If you’re looking for fun hiking trails near Lake Superior, check out the trails at Pigeon River in Northern Ontario. Hike to Minnesota’s tallest waterfall and up steep cliffs for fantastic views of Lake Superior. Or, take a leisurely boardwalk stroll to rugged lakeshore views. It’s a perfect stop for your Ontario road trip!
Pigeon River is a day-use hiking area along the scenic Lake Superior Circle Route. It’s in Northern Ontario, about 45 minutes south of Thunder Bay and steps away from the United States-Canada border crossing for Minnesota and Ontario.
Here’s what you need to know before heading out.
- MAP: Pigeon River Hiking Trails
- VISITOR INFORMATION: Pigeon River
- HIKING TRAILS: Details of Pigeon River Trails
- What to Bring: Good Hiking Gear
- Summary and Resources
MAP: Pigeon River Hiking Trails near Lake Superior
Here’s a map of Pigeon River hiking trails near Lake Superior. Pigeon River has five main hiking trails with different difficulties and features, and connecting trails that give you lots of options for your day hike.
Although you can hike all of these trails from the visitor center, Middle Falls and Lookout Trail are easier to access from a second parking lot on Highway 593. It’s just a 5-minute drive north of the visitor center.
VISITOR INFORMATION: Pigeon River Hiking Trails
- Location: 45-minute drive south of Thunder Bay, Ontario; Highway 61 immediately north of USA-Canada border (GPS coordinates of visitor center: Latitude 48.003692; Longitude -89.580631)
- Cell service: Spotty
- Facilities: Visitor center (regular toilets, map, souvenirs; check website for hours)
- Open season: Mid-May to end-December; day-use only
- Fee: $2 per vehicle
Note: Be sure to check when the visitor center is open. The only washrooms onsite are in the visitor center, so if the center is closed, so are the washrooms.
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HIKING TRAILS: Details of Pigeon River Trails near Lake Superior
Below are descriptions of the five hiking trails at Pigeon River in Northern Ontario.
If you’re an avid hiker, it’s definitely possible to hike all five trails in one visit. I’d recommend taking the old logging road around to Middle Falls, hiking Lookout Trail through to High Falls Trail, Finger Point Trail, and then Boardwalk Trail.
My friend and I split these trails up over two shorter hiking days. First, we hiked High Falls Trail in the morning, Finger Point Trail in the afternoon, and finished up with the Boardwalk Trail at the end. On the second day, we hiked Lookout Trail in the morning and had lunch at the foot of Middle Falls.
1. Pigeon River Hiking Trails: BOARDWALK TRAIL
- Highlights: Pretty shoreline views of Lake Superior
- Difficulty: Easy. Level wooden boardwalk the entire way
- Distance: 350 meters (0.2 miles) one-way
- Time: About 15 minutes to lookout and back
Pigeon River’s Boardwalk Trail is the perfect pit stop on your Lake Superior Circle Route road trip. It’s an easy 15-minute, fully accessible hike to a gorgeous view of Lake Superior. And if you want to sit for a while to enjoy the view, there’s a pretty curved bench just calling your name!
Do you see the small but sharp rise off to the left? That’s the lookout at the end of Finger Point Trail. The next hike on this list!
2. Pigeon River Hiking Trails: FINGER POINT TRAIL
- Highlights: Fantastic views of Lake Superior, scenic lakeshore walk, fascinating terrain
- Difficulty: Moderate; steep ascent at the end that can get slippery in rain/winter, and lots of tree roots and boulders on the path
- Elevation: 190 meters to 250 meters
- Distance: 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) one-way
- Time: About 2 hours to lookout and back
If you’re looking for a short but fun and challenging hiking trail right on Lake Superior, check out Finger Point trail at Pigeon River. Finger Point Trail offers stunning views of Lake Superior, plenty of accessible shoreline to linger, and enough tree roots and boulders on your path to keep you interested. I LOVED this hike.
Where to start Finger Point Hiking Trail:
- From the end of Boardwalk Trail, skirt along the lakeshore until you reach Finger Point Trail. This is an unofficial trail and was way too soggy when we were here in June, but other reviewers have tried it and like it.
- Take the Boardwalk Trail connector, only 50 meters from the parking lot. This is the perfect option if you checked out Option 1 and decided against it! The path is fairly level and through a pretty wooded area, with lots of wildflowers.
- Follow the path along the highway about 300 meters until you see the sign for Finger Point Trail. The trailhead is right before you go under the pedestrian tunnel to reach High Falls Trail, so it’s perfect to hike this trail after High Falls (which is what we did).
Details of Hiking Finger Point Trail:
Most of Finger Point Hiking Trail is level (until you get to the ascent), but with plenty of tripping hazards. The first section has a ton of tree roots along the path, and the middle section also has large rocks. You really have to watch your footing.
Midway along the path, Finger Point Trail takes you right alongside the lake. If you have the luxury of taking your time, there are SO many scenic places to stop.
The final stretch up to Finger Point Trail lookout is steep and narrow. About half-way up, there’s a fun little switchback where you get a sneak-peak of the lookout views. And then you reach the top of the rock and get those 360-degree VIEWS! I couldn’t decide whether I preferred looking back at the rugged inland, or toward the little islands on Lake Superior. The views are totally worth the workout.
3. Pigeon River Hiking Trails: HIGH FALLS TRAIL
- Highlights: 28-meter High Falls, steep gorge, river views, beach/swimming, old chimney site
- Difficulty: Easy-Moderate; mostly easy other than one section of steep stairs and one hill
- Elevation: About 190 meters to 220 meters
- Distance: 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) one-way
- Time: About 30 minutes round-trip
High Falls Trail is probably the most popular of all five hikes at Pigeon River. For Minnesota, which borders Ontario along the Pigeon River, it’s their tallest waterfall at 28 meters (92 feet). And although Northern Ontario has Kakabeka Falls at 40 meters (130 feet) about an hour away, High Falls is still a beauty.
Where to start High Falls Trail:
To access High Falls Trail from the Pigeon River visitor center, follow the path along the highway and under the pedestrian tunnel (i.e. very big culvert under the highway). On the other side of the highway, you’ll see signposts directing you where to go.
Details of Hiking High Falls Trail:
Generally, I’d recommend hiking the High Falls Trail loop counter-clockwise, which is what we did. You head straight up the old logging road, up a bit of a hill at one section to the High Falls lookout, down the steep stairs and then follow Pigeon River back. Along the way, there are lots of pretty wildflowers and a few wooden boardwalks.
But if you have young kids with you, you might want to take the path to the left. It’s a bit more interesting, with nice stops along the river and calm areas for swimming. The best place for swimming is at the first beach access when heading in this direction.
High Falls from Ontario or Minnesota:
Now, for the most important question: Is the view of High Falls better from Ontario or Minnesota?
The pictures from the Grand Portage State Park website tell me that the angle is better from the Minnesota lookout. There’s a third plunge on the right we don’t really see from the Ontario lookout. And their views over the steep walled gorge below are definitely better. From the Ontario side, you can’t see much of the gorge until you’ve taken the stairs down.
My recommendation: Hike to High Falls from Grand Portage in Minnesota, and then Finger Point Trail in Northern Ontario for Lake Superior views.
4. Pigeon River Hiking Trails: MIDDLE FALLS WALK
- Highlights: 6-meter Middle Falls
- Difficulty: Easy
- Distance: 700 meters (0.4 miles) one-way
- Time: About 20 minutes to waterfalls and back
With a mediocre name of “Middle Falls” and the option of hiking to “High Falls,” I suspect this waterfall is sorely under-visited. But it’s SO pretty, especially when you get up close!
Even though Middle Falls is shorter than High Falls, it’s more accessible and arguably a better waterfall experience. The trail itself is a wide old road, with a few picnic tables along the way and a bit of a descent right at the end. Follow the rocky shoreline to reach the base of the waterfalls.
Another lookout option is from above Middle Falls, where you can get close to another little cascade and hang out on massive boulders. It looks like there’s an unofficial trail before you reach the bottom of the cliff, but we just drove up the road a bit to a little roadside turnout and accessed it with an easy trail through the bush.
Accessing Middle Falls Walk at Pigeon River is much easier if you drive 5 minutes up to Highway 593. Either park at the dedicated lot to do the official walk, or drive to the pull-out that puts you at the top of the waterfall.
Another option, of course, is to hike to Middle Falls from the visitor center. The easier route is along the Old Logging Road Trail, which starts off along the highway and takes about 45 minutes one-way. If you want to complete the loop, come back along Lookout Trail (our final hiking trail below) and finish with High Falls Trail.
5. Pigeon River Hiking Trails: LOOKOUT TRAIL
- Highlights: Spectacular views over Lake Superior and Pigeon River
- Difficulty: Moderate; a few quite steep and rugged sections
- Elevation: 230 meters to 290 meters
- Distance: 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) one-way
- Time: About 1.5 hours to lookout and back
Lookout Trail is our last of the five Pigeon River hiking trails near Lake Superior, and the most challenging. I suspect it’s also under-visited because it doesn’t get you closer to a waterfall or lake. But the views definitely rival Finger Point Trail.
Where to start Lookout Trail:
The official Lookout Trail starting point is at the small second parking lot along Highway 593. This is the same spot where you start the Middle Falls Walk, and both trails follow Pigeon River (but in opposite directions). To orientate yourself, check out the park map and watch for trail signs on the trees.
You can also start the Lookout Trail from the Pigeon River visitor center. If I was to try this, I’d start along the easier Old Logging Road Trail, hike to Middle Falls, and then circle back on Lookout Trail. There’s a connector trail between Lookout Trail and High Falls Trail, as shown on the park map (Google Maps doesn’t show it). I can’t say what this connector trail is like, but I easily found the start of it at the top of Lookout Trail.
Details of Lookout Trail:
Lookout Trail is definitely the most challenging of the hikes at Pigeon River. There are a few sections with steep ups and downs, so you’re tackling these hills in both directions.
The trail itself is a mix of grassy and rugged sections. You aren’t constantly dealing with tree roots and boulders along the path like you are on Finger Point Trail, but there are enough sections like this to keep it interesting. Plus a few areas with rugged bridges and forested drop-offs right next to the trail.
Although you don’t get much for views along the way, Lookout Trail has a brilliant end. It puts you right at the top of an impressive cliff overlooking Pigeon River, with a few different spots to take in the views. You can also find some shade on a hot summer day.
What to Bring when Hiking at Pigeon River Trails near Lake Superior
- Bug spray (yup, right at the top; you spend most of your time in the woods)
- Sunscreen and hat (for prolonged gazing at beaches and lookouts)
- Plenty of water
- Swimming gear, if that’s your plan
We didn’t have bear spray with us. Instead, we talked. A LOT. And loudly. A bear would’ve had plenty of time to get away from us! That said, bear spray is probably a handy thing to have when hiking in Northern Ontario.
Good Hiking Gear
If you don’t already have good hiking gear, below are some great and reasonably-priced options to check out. I’m definitely not a hard-core hiker (as you can see by me wearing jeans in the picture below!), so I’m not willing to spend a lot on it. But I’m always glad to have a few key pieces, that also come in handy on other types of trips.
Below are my favorite pieces of hiking gear and links to good options for you. Having decent hiking gear will make hiking in Northern Ontario much more pleasant.
The three most important pieces of hiking gear are:
- Comfortable backpack: I prefer a mid-sized backpack with an external water bottle holder and multiple pockets, including a hidden internal pocket (helpful for pick-pocketing on other types of trips). Amazon sells some great day packs, including the very-respected North Face brand.
- Comfortable footwear: Good hiking footwear should be lightweight and with good tread and ankle support. Check out the top-rated hiking shoes for women and men on Amazon.
- Appropriate jacket: My favorite jacket for hiking is a shell so I can layer as needed underneath, with underarm zippers and big pockets. Here are the top-rated, lightweight hiking jackets for women and men on Amazon.
Other handy things to have for hiking (and other trips) include:
- Lightweight water bottle: A lightweight reusable water bottle with a hook to attach to the outside of your backpack. I tried a hydration pack (you know, with the long straws so you can drink while hiking) and just felt goofy.
- Reusable snack bags: Get a variety of sizes for sandwiches, trail mix, fruit etc. Helpful for carrying food in and waste back out. Amazon has a bunch of great leak-proof options to check out.
- Basic safety gear: Basic first aid supplies and whistle; here’s a good all-in-one kit. If you pull out only what you think you’ll need, be sure to put them in a waterproof bag. Things you bring, hoping you’ll never need them!
Summary and Resources
I hope you get out to Pigeon River hiking trails near Lake Superior! These are some of the funnest hikes I’ve been on in a while, and have a little something for everyone. Since Pigeon River is right on the Lake Superior Circle Route, it’s a perfect pit stop on your Ontario road trip or Minnesota road trip.
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The Ontario Government also has very helpful information on what to do if you meet a black bear on the trails, and how to tell if it’s defensive or predatory. Pretty helpful info to know when hiking in Northern Ontario.
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