Thunder Bay to Ottawa: An Ontario Road Trip Combining Nature and History

There's nothing better than exploring your home country on a road trip. We've put together a beautiful route for you to discover Ontario.

At almost 1.1 million square kilometres, Ontario is larger than France and Italy combined. It stretches across everything from the wind-swept shores of Lake Superior and the rocky Canadian Shield to Canada’s largest city, several wine regions, the country’s capital, and thundering Niagara Falls.

Clearly, to explore it thoroughly, you’re going to need to plan an epic road trip. Fortunately for you, we’ve pinpointed the highlights to see along the way, along with top-rated accommodations at every stop.

Planning the perfect route

Truth be told, there is no perfect approach to an Ontario road trip—there’s simply too much to do and see. Whether you just want to hop from city to city or explore the natural beauty far away from any civilization, you’ll have multiple routes to choose from.

However, we did our best to give you a good starting point: A cross-province trip from Thunder Bay to the nation’s capital, with plenty of stops in between.

So, get planning, pack up your stuff, and hit the road!

Start Your Road Trip in Thunder Bay

Kilometre 0

As the biggest city between the Manitoba-Ontario border and Lake Superior, Thunder Bay is the ideal spot to start your Ontario road trip. Get a taste of the magnificent wilderness of northwestern Ontario by fishing, hiking or canoeing in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, an hour and 15 minutes from the city. The Sleeping Giant, a formation of mesas and sills, got its name because it looks like a giant lying on its back, and it’s absolutely worth seeing. After that, cool off in the spray from Kakabeka Falls—40 metres high and Ontario’s second-largest cataract—just 25 minutes from downtown.

In Thunder Bay, fuel up with thin, crisp-edged pancakes at the Hoito, one of the many restaurants run by members of the city’s large Finnish-Canadian community. Alternatively, try a persian, Thunder Bay’s famous version of an iced cinnamon bun.

Then, get your bearings from the scenic lookout halfway up Mount McKay (Anemki Wajiw in Ojibwe), a 300-metre-high outcrop on the Fort William First Nation. Visit Fort William Historical Park to learn about the experiences of the fur-trading voyageurs who were among the first Europeans to see this rocky landscape.

Thunder Bay, at the western tip of the Great Lakes, later grew into a major transit point for grain and manufactured products; a tour of a restored 1958 icebreaker called the Alexander Henry gives you a peek into life aboard a Great Lakes ship.

Hotels & Vacation Rentals - Thunder Bay

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Thunder Bay’s top-rated three-star hotel

As the top-rated three-star hotel in the city, the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Thunder Bay has a wide range of amenities, including a fitness centre, an indoor pool and hot tub, and guest laundry facilities. Opened in 2014, the hotel offers guest rooms, one-bedroom suites and two-bedroom suites, all decorated in restful tones of blue, white and gold. You can relax in the morning over the complimentary hot breakfast buffet, and make yourself a snack anytime with the in-room microwave, mini-fridge and coffee maker.

Holiday Inn Express Thunder Bay, an IHG Hotel

Top rated
Thunder Bay
9.3 Excellent (3421 reviews)

An Accessible hotel in Thunder Bay

Fitness buffs will appreciate the well-equipped gym and nearby jogging trails at the Days Inn Thunder Bay North. In nice weather, enjoy your complimentary breakfast on the patio next to the sunny breakfast room. Other hotel amenities include laundry facilities, dry-cleaning services, wheelchair-accessible rooms and free wi-fi. For those flying in to Thunder Bay to rent a car and start an epic road trip, this hotel is just 10 minutes from Thunder Bay International Airport.

Days Inn by Wyndham Thunder Bay North

Top rated
Thunder Bay
8.8 Excellent (2091 reviews)

Thunder Bay to Sault Ste. Marie

bumbaccattack / Fotolia

Kilometre 700

From Thunder Bay, head east on the Trans-Canada Highway for the 700-kilometre drive along the windswept north shore of Lake Superior, immortalized in paintings by the Group of Seven. Along this stretch, if you see a gas station, fill up; it might be 100 kilometres or more before you see another.

Leave time to stop en route at Lake Superior Provincial Park, wherefrom late spring until early fall, you can see the red-ochre Agawa Rock Pictographs created by Ojibwe artists over generations. Once you leave the park, it’s an 80-minute drive south to Sault Ste. Marie.

As you’ve probably realized by now, settlements in this region are widely scattered. At the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre in Sault Ste. Marie, you can learn about the small planes that connect northern Ontario’s far-flung regions with urban centres. “The Soo” is also home base for the popular Agawa Canyon Tour Train, which takes passengers to a wilderness park along a 114-kilometre route through sweeping forests dotted with lakes and granite outcrops.

Although it’s surrounded by wilderness, the city also offers lots of cool urban fun. Check out the one-of-a-kind Shabby Motley, a cafe/needlework store (come for the gluten-free brunch, stay for the knitting class!), or drop into LopLops Lounge to enjoy single malts, craft beers and live music. And since one in five Soo residents can trace their roots to Italy, many restaurants serve classic Italian dishes (Muio’s has been dishing up gnocchi, spaghetti and other standards since 1961).

Hotels & Vacation Rentals - Sault Ste. Marie

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A Sault Ste. Marie hotel with waterfront views

Located right on the city’s scenic riverside boardwalk, the Delta Hotels Sault Ste. Marie Waterfront offers both guest rooms and one-bedroom suites, many with a water view. Unwind in the indoor pool or the 24-hour fitness centre. At the elegant View Restaurant, enjoy steak and seafood, an extensive selection of Ontario VQA wines, and craft beers, while relaxing in comfortable club chairs. In warm weather, the Fluid Boardwalk Patio + Grill serves up casual fare.

Delta Hotels by Marriott Sault Ste. Marie Waterfront

Top rated
Sault Ste. Marie
8.8 Excellent (2098 reviews)

An affordable central hotel in Sault Ste. Marie

The Days Inn & Suites offers great value for money—Wi-Fi, a hot breakfast and covered parking are all included, and all rooms have a microwave and mini-fridge. Some rooms and suites feature a whirlpool tub, fireplace or full kitchen. Major attractions, including the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre, the Gateway Casinos and the departure point for the Agawa Canyon Tour Train, are within walking distance.

Days Inn & Suites by Wyndham Sault Ste. Marie ON

Sault Ste. Marie
7.8 Good (2066 reviews)

Sault Ste. Marie to Sudbury

Aqnus Febriyant / Fotolia

Kilometre 1,009

The next leg of your journey, along the northern edge of Lake Huron, is much shorter than the first leg but still scenic. If you have time for a side trip off the Trans-Canada, detour to Killarney Provincial Park, where you can canoe for hours to an isolated campsite. And I do mean isolated—when my sisters and I last camped there, our only company was a mama bear and her two cubs, who (luckily for us) stayed on the other side of our small lake.

Once you get to Sudbury, you can learn about the geology of northern Ontario on the popular underground mining tour at Dynamic Earth or delve into all aspects of science at the Science North museum, which was voted Attraction of the Year at the 2017 Ontario Tourism Awards. Come in August for the quirky Up Here Urban Arts and Music Festival, which features dozens of concerts and performances in French and English. In September, Cinefest Sudbury screens more than 100 feature films. For something completely different, try flyboarding—a bit like waterskiing with a jet pack—at Ramsey Lake.

Hotels & Vacation Rentals - Sudbury

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A Sudbury hotel with an indoor pool


The Fairfield Inn & Suites Sudbury is the top-rated three-star hotel in Sudbury. Guest rooms are decorated in soothing earth tones, and some suites have a whirlpool tub. Stay in shape with the fitness room and indoor pool. Grill your own dinner in the hotel’s BBQ area, or head to one of the many nearby restaurants. Other nearby amenities include cinemas and the Timberwolf Golf Club.

Marriott Fairfield Sudbury

Top rated
9.2 Excellent (2064 reviews)

A central Sudbury hotel with on-site gastropub


The pet-friendly, smoke-free Clarion Hotel in downtown Sudbury offers free Wi-Fi, newspapers and parking. All rooms have a mini-fridge and coffee maker, and the on-site gastropub serves a wide selection of craft beers. The Sudbury Theatre Centre and Theatre Cambrian are both within walking distance, as are many restaurants and clubs. Science North and Dynamic Earth are within a 10-minute drive.

Clarion Hotel Sudbury

8.2 Very good (1488 reviews)

Sudbury to Toronto

As you drive south from Sudbury, the rocky Canadian Shield gives way to rolling farmlands. For a tasty break just south of Barrie, detour off Highway 400 to the village of Thornton, which has only 1,000 people but boasts four ice cream shops (including at least one serving vegan cones). After that, you have just 100 kilometres to go to reach the skyscrapers of downtown Toronto.

Canada’s largest city offers countless things to see and do. Get a bird’s-eye view of the region from the observation deck of the CN Tower or—if you dare—from the EdgeWalk, an outdoor catwalk 356 metres above the ground. Catch a Broadway-calibre musical in the Entertainment District, shop for luxury goods along Bloor Street, sample foods of the world at the St. Lawrence Market, or explore the Art Gallery of Ontario or the Royal Ontario Museum.

And since roughly half the city’s residents were born outside Canada, you can easily sample a different cuisine every night. Try souvlaki at Mezes in Greektown, Chinese-Indian fusion dishes at Hakka Wow in Little India or the pastéis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) at the Doce Minho Bakery. And do not miss the phenomenal 19-ingredient Singapore slaw at Susur Lee’s Lee or Kid Lee restaurants, both on King Street West. I’ve had a lifelong indifference to salad, but this sweet-salty-crunchy dish—featuring everything from microgreens to crushed peanuts and fried vermicelli—made me a believer.

Hotels & Vacation Rentals - Toronto

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An elegant Toronto hotel next to the Eaton Centre


Guests at One King West don’t even have to go outside to enjoy the huge Eaton Centre shopping mall—connected to the hotel by a walkway—or access Toronto’s subway system. Many major attractions, such as the Hockey Hall of Fame and Roy Thomson Hall, are within a 10-minute walk. Rooms are decorated in dramatic black, grey and white, with pops of brilliant colour. Whip up a snack in your kitchenette, grab a fresh sandwich at Café Plenty, or relax over a meal in Teller’s Bar and Lounge, housed in a former bank.

One King West Hotel and Residence

Top rated
9.0 Excellent (14458 reviews)

A Toronto boutique hotel on trendy Queen Street West


With just 18 rooms, this sleek boutique hotel is a hidden gem in the heart of trendy Queen Street West. The rooms at The Beverley Hotel pack a lot into small spaces; even the 12-square-metre studio rooms offer a flat-screen TV, double platform bed and mini-fridge. In-room Volo! tablets provide wireless access to hotel services. Enjoy Mexican street food at the Carlotta bar or on the rooftop patio, or check out one of the countless nearby restaurants. The TIFF Bell Lightbox, a hub of the Toronto International Film Festival in the heart of the Entertainment District, is a six-minute walk away.

Sonder The Beverley

7.8 Good (1188 reviews)

Toronto to Niagara Falls


Kilometre 1,540

The 90-minute (in good traffic) drive from Toronto to Niagara Falls takes you through everything from densely populated suburbs to green orchards and vineyards. Along the way, you can take a restful break at the Royal Botanical Gardens. With rose gardens, waterfront hiking trails and outdoor concerts, they’re gorgeous from spring through fall, but my favourite time to visit is in late May and early June, when the gardens’ more than 700 lilacs are in full, fragrant bloom.

People come from all over the world to see the Niagara River tumble more than 50 metres over the three cataracts that make up Niagara Falls. You can see the falls from just about every perspective—from the shore, from a boat, from a walkway that runs behind them, from a helicopter or from an observation tower, among others. If you’re travelling with kids, they’ll likely drag you to so-tacky-it’s-charming Clifton Hill, four blocks of haunted houses, wax museums and theme restaurants right next to the falls.

Once you’ve seen the cataract, though, there’s lots of other fun in the Niagara region, including the Niagara Falls Butterfly Conservatory and the Mistrider Zipline above the Niagara Gorge. For a scenic 25-kilometre drive, take the Niagara Parkway to postcard-cute Niagara-on-the-Lake, where you can see a play at the Shaw theatre festival, and pick up house-made rhubarb-ginger jam or orange-lemon marmalade at Greaves.

Hotels & Vacation Rentals - Niagara Falls

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A Niagara Falls hotel with superb views


You can’t get much closer to the thundering falls than this 53-storey riverfront hotel with spectacular views. Revel in the vista when you dine at the rooftop restaurant, The Watermark, then take the enclosed walkway to the Fallsview Casino Resort. You can also enjoy South American cuisine at Brasa Brazilian Steakhouse or drinks at the Myst Lounge. Bringing the family? The two-bedroom suites at Hilton Niagara Falls/Fallsview can accommodate up to six people.

Hilton Niagara Falls/ Fallsview Hotel and Suites

Niagara Falls
7.3(19001 reviews)

An affordable, hip retro gem in Niagara Falls


Take a trip back in time at Cadillac Motel—a retro-style motel so authentic that it’s been used as a set for movies and music videos (such as the 2015 Canadian thriller 88). The 23 rooms have a 1950s theme and each sports a vivid mural of a vintage car. The affordable rooms also have all mod cons, including free Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs, mini-fridges and microwaves. Attractions such as the Skylon Tower, the Niagara SkyWheel, Hornblower Niagara Cruises and the Clifton Hill amusement strip—and, of course, Niagara Falls—are just steps away.

Cadillac Motel Niagara

Niagara Falls
8.0 Very good (8 reviews)

Niagara Falls to Kingston


Kilometre 1,930

This leg of the drive requires a bit of backtracking through Toronto. Once you’re clear of the Greater Toronto Area, you’ll find yourself in farmland once again, but this time with frequent glimpses of Lake Ontario. For a longer but prettier trip, leave busy Highway 401 at exit 522 and meander through pretty Prince Edward County.

Hotels & Vacation Rentals - Kingston

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A tranquil Victorian retreat in Kingston

Kingston is filled with Victorian mansions, and if you’ve ever wondered what life is like behind all that gingerbread trim, you’ll love the Secret Garden Inn, a charming property on a quiet residential street within walking distance of downtown. Each of the seven guest rooms has a private bath and is decorated with opulent linens and gleaming antiques. Inn amenities include Wi-Fi, central air and a bountiful hot breakfast, featuring treats such as lemon-ricotta pancakes. After a day of exploring, relax on the porch swing or read by the koi pond in the verdant garden.

The Secret Garden Inn

Top rated
8.8 Excellent (22 reviews)

A family hotel with indoor pool and waterslide in Kingston


Bringing the kids to Kingston? They’ll love the indoor pool with waterslide at the Courtyard Kingston Highway 401 Division Street. All rooms can accommodate at least four guests and offer a mini-fridge, microwave, coffee maker and free Wi-Fi. Other perks of the property include a fitness room, a 24-hour convenience store, and a licensed bistro where you can enjoy a coffee, light snack or cocktail. Nearby, you’ll find cinemas, big-box stores and lots of family-friendly restaurants.

Courtyard by Marriott Kingston Highway 401

Top rated
9.0 Excellent (2074 reviews)

Kingston to Ottawa


Kilometre 2,127

You’re on the home stretch now. You can drive directly from Kingston to Ottawa on four-lane highways in two hours, but I’d advise taking the slower but prettier Rideau Heritage Route. That way, you can browse for gorgeous candles, scarves and other gifts from around the world at the Green Gecko boutique in tiny Lyndhurst, get a sweeping view of Westport and the Rideau Lakes from the hiking trails at Foley Mountain Conservation Area, or buy handmade truffles at the Perth Chocolate Works in Perth.

Once you get to Canada’s capital, make sure to take the new tour of the temporary homes of the House of Commons and the Senate. You can also visit some of the seven national museums; even if art isn’t your thing, the National Gallery of Canada is worth a visit just for the view of Parliament Hill from the glass-enclosed Great Hall.

Explore the Rideau Canal—one of only two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ontario—by canoe, kayak, pedal boat or electric tour boat. When you get hungry, head to the Westboro neighbourhood for independent restaurants like Gezellig, housed in a converted bank, where the inventive menu features dishes such as pheasant rillettes with pickled pomegranate. For something completely different, walk the 1.2-kilometre interpretive boardwalk through a section of the 3,500-hectare Mer Bleue Bog, where a subarctic microclimate typical of regions much further north supports cottongrasses, sedges, sundews and other plants.

Hotels & Vacation Rentals - Ottawa

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A historic Ottawa hotel overlooking Rideau Canal


The Fairmont Chateau Laurier, a turreted “castle hotel,” next to Parliament Hill and overlooking the Rideau Canal, has been an Ottawa landmark since 1912. Enjoy inventive cocktails or elegant afternoon tea in Zoe’s Lounge, or linger over the enormous Sunday brunch buffet at Wilfrid’s Restaurant, then work off your meal in the art deco pool, 24-hour fitness centre or private personal training room. The five-star hotel recently finished a multi-million-dollar renovation of its more than 400 rooms and suites, which feature amenities such as HDTVs and Nespresso coffee machines.

Fairmont Chateau Laurier Gold Experience

Top rated
8.6 Excellent (3561 reviews)

A charming Victorian Ottawa inn


McGee’s Inn is an 1880s mansion with 14 rooms, offering affordable luxury within walking distance of the CF Rideau Centre shopping mall, the Ottawa Art Gallery, the Byward Market and other central attractions. It’s filled with fascinating antiques, including a player piano, a collection of vintage cameras and a spinning wheel. Some rooms, such as the lavishly decorated Egyptian Room and the Victorian Suite, feature a wood-burning fireplace and whirlpool tub. A fresh hot breakfast of eggs Benedict, crepes or other treats is included.

McGee's Inn

Top rated
8.8 Excellent (2036 reviews)