There’s nothing quite like the feeling of freedom and adventure that a road trip can inspire. Northeastern Ontario provides a beautiful backdrop for both drivers and passengers, with forests, lakes, and geological features that truly need to be seen to be believed. A road trip is also a great opportunity to learn about the history of the country, and this one will give you some insight into the history of Canada’s indigenous culture.
Driving from Toronto to the city of Timmins and back again is a great vacation option, allowing travelers to explore both the Canadian Shield and the boreal forest. The drive takes approximately eight hours, but to do it right, we suggest setting aside seven to 10 days to see the best parts of Northeastern Ontario.
There are so many possibilities to explore this great province, but don’t worry—we’ve planned out a route with some of our favorite stops to help get you out on the open Ontario road.
Before We Begin
A quick note to make your northeastern Ontario road trip a success: while there’s plenty to do here year-round, the road conditions can be challenging in the winter. With average snowfalls of more than 100 inches (2.54 meters) in many Ontarian cities, the highways can be icy and visibility can become an issue. With a bit of driving caution and a good set of winter tires on your car, though, you’ll be more prepared than a polar bear for wherever your road trip takes you.
Let’s get going!
Leg 1: Toronto to Sudbury
Distance: 249mi (400km)
See Along the Way: Georgian Bay
Pack your bags and load them into your vehicle before hitting Highway 400 to head out of Ontario’s capital, Toronto. Sudbury is just a four-hour drive away, but seeing as there’s always a need for a snack stop, leg stretch, or bathroom break, we suggest pulling off at Parry Sound.
The town sits along the Georgian Bay, which is also known as the Thirty Thousand Islands region. If you’ve carved out 10 days for your road trip through Northeastern Ontario, stop here and hop on one of the many boat cruises that will take you to any of the Unesco World Heritage Site islands off the shores of Parry Sound.
Once your sense of adventure—and hunger—have been satisfied, it’s back in the car and on to Sudbury. Just over 100 miles (160 kilometers) will get you there.
In Sudbury, you’ll have plenty of time to settle into your accommodation (we’d advise booking a spot at one of the town’s many lodges and cabins, or campgrounds) before heading out to Zig’s to experience Sudbury’s vibrant and LGBTQ-friendly nightlife scene. Don’t get to bed too late, though, there’s plenty to do tomorrow.
Stop 1: Sudbury
Sudbury is the City of Lakes, so what better way to spend your time here than on the water? Depending on how much time you have, spend a day exploring Killarney Provincial Park or Manitoulin Island, or both!
Like Parry Sound, Killarney sits along the wild Georgian Bay coast. There’s a campground in the park, so if you’re camping here, lucky you! If not, you’ll need to head south out of Sudbury to find it. The park’s lush landscape features 50 lakes set among verdant hills. Hire a canoe or kayak and explore the backcountry by water. Or hit the trails and traverse the white quartzite ridges of the La Cloche Mountains to get a glimpse of the almost otherworldly beauty of Killarney from the top.
If you find you’ve got a little more time (and energy), take a trip to Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron. Although it’s the largest freshwater island in the world, it’s still one of Northeastern Ontario’s best-kept secrets. Summertime calls for boat trips and hiking—the Cup and Saucer Trail is our favorite—while winter is for ice fishing, curling, and cross-country skiing. Whatever season you visit in, be sure to head back to town to try some of the global fare Sudbury is famous for.
When the fun is done and your 48 hours in the City of Lakes draws to a close, it’s time to pack the car and mosey along to the next stop. But be sure to grab some baked treats from one of the many bakeries in Sudbury before you leave.
Leg 2: Sudbury to Timmins
Distance: 182mi (294km)
See Along the Way: Mattagami
Settle into the slower pace of life in Northeastern Ontario on the second leg of your road trip to give yourself the chance to take in all the sights and sounds of this beautiful region.
Although this next leg is just a three-and-a-half-hour drive if you’re doing it in one go, you’ll get far more out of the journey if you incorporate a stop at Mattagami. This First Nation of Ontario sits at the edge of the Mattagami Lake on ancient native land that has been called home by the Obijway and OjiCree aboriginal people of Northeastern Ontario.
The views over the lake are spectacular; we’d advise a walk along the shoreline to stretch your legs before getting back on the road towards Timmins. But if you’ve got a bit more time, and a fishing rod, it wouldn’t be too tough to catch some dinner for the evening.
Stop 2: Timmins
Timmins is known as the City With a Heart of Gold; not just because of its rich mining history, but also because of the welcoming spirit of its people. There are plenty of accommodation options to choose from here, you can settle in a lodge, B&B, or one of Northeastern Ontario’s wonderful campgrounds.
Regardless of where you lay your head, you’ll want to get your feet ready for plenty of walking and hiking while in Timmins. A hike to High Falls is a great way to get the day started. Following the trail along Grassy River will lead you to two sets of falls: shallower rapids downstream and an almost vertical cascade at the end of the route. If you’re visiting during the summer months, this is the perfect spot to stop for a picnic and a splash in the pools.
For an adventure a little further afield, head east out of town to Kettle Lakes Provincial Park. What makes this reserve special are the ancient glacial lakes that were formed around 12,000 years ago when icebergs melted into small pools. You can hit the trails by foot or on bike, spend the day on Slab beach, or paddle around one of the 22 spring-fed lakes.
Not in the mood for another hike? No problem. Timmins also boasts three well-manicured golf courses (four if you count the miniature iteration) where you can get some swings in during the summer months. Otherwise, the Timmins dining scene is sure to keep you occupied with its farm-to-table, fine-dining, and other favorites.
Local tip: Timmins is the northernmost stop on this trip, so if you’re visiting during September or October, you might be able to see the legendary northern lights. When night falls, find a spot away from the city lights and look up to the sky for a spectacular show!
Leg 3: Timmins to North Bay
Distance: 225mi (362km)
See Along the Way: Kirkland Lake and Temagami
With two stops en route to North Bay, you’ll need to be up and at ’em extra early on the third leg of this great Northeastern Ontario road trip.
First up is Kirkland Lake. This off-the-beaten path gem has some interesting activities to keep you occupied in every season. During the warmer months, book an ATV adventure (you can explore the trails and town on four-wheelers in Kirkland) or go foraging in the forest to find nutritious and edible plants you can cook up for dinner! In winter, expect the usual suspects like skiing, sledding, and snowshoeing to keep you occupied.
Pile into the car, head back to Highway 11 and continue your meander through Northeastern Ontario for an hour and a half to Temagami. The town is known as an adventurer’s mecca and certainly offers plenty of hiking, biking, skiing, and other outdoor experiences, but our number one activity here? Climbing Temagami Fire Tower.
Summer, winter, fall, or spring, there’s no better viewpoint from which to admire the northeastern landscape than this. At the top, you get a view like no other: thousands of old-growth trees, their tops creating a carpet of tiny green mountain peaks. Once you’ve enjoyed the fresh forest air, it’s back on the road for about an hour as you make your way to your final destination: North Bay.
Stop 3: North Bay
Try something a little different during your time in the Gateway to the North. While there are plenty of trails to explore year-round in North Bay, we suggest staying in town for a day. Take yourself on a walking tour past all of the town’s best art and coffee shops. Outdoor installations, architectural gardens, galleries, and even tattoo parlors offer plenty to keep you busy for a day. Alternatively, immerse yourself in the city’s eco-friendly lifestyle with a sustainable tour of North Bay.
If you simply can’t stay put, there are a few day trips from North Bay that are sure to satiate your appetite for adventure. At the top of our list? A visit to West Nipissing. Before you even get out of the car, follow the Barn Quilt Trail, a driving route that takes you past cow pastures, canola fields, and old country roads right to the shores of Lake Nipissing. Then, if you’re visiting in summer, cool off in the lake. Or go cross-country skiing in winter.
Before the day is done, head back east and get ready for a night out on the town in North Bay. Whether you’re looking for a little bit of art and culture (think a concert by the North Bay Philharmonic) or something more merry (swing by New Ontario Brewery), there’s a spot you’ll enjoy.
Leg 4: North Bay to …
Hopefully you wake up fresh as a daisy on your final day in North Bay—although we wouldn’t blame you if you’d enjoyed a bit more of Northeastern Ontario’s delicious craft beer than you should have.
All that’s left to do is pack your bags and wave goodbye to North Bay as you head off on your next Northeastern Ontario adventure.
Whether you’re planning on hitting the road or the trails, Northeastern Ontario is one of the best places to do both. Find out more about this unforgettable region in our Northeastern Ontario Travel Guide.