All you have to do is look for the really big lake, and you’ll find Thunder Bay. Also referred to as the Lakehead, as it’s on the northern shore of Lake Superior, this is the biggest city in western Ontario with a population that hovers near 200,000. The city is less than an hour away from the American border, is a central hub for ground, water, and air transport. Thunder Bay International Airport (YQT) is the 16th busiest airport in the country and handles everything from regional and local flights on small propeller planes to long-haul flights on national carriers. Private charter services are also available, a popular choice to reach remote wilderness outposts or isolated northern communities. Here’s a quick synopsis of the amenities available when you arrive at YQT.
- Customs and Immigration. This airport is less than an hour away from the American border and conducts flights to both the United States and Mexican holiday destinations. It is considered a point of entry by Nav Canada, which means it is staffed by the Canadian Border Services Agency and some government immigration services.
- Food and Shopping. There’s restaurant, several food kiosks, and a few gift shops on the second floor of the one terminal airport. Naturally, there’s a Tim Hortons in the airport as well, in the departure lounge. Locals and visitors alike appreciate the large gift shop that includes iconic Lakehead souvenirs like amethyst, native arts and crafts, and branded swag from the nearby Confederation College and Lakehead University.
- Ground Transport. The airport has ample space for both long and short term parking, and curbside taxis and airport shuttles can be found just outside the check-out counters. Take the #3 Memorial-Airport bus from the airport if you need a public transit connection.
Holiday traffic can make the flights to Thunder Bay feel a bit crowded, and the city is surprisingly tough and expensive to reach on a national airline unless you stop in Toronto first. Use our handy flight search tool to help organize the best fares and most convenient times.
What to See and Do in Thunder Bay
Of course you should bring your skis, both cross country and downhill, on your trip to Thunder Bay, along with your fishing rod and canoe paddle. The vast boreal forest is already the top draw for visitors to Northwestern Ontario, so here are a few less common suggestions for your visit.
- Old Fort William. The biggest reconstructed living history site on the continent, this fur trade post is based on the fur trade outpost that historically stood at the mouth of the Kaministiquia River. Staffed by costumed reenactors, the site is a faithful reproduction of the original settlement right down to the inhabitants.
- The Waterfront. The shores of the big lake will draw you to the boardwalk sooner or later. Enjoy artistic exhibits, outdoor festivals, and historic architecture in the looming shadow of the Sleeping Giant himself. Local legend claims that the old hotel still has the caves and tunnels underground that were used to store liquor that was smuggled to the southern shore during Prohibition.
- Silver Islet. For a different perspective on lakefront, head out to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park and Silver Islet. The islet is just one part of the sprawling provincial park and has a lot of unique historic charm. Vintage cottages and rustic homes line the romantic shoreline. Ask the locals about the now defunct silver mine and it’s curse that turned a living god to stone, then take a kayak out on the water and see the old shafts and pits for yourself, now submerged in the cold, deep water.