Looking for things to in Thunder Bay with kids? I did something brave a few years back – I moved from Toronto to Thunder Bay with my 1-year old so I could study at the local university. So, I lived in Thunder Bay for a whole year with a toddler. Because of that, I became well acquainted with things to do in Thunder Bay with kids, and not just the typical tourist agenda – but the best kept secrets known by locals as well.
Thunder Bay has a population of around 100,000, which makes it significantly smaller than other Ontario cities, Toronto and Ottawa. It has a high indigenous population (somewhere between 1/4 to just under 1/2 of the population according to a 2021 census) and was settled by Finns, so you can find some Finnish influence around the city too.
Some parts of Thunder Bay are breathtakingly beautiful; the city is surrounded by a lot of nature, historic sights, and there are some fantastic things to do in Thunder Bay with kids.
So, let’s jump in! Here are the things to do in Thunder Bay with kids.
Things to Do in Thunder Bay with Kids
Whether you live or are visiting Thunder Bay, here are the things you don’t want to miss out on doing with your family while you’re there
1. Centennial Park
Centennial Park is a beautiful peace of nature, and well worth an outing with kids in any season. It covers 147 acres and has well-marked walking trails, playgrounds, old log cabins and a mini-train for children to ride (running during the summer only.)
A lot of the walking paths are along the stream, which make it extra picturesque. With an outing with kids, you could probably spend a good 1-2 hours at Centennial Park.
2. Check out local art at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery
The Thunder Bay Art Gallery is very family friendly, and a hidden gem in town. There are lots of depictions of indigenous art, and animals which kids will like. You could probably spend an hour looking around.
Kids under 12 visit the art gallery FREE, and everyone else is $5. The Thunder Bay Art Gallery is free to everyone on Wednesdays.
Good to Know: From September to October 2023, Thunder Bay Art Gallery will have an outdoor art and nature walk thats perfect for kids. Check out the map here.
3. Explore the Sleeping Giant
Your kids will love trying to spot the ‘sleeping giant’ silhouette of the mountains from Thunder Bay (you can see it from Marina Park or Hillcrest Park, or anywhere in Thunder Bay that gives you a view of the lake.) Besides looking at the ‘giant’ from a distance, you can also go hiking in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, just a 45 min drive from the city.
You don’t need to necessarily go on any strenuous hikes on the Sleeping Giant. You could go for a drive, and pull over and stop at lookouts and other beautiful sites. The best things to do in the Sleeping Giant National Park with kids are:
- The Thunder Bay Lookout (pictured above, right.) To get to this lookout, you drive 9.2 km (5.7 miles) on a gravel road will lead you from Hwy 587. From there, you can see the lake, and the city of Thunder Bay from the perspective of the Sleeping Giant
- Marie Louise Lake Beach, a buoyed area, perfect for swimming. You can also rent canoes here
- Plantain Lane Nature Trail, near Marie Louise Lake Beach, this is an easy (0.6 km roundtrip) loop with a bridge over a creek. It’s also stroller friendly.
4. Boulevard Lake Falls
Boulevard Lake Falls is one of the lesser known things to do in Thunder Bay, but it makes for a nice afternoon activity. This dam is over 100 years old and has recently been updated. A nice trail takes you to the bridge which gives you a scenic view of the rapids below, and the lake.
5. Kakabeka Falls
Kakabeka comes from an Ojibwe word which means “water over a cliff.” They’re the 2nd highest waterfall in Ontario, at 131 feet ( 40 metres) tall. Kakabeka Falls is just a 30 minute drive from downtown Thunder Bay, and the falls are just a few steps away from the parking lot, which makes them very easy to visit with kids.
You could spend 30-45 minutes just having a nice walk around the platform, being able to look at the falls from different viewpoints and getting great pictures. Read more about visiting Kakabeka Falls here.
6. Pay tribute to Terry Fox
For those not from Canada, Terry Fox was Canadian teenager diagnosed with cancer, which lead to him losing a part of his leg. With only one leg, he pursued a run across Canada to raise money and awareness about cancer research, but unfortunately did not make it. He had to end his run in Thunder Bay, which is why the memorial is here.
Terry’s story is quite inspiring, and makes for a good discussion with kids. The memorial is located just outside of Thunder Bay, only about a 10 minute drive from the heart of town. From the memorial, there is also a beautiful view of the lake and the Sleeping Giant ahead.
7. Hillcrest Park
Hillcrest Park was one of my favourite parks to visit with my toddler when we lived in Thunder Bay. This park gives you a view of the water, and the Sleeping Giant in the background.
There are also some memorial plaques, and a children’s playground. This is a must-see in Thunder Bay, even just to get photos of the gorgeous view of the city, lake and the Sleeping Giant.
8. Gammondale Family Farm
Gammondale Farm is highly popular for Thunder Bay locals with kids. They run events for kids throughout the year. They do special events for fall and winter, and Easter, but they’re also open for bookings throughout the summer months. They have animals, and very kind owners.
If you’re in Thunder Bay, be sure to check them out.
9. Fort William Historic Park
The Fort William Historic Park is a must while you’re in Thunder Bay with kids. It’s a reconstruction of what the village looked like during the fur trade in 1816. For those that have been to Toronto, its similar to Black Creek Pioneer Village – and its also very popular for field trips for school children in the area.
You’ll see a village of wooden homes, and interact with people (actors) who live in the village doing different jobs, such as Blacksmith,
10. Explore the many playgrounds and parks
There are several playgrounds in Thunder Bay, but so many of them have gorgeous views, and lots of natural beauty. Some of our favourite parks/playgrounds in Thunder Bay are:
- Chippewa Park. Great views of the lake and sleeping giant, kid’s playground
- Junot Park in Port Arthur. Large area, with walking trails attached to it
- Boulevard Lake: Jumpstart Accessible Park Equipment (scenic view right on the lake, and all equipment has been made to be accessible to all children)
- Westfort Playfield (pictured above) beautiful views of the Thunder Bay mountains
11. Take a stroll along the harbour
Be sure to take a walk along the Lake Superior shoreline, and explore the Thunder Bay harbour, also known as Marina Park. You will see beautiful views of the Sleeping Giant, the harbour and the lake. Here are some things to do in Marina Park with kids:
- A splash pad open in the summertime (bring your swimsuit!)
- A playground and picnic benches
- Statues and historical monuments to look at
12. International Friendship Gardens
The International Friendship Gardens is a park with 18 different nationalities represented. These nationalalities are meant to be the ethnicities and cultures that are apart of Thunder Bay. There are paved (stroller friendly) walkways, flowerbeds and monuments.
You could spend about an hour here with your family walking around, having a picnic break and enjoying the outdoors in this garden.
13. Try some Finnish Pancakes
The 100 year old Finnish restaurant, the Hoito was one of my favourite places to go out for breakfast while living in Thunder Bay with my toddler. Unfortunately, the Hoito went bankrupt during the pandemic, and then it suffered a fire in 2021. But, you can still try their famous Finnish pancakes.
Visit the Thunder Bay Country Market on Wednesdays (3:30p.m. – 6:30 p.m.) and Saturdays (8:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.) There are tons of other vendors there as well – great way to support local.
14. Thunder Bay Museum
The Thunder Bay Museum with kids is a must. The exhibits are visual and interactive. Its very affordable (only $3 for admission and free on Tuesdays!) so its worth taking a look at while you’re in town.
You should give yourself at least an hour to spend at the Thunder Bay museum.
15. Try a persian
Persians are a donut that are unique to Thunder Bay. They are like a donut covered in pink icing. I ate way too many of them while I lived there, (which I think contributed to the 10 lbs I gained.) Needless to say, trying a persian is a rite of passage while visiting Thunder Bay. The best place to get them at is The Persian Man
Where to Stay in Thunder Bay with Kids
There are a few great places to stay in Thunder Bay with kids. One of my favourites is the Victoria Inn, because of the swimming pool (pictured below.)
The Victoria Inn is 5 minutes from the airport, which may or may not be your preference. Here are some other places to stay in closer to the centre of town Thunder Bay with kids:
- Budget: Ramada by Wyndham Affordable hotel only a short drive from the Thunder Bay Museum, and a continental breakfast available
- Mid-range: Prince Arthur Hotel This would be my 2nd choice of a place to stay in Thunder Bay, after Victoria Inn. It’s right on the harbourfront, 5 minutes from the Terry Fox memorial and within walking distance of Marina Park.
- Luxury: TownePlace Suites by Marriot Thunder Bay. This is probably the best place to stay in Thunder Bay, and not much more expensive than the other options. Breakfast included and indoor swimming pool
Day Trips with Kids from Thunder Bay
Staying in the Thunder Bay area for a while? These few day trips located an hour or so from the city are highly worth checking out
16. Ouimet Canyon
Take a 1h 20 minute drive out to this scenic lookout of natural beauty. In the Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park, there’s a 1 km loop (so quite easy) walking trail that gives you breathaking views of the canyon.
17. Dig for amethysts at a real amethyst mine
Amythsts grow naturally in the area surrounding Thunder Bay, and they may a great gift or souvenir for someone back home. If you drive out to Amythst Mine Panorama, you can do some ‘mining’ for amethysts as a family. The tours are very engaging, even for little ones. There’s also a store you can visit in Thunder Bay (Amethyst Gift Centre on 400 Victoria Ave.)
18. Eagle Canyon Suspension Bridge
Drive out to Eagle Canyon Adventures, which will take about an hour, give or take, from Thunder Bay. Here you’ll find Canada’s longest zipline, (unfortunately the zipline isn’t operating for the 2023 season) and a phenomenal suspension bridge, giving you a very picturesque view of the canyon.
FAQ: Thunder Bay with Kids
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about Thunder Bay and visiting there with kids
Is Thunder Bay good for families?
Thunder Bay is great for families. There’s a lot to do outdoors – waterfalls, hikes, parks and playgrounds with beautiful views. There are
Is Thunder Bay a good place to live?
Thunder Bay is a good place to live, but keep in mind that the winters are more harsh than in towns and cities in Southern Ontario. The average temperature in January has a high of -9°C and a low of
Thunder Bay with Kids: Final Thoughts
By now you hopefully have lots of ideas on how to spend your time in Thunder Bay with kids. Its a great place to visit with kids, especially if you enjoy history and spending time outdoors. My daughter and I loved our year in Thunder Bay and can’t wait to go back. My friend, who travelled all the way from Liverpool to visit us enjoyed it too. It was quite the Canadian experience for him – pristine nature, lots of wildlife, and history. I highly recommend Thunder Bay with kids to anyone from or visiting Canada.
Is Thunder Bay the most beautiful city in Canada? No – in my opinion, that would be Quebec City. But Thunder Bay does have a lot of natural beauty.