A May 2002 trip
to Thunder Bay by wanderluster
Quote: Awesome hiking trails, wildlife, bears, waterfalls, deep canyons, agates, amethysts, friendly people, low prices, make this city along Lake Superior a wonderful base for outdoorsy types to explore!
Another highlight is the affordable cost. The current exchange rate from the states is .70 to their dollar. We stayed in 3 awesome accommodations (including B&B's) for less than a hundred dollars a night. I paid .00 to have a 24 exposure roll of film developed at the one hour Walmart...(actually I had 16 rolls so I had to come back in at noon the next day) We saw a current movie for (Changing Lanes) at the theatre near the riverfront and B&B where we were staying.
Wildlife and awesome scenery is the other highlight that clearly sticks in my mind. We hiked wonderful trails in the Sleeping Giant Park and Nipegon Trail further up the Lake Superior route. We saw a BEAR, a porcupine, waterfalls, and panoramic vistas.
You must venture to the nearby parks of Sleeping Giant and Kakabeka Falls. You will not be disappointed. A visit to the large waterfall at Kakabeka will require about two hours. But plan on a full day to explore the Sleeping Giant area. In addition to the great visitor center there, multiple hiking trails exist(easy to difficult, short to multi-day). And several amythest mines and an outstanding agate mine are located off the highway near the park entrance. Further north visit Canada's miniature Grand Canyon Ouimet Canyon 1 hour away.
I'd recommend spending two-three days in Thunder Bay then driving east to explore the geology, wildlife, communities and trails of the northern shore of Lake Superior.
If you are in town, it is possible and safe to walk nearly anywhere. A common sight is children and adults wearing backpacks and strutting about. One B&B we stayed at was 4 blocks from the waterfront where sailboat races occur most Thursdays. Visiting here is like going back in time before smelly diesel buses polluted the air. I didn't see a one. It reminded me of a town where time didn't proceed past 1950. So safe, most people don't lock their doors and walking is the preferred mode of transportation.
If you are lost, pull over to the side of the road. Chances are, someone behind you will have noticed your hesitation at intersections and pull over to help you find what you are looking for. That's how friendly and observant they are, no joke, eh!
Hotel | "McVicar Manor B&B"
A creek runs through the country-like property even though it is only 4 blocks away from the waterfront. Owners Bob and Karen Walker frequently walk to the wharf to watch sail boat races or observe them from their 3rd floor residence on a lazy days.
Gracious hosts, we were invited in to have wine, juice or soda with them on the sunporch. We sat in a cozy space overlooking the gardens and creek learning about life in Thunder Bay–a "great place to raise a family" and received lots of advice on what to see and do in the region. They made reservations for us at the Caribou Restaurant (excellent choice!) And suggested seeing a movie just blocks away from the B&B (just $2 for a current movie!)
Three rooms range from $60-120 Canadian. Since the exchange rate is wonderfully in our favor, we could afford to splurge on the Manor Room Suite, under $85 US! The gorgeous room was spacious, handsomely furnished in antiques, decorated in burgundy and hunter green – thankfully no frilly Victorian knicknack decor anywhere! The bathroom was huge and has a large triple jacuzzi under a window, while a stand up shower is located on the opposite wall.
We were asked to lock the door when we returned from our night on the town, and turn out the lights. Such a safe city that most don't even bother locking houses, or cars...but it makes the guests feel better who are used to more crime back home!
Breakfast was made to order. I requested an omelet, while my husband had eggs benedict. Both were delicious. After serving us, Mr. Walker sat down with us and visited another hour about restoring the historic home (we have one too) and his recent retirement, and life in general. I cannot get over how genuinely friendly Canadians were in all of our stay in the Thunder Bay region.
This B&B is located near Centennial Park (a great place to jog, rollerblade around the lake) on the eastern downtown section of the city. Easy access to Highway 11/17.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 1, 2002
McVicar Manor B&B
146 North Court Street
Thunder Bay, Ontario
Our Frisky Fox package ($99 US) included a small Jacuzzi room, bottle of champagne, unlimited movie rentals, breakfast selected from a menu, and a Four Course Gourmet Dinner! The meal alone would cost $40-50 per person, so it's like getting the room for free. What a deal! (My parents were so impressed that they are this very second spending the Fourth of July weekend at the White Fox.)
Reservations are necessary for dinner; and the latest seating is 7pm. The dining room consists of two spaces, an interior space of around ten tables and a garden sun porch type extension enclosed with floor to ceiling windows, a cozy space with five tables overlooking the country grounds of trees and birds. All tables are decorated with linens and china.
Our waiter was a personable college aged male who was just as knowledgeable about the surrounding environment as he was about the wines and dinner selections. Since he only had four tables, he was highly attentive to the needs of all. It seemed we were consuming either food or wine the entire three hour dinner. Very enjoyable and relaxing. Other dinner patrons were a couple celebrating their wedding anniversary (their tradition is to spend the weekend here each year) and an assortment of ladies getting together for an outstanding meal at the two other tables. A friendly lot, eh, we all joined in each other's conversations by the end of the evening.
The varied menu included appetizers such as jerk chicken skewers (scrumptious) coconut shrimp, seafood cheesecake, spring lamb chops or a duck breast on a puff pastry (delicious); soups such as lobster and shrimp bisque, mango and peach consomme; salads, and entree selections of salmon, lamb, chicken, beef, seafood all artfully presented with accompanying vegetables. Dessert was the delectable finish to our Frisky Fox package--a wonderful chocolate concoction, apple pastry or berries and cheesecake. We made room, but the Canadian couple next to us arranged for their desserts to be sent on to their room...hmmm, good idea.
Outside, sit in the swing, hike through the woods, or wander by the creek. Quiet and peaceful. A great place to escape for a romantic evening.
The small room was comfortable and nicer than most hotels, just be aware that the Jacuzzi is in the bathroom (unlike the larger rooms) so you cannot watch movies while you soak in the bubbles.
Rates for room alone range from $105-209 CAN and Frisky Fox Meal package $160-279 CAN.
Check out their website www.whitefox.com for additional information about weddings, receptions, reunions, larger rooms and packages.
White Fox Inn
1345 Mountain Road
Thunder Bay, Ontario
We left Thunder Bay and began driving northeast along Lake Superior to explore more of the region, not knowing where we would spend the night. After a full day of hiking and mining semiprecious gemstones, we followed signs to Red Rock Inn, which is one of just a very few places to stay an hour east of Thunder Bay.
Originally built as a dorm for the local mill, it was later used as a POW camp for German soldiers before being renovated into the current Inn. The striking red and white structure is likely the only business in this tiny town on the northernmost edge of the massive Lake Superior.
Most guests arrive in mid June for the short fishing season. Visiting in late May, we were the only guests and there was still ice on parts of the lake so taking a boat excursion to nearby islands was out of the question. Local people hadn't even begun to get their boats cleaned and here it was Memorial Day Weekend!
Clean, modern rooms and suites run from $61 to 130 CAN. A spacious dining room on the premises serves meals from 7am-10pm. Luckily, we arrived at 9:45pm, famished and hoping that the only area restaurant would take mercy on us and feed us a late dinner. They did. We were their first dinner guests of the season!
We ordered fish and chicken from the seafood heavy menu (remember we are on the waterfront). The meals are rather standard fare, meat served with a baked potato and tossed salad but hit the spot for hungry bellies. Lemon meringue pie (which I had been craving forever) was on the menu–yummy!
The teenage waitress called the manager at home. He came in to visit with us over dinner then rented us a room. Personable, he told us about hiking the Nipigon Trail (which we did the next morning), area wildlife (a local bear and her cubs, practically tame red fox who will eat from your hand) and the Northern Lights (which neither of us had ever seen). He gave us hiking maps, and various handouts describing regions further north along the coast. People are proud to share information. Eager for you to see their beautiful land.
Retrieving our luggage at 11pm, I noticed a bright white horizon. Strange, but maybe just the sun going down...after all, it was still fairly light out until 11pm in Canada. At midnight, the manager called our room (Who on earth??) to say that the light was in fact Northern Lights and that we might get to see colors shower across the sky around 3am. Excited, we waited, but the white color never materialized into swirling shades of green or blue.
Other than staying up way too late, we slept like a rock (red rock?) And enjoyed being in a remote, strange little town where their claim to fame is the birthplace of a former Olympic curling champion.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on July 1, 2002
Red Rock Inn
145 White Blvd.
Thunder Bay, Ontario P0T 2P0
Outside the exterior is unimpressive, but inside the food will impress the most discriminating taste buds!
Wonderful aromas wafted over to greet us as we entered through the door. Looking around, we saw white linen tables set against the backdrop of deep plum walls surrounding a large open brick oven in the middle of the restaurant.
An attentive, pleasant waiter seated us in a cozy booth and promptly brought us water in goblets while we agonized over the delectable choices on the menu. After ordering, he brought us a complimentary appetizer of hummus and hered bread while we waited for our Caesar salads.
I have to say that the Caesar salad alone was worth the visit to the Caribou. A perfectly balanced mixture of greens, dressing, and homemade croutons was placed inside of four crispy tortilla strips (generously spiced) artfully arranged into a square. Large shavings of a bitter, but intriguing, Scandinavian cheese called Lippe accentuated the finishing touch on the salad. I savored those flavors–because it was the BEST Caesar salad I have ever tasted.
My grilled salmon served with a bed of seasoned rice and julienned vegetables was quite flavorful, but my spouse hit the jackpot with his entree–chicken breasts stuffed with roasted papers, spinach, cheese, tomatoes and spices were served over herbed mashed potatoes. Scrumptious! (Honey, can we trade–just this once–pretty pleeeease?)
A complimentary cordial brought the end of our meal to a perfect finish. Absolutely no room for dessert. It was a relaxing, romantic place to dine with friendly wait staff who never dashed around in a hurry. A slow pace was encouraged and we slowed down to savor our dinners over a two hour affair. At no time did we want for anything. Our waiter was impeccable.
If it weren't for the 20 hour drive from home, the Caribou would be one of my favorite restaurants. A wonderful date place for couples desiring a leisurely dinner and a relaxed, romantic setting.
Located around the corner from a large multi-screen movie theatre on 727 Hewitson Street in the west-central section of downtown Thunder Bay. Catch a late show after dinner, or take a short drive to the wharf and walk along the waterfront.
727 Hewitson Street
Thunder Bay, Ontario
After paying a small admission fee, a staff member brought us outside and provided a short tour of the mine, which was discovered in 1955. Signs explain some of the exhibits along the mining operation, and large beautiful gemstones are displayed throughout the field.
After the tour, you will be handed pails and digging tools for mining your own gems. Simply walk over to the mounds of dirt where you will find amethysts galore. Collect those you wish to purchase and wash them in the basin provided near the gift shop entrance.
Psssst! Near the wash basin, look carefully at the amethysts that are displayed on two long tables and quickly select those you wish to buy before other people realize they are for sale, not museum pieces! We found some gorgeous pieces and put back most of what we had mined, preferring the quality, brilliance and formations of the best specimens found recently by the staff...same cost, $4 CAN per pound.
Inside the gift shop, amethyst jewelry–brooches, earrings and necklaces–pen sets, paperweights and polished pieces are for sale.
The mine is open daily from 10-5pm mid-May to mid-October. Travel 56 km (forty minutes) east from Thunder Bay on Highway 11/17. Signs will point you to east Loon Road.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on June 30, 2002
Amethyst Mine Panorama
Hwy 11-17 E
Thunder Bay, Ontario
The owners are extremely friendly and helpful, and will polish or cut your gems to your liking. We spent a few hours here (lots longer than we anticipated) and had a blast (pardon the pun).
The world's largest agate is on display here, outside the gift shop, on your right when you pull in the drive. Stop in here for general information about agates so you know what to look for if you want to mine your own agate.
It's free! There is no charge to mine your own. Simply pay for what you decide to keep by the pound. Kids and adults love it.
Then head down by car to the field where mounds have unearthed lots and lots of agates in all colors. You cannot walk through here without finding agates because they are all around you in plain sight. Simply select the ones that appeal to you, throw them in your bucket and wash them in the scrub tub to see how they will look polished. Then drive back to the gift shop and either ask the staff to cut or polish your finds or pay for the raw stone by the pound. Cost was $8 CAN per pound.
Inside the gift shop necklaces, paperweights, and slabs of beautiful polished agate can be purchased.
Open seasonally from mid-May to mid-October. They are located east of Thunder Bay approximately 45 minutes, easily accessible from Highway 11/17 en route to the entrance of Sleeping Giant Park Plentiful signs will point the way to the mine located 1 km north on Highway 527.
Check out their website at www.agatemine.com
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on June 30, 2002
Thunder Bay Agate Mine
Thunder Bay, Ontario
This rocky Giant peninsula at the southern end of Sibley Peninsula can be seen from most of Thunder Bay, as it juts out into Lake Superior. It's shape looks like a sleeping giant, and legend tells of how the Indian Spirit, Nanbijou turned to stone to withhold the secret of finding silver from the whitemen.
The park contains seven nature trails and eighteen hiking trails in addition to wilderness camping sites, numerous lakes and an abundance of exciting wildlife. Yes, abundant! We saw 19 porcupines, 18 deer, 2 snowshoe hares and a BEAR!!!
It was hard to select a trail, as all are unique. Over 40 miles of trails snake through the forest, up cliffs, or along the coast, pass swamps, bogs, waterfalls, wildflowers, ferns and orchids.
But we chose the 8.8 mile trek from Sea Lion to Tee Harbor to see the geology of the diabase dykes. We began down the dirt road between a dense forest, curving and rolling up and down hills. A short distance later we came to the Sea Lion, and walked out on the landform searching for the eroded arch in the shape of a sea lion, but unfortunately never saw it. Back on the trail we continued through the woods and met a couple of hikers who nonchalantly informed us that there was a black bear up ahead at the next stream crossing. A BEAR???
We looked at each other in increasing panic, because it was our first hike in two weeks where my husband forgot to bring the bear spray! Suddenly the woods appeared denser. That particular stream crossing was a little unnerving knowing who was there just minutes ago. We emerged onto an open narrow peninsula of strange looking rock where vertical and horizontal cracks left dykes and sills of diabase on the outcroppings. There was a variety of green lichens, shale and quartz.
After admiring the panoramic views at the end of the trail, we cautiously returned. At 8pm it was still light but perhaps dinner time for the bear still roaming about. Despite washing my hands numerous times, I still had the smell of smoked salmon on my fingers from lunch. Great. Can't bears smell 5 miles away? The path became narrower, the forest denser, our pace faster...but not too fast because we certainly didn't want to run and incite the bear to chase us!
We completed the hike in 3 hours at this fast pace, and made it back to the car safely before we saw...you guessed it, the BEAR.
To get here, take Highway 11/17 east from Thunder Bay approximately thirty minutes. Turn right on Highway 587 going into Sibley Peninsula. The Visitor Center located halfway down is stocked with information on flora, fauna, geology, history and hiking trails.
Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
30 Minutes East of Thunder Bay
Thunder Bay, Ontario
We began in Red Rock and climbed up rocky ledges to Lloyd's Lookout and Nipigon Bay Lookout, and saw the Inn, mill, railroad and homes of Red Rock. We passed through spruce and pine forests, then a boggy area before ascending up a rope assisted cliff to Eagle's Ridge Lookout, the highest summit on the trail. Here you can see gorgeous vistas of the river and islands.
We were on the lookout for a black bear and her cubs who lived in this area. Last spring, she brought her cubs to the trail and left them there for curious hikers to see. "Just don't step between her and the cubs" was the advice...but how do you know where SHE is? Luckily, we did not see mama or her darlings. Or the red fox who live here.
Or any other hikers. Just two men with chainsaws who were clearing out the path–which became a little alarming when they somehow managed to run ahead of us (bypassing a lot of felled trees) to intercept us on Eagle Ridge–but we had turned around. From the high ridge they waved to us, calling out and asking where we were going. "Back to the car" we yelled nonchalantly, while panicking and hightailing it back over the challenging ridges and ravines toward the safety of our car. Can't can be too safe in unfamiliar woods with men carrying chainsaws who were purposely following us...each nervous glance over my shoulder revealed they were making pretty good time on our heels...but finally we reached our car, breathless, and dashed away.
We drove over to the town of Nipigon to access the opposite trailhead. If you don't have two cars in your party, and cannot arrange transportation then it will necessary to hike to a chosen scenic vantage point along the Red Rock Ridge, (the farthest one being Eagle's Ridge) and backtrack. Otherwise, the trail (without accessing the additional mileage to the Lookouts) being a long, challenging 5 miles oneway, will take a good 10 hours roundtrip.
At the Nipigon trailhead, we hiked along the relatively flat, easy Wetland Trail. What a breeze compared to the difficult climbs through the thick forest on the other side. We searched for osprey and bald eagle in the marshes but saw none. We did see a large beaver lodge and a few abandoned fishing boats along the sandy dirt trail.
Transportation can be arranged in advance for those who wish to hike the entire trail. Call the marina at Nipigon. A taxi will drive you back to your car at Red Rock Ridge trailhead, just 16 miles away, for $30 CAN. A bit steep, but so are the cliffs you won't have to repeat on the return hike.
Thunder Bay, Ontario
It is Canada's miniature version of the Grand Canyon, some people told me. But I didn't see any donkey treks or white water rafting trips anywhere near. In fact, you are not allowed down to the valley of this canyon.
Two viewing platforms provide the vantage point to see these gigantic columns of rock from above. No hiking or rappeling are allowed over the edge to the bottom to protect the fragile flora that thrive there.
Arctic plants which grow in colder regions abound here on the bottom of the canyon. You just can't see them from the high platforms without binoculars. But they exist. Thick mosses and little sunshine trap cold air and ice beneath giant boulders, allowing Arctic Pyrola, Arctic Moss, Liverwort, Alpine Bistort and Sandwort to flourish.
Geologically, the canyon formed as a result of the glaciers slowly advancing over the land causing large portions of sill to collapse underneath. Glaciers retreated as the climate warmed, exposing the canyon. Diabase rock looks like columns, a result of vertical jointing. These columns are 100 metres steep. Yikes!
Visitors walk along a paved path from the parking lot for a short distance before coming to a bridge. Yes, there is a small canyon under the bridge–that's IT? How disappointing! (We naively, incorrectly thought when we first saw it.) This canyon is quite overgrown, to the point of not being able to see any rock columns that line the canyon walls. But don't stop here. The path continues across the bridge for about a mile before coming to the first platform.
OH! WOW!!! Yes, this is the Ouimet Canyon. It really is an impressive sight, especially after the let-down at the bridge. The path continues to yet another vantage point where the valley of the canyon is seen extending out to distant Lake Superior. Wonder how many semiprecious gemstones would be out there???
To get here, take Highway 11/17 east from Thunder Bay for approximately 45 minutes. Look for the signs that mark the access road on your left. Pass a beaver lodge on your right and you're almost there. Small admission fee usually charged, but wasn't the end of May when we visited.
Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park
Thunder Bay, Ontario
Since we visited Memorial Day Weekend, the show was spectacular...a grand finale to the series of waterfalls visited in Minnesota along Lake Superior which continued to gain in magnitude as we traveled north.
Paved walkways and bridges allow people to meander along the river and view the falls from differing vantage points. Exhibits posted at viewing decks explain the geology and history of the area. According to one exhibit, The Ojibwa Indians (who Longfellow wrote about in his Hiawatha poem) lived here when the 1st Europeans arrived.
Legend tells of an Ojibwa Princess who saved her people by pretending to befriend the Sioux tribe and show them where their enemy, the Ojibwa, lived. She paddled down the river with the Sioux on her tail and lurched out of the water just before the great falls while the Sioux tumbled to their deaths.
Additional hiking trails are located within the park. The Mountain Portage Trail (2 km) which traces the historic steps voyagers took to portage the falls in the 1800s. Observe the local flora and fauna on the Poplar Point Trail (3.6 km) which loops around the Upper Campground. In the winter ski on 13 kilometers of groomed trails.
Two campgrounds provide 169 sites, half with electrical hook-ups. Kids can swim in a roped off area above the falls while parents relax on the sandy beach.
To get here, drive 18 miles west of Thunder Bay on Highway 11/17. There is a minimal charge of $2 per car. Shoppers will be happy to hear that there are several souvenir shops en route, many selling amethyst products.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 2, 2002
Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park
Thunder Bay, Ontario