Thunder Bay to Winnipeg Drive
The last leg of our Epic Northern Ontario Road Trip was the Thunder Bay to Winnipeg drive. By this time, you have left the big cities behind, and you are now driving through some remote, but incredibly scenic parts of the province. Don’t be in a rush to drive it straight, however. There are still a few really great stops to make along the way!
What Is The Distance Between Thunder Bay and Winnipeg?
The easiest way to get from Thunder Bay to Winnipeg is along the Trans Canada Highway (Hwy 17). At a distance of 702 kilometres, if you were to drive it straight, it would take approximately 7 hours and 56 minutes.
Tips For a Thunder Bay to Winnipeg Drive
The Thunder Bay to Winnipeg drive is quite lengthy, so you do need to be prepared in order to stay comfortable, and to keep everyone smiling. So whether you are driving this straight, or taking time to explore the attractions, these tips will help to make the road trip go as smooth as possible.
1. Have a Flexible Plan
Before we head out on a road trip, we always have an itinerary that includes a list of things we would like to see and do. We have also learned to keep the list flexible. After all, you just never know when something may catch your eye, or if something unforeseen may come up.
For example, we have had to rearrange our schedule due to bad weather on more than one occasion. We have also come across an attraction that was not initially part of the plan, but was too interesting to pass up!
2. Download Maps onto Your Phone or Have a GPS Handy
If you don’t have a GPS unit in your vehicle, be sure to download a map of all the areas you are going to cover before leaving home. Of course, you could always go old-school and bring a paper map!
3. Expect Spotty Cell Service
You should definitely expect some spotty cell service during your Thunder Bay to Winnipeg drive. If you are with a major provider (like Rogers, Bell, or Telus), you should be ok for the most part while on the highway.
However, as soon as you leave the highway, and are no longer within town limits, you can expect to lose your cell service almost immediately.
4. Prepare for Traffic
Many people do not give traffic much thought when planning a Northern Ontario road trip. But since much of Highway 17 is only two lanes, you should expect to be stuck behind a slower transport truck at some point.
Trucks climbing steep hills, construction, weather, wildlife, and accidents are all possible causes of traffic that may slow down your progress. Try to be patient, keep your schedule flexible, and give yourself plenty of time if you have a reservation at your next destination.
During our Epic Northern Ontario road trip, for example, a serious accident on Highway 17 closed the entire roadway for a full day. We were forced to reroute our trip from Sault Ste Marie to Wawa.
We ended up missing out on all the stuff we had planned for the day, so we had to try and squeeze it in on the way back. Aside from a longer than anticipated driving day, we were able to enjoy the scenery and make the best of it.
5. Gas Up at Every Opportunity
One of the best pieces of advice that we can give you, is to fill up your gas tank whenever you have the chance. Although there are quite a few gas stations along Highway 17, often they are quite a distance apart.
During our Thunder Bay to Winnipeg drive, we would fill up every time we stopped in a town. This was especially important since we did tend to stray off the beaten path every now and then to visit sites that were a little more remote.
6. Bring Entertainment
There are a few great stops on the Thunder Bay to Winnipeg drive. However, there are also a lot of long stretches. Especially if you have kids in the car, you definitely need to have some form of entertainment with you.
My kids have a bunch of games loaded onto their devices, in addition to books, music, and physical card games that they enjoy bringing on road trips. Always make sure that the games loaded on your kids’ devices can be played even without cell service!
7. Be on the Lookout for Wildlife
Northern Ontario is bear country, so the chances are good that you will spot wildlife while driving along the Trans-Canada Highway.
You will need to be the most vigilant while driving at dawn or dusk because this is when the wildlife is most active. But really, you may see animals grazing along the road, or even trying to cross, at any time of the day.
Another word of advice, pay close attention to the drivers in front of you! If they decide to suddenly slow down or stop for wildlife, you need to be prepared.
If you do see any wildlife, especially bears or moose along the road, be sure to give them plenty of space. And whatever you do, DO NOT attempt to feed them or get out of your vehicle for a closer look!
Best Places to Stop on a Thunder Bay to Winnipeg Drive
The Thunder Bay to Winnipeg drive is pretty long, but with a few interesting stops along the way, and maybe even an overnight stay, you can enjoy everything that this part of Northern Ontario has to offer.
1. Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park
Kakabeka Falls was one of our favourite stops on our Northern Ontario Road Trip. If you love to chase waterfalls, then definitely add this provincial park to your list of things to do in Thunder Bay!
Known as the “Niagara of the North”, Kakabeka Falls stands at a height of 40 metres (131 ft) and is said to be the second tallest waterfall in Ontario, next to the Horseshoe Falls in Niagara. The boardwalk and lookout points make it really easy to enjoy and admire this gorgeous waterfall from several different points.
Located just 30 minutes from downtown Thunder Bay, the park is open for day-use all year-round, and for camping from June until October. Be sure to take advantage of the family-friendly hiking trails, as well as dropping into the visitor centre and gift shop.
Ignace is another stop on the Thunder Bay to Winnipeg drive where you can chase waterfalls. The natural beauty of the area, incredible waterfalls, crystal clear lakes, and gorgeous sandy beaches make this the perfect place to get out of the car and spend a few hours relaxing.
Or if an awesome hike is what you are looking for, the 16,000 km Trans Canada Trail which spans from the east coast of Canada to the west coast and north to Nunavut, passes directly through Ignace. You can also head to Sandbar Lake Provincial Park for hiking, as well as opportunities for fishing, hunting, canoeing, waterskiing, swimming and more.
If you happen to be strolling around town, be on the lookout for some wall murals. Painted by local artists and depicting the history and heritage of the town, the murals can be found along the main corridor.
And speaking of history, something pretty cool to see is the pictographs. These can be found throughout the Ignace area and can be dated back to prehistoric times.
When driving through Dryden, one of the things you can do to get out of the car and stretch your legs is to take a walk to the Roy Wilson Suspension Bridge. The bridge can be accessed through Johnston park, which is conveniently located right off the Trans Canada Highway.
Stop at the cool “Pieces of Dryden” tile mosaic before heading down the path to the Wabigoon River and the bridge. From the bridge, you will have some great views of the rapids.
The park is also a starting point for some of the urban trails in Dryden. The path is a little uneven in spots but actually continues along past the bridge.
And if you are a fan of roadside stops, be sure to visit Max the Moose before leaving town. Though not the largest Moose in Canada, Max is the oldest.
Max the Moose has been proudly standing at the Dryden Tourist Information centre since July 19, 1962. Max is 18 feet (5.6 m) in height and weighs a whopping 2 tons.
Find a complete list of Dryden accommodations here.
4. Vermillion Bay
There are several reasons to stop in Vermillion Bay during your Thunder Bay to Winnipeg drive. Stop in for a quick stretch break, or spend the afternoon looking around town.
Egli’s Sheep Farm and Animal Park are just 20 km east of Vermilion Bay. It is one of Canada’s largest wool and sheepskin specialty stores, and also has a great animal park to tour.
Another quick stop you can make is to Fort Vermillion. This replica log fort can be found right along the highway and has an awesome gift shop, cafe, and kids’ playground inside.
If you have time for a longer visit, be sure to head to Blue Lake Provincial Park which is located about 8 minutes outside of town, off Highway 647. There you will find some pretty great campgrounds, hiking trails, and a beautiful sandy beach.
Be sure to head to Blue Lake while in the park. The Lake is 27 metres deep in spots and the water is so clear you can see the bottom at a depth of six metres!
Kenora is the last town you will hit before reaching the Manitoba border. As the largest city on Lake of the Woods, you will find a ton of things to do in Kenora.
Head to the Discovery Centre along the harbourfront. Not only is it a visitor information centre, but the Discovery Center also houses many rotating exhibits and events, while also showcasing some incredible local works of art on the exhibit walls.
Be sure to go for a stroll along the greenbelt on the water to McLeod Park. There, you will find Kenora’s roadside attraction, “Husky the Muskie”, as well as a tug boat, beautiful gardens, and the Goodwill Geyser.
And if you are looking for a little outdoor adventure, Kenora boasts some beautiful sandy beaches, playgrounds, golf courses, or take a peek at the Keewatin Rockholes. If you are a history buff, head to the Lake of Woods Railroad Museum or the Mather Walls Historical House.
Another great roadside attraction that may be of interest, is the Reddit Glass Bottle House. The Glass House is located about 20 minutes north of Kenora on Highway 658.
This unique little house was built in the early 1970s out of 15,000 glass bottles. Today, there is also a glass windmill and “The house of the Three Bears,” which are open every day during the summer for self-guided tours.
Find a complete list of Kenora accommodations here.
Welcome to Manitoba!
Congratulations! You have made it to Manitoba. From the border, it is approximately 157 km, or a 1 hour and 43-minute drive from downtown Winnipeg.
6. Centre of Canada Park
Just before you reach Winnipeg, there is one more stop that we suggest you make. The Centre of Canada Park sits right along the Trans Canada Highway and is a fun roadside attraction you don’t want to miss.
The park can be found at the exact longitudinal (east-west) center of Canada. Sitting at 96° 48’ 35” W, this spot is situated in the town of Tache, Manitoba, which is just 30 minutes from Winnipeg.
The park consists of the main sign and smaller interpretive plaques, as well as a couple of large Muskoka chairs. It’s a pretty Instagrammable spot, so expect crowds during peak times.
Arriving in Winnipeg
Winnipeg is the largest city in Manitoba and the 7th largest in Canada by population. The name “Winnipeg” is Cree for “Muddy Waters,” which is pretty appropriate seeing as the city sits at the meeting point of some of North America’s largest rivers.
As the capital city of Manitoba, Winnipeg is an awesome destination to explore with kids. Not only are there a ton of museums, but there are so many outdoor adventures to be had as well.
We would recommend staying a few days in Winnipeg just to get a taste of this amazing city. But realistically, you could spend a week here and still have plenty to keep your family busy with!
Where to Stay in Winnipeg
Depending on your budget, there are a ton of great places to choose from for your stay in Winnipeg. During our Epic Northern Ontario Road Trip, we chose mostly budget-friendly hotels to keep our costs down.
We really enjoyed our stay at the Homewood Suites. The hotel had a decent pool for the kids, plenty of free onsite parking, and included a great hot breakfast.
We found the rooms to be clean, modern and comfortable. The hotel was located in the more industrial part of town, so, unfortunately, was not very walkable. There were, however, a ton of restaurants, grocery stores, and fast food places all within a 5-minute drive of the hotel.
Another budget-friendly hotel that we stayed at, was the Holiday Inn Express. This hotel was also located in the industrial part of town (close to the airport).
This hotel was not quite as modern, but the suites were large, clean, and had full kitchens. This would be perfect if you were staying for more than an overnight visit.
The Holiday Inn Express also had a pool, an included hot breakfast, and plenty of free onsite parking. Once again, the hotel is not walkable, but very close to restaurants, fast food places and grocery stores.
Find a complete list of Winnipeg accommodations here.
Where to Eat in Winnipeg
Winnipeg has a great food scene, so no matter what you like to eat, you are sure to find it! One of our favourite places to grab a quick bite was The Forks Market, located in the heart of the city.
Once a horse loft and hay stables, the Forks Market is now home to a vibrant and eclectic food hall. Not only can you find the best in local offerings, but there are also some pretty cool shops up on the second floor if you want to do a little shopping.
While in Winnipeg, we returned to The Forks Market a few times to try out a few of the places. The kids enjoyed hot dogs from Wienerpeg (they tried them just because of the name!), gyros from Zorba’s, and frozen yogurt from Fro-Gurt’s.
Hubby and I tried some really great curry from A Taste of Sri Lanka, as well as some enchiladas from Habanero Sombrero. We also bought some incredible treats from Tall Grass Prairie Bread, which we would highly recommend!
Final Thoughts on the Best Places to Stop on a Thunder Bay to Winnipeg Drive
Although the Thunder Bay to Winnipeg drive can be long, there are quite a few great places to stop along the way. Whether you are starting (or concluding) a Northern Ontario road trip, or just doing a weekend getaway, be sure to explore all the gorgeous natural vistas that this part of Ontario has to offer.
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