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.
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, 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: Blue Lake Provincial Park*
Driving time: Start your journey from Winnipeg to Blue Lake via Highway 1 (Manitoba) and Highways 17 and 647 (Ontario) to the park. The drive is around 3.5 hours.
From Kenora, the drive is around one hour and fifteen minutes on Highway 17.
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, a blanket, and enjoy the nightly view from the park’s long sand beach.
Blue Lake offers five travel trailer rentals which sleep six and feature a cook stove, fridge, heater, air conditioner, dinette, couch, running potable water, a functional shower, and 15’x 17’ outdoor dining tents.
Side trip: Pakwash Provincial Park
The drive: Take a side trip to Pakwash by hopping back on Highway 647 to Highway 105 North, where you’ll spend the majority of your trip. The drive is around 1.5 hours.
The park: Secluded and serene, this park guarantees a sandy beach and shallow warm water.
Known for its excellent fishing, expect to hook a walleye, Northerrn Pike, or Lake Trout, then use the conveniently located fishing-cleaning station with lights, running water, and cutting tables. If you prefer to paddle, experience ancient canoe routes along Pakwash Lake.
Relax in the evening on your private campsite, located in a small campground of 50 sites. A few campsites are located away from the main campground and have their own beach front view.
Stop #2: Aaron Provincial Park
Driving time: Return to Highway 17, and travel east towards the City of Dryden. It’s a 50 minute drive from Blue Lake to Aaron.
The park: Aaron is conveniently located directly on the Trans-Canada Highway on the east side of 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.
Side trip: Ojibway Provincial Park
The drive: Take a side trip on Highway 17, turning left onto Highway 72, where you’ll remain until you reach Ojibway Provincial Park. The drive will take you approximately 30 minutes.
The park: Retreat to Lake Vermillion where a sandy beach and great swimming awaits!
Hike one of their six trails, many of which offer interpretive signs to introduce you to the variety of species seen throughout the park.
The lakes in and around the park teem with Northern Pike, Walleye, Smallmouth Bass and Lake Trout. A fish cleaning station, with running water and cutting tables, is located by the north boat launch. Huge Smallmouth Bass can be caught right from the dock!
Swimming, boating, and hiking are only a short distance away from the quaint campground, featuring fewer than 50 sites, half of which with electricity.
Stop #3: Sandbar Lake Provincial Park
Driving time: Go east on Highway 17, then take Highway 599 north to Sandbar Lake. This drive will take around an hour and ten minutes.
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 #4: Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park*
Driving time: Continue southeast on Highway 17 for about 2.5 hours.
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 #5: Quetico Provincial Park* Dawson Trail Campground
Driving time: From Kakabeka Falls, follow Highway 11-17 west, then take Highway 11 west to Quetico. This leg of the trip will take about an hour and 20 minutes.
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 #6: Sioux Narrows Provincial Park
Driving time: This is a slightly longer stretch. Take Highway 11 for approx. 2.5 hours. Turn right and go north on Highway 71 for another 1.25 hours.
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 #7: Rushing River Provincial Park*
Driving time: Take Highway 71 north for around 40 minutes to reach Rushing River.
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? Our travel trailer rentals offer similar amenities to Blue Lakes’ (no indoor shower or outdoor dining tents), but are dog- friendly. Bring your own cookware, dishes/utensils and linens and you’ll be ready to enjoy the season in comfort.
After visiting Rushing River, hop on Highway 17 for around two hours and 45 minutes to get back to Winnipeg.
It’s time to discover what makes this region so special
Total driving time for entire trip including side trips: 14 hours + travel time from your community (1,252 km).
Total driving time for trip without side trips: 10 hours, 10 minutes + travel time from your community (908 km).
Estimated trip duration (full route): 3-9 days