If I had to make a list of our favourite camping spots, Sleeping Giant Provincial Park would definitely be in the top five. The park is located on Sibley Peninsula about an hour away from Thunder Bay. It gets its name from a rock formation that looks like a big lying figure of a man. Lots of legends surround this place, legends just as beautiful as the park itself. They tell of Ojibway and Sioux warriors, a secret silver mine, and the Great Spirit, Nanabijou, that turned to stone when the location of the mine was revealed to White Men. The steep cliffs that form the Sleeping Giant are among the highest in Ontario at 240 metres and offer breathtaking views of Lake Superior.
We visited Sleeping Giant Provincial Park a few years ago as part of our Lake Superior Circle Tour. We immediately fell in love with its towering cliffs, the vastness of Lake Superior and its beautiful legends. The three days we spent there weren’t nearly enough to explore the park. This summer, we are heading back for more backpacking around the Giant.
So if you are looking for a new park to visit this year, why not go to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park? Here are some exciting things you can do while you are there.
With over 100 km of hiking trails, the park offers routes of various lengths and difficulty levels to explore. A short walk will take you to an interesting geological feature known as the Sea Lion. Spoiler alert: It looks nothing like a lion. But apparently at one point it used to have a mane and resembled the king of animals. Time and water chipped the mane away but the name stayed.
If you are looking for a longer hike, then trekking to the top of the Giant is definitely a must. The Top of the Giant trail itself isn’t long, close to 3 km, but to get to the base of the Giant where it starts, you will need to hike another 8 km along the Kabeyun Trail. 11 km one way sounds like a lot and it is a pretty strenuous hike, but our seven-year-old son managed to complete it so it can be done in a day. Just make sure to bring lots of water and snacks, sturdy footwear and a first aid kit.
To make the hike easier, we biked the Kabeyun Trail portion of the route. It wasn’t the most pleasant bike ride since the trail runs through the forest over roots and rocks but it was definitely faster than walking. The remaining three kilometers can only be done on foot. The first part of that hike is practically vertical and extremely exhausting but the amazing views of Lake Superior you get from the top are worth it. The rest of the trail takes you across the top to the Giant to the famous Chimney Lookout.
Good news: If you don’t feel like a long trek, you can still enjoy the views by driving to the Thunder Bay Lookout. But then you will miss out on a great hike!
Cycling is permitted on several trails in the park. If you are up for a challenge, you can ride your bike up the Thunder Bay Lookout Road, all nine kilometers of it. Steep hills will make you work up a sweat on the way up but the return ride will be a breeze.
Another fun activity for park visitors is taking a bike ride to Silver Islet, the site of what once was the silver mine featured in the Sleeping Giant legend. Houses that were built for miners are now used as private summer cottages. This small and quiet community has a beautiful arts and crafts boutique and a general store that has a great display of quaint items from the times past.
Make sure to stop by the Visitor Centre to learn more about the area’s natural and cultural history or you can attend one of the educational activities run by park rangers during July and August. Those daily programs at the amphitheatre were one of our kids’ favourite memories of the park, especially after our younger son’s stellar performance of a fly during one of the programs.
Sleeping Giant Provincial Park offers great wildlife viewing opportunities, probably the best of all our trips. We saw numerous deer, porcupines, foxes, and hares. At one point, we came across seven deer grazing by the road. Our friends encountered a mother bear with two cubs. We were not as lucky. Or maybe the other way around, we were the lucky ones. One thing I learned while staying there was to never go anywhere without my camera, even when going to the washroom.
Swimming and canoeing
When you get tired from all that hiking and cycling, you can go swimming in Marie Louise Lake or rent a canoe at the park store and go for a paddle. And then after an exciting day of exploring the park, you can sit by Marie Louise Lake and watch the sun colour the Sleeping Giant and the skies above it various hues of red, orange and purple.
The Marie Louise Lake Campground has 200 sites that can be booked ahead of time. To book a site, go to Ontario Parks online reservations or, if you prefer a human touch, call 1-888-ONT-PARK (1-888-668-7275) between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. The park also has two group campsites and roofed accommodations, plus around 40 backcountry sites available on a first come, first serve basis. (Also, check out our Camping in Ontario page for a wealth of information and useful links)
Oleksandra Budna is an outdoor enthusiast and nature lover. She enjoys exploring Ontario Parks with her family and documenting their adventures in her blog Gone Camping.
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My favorite things to do while camping at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park by Kyra Paterson.