Home Canada Toronto to Thunder Bay Road Trip – The Ultimate Guide to Places to Visit in Northern Ontario

Toronto to Thunder Bay Road Trip – The Ultimate Guide to Places to Visit in Northern Ontario

by Andy Vanr

Enjoy Northern Ontario’s boreal forest and stunning lakes at a number of Ontario Provincial Parks. Learn about the mining operations of the Canadian Shield. Experience small town hospitality. Northern Ontario is a great summer road trip destination.

We have several route options and all the details of things to see and do in this stunning part of Ontario. This is our Ultimate 3-week Northern Ontario road trip itinerary.

Drive from Toronto to Thunder Bay – The Ultimate Northern Ontario Road Trip

How long is the drive from Toronto to Thunder Bay? The distance to Thunder Bay is about 1400 km. This will take a minimum of two days to drive. We recommend a much more leisurely trip.

There are two options to travel from Toronto to Thunder Bay:

  • Highway 17, the most popular route, begins in Sudbury and travels along the Lake Superior shoreline.
  • Highway 11, the more northern, remote route, travels toward Timmins.

Many travellers enjoy the more populated, southern, Highway 17 route on their return trip back.  We feel the best option is to drive the entire loop.

We’ve broken the routes into road-trip sections. Within each section, we’ve highlighted fantastic places to see and things to do.

Northern Ontario Cities

This Ultimate Guide not only covers the various road trip routes, but also covers the major northern Ontario cities. We’ve included detailed itineraries of the following Northern Ontario cities:

3-Week Northern Ontario Itinerary

This is our ultimate 21-Day itinerary.  Shorten or lengthen it to suit.

Westbound: Toronto to Thunder Bay

  • Day 1 Toronto to Parry Sound (200 km)
  • Day 2 Parry Sound to Sudbury (150 km)
  • Day 3 Sudbury
  • Day 4 Sudbury to Sault Ste. Marie (300 km)
  • Day 5 Sault Ste. Marie
  • Day 6 Sault Ste. Marie to Wawa (225 km)
  • Day 7 Wawa to Nipigon (350 km)
  • Day 8 Nipigon
  • Day 9 Nipigon to Thunder Bay (125 km)
  • Days 10-11 Thunder Bay

Eastbound: Thunder Bay to Toronto via Timmins

  • Day 12 Thunder Bay to Hearst (+500 km – this is a long day)
  • Day 13 Hearst to Cochrane (225 km)
  • Day 14 Moosonee
  • Day 15 Cochrane to Timmins (100 km)
  • Day 16 Timmins
  • Day 17 Timmins to Temiskaming Shores (200 km)
  • Day 18 Temiskaming Shores
  • Day 19 Temiskaming Shores to North Bay (150 km)
  • Day 20 North Bay
  • Day 21 North Bay to Toronto (350 km)

Map of Northern Ontario

This clickable map provides more options.  Click on any coloured ellipse or circle on the map, to open our detailed City and Road Trip articles.

Toronto to Sudbury

There are some great things to do on the way to Northern Ontario. 

Enjoy a stop in Parry Sound. See the beautiful harbour and the huge trestle rail bridge.  The Island Queen Cruises explore the islands of Georgian Bay.  For hockey fans, visit the Bobby Orr Hall of Fame. Bobby Orr, Hall of Famer and hockey great, was born in Parry Sound.

Trestle bridge high above river boats docked
Parry Sound’s Canadian Pacific Railway trestle bridge was completed in 1907 and painted by Group of Seven’s Tom Thompson less than 10 years later. It still carries trains across the Seguin River.

Killbear Provincial Park, just north of town, is a great spot for a night of camping. 

Be sure to check out our article, Killbear Provincial Park for more details on summer activities at the park including some exhilarating cliff jumping.

Continue north to the French River Information Centre.  Learn about the fur trade and the Voyageurs who explored and travelled these waterways.  Stop at the French River Trading Post for a bite to eat and some cool gifts.

Sudbury

Spend a day in Sudbury.

Take a selfie at The Big Nickel, the world’s largest coin.  Dynamic Earth is next door. Take an underground mine tour and learn about the local mining industry.  The kids will enjoy all the interactive fun at Science North.

Visit the Art Gallery and drive around the city to see Sudbury’s painted Murals painted on local buildings.  You’ll even see Canada’s largest mural painted on an abandoned hospital building.

For more fun things to do in Sudbury, be sure to check out our article, Best Things To Do in Sudbury.

Sudbury big nickel monument people below

Sudbury to Sault Ste. Marie

After enjoying a day in Sudbury, travel west along the north shore of Lake Huron to Sault Ste. Marie.  Explore the small towns and natural beauty along the way.

Sudbury to Sault Ste. Marie Road Trip Map
Click on the map for a larger image.

A stop at Chutes Provincial Park is a must.  A short hike along the river showcases several beautiful waterfalls.

For those with additional time, detour down Highway 6 to Manitoulin Island. Visit Bridal Veil Falls and discover the island’s active Indigenous culture.

Further west on Highway 17, take a quick break for a look at Kennebec Falls.

The next stretch of highway goes through the great forestry and mining towns of the past including Blind River, Iron Bridge and Bruce Mines. Each has a museum which tells the local area’s history.

With more time, a one-day side trip to St. Joseph Island is recommended.  Find the remains of Fort St. Joseph, a fort that was destroyed by the Americans in the War of 1812.

Be sure to check out our article Road Trip from Sudbury to Sault Ste. Marie – Every Place to Visit for more details on this route.

River falls cutting forested granite rocks

Sault Ste. Marie

Spend a day or two in Sault Ste. Marie.

Learn about the city’s past at its historic sites and museums, such as the Sault Ste. Marie Canal, the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre and the Ermatinger Clergue National Historic Site.

Sault Ste. Marie is the beginning of the Agawa Canyon Tour Train, an amazing fall-colour train tour to the stunning natural beauty of Agawa Canyon.

Check out our article Things to do in Sault Ste. Marie for a complete list of sites to see in ‘The Soo’.

Canal lock surrounded by parkland bridge distance

Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay

After Sault Ste. Marie, the trip along the rugged shores Lake Superior begins. Admire the beautiful vistas at the many roadside pull-offs.  Discover great hiking trails, waterfalls and lovely northern towns along the way.

Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay Road Trip Map
Click on the map for a larger image.

At both Batchawana Bay and Pancake Bay Provincial Parks, enjoy the nice beaches and hiking opportunities.

Be sure to stop at Lake Superior Provincial Park, one of the largest provincial parks in Ontario.  A park highlight is the Agawa Rock Pictographs. Generations of Ojibwe people painted the mystical beings, animals and humans on the rock face at the edge of Lake Superior.

The town of Wawa is a great overnight stop.  Visit the waterfalls in the area, including the impressive Scenic High Falls.  Be sure to take a photo of the iconic 8-metre tall Wawa Goose.

Val and Andy in front of very wide waterfall
We are standing on the viewing platform at Scenic High Falls. It gives a commanding view of the falls on the Magpie River, just south of Wawa.

Pukaskwa National Park is a great place for longer stays and backcountry adventures.  A day hike to the White River Suspension Bridge is a popular activity.

The area that is now Neys Provincial Park was a WWII prisoner of war camp. 

Drop by the lovely towns of Terrace Bay, Schreiber and Rossport.  Each has something unique for visitors.

The town of Nipigon makes a great base to explore the local region.  Find Panorama Amethyst Mine, Eagle Canyon Adventures, and the awe inspiring Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park.

One of the area’s best day hikes is in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park.  If time permits, add a day to the road trip and enjoy this hike. There won’t be any regrets.

Check out our article Hiking Sleeping Giant – The Best Day Hike in Ontario for more details on how to tackle this amazing Day Hike.

The Highway 17 southern route ends at Thunder Bay.

Be sure to check out our article Road Trip from Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay – Every Place to Visit for more details on this route.

Rocks below water tree-covered island distance

Thunder Bay

Enjoy a few days in Thunder Bay.  Visit Fort William Historical Park. See a replica of the North West Company fortified headquarters. 

Explore Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park. The magnificent falls are second only to Niagara as the highest waterfall in Ontario. Enjoy relaxing hikes in the boreal forest to see the streams and waterfalls at the Cascades Conservation Area.

Be sure to check out our full article Things To Do in Thunder Bay for the complete list of places to see.

Waterfall rock outcrop middle bridge background

This is the half-way point of the journey. There are options to return to Southern Ontario. One way is to retrace the Highway 17 route, visiting the stops missed along the way.

Our preference is to drive the northern Highway 11 route. 

Thunder Bay to North Bay – The Highway 11 Route

This route was part of the first TransCanada highway, before the southern route was completed.  Although this route is not travelled as often by tourists, it is a great drive through a remote region of Ontario.

We’ve broken the drive into two sections:

  • Thunder Bay to Timmins,
  • Timmins to North Bay

Thunder Bay to Timmins

Bid Thunder Bay farewell and return to the Nipigon area.  Complete any attractions that you didn’t have time for earlier in the trip. 

Leaving Nipigon, continue on Highway 11 north.  The area’s natural beauty is on display on this route through an area rich in mining and lumbering history.

Timmins to Thunder Bay - Road Trip Map
Click on the map for a larger image.

Take pictures beside the World’s Largest Snowman, in the town of Beardmore. It stands 10 metres tall. 

The Geralton Interpretive Centre presents the history of the fur trade and gold mining in the area.  Continue through Longlac with brief rest stop at Klotz Lake.

Make Hearst an overnight stop. There are plenty of motels in town. Hearst proclaims itself the Moose Capital of Canada.  Visit the Heritage Sawmill Marketplace which celebrates the local logging and paper industry. 

Andy beside wolf on log statue
Wolf Statue at Hearst’s Information Centre – for scale, I am 6 feet tall

Continue east to Kapuskasing.  Visit the historic train station and museum in this pulp and paper town.  Moonbeam Ontario’s unique UFO Monument is another great rest stop on the way to Cochrane.

Visit the Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat, a sanctuary dedicated to the care of polar bears.  Learn about and see these large animals as they roam in huge outdoor enclosures.

With an extra day, ride the Polar Bear Express train north to Moosonee, on James Bay.  See the remaining historic buildings of one of Canada’s oldest trading posts.

Continue to southwest to Timmins by Highways 11 and 101.

Timmins

This mining town has a large open pit mine  in the centre of the city.  After watching the live mining operation, visit the Timmins Museum and National Exhibition Centre.  Learn more about the history and importance of mining to the city

See our article Best Things To Do in Timmins for more details on this interesting mining town.

Open pit mine buildings water tower foreground

Timmins to North Bay

Travel east on Highway 101 from Timmins to Matheson to continue the journey south on Highway 11.

North Bay to Timmins - Road Trip Map
Click on the map for a larger image.

To explore another northern Ontario mining town, take Highway 66 for 15 kilometres to Kirkland Lake. The Museum of Northern History, located in Sir Harry Oakes Chateau, focuses on mining in the Kirkland Lake area.  Kirkland Lake’s Miners’ Memorial, a tribute to its hard working miners, is nearby.

Spend a day exploring Temiskaming Shores, an amalgamation of the communities of Haileybury, New Liskeard and the Dymond. The Shores are a summer playground so don’t forget to bring swimsuit. Relax and enjoy the sheltered beach and big water slide at Haileybury

Try one of several hiking trails in the area. Hiking to the face-like rock outcrop at Devil’s Rock Lookout or to the waterfalls at Pete’s Dam Park are just two options.

Just west of Haileybury is one of the most famous mining towns in Ontario, Cobalt.  The entire town has been declared a National Historic Site.  A driving tour along the Heritage Silver Trail visits several of the original silver mines.  For more details about visiting the town, see our full article, Cobalt – A Canadian National Historic Site.

Back on Highway 11, travel south to the interesting sites in the Temagami area.

In the town of Latchford, drive across the World’s Shortest Covered Bridge.  Get an adrenaline rush by climbing up the Temagami Fire Tower to lookout over the town of Temagami and the beautiful wilderness of northern Ontario.  Explore the replica lumber camp at Marten River Provincial Park’s Logging Museum

This northern road trip ends at North Bay.

Be sure to check out our full article Road Trip from North Bay to Thunder Bay – Every Place to Visit for more details on this route.

Road lake through pine forest

North Bay

Spend one day in North Bay.  Board the Chief Commanda II and cruise around Lake Nipissing.  Back on shore, stroll the beautiful waterfront park and drop into the North Bay Museum

There are also many great hiking opportunities in the North Bay area.

For more details on you to spend a day in this city, check out our article, Best Things To Do in North Bay

Lakeside park railway city buildings behind

North Bay to Toronto

Continue south on Highway 11 to Barrie and south towards Toronto.

Arrowhead Provincial Park makes for nice stop with its beautiful sandy beaches and hiking trails.  Stay overnight in one of their comfortable camp cabin accommodations.

Travelling through the Muskoka region, there are several charming towns on the way including: Huntsville, Bracebridge and Gravenhurst.

This is the end of this Ultimate Northern Ontario journey, an unforgettable 3-week road trip.


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