13-day adventure trip: Northern Ontario

Experience the beauty of Northern Ontario on this epic road trip between Toronto and Thunder Bay.

Suggested Days: 13

A sail boat sails past a white and red lighthouse atop a rocky coastline

Welcome to Ontario’s big, beautiful north country – a region rich in rugged beauty and full of opportunities to enjoy the magnificent outdoors. Discover great boreal forests and countless rivers and lakes. Though sparsely populated, the north offers a diverse array of cultural attractions and urban centres close to nature. No matter where you are in this vast land, you’ll find lots to see and do. This fly/drive can be used for RVs or automobiles. The scenic highways are well-connected and easy to navigate.

Toronto and Niagara Falls to Tobermory 

Your Ontario adventure starts with Toronto and Niagara Falls.  You’ll head north to Tobermory, at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula, between Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. Bruce Peninsula National Park offers rugged scenery and hiking trails.  It’s also home to Fathom Five National Marine Park – an underwater marine park that preserves shipwrecks and natural diving obstacles for recreational scuba divers.  Try a glass bottom boat tour if you want to stay dry. Overnight in Tobermory.

Manitoulin Island

A two-hour cruise on the Chi-Cheemaun ferry takes you from Tobermory to Manitoulin Island, the world’s largest freshwater island. It’s sparsely populated and an outdoor paradise, with incredible hiking and paddling. Wikwemikong Tourism offers visitors unique opportunities to immerse themselves in rich Indigenous history and traditions through nature based and cultural tours. Their guides will take you on a journey through time as you learn of the legends of their people while exploring the vast lands and waters of Wikwemikong. Overnight on Manitoulin Island.

Sault Ste. Marie

You will leave Manitoulin Island on the north side, via a bridge to the mainland and travel west to Sault Ste. Marie – a city at the heart of three Great Lakes. Surrounded by spectacular wilderness, “The Soo” makes an ideal starting point for local outdoor excursions and eco-adventures. Get a sense of the area’s pioneering spirit at the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre.

Board the Agawa Canyon Tour Train for a trip alongside unspoiled northern lakes, awe-inspiring granite rock formations and vast mixed forests of the Canadian Shield. The train operates from late June to early October; fall is one of the best times to visit, when the forest is ablaze with colour. See the sites where Ontario’s famous Group of Seven artists painted their vibrant landscapes. Commentary is provided in six languages including English throughout the coaches and in French, German, Japanese, Korean and Mandarin via wireless headset.

Optional Route: If time does not allow further exploration west along Lake Superior, you could head back east to Sudbury, the urban hub of Northeastern Ontario and an important mining centre. Go underground on a one-of-a-kind mining tour at Dynamic Earth. Get interactive at Science North – a high-tech centre for exploring the mysteries of science – and experience an incredible IMAX 3D film. From here you would continue south to Toronto, via North Bay and Algonquin Park.

Optional Extensions: Book a float plane for a fly-in fishing experience in the wilderness, at a lodge such as Lodge Eighty Eight or Pine Portage Lodge. Feast on a fresh shore lunch, a Northern Ontario tradition.

Lake Superior Coast

If times allows, your journey continues west along shoreline of Lake Superior, a route full of breathtaking scenery, and recognized as one of the “top drives” in Canada. As you drive along the coastline, explore scenic provincial and national parks. Try stand-up paddling or enjoy a sea-kayaking adventure on Lake Superior; companies such as Naturally Superior Adventures provide guided options. Discover ancient Ojibway pictograph, hike the spectacular Coastal Trail in Lake Superior Provincial Park and paddle along the shoreline in Pukaskwa National Park. Witness striking sunsets over the world’s largest freshwater lake.

Thunder Bay

Picturesque Thunder Bay is the main centre of Northwestern Ontario and the perfect home base for day adventures. Meet voyageurs, traders and Indigenous people reliving the drama of the fur trade at Fort William Historical Park, the world’s largest reconstructed fur trade post. Choose from variety of sailing, zodiac and catamaran tours, of various durations, with Sail Superior. Marvel at spectacular 330 ft (100 m) deep Ouimet Canyon, home to rare Arctic plants or hike to the tip of the Sleeping Giant rock formation. Discover the powerful cataracts of Kakabeka Falls, the ‘Niagara of the North.’

Optional Extensions: Book a float plane for a fly-in fishing experience at a remote fishing lodge such as Wilderness North. Or visit Quetico Provincial Park, one of the great canoeing and camping destinations in the world.  Further west is the magnificent Lake of the Woods region and Kenora.

Note: This itinerary has been presented as one way.  If you are using an RV, you would need to retrace your route to Toronto or continue on to a Calgary depot. If you have a rental vehicle, you could retrace your route to Toronto or ask your travel agent about a one-way rental between Toronto and Thunder Bay or Winnipeg, allowing you to return to Toronto by air.

Driving Distances

  • Toronto to Manitoulin Island: 6 h 38 min / 364 km
  • MS Chi-Cheemaun Ferry crossing: 2 h crossing of Georgian Bay
  • Manitoulin Island to Sault Ste. Marie: 4 h 10 min / 340 km
  • Sault Ste. Marie to Wawa: 2 h 40 min / 230 km
  • Wawa to Thunder Bay: 5 h 25 min / 477 km
  • Thunder Bay to Kenora: 5 h 30 min / 490 km

Distance: 1900 km

  • Depart from Toronto on Hwy#410,
  • Turn onto Hwy#10 to Owen Sound,
  • Take Hwy#6 up the Bruce Peninsula to Tobermory,
  • Board the MS Chi-Cheemaun Ferry from Tobermory to South Baymouth, Manitoulin Island (2 hr crossing of Georgian Bay),
  • Hwy#6 off the island joining up with Hwy#17 to Sault Ste. Marie,
  • Continue north on HWY#17 to Wawa,
  • Departing from Wawa, continue on HWY#17 north to Thunder Bay,
  • Depart west from Thunder Bay on HWY#17,
  • Turn left onto HWY#11,
  • Continue on HWY#11 to HWY#71,
  • Follow HWY #71 north to Kenora.

Last updated: August 22, 2023

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