Back in August, I got itchy feet. While I was happy to be back at work (and even happier to have a regular paycheque), I missed the sense of adventure that only travelling can bring. I also really missed my good friend Victoria who lives in Thunder Bay. And then, conveniently, Porter announced a pretty wicked seat sale and I discovered that I still had vacation time banked. Sometimes good plans come together just too easily!
I had been to visit Thunder Bay once before back in 2007 and I was excited to check out more of northern Ontario’s beauty. This post is for all the people who, when I announced where I was going, replied with a confused “Why?”
It started with a rather-flatulent goat. Victoria and I were waiting for the tour of the Thunder Oak Cheese Farm to start and had time to kill, so we wandered outside to feed the goats. They gobbled up the feed with excitement – one was so excited, in fact, that he let a few rip. Rather loudly. And as we stood there laughing, surrounded by lush trees, farmland and gassy animals, I realized that there was more to Thunder Bay than meets the eye.
Northern Ontario’s largest city (with a population of just over 122,000) is about more than just logging and mining. Often by-passed as a tourist destination, it’s a mecca for eco-conscious- or outdoor enthusiast-types or those who fancy themselves a “localvore”. I spent a jam-packed three days hiking, shopping, animal-watching and eating and felt like I had barely scratched the surface of possibilities to be had.
For the Outdoorsy Types
Thunder Bay and the surrounding area is a veritable jackpot if you enjoy the outdoors, regardless of the season (summer, however, is my preference as I find it chilly enough in southern Ontario). Victoria and I went on a morning hiking in Pigeon River Provincial Park to High and Middle Falls. The park is right on the western edge of Lake Superior and next to the US border – a pretty quiet little border crossing, from the looks of it. Maybe I should start flying to Thunder Bay for my cross-border shopping.
At any rate, the hike is a fairly easy one (watch your footing if the ground is wet) and you’ll be treated to spectacular falls and relative peace and quiet to enjoy them in, unlike the more popular Kakabeka Falls (you should visit those too, though).
For more rigorous hikes be sure to plan a day visit to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, which you most likely spotted on your flight in or from any vantage point in the city. Sleepy G is full of trails both short and long, as well as wonderful spots to spread out with a picnic and enjoy the view. Just don’t forget to pick up your day pass when you enter the park – it’s a long drive back to the gate otherwise.
Jaw-dropping views can be found by inching your way out onto the Thunder Bay lookout (only for those not afraid of heights). While the feeling is akin to being in a wind tunnel the views are absolutely spectacular, and as a bonus you’ll have a little extra volume in your hair when you leave.
And don’t let the cold temperatures fool you – outdoor activities don’t stop when the thermometer drops. Skiing, snowshoeing, kite-surfing, ice fishing and dog sledding are all popular activities. Just remember to pack your long johns!
The Algoma-Bay district is a great spot to wander on a sunny day. Many of the stores cater to the outdoor and laid-back lifestyle that the city is known for, and you’ll find a lot of locally produced goods along the way.
I could have spent hours in Take a Hike, an awesome outdoor lifestyle store with a great selection of clothing that is actually fashionable. For those eco-conscious travellers The Green House is a must-stop. They (and my pal) introduced me to the magic of soapnuts, an uber-enviro-friendly way to wash clothes, as well as a million other things apparently. Check it out. And while in town, be sure to pop by the Thunder Bay Country Market which runs year-round. What a nice treat – a great spot to pick up local produce and meats (and let’s not forget desserts, and ridiculously good ones at that) as well as artisan crafts and more eco-friendly goodness.
So after working up an appetite hiking and shopping, you best take yourself to get something to eat! Thunder Bay has a lot of options that won’t disappoint.
For a great shot of caffeine, Bean Fiend brews a mean coffee. 5 forks has a delicious selection of flatbreads, MASSIVE burgers and a well-stocked bar. In all honesty, though, Growing Season might be my favourite restaurant ANYWHERE. With a mixture of veggie-friendly and meat items there’s a huge emphasis on local products and fresh ingredients. Seriously, just staring at that picture right now, thinking about how much I enjoyed the meal, makes me want to go back RIGHT NOW. Snag a seat on the side patio if you can.
And if the gassy goats didn’t intrigue you enough, the aforementioned Thunder Oak Cheese Farm produces a wide selection of gouda cheeses using time-tested traditions. It’s the only farm in Ontario that produces gouda and there are no preservatives or colourings added. It also makes a tasty addition to a picnic lunch, say in Sleeping Giant.
No trip to Thunder Bay is complete without experiencing some wildlife up close, so take a drive down to Mission Island Marsh Conversation Area and take a stroll along a waterfront loop. The ample deer that populate the area aren’t camera-shy.