If you are driving through Thunder Bay you have to make a stop at Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park! Located about 60km northeast of Thunder Bay should be included on your trip plan as you explore Northern Ontario. This spectacular 150 metre wide by 100 metre deep gorge is over 2km in length. The diabase rock that intruded along the north shore of Lake Superior is not something to be missed. The sites from the two viewing platforms are absolutely incredible anytime of day. We had the opportunity to visit Ouimet Canyon at sunset with not another soul in site and it truly was an incredible experience that we will not soon forget.
Getting To Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park
Until July 31, 2019 there will be a detour to get to Ouimet Canyon as they are rebuilding the bridge that spans Coldwater Creek. This detour while towing an RV added an extra 30-40 minutes each way into the park. Although it felt like it was a length drive it was well worth the extra time to reach the provincial park. During the construction instead of turning off the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 11/17) onto Ouimet Canyon Road, turn west onto Fish Hatchery Road from Highway 11/17. At the junction of Coldwater Drive, continue right (north) on Fish Hatchery Drive. Head down the road for 4 km turn left onto Spring Creek Drive and continue for 1.6km. Turn right onto Valley Road and drive for another 6.3km until you arrive at Ouimet Canyon Road. Once you are on Ouimet Canyon Road drive 3km up to the park entrance.
Once you have arrived in the park there is a lower parking lot for trailers. Here you are suggested to unhitch your trailer before heading up the steep hill (about a 10% grade). We hummed and hawed over whether or not we should unhitch the trailer and decided against it. Now we have a strong Ford F-150 towing our trailer. If you are not sure if your vehicle can take the steep grade with towing the trailer up the hill then we suggest you take the few minutes to unhitch. Note, there is not a ton of parking at the top as well for you and the RV so if you see a fair amount of traffic heading into the park we suggest you unhitch as well to have a better chance to getting a parking spot. Something to note that there is no overnight camping permitted – this is a day use provincial park only.
Exploring Ouimet Canyon
Once you have reached the top of the steep hill that is taking you up to the top of the gorge you will find yourself in the parking lot. There is a small Ontario Parks shelter and an information board that gives you some background on the area and the map for the hike.
The one kilometre loop takes you down a nice dirt path to a modern bridge that crosses the incredibly deep canyon and this is the first opportunity to get a glance at the canyon.
You follow the path for a little while longer and then come to the first of two viewing decks.
Instantly you are greeted by the massive gorge with a 100 metre drop straight down to the canyon floor. This gorge was created over one billion years ago when molten rock crystallized and was later exposed when softer, overlaying sedimentary rock slowly began to erode. Then, two million years ago when the glaciers came and then went, the cracking and gouging of the surface, exposing it to the actions of freezing, thawing and slowly weathering away began to carve out what is now Ouimet Canyon.
Something we found very interesting which you wouldn’t think is the bottom of the gorge 100 metres down is a totally different world. Here at the bottom of the canyon the temperatures are still so cold that Artic plans like mosses, Arctic wintergreen and Alpine Bistort can live and thrive. How is this possible you ask? That is what we wanted to know! The cold still air insulates the moss and with only limited sunlight that hits the bottom allows ice to remain beneath the massive boulders year-round. Because of these special plants being able to survive here where you normally would have to head at least another 1,000km north to find them access to the canyon floor is not allowed.
From the first view platform after you have taken in all that you can see head for a short stroll down the first path to the second viewing point. We thought the second viewing points (if you are going counter clockwise on the loop) to be an even better lookout than the first, but we do suggest visiting both!
We spent a good amount of time watching the shadows of the sunset get larger and larger as we stood on the second viewing deck. What we really enjoyed about this viewing deck was the ability to see the Indian Head that is located on the left side of the wall jutting out. It can be seen in the picture both above and below.
The Indian Head is one of the few remaining gravity defying pinnacles of the Canadian Shield in Northern Ontario. There is an Ojibwe legend that tells the tale of how this very distinctive rock came to be. The legend goes, the giant, Omett, helped Nanabijou make mountains and lakes and Omett fell in love with Nanabijou’s daughter, Naomi. One day when Omett was moving a mountain a piece of the mountain fell and killed Naomi. Fearing the wrath of Nanbijou Omet hid Naomi’s body. Nanabijou eventually found her body when a thunderbolt split open the ground and created what is now today’s Ouimet Canyon. Nananijou turned Omett into stone and put him in the canyon walls to watch his daughters grave for the rest of time. We really enjoy reading and learning about the aboriginal legends that share stories of how various places and formations came to be.
It truly was an incredible adventure and worth the extra time it took to get to Ouimet Canyon because of the detour. We never saw another person while we were exploring this beautiful landscape of Northern Ontario.