Kakabeka Falls, a 25-minute drive west of Thunder Bay, is a no-brainer for a spring, summer or fall destination—consider the awesome majesty of the falls, the quiet trails and beach at the provincial park, and the opportunity to sample the treats at the wide variety of ice cream shops in the village.
But winter? As a matter of fact, yes!
I had heard good things about a diner-style restaurant on the north side of Hwy 11/17 as you enter the village from the east. When I arrived for lunch, I discovered that the restaurant had undergone a name change (but fortunately not a menu change) the previous week. It is called The Eddy, with a vibe that’s evolving to fit its gastropub fare.
Tempted by the Ploughman’s Platter (homemade crackers, house-smoked back bacon, fruit, pickled preserves, and local cheeses, $8) and the Hot Gobbler (bacon-wrapped roasted turkey, sage stuffing, and homemade cranberry sauce with sweet potato fries, $13), I ultimately chose the $10 pasta special, tender shells in a cream sauce with mushrooms and bacon, which was delicious and flavourful without over-the-top richness.
The dish lives up to the venue’s “simply from scratch” motto. Fun side note: If you’re really starving, you can substitute grilled cheese sandwiches for the buns in all the burger dishes. I picked up an oversized pecan butter tart on the way out. After all, I was going skiing later on and needed to keep my strength up.
Next, I checked out a couple of the shops that are open year-round. The Kakabeka Depot on the south side of the highway combines garden, horse and pet supplies with an impressive selection of quality toys from the Melissa & Doug and John Deere brands, as well as local honey and jams. Next door is the Kakabeka Falls Gift and Amethyst Shoppe, which is crammed with souvenir t-shirts and gift items, as well as Thunder Bay amethyst, handmade knitting, locally made candles and books by regional authors. The Metropolitan Moose Beanery and Cafe is another inviting spot, offering home baking and hearty soups and sandwiches created with local ingredients, some grown right in their own backyard.
Much has been made of a frozen Niagara Falls this winter, but how about the “Niagara of the North?” I parked at Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park ($3 for one hour), bundled up and grabbed my camera. The mighty 40-metre falls are indeed almost entirely frozen, although you can, incongruously, hear the sound of rushing water as a determined stream bores through the ice. Icicles drip from the millions-year-old rock and vast chunks of ice are piled on the river below. The Visitors’ Centre is not open during the winter months, but the boardwalks are cleared so you can walk around. It’s definitely worth a visit.
The last stop on my trip is the cross-country ski trails at the park. You actually have to drive past the park and turn left onto Hwy 590, then left again on Luckens Road (it’s easy to miss it). Part of the Thunder Bay Nordic Trails (TBNT), the uncrowded trails are groomed for both classic and skate skiing and offer plenty of interesting and varied terrain. If you have an Ontario Parks Winter Pass or a TBNT pass your trail fee is included; otherwise it’s $6 for a day pass, payable on the honour system inside the shack beside the parking lot.
There are three looped trails: Poplar Point is 4 km, River Terrace is 9.8 km, and I opted for the medium route, the 7.4-km Beaver Pond. It has just enough rolling hills to give you a combination of a good workout (uphill) and plenty of “wheee!” moments (downhill).
Snowshoe hare, fox, deer and likely even wolf footprints crisscross the trails, and I did in fact have two deer bound in front of me, plus an overwintering eagle skim the treetops. It was a fantastic ski, and at the end of the trail I snapped a picture. Caption this one: “It’s Butter Tart Time!”