes.
Sail by the “salties,” freight vessels that visit the Great Lakes from the salt-filled oceans; they travel along the St. Lawrence Seaway and into the Great Lakes waiting offshore to load or unload cargo. Enjoy spectacular views of the infamous Sleeping Giant, a series of mesas that resemble a reclining giant, from the storied waters of Lake Superior.
Take a harbor tour, a wine and cheese cruise, or a cruise adventure that includes hiking the Sleeping Giant. The fall colors around the lake provide the perfect backdrop for your time on the water with Captain Gregory.
Pro Tip: Be sure to check out Sail Superior’s full offerings, as you may find different types of cruises and adventures. Don’t be afraid to try more than one.
2. See Kakabeka Falls And Hike In The Provincial Park
Just over 18 miles from Thunder Bay, you’ll find the dazzling yellows and fiery reds on full display at Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park. The entrance fee to the park is around $5. Using conveniently located staircases, you’ll find a full view of the falls. At over 40 meters, Kakabeka Falls is the second-highest waterfall in Ontario and has been nicknamed the “Niagara of the North.” From the pedestrian bridge, one can view each side of the falls and explore the Kaministiquia River and deep gorge.
Pro Tips: Be sure to see Kakabeka Falls from both sides of the gorge, and watch out for bears in the area! (You’ll see warning signs in areas where you need to be cautious.)
3. Stop At The Terry Fox Monument And Lookout
Driving west from Thunder Bay on Highway 11/17, stop for an emotional visit to the Terry Fox Monument and Lookout commemorating the heartbreaking story of an inspirational Canadian hero.
To raise money and awareness for cancer research, Terry Fox began an inspirational run in St. John’s, Newfoundland, in April 1980 and ended his journey 143 days later in Thunder Bay, when it became too painful for him to continue. The bronze monument depicts Fox in the final steps of his marathon.
Pro Tip: Take a picnic and enjoy the panoramic view from the lookout.
4. Hike In Sleeping Giant Provincial Park And Visit Silver Islet, An Old Mining Town
Just over an hour’s drive from Thunder Bay via the Trans-Canada Highway and south on Highway 587, you’ll arrive at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. Parking is readily available, and you can follow the signs to Sea Lion Trail. Hiking along this trail rewards you with remarkable views of Lake Superior from the beach with smooth stones underfoot.
The Sea Lion is a rock formation with a natural arch that once looked like a lion and has since eroded. I’m glad I saw the Sea Lion, as one day it will disappear.
Just moments from the Sea Lion Trail is the historic town of Silver Islet with views of a tiny island that once served as the largest silver mine in the world. Submerged mine shafts and platforms are still visible from the water.
Pro Tip: The silver mine shaft and underwater structure are best seen from a boat so you have an overhead view through the clear water.
5. Traverse Canada’s Longest Suspension Footbridge
For a daring adventure, Eagle Canyon, less than a half-hour drive east of Thunder Bay, has Canada’s longest suspension footbridge. It extends 600 feet across the canyon at a height of 152 feet above the canyon floor. There is also a smaller bridge spanning 300 feet across the canyon and 125 feet above the canyon floor. They both provide a fabulous perspective to see the fall colors! For the even more daring, there is a zipline.
Pro Tip: Check if the zipline will be open when you plan to visit. It was not operating in 2022.
6. Mine Purple Amethyst At Amethyst Mine Panorama
On your way to Eagle Canyon, turn off Highway 11/17 and drive for about up to the Amethyst Mine Panorama. Following a brief orientation on the history of the mine and an explanation of amethyst formation (a purple variety of quartz and the official gemstone of Ontario), enjoy the spectacular vistas and then head to the digging area with tons of amethyst in many shades, shapes, and sizes. A table with brushes and water is available to clean up the amethyst you want to bag up and take home.
Admission is around $10 per person, and dig-your-own amethyst is around $4 per pound.
Pro Tip: Stop on the way up (or the way back down) at the panoramic lookout point, marked clearly on the roadway.
7. Step Back In Time At Fort Williams Historical Park
Fall is an ideal time to visit Fort Williams Historical Park for a walk through the gloriously colorful woods and along the peaceful Kaministiquia River. Once in the fort, visit a working farm, the Great Hall, Native encampments, a trading post, an apothecary, and many artisan shops, all among the 46 reconstructed buildings on the 225-acre site.
Our guide, dressed in period attire and playing the role of a blacksmith, allowed us to imagine stepping back into the past to understand his life as it was in the 1800s.
Pro Tip: Take time to see the varieties of voyageur canoes in the woodworking shop.
Best Restaurants In Thunder Bay1964 a Greek family
Thunder Bay has an emerging food scene with restaurants and cool bars catering to every taste. Here are three of my favorite restaurants — and a must eat for every visitor.
8. Tomlin Restaurant
Dinner at Tomlin Restaurant is by far my favorite meal in Thunder Bay.
The restaurant had a chic-hip vibe and was quite busy. While the restaurant does not take reservations, you shouldn’t have to wait too long to be seated, even on a Saturday night. Bread is baked in-house and served hot. Try the Lake Trout served with a cauliflower steak as a main. The burrata served with a melange of vegetables dressed with arugula pesto was outstanding.
Pro Tip: Order an Aperol spritz while you wait for a table. So refreshing!
9. Red Lion Smokehouse
Located in the waterfront district of Thunder Bay, Red Lion Smokehouse is a great choice for a casual dinner in a pub-like atmosphere. It is open for lunch and dinner. Its specialties include BBQ pork belly, St. Louis ribs, and smoked brisket. I recommend the in-house smoked brisket. Try it in the Brisket and Blue Sandwich. Many local beers from microbreweries are on tap and in cans.
Pro Tip: Check out the old British touches, like a photo of Her Majesty Queen Victoria II, the vintage red phone booth, and red leather sofas.
10. Nucci’s Bake-A-Deli (Specifically For Thunder Bay Persians)
A visit to Thunder Bay is not complete without sinking your teeth into a scrumptious Thunder Bay Persian roll. A Persian (nothing to do with Persia) is an oval-shaped fried pastry frosted with pink berry icing. It was named by its creator, Art Bennett, after John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing, an American World War I General who allegedly visited his bakery in the 1940s while he was making the dough.
The Persian is a local delicacy with deep roots in this northern Ontario city. I was delighted to visit Nucci’s Bake-a-Deli to taste a Persian. They had 3 icing flavors: chocolate, blueberry, and the signature pink berry. I chose the pink berry and totally understand the ongoing love affair with these pastries! Persians can also be found at Persian Man.
Pro Tip: Try the pink berry icing Persian first. It’s the original flavor.
Best Hotels In Thunder Bay
The best hotels are in the waterfront area of Thunder Bay, close to the shops, markets, and the waterfront; however, there are many name-brand hotels located near the airport, just a 15-minute drive from downtown.
These are two downtown hotels I would recommend:
10. The Delta Hotel Thunder Bay
If you want to stay directly on the waterfront with a wonderful view of Sleeping Giant and Lake Superior, the new Delta Hotel Thunder Bay is an ideal choice. The hotel is conveniently located for walks around Prince Arthur’s Landing on the water, shopping in the Waterfront District, enjoying restaurants downtown, or even getting lucky at Gateway Casinos Thunder Bay.
11. Courthouse Hotel
The boutique Courthouse Hotel, formerly a Superior Court of Justice, is one of the oldest historic buildings in Thunder Bay, dating back to 1924. Apart from its cool pedigree, it is in a prime location in downtown Thunder Bay, overlooking the waterfront with views of Sleeping Giant and Lake Superior.