Looking for awesome hiking trails near Thunder Bay, Ontario? Sleeping Giant Provincial Park won’t disappoint! Here are detailed guides on the three BEST Sleeping Giant hikes, all with breathtaking views of the mighty Lake Superior.
Along the northern shore of Lake Superior, a fascinating rock formation seems to rise from the depths. From many lookouts in and near Thunder Bay, you can easily make out the shape of the Giant. A resting head. Proud chest, with arms folded below. And long, strong legs.
Sleeping Giant Provincial Park has the tallest cliffs in Ontario, and plenty of beautiful bays, lakes and beaches. You’ll find excellent camping and cabins, including backcountry experiences. Awesome hikes and biking trails. And arguably some of the best lookouts anywhere in the world. I LOVE this park!
- MAP: Getting to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
- VISITOR DETAILS: Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
- WHERE TO STAY: Sleeping Giant Camping and Cabins
- HIKING TRAILS: Descriptions of 3 BEST Sleeping Giant Hikes
- WHAT TO BRING on Your Hike
- Summary and Resources
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MAP: How to Get to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
Here’s a map showing how to get to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park near Thunder Bay, Ontario. The Park is on the Sibley Peninsula in Northwestern Ontario, on the north shore of Lake Superior.
Driving from Toronto to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park is about 1,350 km (840 miles) and 14.5 hours. From Thunder Bay, it’s about 86 km (53 miles) and 1 hour.
There are more than 20 Sleeping Giant hikes, and many ways to combine them for your perfect adventure. That said, the most popular area of Sleeping Giant Provincial Park is the south. It centers on Marie Louise Lake, where you’ll find the visitor center, camping and cabins, a nice beach and direct access to many of the Sleeping Giant hikes.
Below is the Sleeping Giant Provincial Park trail map as displayed at the South Kabeyun Trail. This is where you’ll access the three incredible hikes described below.
VISITOR DETAILS: Sleeping Giant Hikes
- Location: Mostly centered around Marie Louise Lake Campground at the south end of Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
- Cell service: Fairly good, a bit spotty
- Visitor center hours: 9am-4pm low-season, 9am-8pm high season
- Facilities: Toilets at some trailheads and backcountry camping sites (bring sanitizer)
- Open season: Year-round (Visitor Center: mid-May to mid-October)
- Fee: $15.50 for a day pass (as of 2020)
Visitors to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park must buy a permit for any type of use in the Park. It’s a pay-and-display system, so be sure to put it clearly on your dash. For backcountry camping, you get a second copy to carry with you. Permits can be purchased online at OntarioParks.com, at the visitor center (located at Marie Louise Lake Campground), and at a pay station (see next section).
Marie Louise Lake Campground, which is the main hub of Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, is about half an hour from the Highway 17 turnoff. Here you’ll find the visitor center, camping and cabins, a nice beach and direct access to many of the Sleeping Giant hikes.
Before reaching the campground, you’ll pass by a number of Sleeping Giant hikes and access to the Thunder Bay Lookout. If you want to take in any of these before going to the visitor center, check out the next section on pay stations.
There are ONLY TWO pay stations at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. The first is at Joeboy Lake as you first enter the park. And the second is next to the visitor center at Marie Louise Lake Campground. When working properly, they accept credit cards. If paying cash, only coins are accepted.
If you’re arriving outside of regular visitor center hours or want to take in hikes or the Lookout before arriving at the campground, stop at the Joeboy Lake pay station first. These pay stations can be glitchy. And if you’re starting an early-morning hike at the south end of the park, you don’t want to be back-tracking to Joeboy Lake when the campground pay station glitches out.
Driving to Thunder Bay Lookout
Thunder Bay Lookout on Sleeping Giant Provincial Park is gorgeous, and not for the faint of heart! The cantilever takes you past the sandstone cliffs for breathtaking views of Thunder Bay… both the city and the bay.
From the Thunder Bay Lookout turnoff, it’s about a 9-km drive west to the cliffs. Drive reeeally slowly. The gravel road is narrow and windy through the trees. There are lots of cyclists. And you’re driving on massive boulders ready to take out the bottom of your car.
Note: I don’t recommend this drive for a low-profile vehicle or RV. And you may want to avoid it after a heavy rain.
Accessible in late May to late October.
WHERE TO STAY: Sleeping Giant Camping and Cabins
Sleeping Giant CAMPING
Marie Louise Lake Campground is well-maintained and has both camping and cabin options for your visit to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. It features a broad sandy beach with a playground and picnic tables, canoe rentals, boat launch and dock.
Of its 200 campsites, nearly half have electrical service and all have a fire pit and picnic table. Water taps and toilets are available throughout the campground. And you can choose from small group and large group sites, or a more secluded Sleeping Giant camping experience on the other side of the lake.
Reservations can be made online or by phone.
Sleeping Giant BACKCOUNTRY CAMPING
If you want an even more secluded Sleeping Giant camping experience, consider backcountry camping! We met backcountry campers at Sawyer Bay and Tee Harbour, and both looked fun. Sawyer Bay is calm and protected, and probably better for dipping your toes. But the views from Tee Harbor are breathtaking.
Sleeping Giant backcountry camping is available at designated spots throughout the park. You must choose a specific zone for each night, but campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Most of the campsites in the popular zones include metal firepits and access to toilets and shared bear-proof lockers to store your food. Popular zones include:
- Tee Harbour Zone: 10 campsites
- Lehtinen’s Bay Zone: 3 campsites
- Sawyer Bay Zone: 3 campsites
Less popular zones only have basic stone fire-rings. These zones include:
- Talus Lake Zone: 3 campsites
- Nanabosho Zone: 4 campsites
- Twinpine Lake Zone: 3 campsites
- Finlay Bay Zone: 1 campsite
You can get a sense of where these campsites are in the map above. Purchase a detailed topographic map with the Sleeping Giant backcountry camping zones by calling the park office at 807-977-2526.
Sleeping Giant CABINS
All of the five Sleeping Giant cabins are located together, in a separate area on Marie Louise Lake. They’re available all year, and have three bedrooms to sleep six. Two rooms have a double bed, and the third has a bunk bed.
Every cabin includes electric heat, propane fireplace and kitchen with an oven, stove, microwave, fridge, cutlery and pots and pans. Plus, a washroom with shower, sink and flush toilets! Bring bedding and towels.
A two-night minimum booking applies, and three nights on long weekends. During peak season, three cabins must be booked for six nights (Saturday to Friday). One cabin allows dogs for $20 per night.
Sleeping Giant PRIVATE CABINS
If you’d rather rent a private cabin on your visit to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, take a look at President Point in Silver Islet. It stands where the 1800s silver mine president used to woo investors and royalty from Europe and the USA.
Now you’ll find a humble but comfortable off-grid cabin, fully-furnished with three bedrooms, two decks, sauna, and beach with a firepit. A kitchen with propane stove and solar powered fridge, and a 4-piece bathroom. Plus, a phone, generator and wifi. Sleeps 6.
For more places to stay near Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, check out Romantic Getaways in Ontario.
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DESCRIPTION of the BEST Sleeping Giant Hikes near Thunder Bay
Sleeping Giant Provincial Park has more than 20 hiking trails. Plus, as many creative ways to combine them as you can imagine. Nine trails are rated as easy, and five are difficult. The shortest hiking trail is 0.7 km, and the longest hiking trail is 74 km!
All Sleeping Giant hikes take you through beautiful wooded areas. Some lead past lovely beaches, cascading creeks, beaver dams or historical sites. Explore the Giant’s many secluded lakes and bays. And then conquer the BEST hiking trail to the top of Ontario’s tallest cliffs!
Now, I give detailed descriptions of three AWESOME hikes below. But if you want more, here are three others you might consider:
- Sea Lion Trail (0.8 km round-trip; moderate): We got pretty frustrated trying to find the Sea Lion rock formation (and never did), so it’s not on my best-of list. There was one boulder climb (tough after tackling the Top of the Giant Trail), and the trail wasn’t obvious beyond this climb. It’s supposed to be a short, mostly easy hike along the pretty shoreline. Access it from the main South Kabeyun Trail. Hopefully you’ll have better success than us.
- Middlebrun Bay Trail (9.8 km round-trip; easy): A favorite trail for beach-lovers, as Middlebrun Bay is quite beautiful. You can continue onto Finlay Bay, but the path is less worn. To access, veer left at the fork (before the main South Kabeyun Trail parking lot).
- Joe Creek Nature Trail (1.4 km round-trip; easy): This is the very first trail as you enter Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. It’s short and peaceful, following Joe Creek cascades to the pretty Sibley Bay. A great choice with kids or before saying goodbye to the Sleeping Giant.
TEE HARBOUR Hike | Access via South Kabeyun Trail
- Highlights: Crashing waves against massive boulders
- Difficulty: Easy
- Distance: About 12 km there and back
- Time: About 3 hours there and back
If you want to experience the beautiful scenery of Sleeping Giant Provincial Park but don’t want a difficult hike, then consider hiking to Tee Harbour. We stopped at Tee Harbour for a light snack before tackling the Top of the Giant Trail, and absolutely loved this spot.
Crashing waves. Massive boulders sheltering cold pools. Cliffs towering above you. And uninterrupted views of Lake Superior. This would be the perfect spot to watch a sunrise. It’s actually a great spot for backcountry camping, as toilets are available here, too.
From the main hiking trail parking lot near Silver Islet, it takes about 1.5 hours to reach the end of Tee Harbour. Take the main Kabeyun Trail until you see the Tee Harbour trailhead sign. Kabeyun Trail to the Tee Harbour Junction is an easy walk along a fairly level path, wide enough for service vehicles.
Tee Harbour trail is very pretty. We were here in August after a rain, and it felt like wandering through a magical forest! If fairies lived anywhere, it’d be here. The mushrooms were classic red with white polka dots. Velvet green moss covered gnarled tree trunks. And bunnies frolicked happily! Plan for a relaxed picnic to make the most of your visit.
HEAD TRAIL Hike | Access via Sawyer Bay Trail
- Highlights: Beautiful cliff and Lake Superior views; fun boulders at the lookout
- Difficulty: Difficult; moderate Sawyer Bay Trail to reach Head Trail
- Distance: 14.2 km there and back (Sawyer Bay Trail + Head Trail)
- Elevation Gain: 549 meters (1800 feet)
- Time: 4-5 hours there and back (from the main South Kabeyun Trail parking lot)
It took us 4.5 hours to hike the Head Trail at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. Access the Head Trail from Sawyer Bay Trail, either from Marie Louise Lake Campground or the main hiking trail parking lot near Silver Islet. The distance looks about the same.
Head Trail technically only starts at Sawyer Bay, which is why you’ll see it listed as only 2.8 km (up and down) on the Ontario Parks information. If you’re coming from the main parking lot near Silver Islet, start down the main Kabeyun Trail. You’ll soon reach Sawyer Bay Trail, which you take to the Head Trail. To reach Head Trail from the campground, you’ll start out on Sawbill Lake Trail and then connect with Sawyer Bay Trail. In total, it’s about a 14.2 km round trip.
Sawyer Bay Trail is an easy to moderate Trail through the woods. I counted three steeper up-and-down sections, but most is flat and easy. And a little boring. Our 1.5 hour return walk felt veeery long! Sawyer Bay itself is a nice place to stop for a short snack before starting the climb, and is popular for backcountry campers.
We did the Sleeping Giant Head Trail hike in August right after the rain. There were some puddles on the path, but it was easy to go around them. And, amazingly, we didn’t have much of a problem with bugs. (Though I’d always recommend packing the bug spray!)
DESCRIPTION of Head Trail Hike
Now, for the Head Trail. Head Trail is the steepest hiking trail in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. And it definitely felt steep! My hiking partner found her shoes were quite slippery on the way down, so make sure you come with good footwear. Take your time and watch your footing, as there are lots of tree roots on the path.
Most of the climb up Head Trail is through the woods without a lot of views. But we stopped and looked back towards Sawyer Bay quite often, which is quite beautiful through the trees. There’s also one spot that gives you a good view of the cliffs to the south. And because you’re in the shade, you’re mostly protected from the heat of the sun.
My favourite part of the Head Trail is climbing around on the boulders at the lookout. Other hikers were at the top with us, but I climbed down a bit and had the views all to myself. If you explore a bit, you’re rewarded with lovely views of the cliffs and Lake Superior on both sides of the Sleeping Giant.
If you want to hike both the Head Trail and Top of the Giant hike, I definitely recommend tackling the Head Trail first. Head Trail was a lot of fun, but I’m not sure we would have appreciated it as much after Top of the Giant. Plus, surviving the steepest trail in the Park gave us the confidence to hike to the Top!
TOP OF THE GIANT Hike | Access via South Kabeyun Trail
- Highlights: Two breathtaking lookouts and awesome “Chimney” formation
- Difficulty: Difficult; long but easy Kabeyun Trail to access Top of the Giant Trail
- Distance: About 22 km there and back (from South Kabeyun Trailhead)
- Elevation Gain: 566 meters (1850 feet)
- Time: About 8 hours there and back (from South Kabeyun Trailhead)
It took us 6.5 hours to complete the Top of the Giant hike at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. With stops, it took us 8 hours.
Top of the Giant hiking trail is a challenging labour of love. And wow! Does it ever reward you. There are two fantastic lookouts waiting for you at the top of this Sleeping Giant hike.
From the main hiking trail parking lot near Silver Islet, you’ll start your hike along the South Kabeyun Trail. Stay on this trail for 6.7 km until you reach the South Talus Lake Trail Junction. South Talus Lake Trail has one steep section that’ll give you a little warm up! After only 1 km, you’ll reach the Top of the Giant Trail Junction. This is where the fun really begins!
The Top of the Giant Trail starts out with a nice stroll through the woods. You’ll pass a pretty meadow nestled among the cliffs, with trees that’ll remind you of The Hobbit!
Then you start the zig-zag up to the top. Soon you’ll come to “The Stairs.” This is the grueling part of the climb, with a LOT of deep steps. You know you’re finally at the top when you see the blue trail marker, giving you the distance to the two lookouts. Tee Harbour Lookout: 1.2 km. And The Gorge Lookout: 2.1 km.
LOOKOUTS at Top of the Giant Hike
After the top of “The Stairs,” it’s wonderfully flat to the two lookouts. Your first lookout is on the east side of the cliffs, with incredible views over Tee Harbour and Lake Superior beyond. Plus, the pretty meadow below and cliffs extending to the feet of the Sleeping Giant. Let yourself explore and rest here a bit. There are quite a few spots along the top of the cliffs to absorb different perspectives of the Sibley Peninsula.
To reach the second Top of the Giant hike lookout, follow the flat trail through the woods for another 2 km. You cross to the west side of the Sleeping Giant cliffs, with a few lookouts over Thunder Bay.
But the AMAZING end is at the famous “Chimney,” which you’ll know when you see it. It stands proud against the dizzying cliff walls of the gorge, looking out towards Thunder Bay. While I can’t say I’m really afraid of heights, I only managed to climb onto the Chimney on my hands and knees. And I didn’t dare look down!
When you’re done testing your nerves, follow the cliffs west to better water views. This open area is perfect for taking a deep breath and resting a bit. You’re pretty much guaranteed an interaction with a chipmunk. And if you’re up for it, you can explore the boulders here, too. There’s a second stack with uninterrupted views over Thunder Bay, but the boulder wedged between the cliffs and stack looked pretty risky.
Should you BIKE part of Top of the Giant Trail?
When I researched the Top of the Giant hike, there were mixed recommendations on biking part of it. Many do, and there’s a bike rack right at the South Talus Lake Trail Junction with Kabeyun Trail. Kabeyun Trail is quite flat and long, and perhaps a bit boring. Cycling it sounds like a good idea, especially after such a challenging hike.
But, I’m not so sure I’d recommend cycling the Kabeyun Trail. Some areas are perfect, with packed dirt tracks where you can make up time while dodging walkers. But other areas are super rocky, where it’d be really hard on the knees and bum. Many cyclists walked these spots. In the end, I’m sure it saved some time. But I don’t think it’d be worth it to me.
What to BRING on Sleeping Giant Hikes
- Bug spray
- Sunscreen and hat
- Toilet paper and zip-lock bag (since there are limited toilets)
Bear spray is probably a smart thing to have with you when hiking in Northern Ontario. We didn’t have any, and instead talked a lot, and LOUDLY. Bears would’ve had plenty of time to get away from us.
Good Hiking Gear for Sleeping Giant Hikes
Even if you’re an occasional hiker, you should have a few key pieces of good hiking gear.
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). Here are my favorite multi-use day hiking packs.
- Comfortable footwear: Be sure to have footwear with good tread to safely handle the steepness, boulders and loose rocks on Sleeping Giant hikes. Shop hiking shoes for women and men on Amazon.
- Appropriate jacket: For summer hiking, I like my shell from Canadian-based company, Mountain Equipment Co-op. It’s easy to layer warm clothes underneath, and has underarm zippers and big pockets. Or, shop hiking jackets for women and men on Amazon.
Other handy things to have for hiking are:
- Reusable water bottle: A lightweight reusable water bottle with a hook to attach to the outside of your backpack. I tried a hydration pack and just felt goofy.
- Reusable snack bags: Get a variety of sizes for sandwiches, trail mix and fruit. Helpful for carrying food in and waste back out. Amazon has a bunch of great leak-proof reusable bags to check out.
- Basic safety gear: Always carry first aid supplies with you, including a whistle. Things you bring, hoping you’ll never need them!
Summary and Resources
Sleeping Giant hikes are AWESOME! If you’re looking for a variety of beautiful hiking trails near Thunder Bay, you could easily spend a week exploring Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. And the lovely beaches of Marie Louise Lake, Sawyer Bay, Middlebrun Bay and private lakes give you lots of relaxation opportunities.
Before heading out, read through the Ontario Government webpage on what to do if you meet a black bear while hiking in Northern Ontario. Definitely helpful in telling if it’s defensive or predatory.
And if you’re interested in the legend of the Sleeping Giant, visit northernontario.travel.
Have you been to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park? Share your tips in the comments!
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