SUV Camping – Manitoba to South Western Ontario

I’ve driven this stretch of road a couple times now and in all honesty, it’s a long haul and I wasn’t much looking forward to it.  Driving straight it is about 26 hours, give or take, especially that due to COVID-19 travel restrictions we cannot cross the US border.  That way would shave off about 3-4 hours.

Instead of driving straight through, I decided to make an adventure of it.  I decided to SUV camp along the way, may as well break up the long and monotonous drive and turn it into a vacation adventure.  I’d watched weeks worth of YouTube videos on SUV camping, bought some additional gear and I was ready to hit the road.

Click here to see why I am making the trip back to Kitchener.

Instead of dividing the trip up into the typical two day blocks, I was going to divide it up into 5 days:

  1. Dauphin, MB to Kenora, ON
  2. Kenora ON to Wawa, ON
  3. Wawa, ON to Manitoulin Island, ON
  4. Manitoulin Island, ON to somewhere in South Western Ontario
  5. Somewhere in South Western Ontario to Kitchener, ON

Also, this time home I wanted to take the ferry from Manitoulin Island to Tobermory to shave off some driving time and to see my friend on Manitoulin Island

I’m going to break up this blog into the above driving sections.  I’ll also point out some interesting stop points and some of the beautiful must sees along the way.  I’ll also share my experiences along the way.

Ready?  Let’s go!


Day 1: Dauphin, MB to Kenora, ON

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I departed Dauphin and decided to make a pit stop in Gimli, MB.  I really wanted to see the Gimli Glider Museum – I wrote a blog specifically about that — you can see that blog HERE.

Gimli, Manitoba

The town of Gimli is located on the west side of Lake Winnipeg. The community’s first European settlers were Icelanders who were part of the New Iceland settlement in Manitoba, Icelandic immigrants began settling the area in 1875. Volcanic eruptions in Iceland spurred additional immigration to the Gimli and New Iceland area. Three hundred people left Iceland, arrived in Ontario and took a ship to Duluth, Minnesota, from there they made their way to Grand Forks, North Dakota, and took a steamer up to the mouth of the Assiniboine.  To this day, Gimli maintains a strong connection to their Icelandic culture and hold an annual Icelandic Festival. With the amalgamated with the Regional Municipality of Gimli, it now has a population of 2,246 as of the 2016 census.

Things I did while in Gimli:

a) The Viking Statue

I stopped in to take a selfie with The Viking Statue, and, it was pouring down rain. Regardless, I got out and got soaked to take a few photos (no selfies). The five metre tall statue stands in the centre of the small Viking Park. 

b) The Harbour Wall

Had it been nicer out, I would have taken a stroll along the harbour to discover the outdoor seawall gallery. The Gimli Art Club created 72 small murals that show Gimli’s history, landmarks from around Manitoba and important events, including the landing of the Gimli Glider.  I did get up as close as I could down First and Centre Streets in my SUV to take a quick peek.  The weather was not cooperating at all.

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c) The Gimli Glider Museum

On July 23, 1983, a full passenger plane ran out of fuel due to miscalculations and had to make an emergency landing at the defunct air force base in Gimli which was and is used as a racetrack in the summer months. No one on board the flight was injured despite the very dangerous landing. The Gimli Glider Exhibit tells the remarkable story in depth through video, personal recollections of the 1983 event and important artifacts. I got into the pilot’s seat and tried to land the airplane myself in their mock-cockpit simulator —> see that blog here.

Afterward I grabbed some Thai food at one of the local restaurants and hit the road … onward to Kenora

Some photos I snapped along the way.

To see video of day 1, click here.

Rushing River Provincial Park

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Much later than anticipated, we arrived at Rushing River Provincial Park, our home for the night.  Having arrived late, we missed “check-in” and the park office was closed – firewood and kindling are sold at the park office, so we were SOL for any firewood and it still had not stopped raining!

Rushing River is located just outside of Kenora.  It is a perfect spot for SUV camping.  I didn’t need electrical connection as I had my MotoMaster Eliminator PowerBoxbut the site does offer a variety of electrical and non-electrical sites well suited to any equipment ranging from a single tent to a large motorhome. As I pre-booked online, I was able to select my site and in my opinion I scored one of the best lots in the park – lot 65, a superb waterfront site that offers unforgettable views of Dogtooth Lake. My campsite came equipped with a picnic table and fire pit with grill. 

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With our 5:15 PM arrival, it was still light enough to get in a quick tour of the campground and set up the SUV for the night. Thankfully I had thought enough to bring along 3 starter logs and I had that to use as a source of fire/light.  Two kind gentlemen who were camping in tents at the lot next to ours, were thoughtful and brought me over 3 logs to add onto my mini fire.  About 10 minutes after I got a nice fire going, it started pouring down rain, and into the SUV we went … for the night.

To see those videos – click here and here.


Day 2: Kenora ON to Kakabeka Falls, ON

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Morning had broken, and I wish I could say the sun came out and it was going to be a “bright, bright sunshiny day” and it did not.  By the time my body naturally told me it was time to get up, it was still raining cats and dogs.  I made the decision to hightail it out of there and trek on.  It was too bad, I would have loved to have stayed longer, made breakfast and taken a short hike along the Lower Rapids Trail or Beaver Pond Trail before hitting the road.

I rejigged the SUV to hit the road … but first things first, time to get me a coffee, so we headed into Kenora.

First Stop of the day….

90° Longitudinal West

As I approached the village of Argon, Ontario, it was time for me to change my watch ahead, back to Eastern Standard Time.  You’ll know you arrive here when you see a large marker indicating the line between the Eastern and Central Time Zones. The time zone delineation marker is located in a small roadside rest area on Trans Canada Hwy 17.

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——————————-

The two-sided marker in that direction reads:

YOU ARE CROSSING
90 LONGITUDE WEST
and are entering
EASTERN STANDARD
TIME ZONE

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While most of Ontario is officially in the Eastern Time Zone, the areas of west of 90° west longitude, are in the Central Time zone.  The Canadian government officially introduced Daylight Savings Time in 1918, but the towns of Port Arthur and Fort William (now Thunder Bay) had implemented seasonal time shifting a full decade earlier. In 1908 John Hewitson (a Port Arthur business man), had a desire to enjoy an extra hour of summer sun, so he petitioned the councils of both towns, both of which observed Central Time, to adjust the clocks to Eastern Time in the summer months and switch back in the fall. Both towns agreed, and on May 1, 1908 they “sprung ahead”.

 

Here is where you will also find a bronze placard dedicated to Sir Sanford Fleming who is considered to be the author of standardized world time.

 

There is also signage depicting the forest Trans-Canada Route, long before there were the modern roadways we enjoy, all travel was done on lakes and rivers.

Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park

The Kaministiquia River has cut deep into the rocks to reveal 1.6 million year old fossils at the bottom of the falls.  The 40 metre high Kakabeka Falls is the second highest waterfall in Ontario and it has year round access.  The Boardwalk Trail is an easily accessible boardwalk and pedestrian bridge which provide SPECTACULAR views of the falls from viewing platforms on both sides.  It is easily accessible from the parking lot.

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To see my visit to Kakabeka Falls, click here.

Before setting up the campsite, Ellie (my dog) and I decided to hike the Little Falls Trail. It’s a 3.1 km, loop, rated as being moderate to difficult. The trail begins and ends from a point along the Mountain Portage Trail. It features a steep descent into the river valley, the picturesque Little Falls and a 30 metre ascent, I was totally out of breath. This was tough, but well worth it … check out these pics!

To see my hike to Little Falls, you can click the link here.

Kakabeka Falls Provncial Park offers tent and car camping in three campgrounds –  Whispering Hills, Riverside and Fern’s Edge.  I believe two of them are seasonal sites, so I opted for lot 37 at Whispering Hills. The Whispering Hills Campground has a barrier-free comfort station, which I didn’t take advantage of, and should have, I could have used a nice hot shower.

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I set up the SUV for the night, started a nice fire, made myself some dinner and sat out and enjoyed the beautiful evening staring at the stars, reminiscing of when I used to go up to my dad’s camp in Québec where we’d all sit by the fire and star gaze.  I was feeling really grateful this night and was thinking about my dad a lot.

Eventually, it began to rain (again) , so Ellie and I hopped into the SUV to watch the fire from the dryness of the truck and eventually fell asleep.

The next morning we got up early and decided to take one last peek at the falls while no one was around … before I started out looking for a spot to grab some much needed coffee.

You can see our evening and campsite here.


Day 3: Kakabeka Falls, ON to Wawa, ON

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After grabbing my morning cup of joe, we headed out to find an adventure around Thunder Bay and found it at ….

Mount McKay Lookout Point

Even though I’d traveled through Thunder Bay a few times prior, I had never considered stopping at Mount McKay.  This time, since my goal was to “experience” the drive, I spontaneously decided to locate the lookout and see if I could summit it.

Mount McKay is a on Fort William First NationIt is the highest, most northern and best known of the Nor’Wester Mountains. It formed during a period of magmatic activity associated with the large Midcontinent Rift System about 1,100 million years ago.

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Mount McKay is traditionally known as the “Thunder Mountain”, Animikii-wajiw in the Ojibwe language. The mountain is used by the Ojibwe for sacred ceremonies. The English name “Mount McKay” comes from William Mackay, a Scottish free trader who resided in the Fort William area sometime between 1821 and 1857.

On the way up the mountain road, to the left, you will find a memorial to the Ojibway elders.

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The lookout on the lower eastern plateau has an elevation of 980 feet, providing a view of Thunder Bay and its harbour.

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A small memorial commemorates indigenous people who fought in wars.

The mountain chapel is situated at the site.  It was erected on September 10, 1888 by Rev. Father Joseph Hébert and restored and dedicated in his memory in September 1939.

Hiking Mount McKay

Mount McKay is 981 feet above Lake Superior 1,585 feet above sea level. It is a flat-topped hill flanked by steep cliffs on three sides.

There is a path on the eastern face of the mountain that can be used for hiking.  Drive toward the lookout parking lot – a gravel parking lot to the left, a few mins past the toll booth you’ll see a sign that says “Welcome to Mount Mckay Lookout”, the trailhead is to the left of the parking lot. The hike is VERY steep and took about me 40 mins to summit. It is ALL straight uphill with some narrow sections and loose rocks, and the views are worth it! Would definitely recommend, especially in autumn.

Had I had more time, I would have started at the bottom of the mountain and hiked from the base to summit.  Next time …

You can check out our hike to the summit of Mount McKay here. 

Terry Fox Monument

A little east of Thunder Bay, Ontario, is a monument dedicated to Terry Fox, the 21-year-old Canadian amputee who mounted the Marathon of Hope campaign, and attempted to run across Canada in 1980, to raise money for cancer research. Terry started his journey on  April 12, 1980, in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and set out to run a marathon a day, all the way across Canada. 

On September 1, 1980, after running 3, 339 miles over 143 days, Terry was forced to halt his run when the cancer that took his leg returned.  Although he vowed to resume the run when he never did.

Terry Fox died on 28 June 1981, at the age of 22.

On June 26, 1982, a statue of Fox was unveiled along Highway 17 by Governor-General Edward Schreyer, the monument was originally located approximately 4 kms west of where Terry actually ended his run.

The monument offers a panoramic view of Thunder Bay and its surroundings.

You can see the Terry Fox monument and views here.

In 1990, a small white, four-by-four post was placed at the actual spot where the Marathon of Hope, but this marker was removed by the MTO in March 2016, due to the widening of Highway 17. In its place, two memorial signs marking milepost 3,339 of Terry’s journey were added on either side of the divided highway.

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Nipigon

Nipigon is a township in Thunder Bay District, along the west side of the Nipigon River.  The Nipigon River Bridge is a two-lane cable-stayed bridges, the first of their kind in Ontario, replacing the 1937 bridge. On January 10, 2016, the first bridge heaved apart but did not collapse, resulting in traffic having to reroute through the United States. However, one lane was re-opened to traffic 17 hours later.

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You can see the Nipigon Bridge in this video.

Aguasabon Falls and Gorge

Aguasabon Falls is in Terrace Bay, right off of Hwy 17. The main viewing deck faces the side of the falls and down the gorge. It is an impressive sight and sound!  Combined with the Fall colours, it was stunning, I could have stayed so much longer and hiked the nature trail to the bottom of the gorge.

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You can see the stunning falls and gorge in his video.

Little Pic River Bridge

West of the town of Marathon, the Little Pic River empties into Lake Superior. Just before it reaches the lake, the river is crossed by the Hwy 17 (Trans-Canada), which provides a vital road link with the town of Marathon.

According to the book Pic, Pulp and People: A History of the Marathon District, Marathon had no road connection to the outside world until 1953, when a Bailey bridge was swung over the river. The crossing of the Little Pic River was considered especially dangerous.

In 1958 a permanent bridge was completed, 740 feet long and 180 feet above the water, making it the highest bridge on the Trans-Canada and the largest truss bridge in the province’s Northwest Region.

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Wawa RV Park

In Wawa, I stayed at a great little family owned and operated RV park, located on the Magpie River (at the back of the campground).  This was the perfect place to stop for me along the beautiful northeastern shores of Lake Superior because it was easily accessible off Hwy 17 and only about five minutes north of Wawa.  The sign for the campground is easily visible for the hwy.

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We arrived at the campground without a reservation, but they weren’t full and were very helpful in getting me a lot to stay at for the night. The park is on a beautifully wooded campground. They have full hook-ups, pull throughs and tenting (SUV camping is considered tenting). The washrooms and showers were clean. They have free Wifi (which I didn’t know, and could have used, I went way over on my data with the traveling).  I bought some firewood and went to my lot to set up for the night.  I was at lot 16.

Surprising or not so surprising, it continued to rain on and off.  We weren’t able to start a fire or sit out.  So, I listened to some podcasts and posted some TikToks with the back hatch open and enjoyed the sound of the falling rain.

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If you want to see how perturbed I was that it was still raining, you can see that here.


Day 4: Wawa, ON to Manitoulin Island, ON

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With morning arriving, we packed up the SUV and headed into Wawa to get some Tim Horton’s for the road.  Today we need to make it as far as Mindemoya, Manitoulin Island, where we’ll be staying at my friend’s property.

Before getting out of Wawa, I wanted to hit up the Scenic (Magpie) Falls.  I’m all about chasing the waterfalls this trip and some bridges as well.

Scenic High Falls of the Magpie River

High Falls (aka Scenic High Falls or Magpie Falls) is just south of Wawa, off of Hwy17. There are signs, which say “Scenic High Falls”. You’ll drive about 2.4 kms down a gravel road which leads to the base of the falls.

The falls are wide. You can get right down to the base of the falls. There is also a path to the right up to the top of the falls. Standing 75 feet and 124 feet wide it’s definitely worth the visit. Just a few steps from the parking area you’ll find the main lookout with picnic area. There is also a short trail to the right of the falls that allows for different vantage points.

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Had I had more time, I would have hiked to the Silver Falls which is about a two hour hike away down the Voyageur Trail.

You can see the video of the magpie falls here.

Old Woman Bay

Old Woman Bay is only 26 kms south of Wawa, so I didn’t have far to travel … this is the sight you’ll see as you descend down into Lake Superior’s Old Woman Bay.  It was an overcast day (still) while I was driving, but this view still gets me …

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The last 2 times I’ve been here, the weather hadn’t cooperated much, so these photos will not do it justice in the least. This is a true beauty in the heart of Algoma.  The 3 km long sandy beach is populated with driftwood. Looking toward the horizon, the face of the Old Woman can be seen with 200-metre standing cliffs to the left. The bay horseshoes out to the main body of Superior to the north, leading you to Entrance Island.

Had we had more time, I would have wanted to hike the Nokomis trail –> next time.

The video accompaniment to Old Woman Bay is here for your viewing pleasure.

Kathrine Cove

No too much further down the hwy we came to Katherine Cove. This beautiful sandy beach is on the shore of Lake Superior. Picnic tables, benches and a restroom are available for visitors to utilize.  A short yet demanding Coastal Trail from the beach will lead you to the natural wonder, Bathtub Island.  Which as you’ve heard me say a few times now … if I had more time, I would have loved to hike it.

At the cove, you’ll find viewscapes that inspired the Group of Seven to paint throughout this region.  From Sault Ste. Marie to Wawa, from White River, Pukaskwa National Park and along the top of the Superior. Located along this route are interpretive panels, each telling a different story about the artists and landscapes they painted here. On the journey you’ll discover breathtaking scenery and peaceful sandy beaches, natural and area attractions, places to eat, stay and meet friendly people who live on the Big Lake they call Gitche Gumee, which loosely translated means “Big Sea” or “Huge Water.

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Group of Seven at Katherine Cove

Katherine Cove video accompaniment is here.

Pancake Bay

Located on the shores of Lake Superior, Pancake Bay Provincial Park (Batchawana Bay) boasts of 3 km of superb sandy beaches and interpretive trails including the Edmund Fitzgerald Lookout with views of Lake Superior. The sheltered sandy bay got its name from the fur trading era, when voyageurs would camp there on their journey from Fort William. By the time they reached the bay, their food supply would be low and would make pancakes for dinner, knowing that they would replenish their supplies in Sault Ste. Marie the next day.

From the Lookout Trail viewing platform, visitors will see across to Whitefish Point. This stretch of Lake Superior is known as the “graveyard of the Great Lakes” where the famed Edmund Fitzgerald sank in the fierce November gale of 1975.

Chippewa Falls

The 25 ft high Chippewa Falls can be seen from Hwy 17 and is a great place to stop and stretch your legs because of the roadside park right next to them.

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At the roadside park, there is a plaque marks  the half-way point of the Trans-Canada Highway. The plaque describes Dr. Perry E. Doolittle, who is considered “Father of the Trans-Canada Highway”.  The Trans-Canada Highway runs from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Victoria, British Columbia.

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Blind River

The Town of Blind River is located at the mouth of the Mississagi River on the North Channel of Lake Huron, so from this point, we’re no longer traveling along Lake Superior.

I didn’t stop in Bling River very long, I stopped quickly by the Mississagi River to take a few breaths and appreciate and to listen to some Neil Young, he makes reference to Blind River in one of my favourite’s of his “Long May You Run”, a story about the demise of his 1948 Buick Roadmaster hearse.

Well, it was back in Blind River in 1962
When I last saw you alive
But we missed that shift on the long decline
Long may you run.

And on the Wikipedia page for Blind River, under “Notable People” you’ll see mentions of three notables — and in that list you will find my former father-in-law … Tom Cassidy 

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You can see the video from Chippewa Falls to Mindemoya here.

Next stop …

Mindemoya, Manitoulin Island

The current name of the island is the English version, coming from the Ojibwe name Manidoowaaling meaning “cave of the spirit”.

I entered the island via the one-lane Little Current Swing Bridge, which crosses the North Channel at Little Current.

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The swing bridge was built in 1913 by the Algoma Eastern Railway. Originally usable only by trains, it was modified in the late 1940s to allow road vehicles also to use it. The rail service was abandoned in the 1980s, and the tracks were removed in the 1990s.

Here are some fun facts that I didn’t know about Manitoulin Island:

  • The island has an area of 2,766 km2 making it the largest freshwater island in the world, the 174th largest island in the world and Canada’s 31st largest island.
  • Manitoulin Island has 108 freshwater lakes, some of which have their own islands.

I was heading down to Mindemoya to stay at friends’ of mine’s cottage.  My plan was to still SUV camp, but to have a safe place to stay and then go for a hike with my friend the following day prior to catching the Chi-Cheemaun at South Baymouth the following afternoon.  Oddly enough, I didn’t take still photos of my time here.

I just shot some short footage for my TikTok which you can see here.  

I built a fire, sat around it and talk to my friend for a while.  I was more than happy when the rain held off and I could thoroughly enjoy my evening.  After finishing 2 little bottles of Freixenet (I treated myself), we were off to sleep in the SUV.


Day 5: Mindemoya, Manitoulin Island to Kitchener

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My friend Barb and I did a short hike before my I had to load for the ferry ride along the Bowermans’ Public Walking Trail in South Baymouth.  It was raining, the wood paths were slick, and regardless the views were beautiful as the walking trails made by Eunice and Dick Bowerman go through the beautiful forest, which is still stunning this time of year.  For the most part, the trails are about a metre wide and extend in straight lines, however in several places steep rock outcroppings required the building of stairs.  There are also some corduroy paths over low lying wet lands.  

To view the video to that day, you can click here.

Perfect timing, as we finished our hike, we heard the horn of the Chi-cheemaun as it was entered port, so I quickly grabbed a slice of pizza and went back to my SUV to await the board.

I caught the 3:50 PM Chi-cheemaun ferry to Tobermory.  The sail is about 2 hours, and given the extensive amount of driving I’ve been doing the last few days, I was thankful for the rest.  

To view the video to that trek click here. 

Next stop …. Tobermory for debarquement ….

My initial plan was to stay around the area … maybe Miller Lake and SUV camp before heading home to Kitchener.  It’s a beautiful part of Ontario, I wanted to get to the Grotto, but, it wouldn’t stop raining!  And to be completely honest, I’d had it up to here with the rain – SUV camping is made a bit more difficult when it’s constantly raining out – you can’t light fires, you’re stuck in the back of your truck.    So, I decided to just head back to my hometown.  Kitchener is about 3h15 mins from Tobermory, so I hauled ass to get back home.

You can check out that TikTok here.

I’d be lying if I said I was a little bit happy to sleep in an actual bed, even while in Dauphin, I was sleeping on the couch or air mattress.

All in all that was an amazing drive from Dauphin back to Kitchener.  I will have to travel back at some point over the next little bit, by that time I’m hoping that the US border is open and that I can drive that way, to shave off some travel time and to experience a whole new adventure.

Have any of you traveled this route or been to some of these places?  

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