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9 family-friendly hikes in and around Thunder Bay: Updated for 2021

Break out your bag of bribes—I mean, granola bars and orange slices. Family hikes are a great way to see some of the northwest’s remarkable natural beauty, burn up a bit of kid energy and make family memories. Explore somewhere new or revisit an old favourite!

Flett Tunnel

This one is way-cool for kids. Located about 15 minutes drive west and then 15 minutes drive north of Kakabeka Falls, it takes a little while to get there but is totally worth it. This is a flat, wide trail which was formerly a railway line—the tracks have been removed but you can still spot the occasional spike and spilled iron ore pellets. It's a little under 2km to get to the tunnel, which is a high, jagged, arched opening that extends about 300 m through solid rock. The echoes are awesome and it's fun to imagine the days when the trains ran here. Note that the road to the trailhead is a little rough but we spotted regular cars making the trip (and in fact those same cars drove right to the tunnel, but don't tell the kids that). Fall 2019 update: Apparently this property is now under new ownership and a paid permit is required to access it. Find more info here.

Cedar Falls Conservation Area

Cedar Falls Conservation Area, found near Kakabeka Falls to the west of Thunder Bay, has a marked and well-groomed 1km in-and-out trail to the falls. There are several staircases and the falls are not fenced. It’s a popular spot for rainbow or speckled trout fishing in season so tell your little fishing buddy to bring her gear. Please remember to pay the inexpensive daily parking fee.

Pigeon River Provincial Park

A stroller or a toddler makes hiking a bit trickier, but the Boardwalk Trail at Pigeon River Provincial Park just north of the US border on Hwy 61, is a good choice. The boardwalk is only about 400m long each way and winds gently through the boreal forest to a sheltered bay on Lake Superior. There are well-done info plaques about the area along the way and plenty of interesting rocks and driftwood on the beach. For older kids, head west along the bay to do the 5.5km Finger Point trail, which has some steep sections and finishes with stunning views of the lake and intricate metal artwork. The 2km High Falls loop trail, accessed from the Visitors Centre, also has some steep sections but the view of the 28m waterfall is worth the trip.

Sleeping Giant Provincial Park

With more than 80km of trails at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park on the Sibley Peninsula east of Thunder Bay, the real challenge is picking which one to do! One long-time family go-to is the Middlebrun Bay trail, about 2km each way and fairly easy hiking. The trail takes you through the boreal forest with glimpses of the lake, emerging to a long sandy secluded beach. Along the way there’s a cedar tree with branches at right angles where families have posed for selfies for years. You can also continue on to Finley Bay, which adds another 2km to the hike.

Chippewa Park

Call this a mini-hike: the walk on the breakwall at Chippewa Park is admittedly short and flat, but it offers one of the best views of the Giant in the city. Surefooted kids like playing on the big rocks and you can usually spot some water birds. Back at the beach, there’s a big playground (just watch out for goose poop). Be sure to bring some loonies to try out the retro-in-a-good-way amusement park rides, open seasonally. The 1920 merry-go-round is one of only three in North America and features beautifully hand-painted and hand-carved horses.

More info Silver Falls Provincial Park

If your kids are up for a challenge, doing part or all of the 10km Silver Falls trail at Silver Falls Provincial Park, northwest of Thunder Bay in Kaministiqua off Hwy 102, is a sure way to develop those hiking skills. The first part of the trail is an easy uphill on an access road and the tall tower to your left is sure to spark some imaginative stories. At the top of the road, you can do a steep scramble back down the other side of the hill on a rugged trail, well-marked with blue diamond trail markers, to see a small set of falls called Silver Falls. That portion is about a 2km hike one way. Or, for a longer hike continue up to the top of Dog Falls and a view over the river valley. Be careful and pay attention when you’re near the water—the river level is controlled by dams and can change without warning, so be prepared to quickly move to higher ground if needed.

Cowan Park

Cowan Park is a nature park tucked into the base of the Nor’Wester mountain range at the south end of the city. Park at the end of Coppin Road (respect the “no parking” area), look to the right and follow the Cowan Park signs to a small, quiet beaver pond with a backdrop of Fox Mountain. The loop trail is a just few hundred metres long but has enough rocks and tree roots across the trail to make it an authentically rugged outing for smaller kids. At the pond, you have a decent chance of spotting wildlife like waterfowl, a beaver, an eagle or a peregrine falcon.

More info Cowan Park on Facebook

Mink Mountain The Mink Mountain area about 45km south of Thunder Bay has eight trails, all fairly short but with steep spots and great scenery. The main trailhead and parking is at the end of Island Avenue. One lovely narrow 450m trail goes through the coastal boreal forest to Picnic Point, a beautiful rocky point jutting out onto Sturgeon Bay and Mink Bay on Lake Superior. It has rugged spots, including a very steep section with a rope railing. The point itself has incredible views but is not fenced, so save it for a dry day (so you won’t slip) and responsible kids. An existing trail network that we just tried for the first time in Fall 2021 are the cross-country ski trails, located across the road from the Mink Mountain office on Mink Mountain Drive. Wide and covered with grasses and other vegetation (including a variety of interesting mushrooms in the fall), these trails don't have very many rocks or exposed tree roots to trip up little legs, and aren't all that steep either. Keep to the righthand trail for an easy 2km out and back to a lookout marked with a Canadian flag and stunning Superior views of Sturgeon Bay and Flatland Island. You can go back the way you came, or for a slightly longer hike, take the western loop trail that takes you past three beaver ponds. It's mostly flat or downhill, except for one offshoot that's a short steep hill to take you to another gorgeous lookout, again marked by a Canadian flag, with sweeping views of Spar, Mink and Thompson Islands.

Big Trout Bay Nature Preserve This is one of the area's newer hiking trails, part of Nature Conservancy of Canada's Big Trout Bay Nature Preserve on Lake Superior, about 50km south of the city via Hwy 61. The through hike is a challenging 9.9km, but active families can do an out and back from either of the trailheads. You can park at the Little Trout Bay Conservation Area (please pay the daily parking fee) and do part of the lookout trail, which starts across the road (north) from the parking area. It features some steeper, rockier climbs, with plenty of striking views over Superior. Or, a more moderate hike park is the James Duncan Nature Trail, with a trailhead at Memory Road. This 3.3-km hike (one-way) meanders through a rehabilitated wetland with plenty of wetland birds like red-winged blackbirds, darting dragonflies and chunky tadpoles in the spring, followed by boreal forest. You emerge onto a sweep of cobblestone beach, a great place to splash a bit, have a snack and look for cool rocks.

More info Big Trout Bay

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