Road Trip from Toronto to Winnipeg via Northern Ontario

Batchawana Bay near the Lake Superior Provincial Park Agawa Campground

This is my first post in a series that will cover my road trip west from Toronto, across Canada to Vancouver Island and returning east through the northern United States, back home. Today I’ll cover the road trip from Toronto to Winnipeg, focusing on the north shore of Lake Superior.

To start, I have to reveal that on this trip I am not solo. Despite being married, I travel the majority of the time solo, but this is a trip with a purpose.

Simon, my husband and the guy that finds us all the tours and cruises that treat solo travelers well, had a book of poetry published earlier this year. This trip involves travel, exploration, and a few reading gigs for Simon. The book is called Brought Down. If you are part of an active poetry group on our route that might want a reading, please get in touch.

Now, on to my reporting about the Northern Ontario leg of our central to western Canada road trip.

We’re driving a 2005 Rialta.

Table of Contents

Learning the Ropes in a New-to-Me RV

From Toronto to Sault Ste. Marie is just over 7 hours driving time according to Google Maps. As we were finding our legs with the new vehicle, it took a couple more hours. Yes, it was a long day.

We are driving a 2005, VW Rialta RV. It’s 21 feet long and is on loan to us for our 2-month trip. That makes us very lucky!

Not surprisingly, it does not drive like a car. It’s wider, longer, and pulling a lot of weight. The pickup is less than a car and the turning radius is wider. Now that I’m used to it, it’s not a problem at all. But, at the start, we went slowly. Driving 80-90 km per hour doesn’t get you anywhere fast. But it does get you there.

We now cruise at 90-95 km per hour and that’s comfortable. I’ve had learning to do regarding hills and the Rialta group on Facebook has been a huge help. As we approach the Rockies, people in the group have recommended driving techniques and two devices that will help us over the mountains while treating the vehicle well.

Beyond driving, the unit is amazing. I can highly recommend it for using space efficiently. It’s perfect for one or two people.

Now, let’s talk about the trip.

Can you see the two beaver dams that cross this portion of the St. Marys River? Just under the bridge on which I was standing there was another. The bridge in the background is the international bridge running between the United States and Canada.

Highlights of the First Leg of the Road Trip from Toronto to Winnipeg

Given that the vehicle was new to us, that we needed to get accustomed to living in a smaller space together, and that we both are working as well as traveling, I scheduled 4 nights at our first stop in Sault Ste. Marie. My thinking was that it would give us time to settle in, and it did.

My first question to be answered was, what is a sault? A sault refers to rapids. (A series of somersaults look somewhat like rapids.)

St. Marys River runs between Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, Canada and Sault Ste Marie, Michigan, USA. It is the connecting water between Lake Superior and Lake Huron. The lock on the Canadian side is for leisure craft. On the US side, the river is naturally deeper and there are canals and locks for freight ships that are used by both countries. Prior to all this, there were rapids and the Sault was a meeting place for indigenous people and traders from centuries past.

Nature in the city of Sault Ste. Marie. Whitefish Island.

You can walk across the lock on the Canadian side to South St. Mary’s Island and then to Whitefish Island. Whitefish Island was an important Aboriginal settlement, trading post, and fishing base. It is the land of the Batchewana First Nation and is used for many Indigenous ceremonies as well as for hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking, and jogging. It’s a bird-lover’s paradise.

The Art Gallery of Algoma is a small regional gallery with a large collection.

While Simon was being interviewed at the city’s library, I explored the town starting at the Art Gallery of Algoma. The young woman there gave me a sense of the thriving art scene in the Sault. I walked the waterfront and spoke to an older woman who remembered when there were rapids rather than the calm waters managed by the locks. Then, I went for a coffee where I really experienced the thrill of my work.

This place on Queen Street is a gem. Read more about downtown Sault Ste. Marie below.

At Mane St. Co. I had a coffee as well as a tour of the shop and a history lesson on Sault Ste Marie. In addition to being a coffee shop and bar, there is a hair studio in the back, a fitness center, a spa for massages and other treatments, and a spinning room downstairs. They have live music on Fridays and Latin dancing on Thursdays. It’s a happening place to say the least and all of it is available to tourists.

Justin gave me the tour which included a view into the tunnels of the Sault in the basement. While the romantic story of the tunnels is that they were used for bootlegging during prohibition, the more likely use was for security during World War II. The locks at the Sault connect the west to the east for food and steel transportation making it a strategic location that could be at risk in wartime.

Here are my suggestions for spending two days in this area.

Day 1, enjoy the highlights of Sault Ste. Marie:

  • The Art Gallery of Algoma
  • Waterfront walk and cycling path
  • Nature hikes on Whitefish Island
  • Mane St. Co.

Day 2, get out into nature.

  • Drive 60 km north of Sault Ste. Marie to Batchawana Bay and hike to the falls (1 km return)
  • walk the beach
  • enjoy the famous fritters at The Voyageur’s Lodge and Cookhouse
The Agawa Canyon Train ride begins in Sault Ste. Marie. I took it a number of years ago and it is quite spectacular. Tickets to enjoy the fall colors are in high demand.

Road Trip Sault Ste. Marie to Winnipeg

After Sault Ste. Marie, we drove for three days. Not three full days as we learned our lesson on day one, but three half days so that we could explore and relax a bit each day. Unfortunately, this eliminated the day to spend in Thunder Bay, which is on the other side of Lake Superior from the Sault. It is the largest city on the Canadian side of Lake Superior.

For those who want to circumnavigate the lake, check out the Lake Superior Circle Tour.

Here’s the northern Ontario part of our road trip from Toronto to Winnipeg.

Sault Ste Marie to Wawa, Ontario

There are many beautiful places to pull over on this route, starting with Chippewa Falls and ending with the Big Goose in Wawa.

Chippewa Falls
Beautiful, empty beaches along the way.
The famous Wawa Goose

Wawa to Thunder Bay

For many, this is the most beautiful stretch of the highway along the north shore of Lake Superior. Certainly, there were many beautiful vistas showing up around the bends in the road.

Near Marathon, Ontario
Spectacular vistas on the drive between Wawa and Thunder Bay.
Another near Marathon, Ontario

Thunder Bay to Winnipeg

This is the stretch of this trip that is more of an endurance test than a pleasure. It has its moments but, generally, the view is of trees and more trees, with the occasional small town, for about 7 hours. It is the part of going over Lake Superior that I’m not keen on but it is an inevitable part of the road trip from Toronto to Winnipeg.

There was one place where the road was flooded, however, we made it across just fine.

For more Canadian road trips, check out these posts:

  • Circumnavigating Nova Scotia: A Solo Road Trip of Ocean Views
  • Border to Border in Alberta: A Western Canada Road Trip
  • A Prairie Road Trip: Exploring Manitoba and Saskatchewan Solo
  • A Solo Canadian Maritimes Road Trip

Coming up next week: the Canadian prairies.

Last updated: 21st February, 2023

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