Home Canada Best Day Hike in Ontario – Hiking Sleeping Giant

Best Day Hike in Ontario – Hiking Sleeping Giant

by Valerie Vanr

This is your guide to hiking Sleeping Giant!

Hike to the top of the Sleeping Giant on what is considered the “BEST day hike in Ontario”. Enjoy this challenging hike with stunning views over Lake Superior from the top of the highest cliffs on Ontario.

Day Hike Plan

Total Hike = 23.0 km and 7 hours 35 minutes

Base of gorge's vertical cliffs Lake Superior background
You’ll see these cliffs at the Gorge Lookout. They are some of the highest in Ontario.

Be sure to start your hike early in the day. This will allow you to take your time and break as you need to.  Enjoy the incredible views.  (Early spring and late fall hikers should be mindful of sunset times, so you won’t be hiking back to the trailhead in the dark.)

Anyone who is in reasonably good health, decent physical fitness and has some hiking experience can do this hike!

Sleeping Giant Trail Map

Map Sleeping Giant hike route
Click on the map for an interactive version.

Sleeping Giant Trailhead

The South Kabeyun Trailhead is the starting point of your hike. It is on Highway 587/Pass Lake Road, 37 kilometres south of Highway 17, the Trans-Canada Highway.

The parking lot is large and fills up quickly, as this trailhead is the start of many of the park’s hikes. We arrived at about 10 o’clock, on a Sunday morning in the fall, and it was almost full.

Couple by trailhead sign and picnic table
The South Kabeyun Trailhead is the start of many of the hikes at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. Check the trailhead billboard for any recent trail changes or alerts.

A large billboard style trail map is at the trailhead, along with vault toilets and several picnic tables.

Kabeyun Trail

The Kabeyun Trail is almost 40 kilometres in length.  It runs along the edge of the Sibley Peninsula, from the South Kabeyun Trailhead to the Thunder Bay lookout.

Our day hike follows the Kabeyun Trail for its first 6.7 kilometres before turning onto the Talus Lake Trail. This section of the trail is wide and dirt-covered, part of an old logging road. It is predominantly level with the odd washout.

Bikes are allowed on this section of the Kabeyun Trail. Cyclists of all skill levels can handle this trail.

Cyclist 2 leashed dogs Kabeyun Trail Sleeping Giant
Leashed dogs are allowed on all trails at Sleeping Giant. Bikes are allowed on part of the Kabeyun Trail and some of the other trails in the park.

We hiked this section in 1 hour and 20 minutes. On the way out, at the end of the day, we added another fifteen minutes.

There are two short, out-and-back, trails to explore along this section of the Kabeyun Trail.

Sea Lion Trail

The trail junction is less than a kilometre from the parking lot. Allow 20 to 30 minutes for this 800-metre round-trip trail.  You’ll be rewarded with a view of one of the park’s most photographed places. The sea lion is about 7 metres high and juts out 15 metres from the cliffs.

Unfortunately, the sea lion doesn’t look like its namesake.  The formation was named the back in the 1800s, when its shape included a “head”.

Rock formation jutting into water
The Sea Lion formation is made of resistant igneous rock and it is still being slowly eroded away.

The sea lion is an igneous dyke uncovered by erosion.  A billion years ago, molten magma oozed into the area’s sedimentary rocks. The magma cooled and hardened into horizontal sills and vertical dykes of hard, black igneous rock. Erosion has exposed many of these very resistant formations in the park.

The Sea Lion formation will eventually disappear into Lake Superior, as the rock continues to be eroded.

Tee Harbour Trail

This is a short trail (400 metres round-trip) to Tea Harbour beach.  The beach is a great place to rest if your feet are ready for a break at the end of the hike.  We stayed about 15 minutes, enjoying the serenity.

Woman bending down touching Lake Superior
Feel the cold water of Lake Superior at the beach at Tee Harbour.

This is also a backcountry campground.  There are ten backcountry campsites parallel to the trail and spread over roughly two kilometres of shoreline. There are metal fire pits, vault toilets and bear-proof food storage lockers. Backcountry camping permits are required to use a campsite.

Talus Lake Trail

Take the Talus Lake Trail through woods for 0.9 kilometres, about 15 minutes. The trail is narrower with more rocks and roots.

Bikes are not permitted on the Talus Lake Trail. Racks are located at the trail junction.

Trail junction sign background person walking trail
The South Talus Lake Trail Junction is an access point for many trails. Since bikes are not permitted on the Talus Lake Trail, bike racks are located beside the trail junction.

The Closed “Chimney Trail”

This was our second trip to Sleeping Giant.  On our first trip (back in the 1990s), there was a more direct route straight up to the Gorge Lookout, called “Chimney Trail”.  The old trailhead (now closed) is located further along the Kabeyun Trail. 

The trail was difficult as you had to climb a steep, rock-strewn talus trail through the “chimney” to the top.  Due to the danger of falling rocks, this trail was rerouted in 2002 to the trail we see today. 

Person midway slope of boulders below steep cliffs
Before the trail was redirected, we climbed up this talus slope of boulders to reach the Gorge Lookout.

Top of the Giant Trail

This is the heart of the hike. It is 3.3 kilometres from the Talus Lake Trail to the top. While it can be challenging in places, it is definitely worth the climb.

Allow 1 hour and 20 minutes to reach the top. Be sure to take breaks and keep hydrated along the way.

Woman climbing trail's log stairway
Stairs have been added in several spots along the trail to make the climb a bit easier.

Top of the Stairs

From the trail junction to the top of the stairs is about 1.2 kilometres. We took about 30 minutes to complete this section.

Tee Harbour Lookout

In another 1.2 kilometres, or about 25 minutes, enjoy the amazing view to the east of the crossbar at Tee Harbour. This view reinforces how the harbour got its name. Similar to the Sea Lion formation, the crossbar is a piece of one-billion-year-old, resistant, igneous rock.

The trail continues to lookouts facing west, with great views north of the “sleeping giant” and Lake Superior.

In another 25 minutes, you’ll arrive at your goal, the Gorge Lookout and the end of this trail.

Man cliffs with water background
The views from the Top of the Giant are impressive. This is looking south.

The Gorge Lookout

Enjoy the incredible view of Lake Superior, nearby islands and Thunder Bay off to the west. This is the most popular lookout in the park. These cliffs are Ontario’s greatest vertical drop.

We stayed here for a well-deserved break of 45 minutes.  We enjoyed the views and ate our packed lunch before heading back down to the parking lot. Be sure to take a good break, re-energize and hydrate fully before starting back down.

Sleeping Giant Hiking Trails

In addition to this day hike, there are many more trails in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park.  In total, there are over 100 kilometres of interconnected hiking trails.  Walk through the park’s boreal forest, home to deer, wolf, fox, lynx and over 200 bird species. Stand atop the tallest cliffs in Ontario, with views of Lake Superior, the Sibley Peninsula and Silver Islet.

Trails often require access from other trails. In the tables below, we’ve noted under the trail name any other trails hiked in the round-trip distance. As you hike, trail junction signs give very detailed information on directions and distances.

Trail marker showing trail names distances
The trail markers are very useful providing hikers with lots of information.

The trails in the table below all begin from the South Kabeyun Trailhead parking lot.

Trail NameRound-trip Distance and Trail Type
Top of the Giant Trail, via Kabeyun, Talus Lake21.8 km out/back
Nanabosho Lookout aka Chest, via Kabeyun, Talus Lake17.0 km out/back
Head Trail, via Kabeyun, Sawyer Bay16.2 km out/back
Talus Lake Trail, via Kabeyun, Sawyer Bay18.6 km loop *pre-trip planning
Kabeyun Trail74.0 km out/back *pre-trip planning, also parking at North Kabeyun Trailhead
Ravine Lake Nature Trail1.9 km loop
Sea Lion Trail, via Kabeyun2.4 km out/back
Sawyer Bay Trail, via Kabeyun12.2 km out/back
Thunder Cape Trail (bird observatory), via Kabeyun23.2 km out/back
Tee Harbour Trail, via Kabeyun12.4 km out/back

The following trails have other trailheads. They are listed generally from north to south in the park within each section.

Trail NameRound-trip Distance, Trail Type and Trailhead Location
Bay’s End Lookout Trail23.2 km out/back, Pass Lake Rd. at north park boundary or Thunder Bay Lookout Rd.
Piney Wood Hills Nature Trail2.8 km out/back, Thunder Bay Lookout Rd.
Burma Trail *cross-country ski trail22.8 km out/back, Marie Louise Dr. or Thunder Bay Lookout Rd.
Twinpine Lake Trail, via Burma14.0 km out/back, Marie Louise Dr. (ends at Kabeyun Trail)
Pickerel Lake Trail *cross-country ski trail23.4 km out/back, Pass Lake Rd. or Thunder Bay Lookout Rd.
Sawbill Lake Trail4.0 km out/back, Marie Louise Dr. (ends at Sawyer Bay Trail)
Middlebrun Bay Trail9.8 km out/back, Pass Lake Rd.
Joe Creek Nature Trail1.4 km out/back, Pass Lake Rd.
Thunder Bay Bogs Nature Trail0.7 km loop, end of Thunder Bay Lookout Rd.
Shifting Lake Trail *off leash pets allowed4.2 km out/back, Pass Lake Rd.
Gardner Lake Trail5.2 km out/back, Pass Lake Rd.
Wildlife Habitat Nature Trail2.1 km loop, Pass Lake Rd.
Sibley Creek Nature Trail2.3 km loop, Marie Louise Dr. at campground
Plantation Lane Nature Trail *wheelchair accessible0.6 km out/back, Pass Lake Rd.
Cemetery Trail1.6 km out/back, Pass Lake Rd.
Man on forest dirt tract with roots
Some trails have lots of rocks and roots so watch your footing!

Know Before You Go

What is the Best Time to Go to Sleeping Giant?

The park is open year-round but the best time to visit the park is from March to October.

Are dogs permitted on the trails?

Yes dogs are permitted. They must be on a leash at all times, except on the Shifting Lake Trail. Shifting Lake is the only “off leash” trail in the park.

What are the Packing List Musts?

Water – Bring more water than you think you need, especially in the summer.
Food – Bring food and high calorie snacks as you’ll need to fuel up at the top for the hike down.
Bug spray – Bugs are bad from spring to late August. They were gone when we went in mid-September.
Footwear – Sturdy hiking boots are best to avoid turned ankles on the Top of the Giant Trail.
Warm clothing – The summit can be windy and chilly.
First aid kit – Always be prepared.

Why is it called Sleeping Giant Provincial Park?

The park includes most of the forty-kilometre-long Sibley Peninsula which looks like a “sleeping giant” when seen from Thunder Bay.

What else can I do at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park?

RV and tent camping is available at Marie Louise Lake Campground.  The park also has backcountry camping sites.  Swimming can be enjoyed at the Marie Louise Lake Beach.  Mountain biking is permitted on some of the hiking trails.

In the winter, there are 50 kilometres of groomed trails for cross-country skiing.

Sleeping Giant – Interactive Trail Map

Couple on path Top of the Giant
We made it to the Top of the Giant. Now it’s your turn!

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