North Bay, the “Gateway to the North”, is definitely worth of a one-day stopover on your road trip in Northern Ontario. We highlight the best things to do in North Bay.
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What to do in North Bay
North Bay offers easy access to the outdoors and a range of activities showcasing the city’s culture.
Our 1-Day itinerary is full of North Bay’s best experiences:
- Start the day on a local hiking trail.
- Learn more about North Bay’s past at a North Bay museum.
- Head to the Waterfront to ride the Heritage Railway and explore the park.
- Enjoy a sunset dinner cruise of Lake Nipissing on the Chief Commanda II
North Bay Attractions Map
Cruise on Lake Nipissing aboard the 320-passenger Chief Commanda II. Lake Nipissing, the third largest lake entirely in Ontario, is popular with fishermen and recreational boaters. The lake has been a transportation corridor for centuries.
There are several Chief Commanda cruises. One of the most popular is the evening Callander Bay Sunset Cruise. Enjoy Callander Bay and a beautiful sunset over Lake Nipissing. Make it an evening to remember by adding dinner onboard.
On the Manitou Islands Scenic Cruise, the Chief Commanda cruises through the calm waters surrounding the five Manitou Islands. Learn about their history, importance to Indigenous People and the unique island ecology on this 1½ hour cruise. The Manitou Islands Provincial Nature Reserve protects 4 of the 5 islands and a marine zone around them.
For those looking for a Sunday on the water, enjoy the five-hour French River Cruise to the Upper French River. The French was the first Canadian waterway designated as a Heritage River. It was the main water route to the west from the 17th to the mid-19th century. This cruise is not offered every Sunday so be sure to check availability.
The Chief Commanda II has both enclosed and open-air seating. Light lunch fare, snacks and beverage service are available on all cruises. The Chief Commanda II is docked at the west end of the North Bay waterfront by the marina.
North Bay Waterfront
This is the place to go for fun and relaxation. Enjoy a summer picnic, relax on a bench or walk the lakeside boardwalk.
In addition to the beautiful parkland found between Memorial Drive and the shore of Lake Nipissing, there are a number of attractions for people of all ages. Parking is easy to find.
Enjoy the huge, sandy beach at the north end of the waterfront. Toilet and changing facilities are nearby.
North Bay Waterfront Marina
The 200-slip, full-service marina is open from mid-May through mid-October. There are racks for canoe and kayak storage.
This is the home port of the Chief Commanda II tour boat. Follow the boardwalk to the end of the breakwater.
The Boat – A Lunch Stop
Have a bite to eat in a unique setting. The Boat is the first Chief Commanda which operated on Lake Nipissing from 1947 to 1974.
The bar and grill serves up lunch and dinner. Try the fried Calamari or one of their flame grilled burgers.
Heritage Railway & Carousel Company
Kids, big and small, will have fun riding the miniature railway and two carousels.
The railway started operations in 1994 with two engines and two coaches after a huge effort by a group of retired railway workers to lay down track and refurbish the train cars. Thanks to the continued devotion of a team of volunteers the rolling stock continues to grow with a fleet of engines, passenger cars plus a caboose.
The Classic Carousel took its first riders in July 2002. There are 33 hand-carved horses and 28 original paintings of local scenes on this replica of an early 1900’s merry-go-round. Nine horses were carved locally. The horses were quickly “adopted”, raising funds to pay for the endeavour. Horses and scenes were all painted by local artists.
The carousel was so popular that three years later the Winter Wonderland Carousel opened. Instead of horses, this carousel has animals native to Northern Ontario. There are 16 animals plus Santa’s sleigh in a winter wonderland. What a great idea!
Kate Pace Way
The 12-kilometre, paved trail is shared by walkers, joggers, cyclists and inline skaters. It begins at the waterfront and winds its way southeast through parks and residential areas to Cranberry Road in Callander. The trail is an active way to explore a bit more of the city.
Just south of the carousel, a paved walkway branches north off Kate Pace Way. A children’s splash pad, the North Bay Museum and the Dionne Quints Museum are just up the hill on the other side of the railroad tracks.
North Bay History
First Nations people used the Mattawa River, French River and Lake Nipissing as a transportation network. They travelled to and from the interior of North America for hundreds of years. European explorers and settlers continued to use the route. Land at the base of an escarpment on the northeast shore of Lake Nipissing, where the Mattawa River meets the lake, was a gathering spot for centuries.
The escarpment was a major barrier for the construction of the transcontinental railway. There was no practical route for the railway other than to follow the shore of Lake Nipissing. By 1913 three railways served the lakeside community. North Bay became a major transportation centre for both the lumber and mining industries.
In 1934, in the tiny village of Corbeil, just south of North Bay, five identical girls were born. They were the first set of quintuplets to all survive. They were a sensation and started another phase in North Bay’s growth – tourist destination.
In the 1950s, fear of a Russian air strike on North America pushed the Canadian government to build an air base on the north side of town. Over the years the name of the base has changed as has its purpose. It is currently called Canadian Forces Base (CFB) North Bay and is home to the 22 Wing North Bay, the Canadian Air Defence Sector.
In the early 1960s, NORAD (North American Aerospace Defence Command) opened an operations centre at the base. It was 60 storeys below ground level, deep within the 2.6-million-year-old bedrock of the Canadian Shield. A state-of-the-art, above-ground facility replaced the underground one in 2006. NORAD continues to monitor the skies over North America from this complex.
North Bay Museums
This diverse history is presented at these 4 museums.
The North Bay Museum
Learn more about North Bay’s historic people and places at the North Bay Museum in the restored Canadian Pacific (CP) railway station. The station was CP’s divisional headquarters until 1959. Built in 1903, it was the centrepiece of a huge rail yard extending 3 kilometres east and west of the station.
The museum offers a haunted hike through the heart of the city every Friday evening at 6pm throughout September and October. Get a historic and sometimes spooky perspective of North Bay’s buildings and streets.
For hours and admission information, check the North Bay Museum Admission webpage.
Dionne Quints Museum
In the heart of the 1930’s Depression, quintuplet girls were born in a tiny log home to the Dionne family. The house was moved to downtown North Bay from Corbeil in 2017. The Dionne Quints story became world famous and literally brought millions to see them and hear them at play. Hollywood even told their story in movies.
Visit the house beside the railway tracks, now a museum, and learn the real story of the “Quints”. For hours and admission information, check the Dionne Quints Heritage Board‘s website.
Canadian Forces Museum of Aerospace Defence
Located on the grounds of the Canadian Forces Base North Bay, beside the airport, the museum follows the development of air forces for defence purposes from the First World War through the Cold War to today. For more information about visiting the museum, including hours and admission information, check out the Aerospace Defence museum’s Visit Us webpage.
Air Defence Park
On land adjacent to the Canadian Forces Base, see two radar antennas and a CF 101 Voodoo. Information panels explain the units of the Canadian Air Force which were based in North Bay and the NORAD Underground Complex. Located less than 500 metres from the park, the complex was decommissioned in 2006 when a state-of-the-art above-ground facility opened.
North Bay Hiking Trails
It’s easy to find a trail in North Bay that matches your skill level and time commitment. These are some of the hiking areas, both in the city and just beyond.
- Duchesnay Falls
- Laurier Woods Conservation Area
- Laurentian Escarpment Conservation Area
- Black Forest Park
- Otter Lake
- Redbridge Mountain
For individual trail details, see the North Bay Trails table below.
Duchesnay Falls is a series of small waterfalls on Duchesnay Creek cascading 70 metres down an escarpment. The trailhead and parking area are on the Trans-Canada Highway just west of the city. A bridge connects the trails which run on both sides of the creek making a looped hike. The full length of the loop trail is about 3 kilometres. We walked a shorter loop of about one kilometre.
The trails along the creek connect to a series of trails climbing higher on the escarpment maintained by Nipissing University. The Education Centre Trails are about 12 kilometres of scenic trail over 700 acres. Hike to the Nipissing Lookout for great views of Lake Nipissing. Hikers and cross-country skiers enjoy these scenic wooded areas behind Nipissing University and Canadore College.
Laurier Woods Conservation Area
Located right in the middle of the city, Laurier Woods Conservation Area is the most convenient place to go for an easy hike. The conservation area surrounds a provincially significant wetland and woodland. There are excellent chances of seeing wildlife.
Explore its 240 acres on about 6.5 kilometres of easy intersecting loops. We hiked the main, “orange”, 2-kilometre loop through woods and along ponds and marshes. All the other trails begin from this orange trail. The Laurier Woods Trail map is helpful to get started. Numbered posts along the trails correspond to those in the Laurier Woods Trail Guide available at the trailhead. It provides more information about the flora and fauna present and other interesting facts.
It’s a great place for families to explore!
Laurentian Escarpment Conservation Area
The conservation area maintains the two most popular trails, the Fred McNutt Family Trail and the Richardson Ridge Trail. Both trails lead to amazing views of North Bay and the nature surrounding the city. The Laurentian Escarpment map is a great resource to have when hiking these popular trails.
The nearby Laurentian Ski Hill offers downhill skiers fun on the slopes in the winter.
Black Forest Park
Enjoy an easy stroll through a red and white pine forest. Interpretive signs provide information about the tree species, the forest’s history of logging and regeneration, and the wildlife found in the park.
Otter Lake is about 15 minutes northeast of the downtown core. The area is essentially undeveloped wilderness with Otter Lake, the 3rd largest lake in municipality, at its centre.
Follow the wide, main trail to the beach at the edge of Otter Lake. Additional, narrower trails loop off the main trail. For a bit more adventure, try these tighter trails. They are all marked and are beautiful hikes through the maple forest.
The hike to the lake and back is about 3 kilometres return. Hiking the full loop is 4 kilometres.
For a rugged, challenging trail, try the 4-kilometre, out-and-back, Redbridge Mountain View Trail. Hike through the forest then climb a steep incline to the top of the ridge. Enjoy a panoramic view of the area surrounding North Bay.
When we visited, the trail appeared quite overgrown. It was shortly after a heavy rainfall and we reached a creek that was too deep for us to cross. We turned back.
North Bay Trails
|North Bay Trail Name/ Trailhead parking coordinates||Return Length/ Type/Difficulty|
|East and West Falls Trails – Duchesnay Falls 46.33442, -79.50962||3 km/ loop/ moderate|
|Orange Loop – Laurier Woods Conservation Area 46.30707, -79.44382||1.9 km/ loop/ easy|
|Fred McNutt Family Trail -Laurentian Escarpment Conservation Area 46.33765, -79.43291||2 km/ loop/ easy|
|Richardson Ridge Trail – Laurentian Escarpment Conservation Area 46.33765, -79.43291||6.5 km/ loop/ moderate|
|Black Forest Park Trail 46.41499, -79.46571||1 to 1.5 km/ loop/ easy|
|Otter Lake Trail 46.40056, -79.30645||4.1 km/ loop/ easy to moderate|
|Redbridge Mountain View Trail 46.40534, -79.17567||4 km/ out and back/ challenging|
With a boat, visit the Manitou Islands, located just 10 kilometres from North Bay in Lake Nipissing.
Great Manitou Island has a lovely sand beach. Enjoy a swim and a walk along the beach. Over 50 species of birds make the islands their breeding site including Great Blue Herons and ospreys.
Please be aware that there are no park facilities on any of the islands. Manitou Islands Provincial Nature Reserve is a non-operating park. Day use is permitted but all garbage must be taken off the islands and camping is not permitted. Please do not disturb nesting birds.
North Bay Breweries
After a day of hiking and exploring the city, enjoy a beverage at one of these local North Bay breweries.
North Bay is a great starting point for a northern Ontario Road Trip. Check out our article, Places To Visit on a Road Trip from North Bay to Thunder Bay.
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