sunset through the trees on Blue Lake

Explore the Northwestern Ontario Driving Route

Planning a cross-province adventure? Check out the Ontario Parks Driving Routes.

Considering a road trip in Northwestern Ontario?

Welcome to sunset country! This circle tour driving route will take you to some of your favourite provincial parks or let you discover new ones. Relish days spent hiking, fishing, and paddling through iconic Canadian landscapes.

map of NW Ontario driving route

Parks along this route:

Featuring eight northwestern provincial parks, this route can be done in as little as three days. We’ve laid the trip out as though starting from Winnipeg or Kenora, but you can easily start this route from Thunder Bay or any community in between!

To truly explore these parks and spend a night at each, we’d recommend a nine-day trip. Each park offers a selection of campsites for both tent and trailer camping.

We hope you’ll visit them all, but if your time is limited, must-see parks along the route are designated with a *.

Stop #1: Rushing River Provincial Park*

bridge over river in forest

Driving time: Located 2.5 hours from Winnipeg on Highway 71 and only a half hour drive from Kenora,

The park: Camp among the glacier-erratic boulders, and stretch your legs on various park hiking trails. Love the water? Relax on the beach, rent a kayak, or try some fishing in Dogtooth Lake.

Looking for some cozy camping comfort? Try one of the travel trailer rentals. These trailers sleep six, and feature a cook stove, fridge, heater, air conditioner, dinette, couch, running potable water, and are dog friendly. Bring your own cookware, dishes/utensils and linens and you’ll be ready to enjoy the season in comfort.

Stop  #2: Sioux Narrows Provincial Park

lake surrounded by trees, rocky shoreline

Driving time: Follow Highway 71 south for about 45 minutes.

The park: Situated along the shoreline of Lake of the Woods on the edge of the Canadian Shield, bedrock outcrops and towering White Pines make each campsite special. This small park also features eight walk-in campsites.

Lake lovers can enjoy recreational opportunities like boating, swimming, sailing and canoeing at your doorstep. The lake is well known for its Walleye and bass fishing so bring your fishing gear! Or check out the short and easy park hiking trails.

Stop #3: Caliper Lake Provincial Park

white tent on shoreline in forest

Driving time: Travel south on Highway 71 for around 45 minutes.

The park: Caliper Lake is one of our secret gems. Camp amid impressive stands of old growth Red and White Pine. Test out your birding skills, or try your luck angling for Northern Pike, Walleye, or Small-mouth Bass out on the lake.

Reserve one of the eight picturesque walk-in campsites along the lakeshore for a bit more privacy.

Stop #4: Quetico Provincial Park* Dawson Trail Campground

Northern lights over the lake

Driving time: Follow Highway 71 south, then take Highway 11 east to Quetico. This leg of the trip will take about three hours.

The park: Here you’ll find yourself on the edge of this iconic backcountry wilderness canoeing park. The campground is surrounded by 35 km of trails that will expose you to Quetico’s pine and spruce forests, picturesque lakes and rivers, and its biodiversity. After the sun sets, enjoy dark skies across French Lake, and — if you’re lucky — the Northern Lights.

Three rustic cabins are available year-round, and are very popular. Best availability for making cabin reservations is between mid October to May.

Stop #5: Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park*

large water fall, autumn forest

Driving time: Continue east on Highways 11, 11/17, and 17 for about an hour and fifteen minutes.

The park: Standing tall at 40 m, Kakabeka Falls is the second highest waterfall in Ontario. The park offers excellent views from an accessible boardwalk that wraps around the top of the falls. Falls viewing is available year-round. Explore the historic Mountain Portage Trail that took early travellers and voyageurs around the falls or seek out Little Falls along a moderately more difficult trail.

At only a 30-minute drive from Thunder Bay, Kakabeka Falls is a great basecamp to explore all amenities the city has to offer. After relaxing and touring the area, you’re ready to start the western portion of your trip.

Stop #6: Sandbar Lake Provincial Park

bench on sandy beach on sunny day

Driving time: Return north on Highway 17, then take Highway 599 north to Sandbar Lake. This drive will take around two and a half hours.

The park: This small campground lets you camp amid 300-year-old Red and White Pines. The sandy beach in the day use area has a gradual drop off, making it a great swimming location for families. Bring a chair to relax, catch some sun, and read a good book while watching shorebirds playing at the waters edge.

For the more adventurous, the park boat launch allows access to the lake for anglers and paddlers.

Stop #7: Aaron Provincial Park

Park sign: Aaron Provincial Park

Driving time: Return to Highway 17, and travel east towards the City of Dryden, about a one-and-a-half-hour drive.

The park: Aaron is conveniently located directly on the Trans Canada Highway on the east side of the Dryden, making it a perfect spot for cross-country and circle tour travellers.

Eastern White Cedars line park roads, hosting the many bird species that frequent the park. Visit the two sandy beaches and watch for migratory waterfowl, or check out the short hiking trails that wind through the park’s Boreal Forest. Launch your boat onto Thunder Lake to try some Northern Pike, Walleye and Lake Trout fishing.

Stop #8: Blue Lake Provincial Park*

sunset through the trees on Blue Lake

Driving time: From Aaron, head west along Highway 17 to Highway 647, then up to Blue Lake, less than a one-hour drive.

The park: Whether you’re watching the waves, taking a hike on park trails, or going for a paddle, the crystal-clear waters of Blue Lake will amaze you. There’s a reason why they call Northwestern Ontario “Sunset Country!” You’ll see some of the most breathtaking sunsets at Blue Lake. Grab a lawn chair or blanket, and enjoy the nightly view from the park’s long sand beach.

Blue Lake offers five travel trailer rentals with similar amenities to Rushing River’s trailers (no pets), yet also include a functional shower and 15’x 17’ outdoor dining tents.

Return south to Highway 17 then westward to Highway 71 and Rushing River (about an hour), and you’ll be back where you started!

It’s time to discover what makes this region so special

Total driving time: 10.75 hours + travel time from your community

Estimated trip duration (full route): 3-9 days

Book your trip online!