The road trip along the rugged north shore of Lake Superior from Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay is one of Ontario’s most scenic drives. On a recent trip up north, we experienced firsthand the forested hills and ridges, rocky cliffs, rivers, waterfalls and cobblestone beaches characteristic of Superior’s north shore. It was a sight worth seeing.
Be warned, though. This trip is no walk through the park. It is a long trip that requires planning, including places to stay overnight and keeping an eye on how much gas is left in the tank. Most of all, traveling Highway 17 in the winter can be dangerous and is not recommended.
We came to our first destination barely an hour after leaving the Soo. Pancake Bay and Batchawana Bay are known for their impressive white sand beaches. This area is popular with campers from the Soo. Don't forget to stop at The Voyageur (@voyageurslodge) for a souvenir and the freshest pickerel you'll ever have!
Drive north a little farther and you'll be traveling through Lake Superior Provincial Park near Wawa. We suggest taking a short walk over to the Agawa Rock to see the pictographs, estimated to be 150 – 400 years old, that were drawn by the Ojibwe people who lived in the area. The pictographs lend an air of mystery to this place. If we weren't set on driving on to Thunder Bay, we would have loved to stay at one of the backcountry campsites by the scenic cliffs, beaches or waterfalls.
Farther up the highway we encountered two well-known roadside attractions. The first was the giant Canada Goose in Wawa. Its enormous size (28 feet tall, 22 feet long) made us feel quite small standing next to it. About 90 km up the highway, we found the Winnie the Pooh monument in White River. We made sure to stop for a picture with our childhood bear friend. Interesting fact: White River holds a Winnie the Pooh Festival during the third week of August each year.
At Wawa, the highway veers away from the shore of Lake Superior and returns at the town of Marathon. Filled with beautiful natural views, this mining town is the midway point on the coastal journey.
Past this point, there is no shortage of provincial parks. Red Sucker Point, Neys, and Prairie River Mouth each have their own iconic views, one with swales, one with raised cobblestone beaches, and one with an abandoned prisoner-of-war camp.
A little past these parks is Terrace Bay, where you'll see Aguasabon Falls, one of the highest falls in the province. While checking out the lighthouse, stop by the Red Dog Inn for a bite to eat. If you're lucky enough to be in town during the Fall Street Market, you may get to see some of the local arts, inspired by the famous Group of Seven.
If you're still hungry as you drive through the town of Schreiber, check out the Hungry Moose or Filane's Restaurant (@filanesrestaurant). Aside from filling up on food, you'll need to make sure you fuel up your vehicle as there is still a fair distance to Nipigon!
As you drive towards Nipigon, admire the glorious mountains and vast shoreline, but don’t forget to keep an eye out for Gravel River Provincial Park. The park is a nature reserve established to protect an unusual bird's-foot delta at the mouth of the Gravel River. This fascinating meandering river alone is worth a day trip.
If you're into lakes, you will certainly enjoy Ruby Lake Provincial Park, which incorporates three lakes, wetlands and an extensive trail system. The cliffs and ravines here are an important home to some rare wildlife, including peregrine falcons and bald eagles.
Once you’ve hit Nipigon, your trip is almost over! If you need a boost for the rest of the ride, stop by La Luna Cafe & Bakery. Only one more small town to check out after this. If you're willing to take the detour to Red Rock, check out the view at the iconic marina. You can even see Ruby Lake!
Before ending our trip in Thunder Bay, we stopped at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park for some more beautiful sights. Located on the Sibbley Peninsula east of Thunder Bay, there is perhaps no better way to describe it other than the granddaddy of Ontario provincial parks. Here you will see some of the most breathtaking views in the province, complemented by their own indigenous legends (spoiler alert: Nanabijou, the sleeping giant, is the mountain). No wonder this peninsula is considered one of the seven wonders of Canada.
The incredible views of Sleeping Giant Provincial Park were a fitting end to our journey before arriving in Thunder Bay for the night. If there is one thing we are certain of, it’s that taking the Highway 17 trip along Lake Superior is a must.