Home Canada Best Things To Do in North Bay

Best Things To Do in North Bay

by Andy Vanr

North Bay is called the “Gateway to the North”. It’s definitely worth of a one-day stopover on your road trip in Northern Ontario.  We’ve highlighted the best of the sites of all there is to see in North Bay.

What to do in North Bay

North Bay offers easy access to the outdoors and a range of activities showcasing the city’s culture.  

These are our top North Bay experiences:

North Bay Attractions

North Bay Attractions Map
Click on the map for an interactive version.

Chief Commanda

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.

Chief Commanda II docked
The Chief Commanda II cruises Lake Nipissing on several interesting routes. See a Lake Nipissing sunset or learn about the Manitou Islands.

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 River 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.

Aerial waterfront beach breakwater marina
North Bay’s beautiful waterfront includes Marathon Beach, the marina, the Chief Commanda II and much more.

Marathon Beach

Enjoy the huge, sandy beach at the north end of the waterfront. Toilet and changing facilities are nearby.

North Bay 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.

Red sail boat motors from North Bay marina
North Bay Marina is the perfect spot to dock after enjoying a day on Lake Nipissing.

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.

Aerial view The Boat patio waterfront
Enjoy a flame-grilled burger at The Boat on the waterfront.

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 has grown to five engines and eight passenger cars plus a caboose.

Green caboose Heritage Company Railway
The Heritage Railway & Carousel Company’s volunteers operate a miniature railway and two carousels.

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.

Bricked pathway through lakeside parkland
Walk, jog, cycle or inline skate the 12-kilometre long Kate Pace Way.

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.

Aerial view North Bay waterfront
North Bay occupies a gathering spot on the shore of Lake Nipissing at the base of the escarpment used by First Nations People for centuries.

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 home to the 22 Wing/Canadian Forces Base North Bay.

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

Explore North Bay’s diverse history 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 historic hike and a haunted walk through the heart of the city. Get a historic and sometimes spooky perspective of North Bay’s buildings and streets.

Two-storey railway station North Bay museum
This beautiful 1903 Canadian Pacific Railway station is the home of the North Bay Museum.

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”.

Log home with porch and 2nd floor
This building was moved to North Bay in 2017 from Corbeil. It was the birthplace of the Dionne Quintuplets in 1934.

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.

CF 101 Voodoo fighter jet
The CF 101 Voodoo jet was used by the Canadian Forces from 1961 to 1984.

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.

For individual trail details, see the North Bay Trails table below.

Duchesnay Falls

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.

Treed rock outcrop center of Duchesnay Falls
Beautiful Duchesnay Falls!
Steps up to bridge over Duchesnay Creek
A bridge over the Duchesnay Creek allows hikers to hike both sides of the creek on a looped route.

The trails along the creek connect to a series of trails climbing higher on the escarpment.  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.

Woman edge pond buildings background
We saw turtles, ducks and lots of other birds around this big pond at Laurier Woods Conservation Area. One of North Bay’s industrial areas is right next door.
Marsh reeds surrounding man boardwalk
Laurier Woods Conservation Area preserves a marshland environment. Boardwalks help ensure the wetland is only minimally effected by visitors.

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. You’ll see numbered posts along the trail.  At each post, refer to the Laurier Woods Trail Guide which provides more information about the flora and fauna present and other interesting facts. All the other trails begin from this orange trail.

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 Escaprment 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

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 center.

Couple at edge of Otter Lake
Beautiful Otter Lake is the 3rd largest lake in the municipality and is surrounded by pristine wilderness.
woman viewing maps mounted on tree in woods
The main Otter Lake trail is very wide. In the woods the trail gets much narrower. All trails are well marked.

Follow the wide, main trail to the beach at the edge of Otter Lake. Additional, narrower trails loop off the main trail. If you want 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.

Otter Lake Trail Map
Otter Lake Trail Map

Redbridge Mountain

If you are looking for a more 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.

Man beside creek in woods
After heavy rainfall, the creek on the Redbridge Mountain Trail was too deep for us.

North Bay Trails

North Bay Trail Name/ Trailhead parking coordinatesReturn Length/ Type/Difficulty
East and West Falls Trails -Duchesnay Falls 46.33442, -79.509623 km/ loop/ moderate
Orange Loop – Laurier Woods Conservation Area 46.30707, -79.443821.9 km/ loop/ easy
Fred McNutt Family Trail -Laurentian Escarpment Conservation Area 46.33765, -79.432912 km/ loop/ easy
Richardson Ridge Trail – Laurentian Escarpment Conservation Area 46.33765, -79.432916.5 km/ loop/ moderate
Black Forest Park Trail 46.41499, -79.465711 to 1.5 km/ loop/ easy
Otter Lake Trail 46.40056, -79.306454.1 km/ loop/ easy to moderate  
Redbridge Mountain View Trail 46.40534, -79.175674 km/ out and back/ moderately challenging
Water cascades through woods
Duchesnay Creek drops 70 metres in a series of waterfalls.

Manitou Islands

If you have a boat and want to get away from the crowds, 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 Map

Woman sign CF 101 Voodoo fighter jet
Learn about North Bay’s military history at Air Defence Park.


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