19 Oct An Unexpected Road Trip to Thunder Bay, Ontario
Sometimes travel doesn’t go quite as planned, and that seems to be a recurring theme for us this year. But, just because something doesn’t go as planned, doesn’t mean it is necessarily a bad thing! We had plans to road trip to Canada this summer, and after several schedule changes, our plans eventually evolved into a road trip to Thunder Bay, Ontario. Thunder Bay was not our original destination of choice, but we ended up having a wonderful time and I’m so glad we were able to explore this region, if only for a few days.
Living in St. Paul, Minnesota, puts us just five or so hours south of the Ontario border of Canada. Originally, we had planned to make our way to Pukaskwa National Park to camp, hike and paddle. And then the weather decided to get involved. A storm system moved in and left us with a rainy and windy forecast for the duration of our trip. We didn’t feel like camping in rain for the week, so we went back to the drawing board and adjusted our plans. Our final trip was much shorter than originally planned but we ended up spending one night in a tiny town close to Neys Provincial Park, and one night in Thunder Bay.
Even with some rainy weather, we still managed to get out and explore a couple of beautiful Provincial Parks and several indoor attractions in Thunder Bay.
Neys Provincial Park
When I was researching the northern coast of Lake Superior, Neys Provincial Park drew me in with photos of beautiful rocky shores, and I just knew we had to stop there. After a long first day of driving, we made it to the park a little over an hour before sunset. That meant there wasn’t much time to explore, but it wasn’t raining yet so we decided to take advantage of the mist free skies. At the suggestion of the park ranger, we made our way to Prisoner’s Cove and the nearby hiking trails. Prisoner’s Cove is a beach and picnic area right on the shores of Lake Superior. We spent a bit of time soaking up the scenery and taking a few photos before heading out on a hike.
The trailhead for Point Trail is located at Prisoner’s Cove, and the trail is 1.5 km return. Point Trail curves along the shore of Lake Superior and through a forest of thick trees.
You will walk along a portion of the beach and cross several wooden bridges in the woods before ending at the rocky Prisoner Point. The views of Lake Superior from this vantage point are stunning, especially at sunset.
At the end of Point Trail, you will find the start of the Under the Volcano Trail. This trail is 1 km return and runs along the rocky shoreline. Along the trail, you will find interpretive panels that explain the geology of the park. We didn’t complete the entire Under the Volcano Trail due to time, but the portion we did explore surely left an impression on us.
Once the sun set below the horizon, we made our way back towards Prisoner’s Cove. It was perfect timing, too, because just as we reached our car, it started to rain. We had plans to return to Neys Provincial Park the next morning, but the rain continued through the night and didn’t look like it was stopping any time soon. Instead, we decided to head back towards Thunder Bay to see what we could find.
Our first stop in Thunder Bay was Roosters Bistro for lunch. The café is open for breakfast and lunch, and it’s one of the most popular restaurants in town. Roosters Bistro has been open since 2003, and they work with local distributors to serve fresh, quality homemade meals.
Micah ordered the Breakfast Two, which came with two eggs any style, toast, hash browns, and your choice of bacon, ham or sausage. I went with a lunch option and picked the Hot Turkey. Since it sounded like a heavy option, I ordered it open face, and I’m glad I did because it was still super heavy with thick gravy, fires and coleslaw. But, that’s ok, because it was delicious!
St. Paul Roastery
The rain continued throughout the day, so after lunch we ducked inside of a cute coffee shop down the street from Roosters Bistro: St. Paul Roastery. We loved the atmosphere of this coffee shop—the exposed brick walls, reclaimed wood, and open coffee roasting area made for a cozy afternoon escape. Plus, the pour over coffee was served in cute coffee decanters on a little wooden tray!
Thunder Bay Museum
Museums are a perfect rainy-day activity, so our next stop was the Thunder Bay Museum. The museum has three floors of exhibits, and there are both long-term and rotating exhibits on display. A few of the rotating exhibits that were at the museum during our visit were “150 Years of Fashion in Thunder Bay”, “Albert the Albertosaurus”, and “My Story, My Tattoo”.
The long-term exhibits covered topics such as the musical past of Thunder Bay, the regions military heritage, a re-creation of a 20th century game room filled with artifacts from families in Thunder Bay, and an exhibit that recounts the history of people in the region over the past 10,000 years. I loved taking a peek into what life looked like in the region over the years, especially the 19th century portion that included a hotel/tavern, a fire hall, a doctor’s office, a newspaper press room, and more.
For an admission fee of only $3.00, this museum is well worth a visit no matter what the weather conditions are outside.
Prince Arthur’s Landing at Marina Park
Thankfully, after our visit to the museum, the rain was reduced to a light drizzle, so we figured we needed a little time outside in the fresh air. The development in this area is still ongoing, but in addition to views of the marina and Lake Superior, you will find restaurants, public art, a skateboard and BMX plaza, an arts center, and special events such as movie nights, waterfront concerts, and even a skating rink in the winter. We enjoyed a nice, quiet walk along the waterfront looking at the art, and when the rain decided to pick up again, we made a beeline towards another great indoor activity: a stop at a local brewery.
Sleeping Giant Brewing Co.
Sleeping Giant Brewing Co. happened to be located right next to our hotel, so there’s no way we could resist popping in for a visit, especially since we heard their new tap room had just opened up. When you enter the brewery, you are welcomed with a cute shop full of beer coolers and merchandise. The tap room and brewery are located through a door to the right, so after a quick browse around the store, we made our way inside. There was an event going on the night of our visit, but thankfully they still had a few sections of the tap room open to the public.
It was “Movie on the Mezz” night at the brewery, so we ordered a flight of beer and made our way up to the mezz to watch Super Troopers while drinking our brews. There were over 10 different beers on tap, and we decided to sample the 360 Pale Ale, Northern Logger, Touching Tips (seasonal), and Beaver Duck. They were all good choices and made a wonderful accompaniment to a funny movie.
The Persian Man
Our final morning in town started out with a quick run to The Persian Man to pick up the much talked about Persian pastry. This pastry is an iconic item in Thunder Bay and it consists of a pastry similar to a cinnamon roll with a sweet pink icing on top. There is much debate over the original recipe and the original creator of the Persian, but The Persian Man coffee shop is said to have taken the pastry to a whole new level. Our next stop was for a sit-down breakfast, so we snuck a small bite of the pastry and decided to save it for our long car ride home later in the day. I wouldn’t necessarily say it was the most amazing pastry we have ever tried, but it was good and it’s always fun to try iconic local foods!
Another Thunder Bay restaurant that we heard a lot of good things about was Hoito Restaurant. This spot has been serving classic Finnish home cooking for 99 years (it opened in 1918!), and it is located in the bottom level of the Finnish Labor Temple. The restaurant started as a co-operative restaurant so the Finnish bush workers could dine on reasonably priced and home-cooked meals.
We’ve heard the lines can get quite long for this restaurant, so we arrived shortly after they opened. We visited on a weekday and were welcomed to a practically empty restaurant. It almost felt like we were dining in a church basement, but somehow the simple décor and no-nonsense atmosphere gave off a strangely comforting and homey feel. Finnish Pancakes are the most raved about item at Hoito Restaurant so that’s what we ordered with a combination of scrambled eggs and breakfast meats. We weren’t huge fans of the sausage links, but everything else was tasty.
By the time we finished our meal, the dining room was starting to fill up. They don’t take reservations or put names on a list, so if you don’t want to wait in a line, be sure to arrive early!
Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
We had a few hours to kill before the rain was scheduled to start again, so after breakfast we made our way to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. I really wish we had more time to explore this park because it is huge! There are so many great hiking trails, but many of them are long and we had a six-hour car ride ahead of us that afternoon so we only had time for another short hike.
We decided to check out the Sea Lion Trail which is a trail that branches off of the Kabeyun Trail. The Sea Lion Trail starts around 0.5 km from the Kabeyun trailhead and it begins with a rocky path that requires some scrambling up and down a rocky outcrop. Along the trail you will find a nice stony beach along the shores of Perry Bay, and eventually, you will reach the end of the trail with views of the Sea Lion rock formation. There are interpretive signs that explain how the Sea Lion was formed and the views overlooking Lake Superior were pretty even on a cloudy day.
On our way out of the park, we decided to drive down the Thunder Bay Lookout Road to check out the lookout point located at the end. The road is 9 km long and quite bumpy, so it took us a bit longer than anticipated to reach the Thunder Bay Lookout. It was worth it though because the views and lookout platform that we found were completely unexpected and quite thrilling! The lookout platform hangs out over the edge of the cliff and is made up of metal rungs to give you a clear view straight down. It’s exhilarating to walk to the end of the platform, especially on a windy day like it was when we visited, and I can’t think of a better way to end our trip to Thunder Bay.
After soaking up the views from the Thunder Bay Lookout, the skies decided to start raining on us once again. We figured it was a sign to start making our way back home, and even though we were fighting with the rain our entire trip, we had a wonderful introduction to a region we had never thought about visiting before. Sometimes the curveballs life throws at you turn out to be pretty great, and this trip was definitely a curveball in the right direction!