Exploring the Great Trail in northwestern Ontario Parks

Today’s post comes from Michelle Halstead, a travel, tourism and eco-adventure placement student with Ontario Parks Northwest Zone.

Canada is proud to be the home of the greatest recreational trail in the world. A 24,000 km trail of land and water that stretches across 10 provinces and three territories.

The Great Trail (formally known as the Trans Canada Trail or TCT) is a project that started in 1992 and with the help of various donors and volunteers working together across the nation has become one of the greatest trails in the world. The trail offers a variety of outdoor recreation activities and scenery throughout Canada’s urban, rural and wilderness areas.

The Great Trail through Ontario Parks

Ontario has the longest section of The Great Trail with over 5,200 km. Our stretch offers dynamic scenery and a variety of ways to explore the trail and the great outdoors. It also features a number of trail locations and terrain options to suit everyone.

Map that shows the Great Trail as it travels across northwestern Ontario, along the north shore of Lake Superior
The Great Trail through northwestern Ontario

With portions of the Great Trail running through or by 28 provincial parks in northwestern Ontario alone, you can use this to your advantage when planning your next outdoor adventure by adding a visit to a nearby portion of the Great Trail.

Through land and water

Ontario Parks hosts both land and water portions of the Great Trail, offering a perfect combination of destination options for park and wilderness explorers, hikers, backpackers, and paddlers.

Two kayakers on a sunny day with rock feature in front of them, paddling alongside a quiet shoreline with brush and forest
Kayakers at Neys Provincial Park — Lake Superior Water Trail segment

Did you know that northwestern Ontario Parks feature seven of the Great Trail’s water trail segments?

The Lake Superior Water Trail segment is overseen by the Lake Superior Watershed Conservancy and is the greatest expanse of fresh water along the route. This section stretches over 1,000 km along the north shore of Lake Superior from Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay.

Plan your route!

Several provincial parks are located along the Lake Superior coastline, including:

Tall waterfall on a sunny day in a primarily coniferous forest
High Falls in Pigeon River Provincial Park — Pigeon River Trail segment

While water-based travel along extended water sections of the Great Trail are best suited for experienced sea kayakers, there are many opportunities for shorter paddles along the Lake Superior coast from Ontario Parks.

Also, there are land-based portions of the Great Trail that parallel the water routes, providing visitors two route options to choose from in the same area. There are also overnight backpacking opportunities such as along the Kabeyun Trail at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park or the Coastal Trail at Lake Superior Provincial Park.

Hiker looking out at Lake Superior from the north shore in the early fall
Lake Superior Provincial Park — Coastal Trail segment

Recreational, cultural, and historical experiences

After you’ve finished the Lake Superior Water Trail, continue on to the City of Thunder Bay Trail. This trail takes you through the city where you can experience many recreational, cultural, and historical experiences, starting from Fisherman’s Park and ending at Fort William Historical Park.

As the City of Thunder Bay Trail ends, the Fort William Historical Park Connector Trail begins, which then connects you to the Animiki Trail Segment.

Long, treed, hilly peninsula from the lake
Sibley Peninsula in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park — Animiki Trail segment

The Animiki Trail segment (Ojibway for “thunder bird”) begins at Fort William Historical Park on the Kaministiquia River in Thunder Bay. As the City of Thunder Bay’s land trail ends, it heads out to Lake Superior and follows the coastline to Pigeon River Provincial Park near the Canada/USA border. Here, it becomes the Pigeon River Trail, a land-based wilderness trail for another 45 km.

Clear green blue water with red rock shoreline, two people in the distance
Rainbow Falls Provincial Park shoreline – Lake Superior Water Trail segment

Where it enters LaVerendrye Provincial Park it becomes the Omimi Trail (Ojibway for “pigeon”). This trail section is part of our country’s historic fur trade route travelling the international boundary waters between Canada and the United States.

The trail through Quetico

Interpretive sign that says "Path of the Paddle. Quetico Trail..."

The Path of the Paddle Association oversees a number of the water segments between Thunder Bay and the Manitoba border. This includes the Quetico Trail (Cache Lake to Nym Lake in Quetico Provincial Park) north through to Atikokan and the Maukinak Trail (Atikokan to south of Dryden).

Quetico Provincial Park is a well-known wilderness park renowned for its rugged beauty, towering cliffs, majestic waterfalls, picturesque rivers and lakes. This park is a very popular destination for backcountry canoeists and is part of the Northwest Wilderness Quest.

Trail highlights — not to be missed!

Additional water trail sections include the Maukinak Trail (Ojibway for “turtle”) from Dryden to the Manitoba border which is popular for canoeing, kayaking, boating and fishing. When travelling in this area, be sure to visit the historic White Otter Castle on White Otter Lake built over a 100 years ago, single handily by Jimmy McQuat.

Large wood cabin with a four story tower and red roof
White Otter Castle

The Migizi Trail (Ojibway for “bald eagle”) is a mix of rivers, lakes and creeks through the Experimental Lakes area west of the City of Dryden through to Rushing River Provincial Park in Kenora. Once at the park, the campground offers many amenities during your stay including camping, canoeing, fishing, biking, and swimming.

White water river with a bridge spanning over top
Bridge at Rushing River Provincial Park – Migizi Trail segment

The Linoo Oowan Trail, (Ojibway for “canoe trail”) is the last stretch of the water trail joining Kenora to the existing trail in Manitoba.

With a little help from our friends

Community based land segments of The Great Trail also exist in Sault Ste. Marie, Wawa, Marathon, Terrace Bay, Schreiber, Nipigon, Red Rock, Thunder Bay, Atikokan, Dryden, Vermilion Bay, and Kenora.

Your next adventure!

Rock feature with hole through it and bright yellow lichen, coming out of the water. You can see a kayak with two people in it through the hole.
Sea Lion at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park — Lake Superior Water Trail segment

You can start planning your next great trail adventure in northwestern Ontario today. Whether you only have just a day, a week, or more, you will find your bliss when travelling through the most diverse and beautiful parts of Ontario Parks and The Great Trail.

Before heading out, be sure to check with each park office to find out more about the park permits required for day use, campgrounds or backcountry camping. Stay a while and explore the vast lands that northwestern Ontario parks have to offer with many activities for everyone to enjoy.

The great outdoors is calling you! Will you answer?