Cascades hiking trails near Thunder Bay make for a fun day hike, especially if you explore beyond the official trails. While the official trails offer shaded wooded walks, the coolness factor ramps way up by the massive boulders you can follow along Current River.
Officially called the Cascades Conservation Area, these 5.5 kilometers (3.4 miles) of trail near Current River are popular with locals. It’s inside the City of Thunder Bay boundaries and only five minutes off the TransCanada Highway 11.
And if you’re looking for a popular swimming spot, the Cascades is it! There’s a large calm area right as you come out of the trails, but you can also find lots of little pools up along the Cascades. Do bring water shoes, though, as broken glass is pretty common here.
- MAP: Cascades Hiking Trails near Thunder Bay
- VISITOR INFORMATION: Cascades Conservation Area
- DETAILS of Cascades Hiking Trails: 4 Official + 1 Unofficial
- What to Bring Along: Good Hiking Gear
- Summary and Resources
MAP: Cascades Hiking Trails near Thunder Bay
Here’s a PDF Map of Cascades hiking trails near Thunder Bay. Cascades has four main hiking trails with different difficulties but pretty similar features, as they’re all through the woods and end at the Cascades.
Immediately below the official Cascades hiking trails map is a screenshot of how far my brother and I hiked. To get orientated, you can see part of the Orange trail on the bottom-left.
VISITOR INFORMATION: Cascades Conservation Area
- Location: At the end of Balsam Street, 5 minutes west of TransCanada Highway 11 (GPS coordinates of parking lot: Latitude 48.492687, Longitude -89.225316)
- Cell service: I had coverage even at the farthest point we hiked to
- Facilities: Outhouse (only at parking lot), information signs, and covered pavilion
- Fee: $2 per vehicle
- Pets: A popular dog-walking location; please keep on-leash and pick up after them
Many families take young kids on the Cascades hiking trails near Thunder Bay. We tried it with my little ones, but were carrying them out by the end. And once we got to the Cascades, I was super paranoid about them running around on the boulders. I didn’t like it. I’ll only take them biking on the paved Purple Forest Trail.
If you’re interested in learning more about the area, check out the interpretive displays at the pavilion. They highlight the area’s geological, hydrological and botanical features.
DETAILS of Cascades Hiking Trails near Thunder Bay
The Cascades hiking trails near Thunder Bay are very well marked by colors on the trees, but it’s a bit trickier finding the path back; pay attention to where you come out of the trees. All hiking trails are well-shaded through the pretty poplar and birch forest.
With young kids, we hiked the Yellow Trail, which is the most direct route to the Cascades. When I went with my brother, we took the slightly more challenging Blue/Red Trail that follows the river.
PURPLE FOREST TRAIL: A Super-Easy Paved Trail near Thunder Bay
The Purple Forest Trail at the Cascades is a short and accessible paved loop. Since it’s only 775 meters long, the Purple Forest Trail is perfect for an easy walk or bike ride with young kids. It essentially loops behind the pavilion and will take about 10 minutes.
YELLOW TRAIL: Most Direct Route to the Cascades
Yellow Trail is the most direct hiking trail from the parking lot to the Cascades. It’s a pretty easy 871-meter hike that takes about 10 minutes one-way, with pavement at the beginning and stairs at the steepest section. Older kids can do it just fine, but my two kids under 5 years old were complaining pretty hard (and getting carried) on the way out.
Once you reach the river, you’ll likely have to cross a small stream to continue up to the Cascades. There are rocks and fallen trees you can walk across, and tree limbs to help you balance.
BLUE/RED TRAILS: River Walk (well, Sort of a River Walk)
If you want a longer hike to reach the Cascades, take the Blue/Red Trails. Look for the Blue Trail marker next to the toilet, marking the entrance. The Blue Trail takes you down to the river, where it meets and becomes the Red Trail. Then, follow the Red Trail along the river to meet up at the same main Cascades area as the Yellow Trail. In total one-way, this route is about 2150 meters and takes about 30 minutes.
Although the Red/Blue Trails are longer, narrower and a bit rougher than the Yellow Trail, I didn’t find it much more challenging than the second half of the Yellow Trail. You just have to watch your footing a bit more and dodge more muddy spots if it’s rained.
And while you can occasionally hear and see Current River through the trees, overall I was disappointed not to have more of a river experience on this hiking trail.
ORANGE TRAIL: An Extended Forest Stroll near Thunder Bay
To extend your hike through the lovely poplar and birch forest, you can take the Orange Trail. The Orange Trail generally runs parallel to the Red Trail but through the forest, and meets up with the Red Trail at both ends to create a loop. It also intersects with the Yellow Trail and has a link to the Purple Forest Trail, so you can easily extend or shorten your hike at a number of places.
Orange Trail is 1,629 meters one-way and takes about 30 minutes. Add about 20 minutes to complete the loop along the Red Trail.
UNOFFICIAL TRAIL: Extended Hike Along the Cascades
For the really fun Cascades hiking trails experience near Thunder Bay, you have to check out the unofficial trail!
When my brother and I reached the Cascades at the end of the Blue/Red Trail, we wanted more. We saw a bit of a trail that followed Current River through the woods, so we decided to check it out. And we kept going until Google Maps satellite view showed that we got to the main waterfall upstream, which was wonderful. Plus, we had it all to ourselves.
When we went in mid-July, this unofficial trail was mostly well-trodden and easy to follow. There were a few places where it branched off and then met up again, with some routes having less brush and alternatives for getting across streams. But there are zero markings, so you’re on your own to guess your way through it. And this is what makes it extra fun. But you’re following the river, so you can’t really get too lost.
What to Bring on Cascades Hiking Trails near Thunder Bay
- Bug spray (very important in these wooded hiking trails)
- Sunscreen and hat (for hanging out on the boulders along the Cascades)
- Plenty of water
- Swimming gear, including water shoes
Good Hiking Gear
Although you don’t really need hiking gear to explore the Cascades hiking trails, there are a few key pieces I’m always glad I have on a hike. Decent hiking gear will make any hikes in Northern Ontario much more pleasant.
Below are my favorite pieces of hiking gear and links to good options to check out.
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 (you can kinda see mine in my selfies). 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
Cascades hiking trails near Thunder Bay make for a fun little day hike, especially if you hike farther along Current River and stop for a swim in one of the little pools. It’s a great pit stop on your Ontario road trip and Lake Superior Circle Route.
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And if you’re interested in learning more about the fascinating Canadian Shield topography, check out Britannica. Northern Ontario is a fantastic place to explore and experience it up close.
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