Home Canada Hiking Sleeping Giant – Best Day Hike in Ontario

Hiking Sleeping Giant – Best Day Hike in Ontario

by Valerie Vanr

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 in Ontario.

This is your guide to hiking the Sleeping Giant!

How long is the Sleeping Giant Hike?

Sleeping Giant Hike Length = 23.0 km. We completed the hike in 7 hours 35 minutes.

Day Hike Plan

This is a breakdown of the day hike at Sleeping Giant. The distance noted in parentheses is the distance from the previous stop and the time is our hiking time.

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

Be sure to start early in the day. This allows you to take your time and not rush.  Stop and enjoy the incredible viewpoints. They are great places to take a break.  (Early spring and late fall hikers should be mindful of sunset times, to avoid hiking back to the trailhead in the dark.)

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

Sleeping Giant Trail Map

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

Sleeping Giant Trailhead

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

The parking lot is large but 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.

Val and Andy by trailhead sign and picnic table
We are ready to go! 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 long.  It hugs the edge of the Sibley Peninsula, from the South Kabeyun Trailhead to the Thunder Bay lookout.

Follow the Kabeyun Trail for its first 6.7 kilometres to the South Talus Lake Trail Junction. 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 the 800-metre round-trip trail.  The trail’s turn around point provides 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 anymore.  The formation was named in the 1800s, when its shape included a “head”.

Rock formation jutting into water
The Sea Lion formation is made of resistant igneous rock. It continues to be 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 erosion of the rock continues.

Tee Harbour Trail

This is a short trail (400 metres round-trip) to Tee Harbour beach.  The beach is a great place to rest weary feet at the end of the hike.  We stayed about 15 minutes, enjoying the serenity.

Val bending down touching Lake Superior
I just had to find out how cold the water of Lake Superior was at the beach at Tee Harbour.

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

Talus Lake Trail

Turn right onto the Talus Lake Trail. Hike through the woods for 0.9 kilometres, about 15 minutes. This trail is narrower with more rocks and roots.

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

Trail junction sign background Val 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 hike 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 a difficult climb up 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. 

Val 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.

Val climbing trail's log stairway
Stairs have been added in several spots along the trail to make the climb a bit easier but for height challenged people like me some of the steps are pretty big.

Top of the Stairs

From the Top of the Giant 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.

The Gorge Lookout and the end of this trail is about a 25 minutes hike. You made it!

Andy 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, the 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 for a well-deserved break of 45 minutes, enjoying the views and 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 Trails

In addition to this 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. 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.
Andy on forest dirt tract with roots
Some trails have lots of rocks and roots so watch your footing!

Sleeping Giant Provincial Park Camping

RV and tent camping is available at Marie Louise Lake Campground.  Sleeping Giant Provincial Park has backcountry camping sites all around the park, in addition to those found at Tee Harbour Campground.
Camping reservations can be made at Ontario Parks Reservations.

Know Before You Go

What is the Best Time to Visit 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?

In addition to camping at Sleeping Giant, 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.

Is there a fee to hike at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park?

While there is no fee specifically for hiking, you will need to purchase a Daily Vehicle Permit to be in the park. There is a set number of permits issued per day. The permit can be purchased up to 5 days in advance from the Ontario Parks Reservations webpage to guarantee access for day use at this busy park.

Couple on path Top of the Giant
We made it to the Top of the Giant. So can you!

Sleeping Giant is just one great stop on a this Northern Ontario Road Trip. For more destinations, check out our article, Places to Visit on a Road Trip from Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay.

Rocks below water tree-covered island distance

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