According to the Canadian folk band The Arrogant Worms, Northern Ontario is eighty billion kilometres across, and maybe 13 people live there. While it is isn’t quite as big or depopulated in reality, Northern Ontario is indeed an expansive place with blessedly fewer people than the bigger cities in the south.
With almost 2,000 kilometres spanning the distance between Toronto and the distant town of Kenora in the province’s northwest, there are many points of interests that are waiting to be discovered by those that aren’t intimidated by long road trips.
So get hooked up with your rental vehicle, load up on drinks, treats and plug in that MP3 player filled with your favourite tunes (the radio isn’t the best up here to be honest, so it is best to be prepared), and set out to discover the hidden treasures of Northern Ontario…
1) Science North, Sudbury
While Sudbury might be a shock to the system at first with various heavy industries dotting the cityscape, it is home to a remarkable museum known as Science North. A giant nickel is the landmark you’ll want to watch for when searching for this institution, which relates to the metal that this Canadian Shield mining centre extracts from the bedrock.
Inside, an IMAX theatre, robotics lab, butterfly gallery and abundant geological exhibits await, and once you’ve had your fill of scientific knowledge for the day, gorgeous Lake Ramsey will prove to be the perfect place to have a picnic in the sun with your family/travel companions.
2) Agawa Canyon train tour (near Sault Ste Marie)
The Canadian Shield used to be as mountainous in the same manner that the Canadian Rockies are today. Multiple ice ages may have eroded most of the former peaks into shadows of their former selves, but you can still enjoy its rugged nature in places like Agawa Canyon, where tectonic action and the Agawa River has carved the surrounding landscape in a manner that makes this gorge one of the most “mountainous” places between Quebec and the Rocky Mountains.
Tours are available abroad the Agawa Canyon train, and while tours during the summer months will yield excellent scenery, the canyon comes alive with blazing colours in the fall, making it the best time to visit.
3) Old Woman’s Bay, Lake Superior Provincial Park (north of Sault Ste Marie)
Lake Superior Provincial Park is your first encounter with the largest of the Great Lakes along your extremely long journey north and westward, and it isn’t short on scenic encounters. Old Woman’s Bay is one sight that shouldn’t be missed, both for its meditative beauty, and for its fine sandy beach.
While the water can be a tad chillier than beaches much further south, the brilliant blue green colour of the water, and the surrounding headlands will take your mind off this minor detail as you shock the fatigue of the road out of your body with a dip here.
4) Kakabeka Falls (west of Thunder Bay)
Across the seemingly limitless expanse of the Canadian Shield, there are too many waterfalls to count. A much smaller number are auto accessible though, and of these, the most impressive cataract on your journey will be Kakabeka Falls, a fact that has granted it the moniker, “Niagara of the North”.
While it doesn’t have the grace and finesse of its southern cousin, it is nonetheless well worth seeing, as its 40 metre plunge in a wilderness setting mostly devoid of fanny pack wielding tourists will endear this place to your heart.
5) Lake of the Woods, in and around Kenora
After a long arduous journey through the wilds of Northern Ontario, the last major town in Northern Ontario is one of its most relaxing places. Kenora is the central service centre for the Lake of the Woods region, a place where cottages for people from Winnipeg and Thunder Bay can be found along the lakeshore, on rocky islands, and in hidden bays along this mysterious and massive body of water.
The fishing here is some of the best in the world, with walleye, muskie and bass all thriving in this huge lake in the middle of nowhere, and canoers and kayakers will delight in the many secret bays and channels that can be explored in a day. Simply put, if you love the outdoors: welcome to heaven!