If you can’t get to Niagara Falls this summer, come and visit another of the world’s best natural waterfalls, Northwestern Ontario’s spectacular Kakabeka Falls, only a 20-minute drive west from Thunder Bay on Highway 11-17. Known as the Niagara of the North (it’s the second largest waterfall in Ontario), it has a distinctive landscape that is steeped in legends and history.
When you stand on the boardwalks around Kakabeka Falls and look down on the mighty Kaministiquia (Kam) River, you can almost ‘’see’‘ the fur trade canoe brigades with its hardy voyagers paddling up the river from Lake Superior (about 30 miles away) on their way to Canada’s hinterland. Take the 1.24 mile (2 km) Mountain Portage Trail along the rim of the river gorge and you’ll be on the same portage route used by fur traders, explorers, soldiers, settlers and missionaries to bypass the Falls. Back then it was an arduous, difficult portage; today it’s a barrier-free wooden boardwalk.
The historic Falls plunges just over 131 feet (40 metres) over sheer cliffs into a rock-walled river canyon carved out by the waters of the Kam River. It is a powerful, mesmerizing scene: the creamy frothy cascading water drops thunderously to the deep river gorge. The rocks at the bottom are over a billion years old; fossils dating back 1.6 billion years have been found here.
In 1882, Canadian writer George Munro Grant visited the region and was so impressed with Kakabeka (‘steep cliffs” in Ojibwa) Falls that he wrote,
“The fall itself is as beautiful as anything on the continent…….One may sit by the hour spell-bound and study the motion of colour of this wondrous creation. The foam is softer in appearance than the finest wool, more translucent than alabaster, and behind it the more solid mass of falling water is seen, by gleams and flashes, in colour and transparency like the purest amber.”
The Ontario government has done a superb job of building along the river’s rim extensive boardwalks with rest benches and observation pods to provide visitors with outstanding viewing opportunities. And you couldn’t ask for a more beautiful setting to go camping than at Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park which surrounds the falls and river; the park’s two campgrounds have 169 campsites (90 with electrical hookups). If you like exploring nature, there are five hiking trails (from easy to strenuous) winding through the park, plus a roped-off swimming area with a sandy beach and children’s playground.
Nearby the Falls is the pleasant Village of Kakabeka Falls. On the main street, there are good restaurants and an eclectic mix of shops selling everything from local crafts, amethyst, t-shirts, books and souvenirs to fishing tackle, ice cream and Red Hat Society ‘stuff.’
Kakabeka Falls is a wilderness jewel of Northwestern Ontario. Put it on your list of travel destinations and you won’t be disappointed.