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Highway 61 Revisited

Wilderness kayaking is just a few paddle strokes from Highway 61. • Credit: Goh Iromoto
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Highway 61 Revisited

3 Easy Kayak Day Trips Near The Blues Highway

With effortless access from Thunder Bay, paddling tours along this storied highway offer a wilderness experience with suburban convenience.

Most travellers in Northern Ontario pass through east-west on the Trans-Canada, oblivious to the scenic and historic treasure trove that is Highway 61—a route that starts in Thunder Bay and meanders south to its end in New Orleans, Louisiana. Since the highway connects the hometowns of many, early influential American blues musicians—from Mississippi’s Delta blues area to Memphis, St. Louis, and Bob Dylan’s birthplace of Duluth, Minnesota—it’s celebrated south of the border as the “Blues Highway.”

Sea kayaker paddling blue waters with beautiful landscape.
Sturgeon Bay’s unspoiled coast is just a half-hour drive from the city.

North of the border, we celebrate highway blues of a different kind: here, the road follows the sapphire waters of Lake Superior and is a gateway to some impressive wilderness sea kayaking. Fortunately, much of the coastline is protected from development by conservation areas—ask anyone who’s paddled on the Great Lakes, and they will say it is a rare treasure to find so much publicly accessible shoreline.

These three bays along Highway 61, all in the municipality of Neebing, make for a series of great day trips from your basecamp in Thunder Bay.

Sturgeon Bay

Rocks covered in orange lichen along Lake Superior.
Sunburst lichen thrive amid the clean air and water of Sturgeon Bay.

Distance from city: 42 km   

Put-in amenities: Boat launch, ample parking

Sturgeon Bay is a picturesque and sheltered bay located about 35 minutes from Thunder Bay via Highway 61 and Sturgeon Bay Road. Despite its close proximity to the city, only about 10 percent of the shoreline is developed. The bay is surrounded by a mix of wetlands and towering cliffs, and opens to a narrow channel that leads to Mink Bay to the south and Flatland Island to the north.

Destination: Sturgeon Island, a small island at the southern end of the bay

Round trip: 7.2 km (following the shoreline)

Insider tip: The wetland on Sturgeon Bay provides important habitat for waterfowl and large flocks of common merganser, bufflehead and greater scaup can be observed in early May. The spectacular cliffs along the west side of the bay provide updrafts for migrating raptors, such as peregrine falcon.

Little Trout Bay

Two people walking with dry bags along rock coast of Lake Superior
McKellar Point shelters Little Trout Bay from the winds and waves of the open lake.

Distance from city: 44 km

Put-in amenities: Boat launch, picnic shelter, hiking trail, outdoor privy

Little Trout Bay is popular with anglers as the crystal clear water provides excellent fishing for salmon, pickerel, whitefish, rainbow trout and lake trout. The bay is surrounded by dense stands of boreal forest with cliffs, stretches of open bedrock, and cobble beaches. The boat launch is located in the Little Trout Bay Conservation Area, and a minimum $2 per vehicle parking fee is recommended.

Destination: McKellar Point, a densely forested peninsula that shelters the bay from the big lake

Round trip: 14.7 km (following the shoreline to the end of the point)

Insider tip: On your way out of town, take a detour to the Thunder Oak Cheese Farm. They make award-winning Gouda cheese and sell a variety of local products (like chocolate-covered sponge toffees called Cow Nuggets).

Little Pigeon Bay

Two small rock islands with trees
he picturesque Boundary Islands make a scenic destination in Little Pigeon Bay.

Distance from city: 54 km

Put-in amenities: Boat launch, ample parking

Just north of the Minnesota-Ontario border, Little Pigeon Bay is adjacent to a protected area that includes the Pigeon River and the two impressive waterfalls: High Falls and Middle Falls. The boat launch is located on a pebble beach that provides easy access to the shoreline, while most of the bay is bordered by rugged rocks and cliffs.

Destination: Boundary Islands (a.k.a. Boxcar Islands), a unique and picturesque rock formation

Round trip: 4.2 km, passing to the east of Owen Island and Marin Island

Insider tip: If you have an extra couple of hours and would like a different vantage point of the bay and surrounding area, drive a little further south to the roadside Ontario Travel Centre. Here you’ll find the trailhead for the Finger Point Trail, a 2.5-km hike leading to one of the north shore’s best lookouts.


Whether you’re a fan of blues music or blue-water kayaking (or both!), exploring Highway 61 and the scenic coastline just beyond makes for a must-do road trip.

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