It’s no secret that I absolutely adore Northern Ontario. Coupled with visiting during my favourite season, you can imagine how excited I was to return to this fantastic destination. There is no shortage of incredible things to do in Thunder Bay but winter offers a whole new set of activities you can’t enjoy any other time of the year. Bundle up, pack some extra layers and make the most of the season as you experience Thunder Bay in winter. This is definitely one of the best places to visit in Ontario in winter!
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links where if you make a purchase, I may receive a kickback at no extra cost to you. It helps keep IBB alive so thank you!
Top 10 Ways to Enjoy Winter in Thunder Bay
With a mix of outdoor adventure and indoor relaxation, you’ll be surprised at how much fun there is to be had during the winter in Thunder Bay! Take a peek at this epic list but be warned… it will probably have you actually excited about the ice and snow!
Stroll Along the Waterfront
No matter what time of the year, Thunder Bay’s waterfront is a beautiful spot to enjoy a walk. Meander around Prince Arthur’s Landing and then follow the trails toward the Waterfront Plaza. While it will certainly look different than the summer views as all the boats have been removed for the winter, you will still see plenty of public art sculptures along the way.
As you walk, look out across Lake Superior and you’ll be able to see the Sleeping Giant on a clear day. Said to be Nanabozho (or Nanabijou, depending on how you spell it), the shapeshifting trickster that often passes along teachings to the Ojibway people, stories say that he was turned to stone after he was betrayed by his people and the location of a secret silver mine was shared with white men.
Get Your Caffeine Fix
Since it’ll be chilly as you explore downtown Thunder Bay, what better way to stay warm than with a nice hot beverage? Luckily, there are a number of fantastic coffee shops in Thunder Bay! Each one has something unique to offer and if you plan to stay in town longer than a day or two, I recommend hitting up as many as you can.
One such spot has to be Sweet North Bakery right on Court Street. Indulge in one of their signature lattes like a Skull Rock Stout mocha, Sticky Bun latte or my personal favourite – a Port Arthur Fog. It’s also a great spot for breakfast as they have a number of tasty eats, all made using whole food ingredients while featuring regional flavours as much as possible. You can’t go wrong with one of their delicious breakfast rays!
Another great option is Bay Village Coffee by the corner of Bay and Water streets. What started as a dream conceived on a road trip became a reality when partners Alan Forbes and Gary Mack opened their doors in 2018! Stop in for a fresh muffin or a cookie to go and make sure you try one of their lattes. They have six syrups they make from scratch and I can confirm that one of their lattes with a shot of maple brown sugar is absolutely fantastic.
Admire Thunder Bay’s Street Art
With coffee in hand, meander the streets of Thunder Bay and take in all the gorgeous murals that decorate the buildings. Some fantastic pieces can be found at the former Apple Chipotle’s, Nomad Bakeshop and The Haven Hostel. If you’re short on time though, the best place to go is Cooke Street. Tucked in behind Red River Road, this one-way alley features a number of eclectic scenes all strewn together to create Thunder Bay’s first mural alley.
If hunting for street art is your jam then you’ll want to check out the Die-Active mural tour. Created as part of the Definitely Superior Art Gallery, they have a map of all the stunning murals to be found across Thunder Bay. While it seems as though Die-Active itself has ceased operation (or at least it taking a hiatus right now), their maps will still help ensure you discover all the gorgeous art to be found across the city! Take a look here.
Cross Country Ski at the Kamview Nordic Centre
With all the fluffy white stuff Thunder Bay gets over the winter months, cross country skiing is the perfect way to enjoy a day of fun! The Kamview Nordic Centre is owned and operated by Thunder Bay Nordic Trails, a not-for-profit organization that maintains 35 kilometres of trails for both classic and skate skiing. The trails vary in length and difficulty, making it a great spot for skiers of all skill levels! If you’re a fan of stunning views (I mean, who isn’t?!), you’ll want to make your way up to the Lookout Trail. Unfortunately it was a cloudy day during my visit so I tackled the Tamarack Trail. This is one of the most zen trails I’ve ever done as you meander through beautiful forests that are guaranteed to take your worries away.
RELATED: For more ideas of where to enjoy this Nordic sport, check out my guide to the top cross country ski trails in Ontario!
If you start to feel chilly or are looking to rest your tired legs, head into the Chalet where you’ll find plenty of space to sit as well as a number of delicious goodies. You have to get one of the famous Kamview cookies – these babies are the size of your head! Also, if you don’t have your own gear, don’t worry as Kamview offers rental equipment so everyone can get out and enjoy the trails. Oh, and in case you’re not a big cross country skier, Kamview also offers 20 kilometres of snowshoe trails for even more winter wandering! Snag your trail passes for skiing, snowshoeing, or both and enjoy a day of fun at the Kamview Nordic Centre.
Try Your Hand at Curling
Did you know that Thunder Bay is considered to be the curling capital of Canada? It won’t come as a surprise that a number of our world and national champions call the city home once you know this! Thunder Bay has also hosted a number of notable events including the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
Curling has been on my bucket list for a long time and I’m thrilled I was finally able to throw a few rocks! Thunder Bay Tourism was kind enough to arrange a mini game with some of the local champions at the Fort William Curling Club, though it certainly added some pressure to perform on my end! I’m happy to report that while my balance is quite terrible (I have a bruised knee to prove it), I still managed to throw the rocks to hit the “house” and it seems as though I’m not half bad at sweeping!
The Fort William Curling Club occasionally has events for those looking to give the sport a try. Send them an email or give them a call to see if they have availability if you’re looking to add curling to your Thunder Bay itinerary!
Go Fatbiking Along the Trowbridge Trails
Fat biking has become more popular over the last few years as cyclists look to enjoy their passion year-round. Luckily there is no shortage of fantastic trails to ensure some prime fat biking in Thunder Bay!
One such spot is the Trowbridge Forest trails network which consists of over 40 kilometres of hiking, mountain biking and ski trails. Trowbridge Forest is split into two main areas – Kinsmen Park and the Shuniah Mines. The Kinsmen Park area is perfect for beginners as the trails are flatter and require less technique. This is where I hung out as I tackled part of the Yellow Trail and then up to the Blue Trail for some incredible views over Lake Superior. Don’t get me wrong though, this still isn’t a walk in the park and I don’t even want to think about how many times I bailed! Luckily the fluffy snow is a great cushion.
If you’re a more advanced rider, you’ll want to head into the Shuniah Mines section. Located in the heart of the Trowbridge Forest, this area winds through a century-old silver mine. Riders will enjoy challenging trails as they take full advantage of the unique topography of the rock and small ridgelines. The most iconic trail here is the Grand Chasm as it features the iconic ‘Chasm Bridge’ which makes for some epic photos. A favourite for locals, it’s said to be quite the playground. Make sure you keep an eye out for old mining relics if you check out this trail!
For those in need of a fat bike to enjoy the ride, Rollin’ Thunder has you covered and will outfit you with everything you need to ensure you can ride some of the best fat bike trails in Ontario.
Tackle New Heights with Some Ice Climbing
If there’s any activity to do while visiting Thunder Bay in winter, it has to be ice climbing. Northwestern Ontario is a premiere destination for reaching new heights. There’s a reason why people travel from all over the world to do it here! And there’s no better person to go with than Aric from Outdoor Skills and Thrills.
He knows the spots for an epic climbing adventure from Neebing all the way to Nipigon. Originally the plan was to do the Thunder Bay climb but as weather conditions changed practically overnight, we made our way to the Neebing location and I’m so glad we did. The universe works in mysterious ways as I was able to cross off another bucket list item… ice climbing to the top of a waterfall! Dubbed by Aric as Plasticity, this unnamed beauty is pure magic and I can’t recommend the climb enough. But no matter which destination you end up at, this will certainly show you why Thunder Bay is one of the top places to visit in winter in Ontario.
It’s a bit of a hike to get to which can be tricky in your climbing boots but it’s worth every step and stumble. Once you arrive, Aric will get all set up and then help you get prepped to ensure you make it all the way to the top. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I would as this is only the second time I’ve been out ice climbing with the first being in much different conditions. Maybe it was that my first kick at the can was on a man-made wall or that it was crazy cold, but climbing with Aric was an absolute breeze! He’s also super helpful in that he’ll guide you with where to snag your axes and kick your feet into the ice sheet – and soon enough you’ll be finding the spots all on your own. Thanks for the epic adventure, Aric. I can’t wait to check out some of the other spots next time I’m in town!
Trek Out to Kakabeka Falls
This is always on the top of my things to do in Thunder Bay list, no matter the season… one of the reasons why it was my first stop as soon as I landed this trip! Kakabeka Falls is a sight to see no matter what time of the year, but I say she’s extra magical in the winter.
RELATED: There are a number of these natural beauties to see in and around the city. Check out my guide to the waterfalls in Thunder Bay but be warned as it’ll have you planning a trip up here if you aren’t already!
Located in Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park, it’s a short walk from the parking lot to the lookout platforms. Just be careful as they can be slippery depending on if the wind is blowing the mist around. While the visitors centre and other facilities are closed in the winter months, you can still explore the park and tackle some of the hiking trails. Depending on how much snow there is, you may need some snowshoes or possibly crampons. I recommend coming prepared with both if you plan on heading to Little Falls after you’re done admiring Kakabeka!
Relax with Kangas Sauna
All of these winter adventures in Thunder Bay sure are incredible but they will certainly tucker you out. That’s why you should book a visit to Kangas Sauna because trust me, your body will thank you for it. In case you didn’t know, saunas have been proven to aid in recovery after physical activity as the body releases endorphins, flushes toxins, relieves stress, encourages deeper sleep, and much more. I swear my sauna session is the reason why I was able to do all of the above and not be completely laid out for a week afterwards. True story!
Saunas rentals are 90 minutes each and Kangas has a variety of room sizes. Pricing starts at $25 plus tax for one person and costs less the more people you have. Each room is private and only accessible by you and your group which adds to the level of zen! Plus these are steam saunas and I don’t know about you, but they’re so much better than dry saunas… and a lot harder to come by these days. So once you’ve hit some of these places to visit in Thunder Bay, make sure to treat yourself and book a sauna session to reward your body and mind for a job well done.
Restaurants in Thunder Bay to Eat At
In order to enjoy all these fun Thunder Bay winter activities, you need to stay fuelled! Luckily there are plenty of incredible restaurants in Thunder Bay to stuff your face so you’re ready for whatever you have planned for your visit. I have arranged them from most breakfast-like to dinnertime because that makes the most sense in my brain!
Address: 376 Lisgar St, Thunder Bay, ON P7B 2M4 [map]
No trip to Thunder Bay is complete without some Finnish Pancakes and one such place to enjoy them is Niva’s Restaurant. This quaint little restaurant is a favourite among locals for their big portions and reasonable prices. While they don’t have many Scandinavian dishes and they’re mostly known for their omelettes, you can’t go wrong with the Finn Breakfast. It’s the perfect way to start your day with two eggs however you like them, bacon, ham or sausage, toast or home fries and two Finnish Pancakes. No wonder it’s their most popular option! Another reason to love this spot – the coffee never stops flowing. I’m pretty sure I unintentionally had four cups in the span of an hour…
Carte Blanche Cafe Co
Address: 389 Oliver Rd, Thunder Bay, ON P7B 2G1 [map]
If you’re a fan of charcuterie, you will have to ensure a visit to Carte Blanche is on your Thunder Bay itinerary. Settle into one of their cozy chairs for a coffee and a sandwich if you visit on a whim or plan ahead and order one of their fantastic charcuterie boxes. They have a variety of sizes including individual portions that are heaping with goodies. It honestly fed me for two meals! Everything is so fresh and flavourful with a variety of items, each complimenting the other. I can also say that it holds up well during an ice climbing adventure and possibly tastes even better with the view of a frozen waterfall. Don’t forget to snag one of their unique beverages such as their prairie sunrise and fireside lattes!
Naxos Grill & Bar
Address: 610 Arthur St W, Thunder Bay, ON P7E 5R8 [map]
Named after the Greek Island where the owner’s father was born, Naxos Grill & Bar brings delicious Greek eats to Northern Ontario. Their menu features a number of their family’s recipes, passed down and now shared with both locals and visitors alike. While they have a variety of Canadian eats (and their sandwiches are MASSIVE), I highly recommend trying one of their Greek dishes. You can’t go wrong with a classic souvlaki or gyro platter but they also have interesting creations like their Grecian chicken platter or Naxos burger which I’m eyeballing for my next visit. Oh, and you’ll want to order a dish with Tzatziki, or order some on the side, because it’s absolutely delightful.
Nomad Bakeshop & Sandwich Bar
Address: 307 Bay St, Thunder Bay, ON P7B 1R9 [map]
So I’m a bit of a snot and typically overlook sandwiches as more of a simple meal reserved for lazy days, but Nomad Bakeshop has certainly changed that. Craft the sandwich of your dreams, trust their judgement and indulge in one of their suggestions or build from one of their fabulous recommendations. I began with the spicy Ruben and put my spin on things with some additional toppings… oh my goodness. I don’t think I’ve wolfed down a sandwich so fast in my life. All of their ingredients are so fresh and as local as possible which takes these sandwiches to a whole new level. A word of advice though, come prepared with a bag and some cash because you might walk out with some other goodies like their freshly made Thunder Oak Cheese Loaf.
Fort William Curling Club
Address: 218 Vickers St N, Thunder Bay, ON P7C 6A3 [map]
Chances are you’re raising your eyebrows as to why the curling club is listed here. Fun fact: it’s not uncommon for curling clubs in Northwestern Ontario to have a Chinese Restaurant within them! Why did this trend start? Well, I don’t really know the answer and the folks I chatted with didn’t either but I’m not going to question it because this meal certainly hit the spot after my curling adventure! Another spot with fantastic portions and reasonable prices, they have a number of combination lunches and dinners that will satisfy your hunger. I highly recommend their Kuo Lo Pork and you can always swap out your wontons for beef and vegetables which is definitely a good life choice. Also, all combos come with chicken fried rice! Or you can grab a gaggle and order a number of items and enjoy these tasty eats family style.
Caribou Restaurant & Wine Bar
Address: 727 Hewitson St, Thunder Bay, ON P7B 6B5 [map]
Upscale dining with a flair of comfort, Caribou Restaurant & Wine Bar provides an exceptional menu with cocktails and a wine list that is just as incredible. Their dishes are certainly North American focused but they have a tendency to dabble in the flavours of other cultures. What I was impressed to see was the option of something a little less common and a little more gamey… meaning I just had to try their Mafaldine pasta dish. Complete with pancetta, mushrooms, truffle butter, parmesan and – braised rabbit. Not only does this dish absolutely melt in your mouth but it also doesn’t leave you with that heavy full feeling. I’d say that’s extremely impressive, especially for a heavy carb meal! Don’t forget to snag one of their expertly crafted cocktails like the Mountain Man.
RELATED: For more amazing recommendations on where to eat in the city, check out the Thunder Bay restaurants I visited during my last visit!
Where to Stay in Thunder Bay
There are a number of stellar hotels in Thunder Bay that will make a great home base for your trip. However, if you’re looking for a spot with fantastic amenities, gorgeous decor and the perfect location – you need to stay at The Haven Hostel! Nestled just steps from the largest freshwater lake in the world, I absolutely fell in love with The Haven Hostel as soon as I laid eyes on it.
I know, I know. A hostel? You’re 33, Lindsay! Trust me when I say that The Haven Hostel is incredible. Yes, they have dorms if you’re looking for that iconic experience you expect to enjoy when backpacking through Europe. They are actually the first in Ontario to have pod dormitories! However, they also have private rooms with their own bathroom – which is what I stayed in. This way you get all the perks of hostel life but with your own private space. A win-win in my books!
The Haven Hostel features an adorable communal kitchen space with all the equipment you need to whip up a meal. Behind the hostel, there’s a cozy firepit and gorgeous courtyard that’s great to hang out in during the warmer months. While The Haven Hostel offers high speed internet, they also have a little library where you can borrow a book or exchange one you’ve already read to help you disconnect. Don’t forget the beautifully decorated lounge that’s the perfect spot to get cozy, watch a movie, make some art or enjoy a glass of wine while making new friends!
If The Haven Hostel is booked during your visit, I have stayed at two other properties in Thunder Bay that I highly recommend. The first is the Prince Arthur Waterfront Hotel. A staple in the city for over a century, this Thunder Bay hotel is bursting with history and character. It was once an active spot for smuggling alcohol into the USA during the day of prohibition which you can learn about on a guided tour. Just inquire at the front desk! Plus the rooms are extremely spacious, many having fantastic views of Lake Superior and the Sleeping Giant. Take a look at these reviews from other guests or if you’re convinced, book your room now.
The other great hotel option is The Courthouse Hotel. Chances are you won’t be surprised to hear that this was once Thunder Bay’s original courthouse, hence the name! Each room was once a judge’s office that has been transformed into beautiful suites for a cozy night’s stay. A lot of the decor is still original including the banisters, fixtures and more. You can even take a peek at the courthouse schedule as it’s still posted in the lobby! Book your stay now or if you’d like to know more, take a peek at these reviews from previous guests.
More Winter Activities In Thunder Bay & Nearby
As my visit was just a few days, I couldn’t enjoy all the winter fun the area has to offer. Though I think I did a pretty good job! Anyway, if you’re looking for more ways to experience Thunder Bay in winter, here are some additional suggestions of things to do.
Tour the Fort William Historical Park
It’s no secret that these lands have been home to Indigenous communities long before colonization and that the arrival of settlers forever changed their lives. As one of North America’s largest living attractions, step inside the trading post walls to learn more about this history with a focus on the Fur Trade era. It’s fascinating to see how the North West Company operated and makes you wonder how life would look now if it was taken down by the Hudson’s Bay Company. You can read more about my experience visiting the Fort William Historical Park here.
Pay Tribute at the Terry Fox Memorial
Hop in your car and drive just ten minutes east of the city to pay tribute to a Canadian legend. Terry Fox, Canadian athlete and cancer survivor, embarked on a cross-Canada run to raise money for cancer research in 1980. While his “Marathon of Hope” had to be cut short, his journey ended very close to where this memorial now stands. Stop in and see the 9 foot tall bronze statue commemorating his efforts and spend some time reflecting from the lookout as you admire the striking views of Lake Superior.
Explore the Area by Dog Sled
If you’re looking for a snowy escapade during your visit, you’ll want to add dog sledding to your list of winter outdoor adventures in Thunder Bay! Boreal Journeys Sled Dog Kennel offers a variety of experiences from short 90 minute treks to half-day itineraries. You’ll learn about the importance of dog sledding in what is now Canada’s history while enjoying a wild ride with these energetic pups. It will certainly be an excursion you’ll never forget!
Cast a Line and Go Ice Fishing
Northern Ontario has some prime ice fishing locations and Thunder Bay is home to a number of them. Lac des Mille Lacs near the tiny town of Upsala is a top-notch winter walleye destination for avid anglers. This massive lake has a number of fishing spots along it, including Sawmill Bay. Another great option is Lake Superior’s Black Bay, located near Hurkett, where you can cast a line and snag some winter perch. Both of these locations have local outfitters that have all the gear you need for rent. All you have to do is hope the fish are biting otherwise you’ll need another plan for dinner!
Give Snowkiting a Try
If you’re thinking this is the winter version of kiteboarding then you’d be correct. Thanks to Thunder Bay’s waterways typically freezing early and quite flat, it makes the city a prime destination for this unique winter activity. Enjoy a thrilling ride as you zip across the landscape for an adrenaline rush that will get you through the coldest of days! While there are plenty of winter activities in Ontario to be enjoyed, this is one of the only places to try snowkiting in the province!
Head to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
While my heart hurts that I didn’t make it down here in the winter, I know I will visit again and a trip to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park will be at the top of my list! The park offers over 50 kilometres of cross-country skiing (it’s home to the popular Sleeping Giant Loppet held every March!), even more snowshoe trails as well as some fantastic ice fishing opportunities. Spend a few days exploring the park and book one of their five rustic cabins each with electric heat, a propane fireplace, oven, stove, microwave and everything you need to cook your own meals. And yes, there’s even indoor plumbing!
Things to Know For Visiting Thunder Bay in Winter
As this is the north and winter can be a finicky season, it will take a little bit more planning when it comes to visiting Thunder Bay. Here are some things to know so that your trip is the best it can be!
What are Thunder Bay winter temperatures like?
The temperatures can fluctuate but it’s not uncommon for Thunder Bay to have very cold temperatures. While the weather was milder than I was anticipating during my visit (between -3C and -10C), it’s not uncommon for temperatures to drop below -20. I always recommend checking out the Thunder Bay weather forecast before you depart for your adventure.
What Should I Pack for My Trip to Thunder Bay?
It’s best to pack multiple layers as temperatures can fluctuate, especially if you’re going to be outdoors for an extended period of time. Thermal layers are your best friend and will definitely keep you warm on those chilly days and nights! I’d recommend taking a look at my winter hiking gear guide as that should give you a good idea of what to bring along for your winter visit to Thunder Bay.
What is There to Do in Thunder Bay in January? What about February?
While there is still a lot to do in Thunder Bay in December, January and February are better months for some winter fun. Temperatures are pretty much guaranteed to stay south of freezing, ensuring prime conditions for the winter activities outlined in this post. To recap though…
- Explore the Thunder Bay waterfront
- Stay warm with a fantastic cup of local coffee
- Check out the street art as you wander downtown
- Go cross country skiing at the Kamview Nordic Centre
- Throw a rock or two at the Fort William Curling Club
- Hop on a fat bike and explore the Trowbridge Forest
- Tackle new heights on an ice climbing adventure with Outdoor Skills & Thrills
- Admire the beauty of Kakabeka Falls
- Enjoy a moment of zen at Kangas Sauna
- Indulge at one of the many incredible restaurants in Thunder Bay
…and there’s more where that came from! As I mentioned, it can mean chilly temperatures so be sure to pack accordingly. Trust me when I say that the colder temperatures should not keep you from experiencing Thunder Bay in winter.
Need More Ideas for Some Winter Fun?
10+ Top Winter Hikes in Ontario To Tackle This Year
Unmissable Things to Do in Ontario in Winter
15 Winter Activities in Canada You’ll Be Smitten With
This post is brought to you in partnership with Thunder Bay Tourism. However, all of the content and opinions here are honest and speak to my personal experience as always!
The post Thunder Bay in Winter: 15+ Experiences You’ll Love Snow Much appeared first on I've Been Bit! Travel Blog.