5 reasons Sleeping Giant is a backcountry paradise

Today’s post comes from Rachelle Law, Discovery Leader at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park.

Have you been dreaming of finding the perfect park to go backcountry camping?

Well, the secret’s out! With over 100 km of hiking trails and 27 backcountry campsites located within seven backcountry zones, Sleeping Giant Provincial Park is a backcountry camper’s oasis!

A cross-Canada bucket list adventure

In 2018, I had the chance to road trip across Canada, witnessing the awe-inspiring landscapes. As I drove up to Thunder Bay, I saw the sign for Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. On a whim, my partner and I decided we would check out the park.

Sleeping Giant land formation
The iconic landform of the park: the Sleeping Giant!

The Sleeping Giant is a well-known natural wonder of northwestern Ontario that intrigued me. Myth and legend say that the distinct mesa-cuestas that the landform is composed of resembles a sleeping figure and hiking up it was an epic adventure I couldn’t miss out on.

When we arrived, the gate staff were very helpful and assisted us in planning our backcountry trip. We purchased our permits and set out to hike 16.2 km up to Head of the Giant, and camp for the night at Sawyer’s Bay.

Standing in front of trail sign.
Ready to start our adventure at the South Kabeyun Trailhead

Let the climb begin!

As we hiked, I was surprised how quiet the park was! While we crossed paths with a few other hikers, we were fully immersed in the sounds of nature and surrounded by the dense trees of northwestern Ontario.

View of Lake Superior.
Taking in the views at the top of the Head Trail

The path was easy-going, and before we knew it, we arrived at the base of the Head Trail. The head sits at 1,500 feet above sea level and requires a 900 foot climb to the top.

A steep and challenging 1.4 km hike up the head of the Giant led to one of the best views I’ve witnessed in Ontario.

View of Lake Superior.
The Head Trail offers panoramic views of Lake Superior

Our efforts were rewarded with panoramic views of the cliffs of the Giant, Lake Superior’s shimmering waters, a vast wilderness of trees, and the City of Thunder Bay in the distance.

Setting up camp for the night

After soaking up the breathtaking views, we hiked down the Giant to set up camp at Sawyer’s Bay for the night.

Our campsite was right beside Lake Superior, which offered not only beautiful views, but also peaceful ambiance as waves gently lapped the shore. That night, we sat around the campfire watching the stars glimmer overhead.

Sitting down for dinner.
Can’t beat the views while preparing dinner

Our backcountry adventure in Sleeping Giant remains a true highlight out of all the parks and hikes we had the chance to visit across Canada.

Now that I work at the park, I have had the chance to explore even more of the backcountry here. I continue to be blown away by the experiences and amenities it has to offer.

Here are five reasons why the backcountry at Sleeping Giant is truly spectacular:

1. The views are incredible

Whether you are hiking up or around the Giant, or exploring any other backcountry trails in the park, you are guaranteed gorgeous views. Most of our trails take you along Lake Superior, or past scenic forests and small lakes.

View of Lake Superior from the Nanabosho Lookout Trail

For the best panoramic views of the park, you can hike the Head Trail (16.2 km), the Top of the Giant Trail (22 km), or the Nanabosho Lookout Trail (17 km). Each trail is rated difficult, so make sure you are fully prepared and physically able to complete a challenging full day of hiking.

2. It’s beginner friendly

If you are new to backpacking or backcountry camping, Sleeping Giant is a great park to start building your skills, experience and confidence.

The trails in the park are very well maintained, so you will be able to notice trail markers and follow a very defined path. The terrain is also considerably easy-going.

Besides the big climbs up the Giant, the other parts of the trail have few inclines. In fact, many people choose to bike to the base of the Giant on the Kabeyun Trail and Sawyer Bay Trail. Also, for hikers who aren’t as comfortable hiking long distances, the park offers backcountry sites with shorter distances.

View from Tee Harbour.
Tee Harbour is a beautiful and beginner friendly backcountry spot to explore

The Middlebrun Bay Trail has a backcountry campsite located in Finlay Bay, which is only a 10 km round trip. On the Kabeyun Trail, visitors can hike to beautiful Tee Harbour, which is a 6.2 km one-way trip or 12.4 km return.

3. The backcountry campsites have great amenities

As someone who has hiked over 1,000 km of backcountry trails in Canada and the United States, I have to say this park offers some of the best amenities you can find in the backcountry.

Left: Backcountry campsite along the Kabeyun. Right: animal-proof locker

Most backcountry sites in other parks require you to do your own bear hang or struggle with mosquitoes as you stumble in the forest, looking for the best place to use the washroom. However, at some of the more popular backcountry sites in Sleeping Giant, you will be living in luxury!

Animal-proof food lockers are available at Sawyers Bay, Lehtinen’s Bay and Tee Harbour. All campsites have designated fire pits, and some sites even have privies nearby. I loved how some of the campsites also had wooden benches or logs placed around the firepits, which really added enjoyment and comfort when cooking meals and sitting around the fire.

4. The tent views are “superior” (no, really, you’re sleeping right beside Lake Superior!)

View of Tee Harbour.

Imagine opening your tent flap in the morning and taking in a majestic sunrise over Lake Superior.

Many of Sleeping Giant’s backcountry sites are right beside this great lake and are thoughtfully placed to offer the best views possible. Some sites even have their own private pebble or sand beaches.

Without a thick treed canopy blocking your view, the open skies of Lake Superior allow for the best shows of the night: stargazing and Northern Lights watching.

Other perks of being close to the water are wildlife viewing, as you have excellent vantage points to spot wildlife along the shores and overhead. This fall, while I was camping in Tee Harbour, I was able to watch a Bald Eagle soar over the Giant in the distance.

Another wonderful aspect of camping in the backcountry here is the soothing sounds of Lake Superior’s waves. Add some calling loons in the mix, and there is nothing like a Sleeping Giant soundtrack to lull you to sleep.

5. It offers a peaceful oasis to get away from it all

In today’s world, we are surrounded by a flurry of activity, noise, and distractions. Whether it be the time we spend on our phones, living in urban areas, or running around keeping up with the busy lives we lead, sometimes we all need a break.

The best thing about backcountry camping at Sleeping Giant (and other Ontario Parks) is being able to disconnect and find calmness and solitude in nature.

As many studies show us, exposure to nature greatly improves our mental, physical, and spiritual health. Hiking out to more remote areas of the park can provide a one-of-a-kind experience. There’s no telling what wildlife you might see, what views and sunsets you may get to witness, and what new things you might discover about yourself.

Backcountry camping always feels like a challenge or adventure to me, and completing a trip gives me a sense of accomplishment. I also return feeling refreshed and with an improved sense of well-being.

Let the adventure begin!

So now it’s your turn.

Time to lace up your hiking boots, pack up your gear, and start your adventure! I promise: the backcountry of Sleeping Giant is worth a visit!

Happy trails!

Sleeping Giant Provincial Park is located a 1.25 hour drive from Thunder Bay.