Written by Jim Bamboulis
No matter the season, road tripping is always in season. Sure, summer weather has its upside but packing the car and hitting the road in the offseason offers other, incredible benefits, including crisp, clean air and views of the fall colours that will leave you with a lasting memory of the beauty of central Canada.
With its rugged, Canadian Shield terrain, lush forests and breathtaking hikes and views, there are several places to stop, take a photo and take it all in. And one road – Highway 17 – links you to all of them. This long stretch of the Trans-Canada connects you with – what I believe to be – six of the most magical places along the route.
Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
Let’s start in the northwest, in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Considered to be one of the top outdoor adventure locations in Canada, it has plenty of parks and activities to choose from. One such park is Sleeping Giant, a park that from a distance, literally looks like a human being lying on its back. Even from several kilometres away, it’s a daunting site. Just imagine hiking it…which is what I did.
With over 100 kilometres of hiking trails ranging from easy to excruciating, Sleeping Giant is a place you should not overlook if you’re in northwestern Ontario. It’s a top 10 Canadian park for sure and if you have a chance to visit, do it. Hiking it is rewarding and the views of Lake Superior are the big payoff.
Watch my 1-minute vlog to get more info about the park and get a better idea of what to expect from the Sleeping Giant.
Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park
Drive about 30 minutes west of Thunder Bay and you’ll discover Kakabeka Falls. Nicknamed “the Niagara of the North”, these falls have a drop of 140 feet with water falling into a gorge carved out of Precambrian Shield. The rock face itself is made of unstable shale while the rocks are home to some of the oldest fossils in existence (some 1.6 billion years old).
The falls are a short walk from the parking lot with many lookout points. If you want to camp, there are nearly 170 camp sites, 90 of which have electricity. If you want to hike, the park has nearly 18 kilometres worth of hiking on six trails. Check the video to get a real feel for what to expect at Kakabeka!
Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park
Further east along Highway 17, you find Ouimet Canyon. I saw pictures of this place before I got here but nothing prepared me for what I actually saw in person. There are few words to describe the beauty of this place. Actually, the first thing that came to mind was, ‘where am I, exactly’?
A trail and boardwalk connect you to two lookout platforms. There, you’ll find sheer cliffs, a gorge that’s more than 300 feet deep, almost 500 wide and two kilometres long. Arctic plants, normally found about 1,000 kilometres north, somehow survive here at the bottom of the canyon.
A trail and boardwalk connect you to two lookout platforms. There, you’ll find sheer cliffs, a gorge that’s more than 300 feet deep, almost 500 wide and two kilometres long. Arctic plants, normally found about 1,000 kilometres north, somehow survive here at the bottom of the canyon. Watch the video, get a feel for the sound of silence Ouimet offers!
Killarney Provincial Park
This place is a bit off Highway 17 but the detour is well worth it! There are several activities you can do at Killarney, including swimming, biking, canoeing and birding, to name a few. Hiking is also a big deal, with several trails to choose from. Easily one of the most popular is The Crack, an intense 6km, 4 hour trail that will seriously test your physical and mental limits, then reward you with views you didn’t expect to experience.
The Killarney Ridge offers panoramic views of the La Cloche Mountains complete with incredible sapphire blue lakes and white cliffs. Considered to be one of, if not the most beautiful park in Ontario, it’s a must experience any time of year, especially during the summer! Bring your bug spray and stamina.
French River Provincial Park
Further along the Georgian Bay coast, French River PP is both beautiful and historically significant. The first designated Canadian Heritage River, the 105 km canoe route has been paddled at some point by everyone including Indigenous people, French Explorers, fur traders and Voyageurs.
These days, you can fish, go birding, hike and even canoe. If you choose the latter, you’ll need a few days. Multiple routes along the French River from Lake Nipissing to Georgian Bay are available to you and are easier to navigate after flooding season (usually early spring).
Lake Superior Provincial Park
Closer to Sault Ste. Marie, Lake Superior Provincial Park is ridiculously awesome where pristine, calm waters gently grace the mountains. Stop at Old Woman Bay, a stunning cove that features cliffs and a sandy beach. It’s more than a place to just stretch your legs. Lay down a towel, stay a while.
Pinguisibi Hiking Trail
Considered to be one of the more popular hikes in the park, the Pinguisibi or Sand River hiking trail runs for about six kilometres along a beautiful series of cascading waterfalls and river rapids that stretch as far as the eye can see. The Ojibwe, who have lived here for over 2000 years, call this river Pinguisibi for its fine white sand. The entire river is a designated canoe route.
There you go. Pack up the car with snacks and supplies – including plenty of warm socks, sweaters, jackets and gloves. Fall in these parts can get down right chilly.
Hey y’all. I’m Jim. That kid went on to spend 16 years in the broadcast media world before starting up Travel Mammal, a site dedicated to working with brands to promote travel, food and cultural experiences.
Travel Mammal isn’t about the selfie or checking things off a list. It’s about experiencing both the journey and the destination. To breathe, learn and really absorb what’s around you, in the moment and experiencing in a way that is both memorable and meaningful.
Happy travels, y’all.