About Kakabeka Falls
Kakabeka Falls was the main reason why we bothered to make the long out-and-back detour from Duluth to Thunder Bay along the North Shore of Lake Superior.
It was a massive 40m high split waterfall on the Kaministiquia River, which was said to be Ontario’s second highest.
The waterfall might also claim the title of the largest waterfall draining into Lake Superior.
As a result, we’ve seen Kakabeka Falls often referred to as the “Niagara of the North”, especially since it had a volume and size that rivaled other high volume Canadian waterfalls (e.g. the Chute Montmorency in Quebec).
Although the river would have its highest flow during the late Spring months when the snow and ice would have maximal thaw, as you can see in the photo above, the falls still exhibited a lot of force during our late September visit.
In fact, there was so much volume that we could still feel some of the spray from the most distant lookout well downstream of the falls.
Such spray reach also meant that the waterfall produced impressive displays of morning rainbows seen from both sides of the river.
Experiencing Kakabeka Falls
Our visit was very easy as we were immediately able to walk from the large parking lot and picnic area (see directions below) to the nearest lookout decks.
This afforded us semi-frontal and close-up angled views of most of the Kakabeka Falls.
The looping boardwalk further downstream from this deck allowed for more downstream views of the canyon while providing a longer trail back towards the village of Kakabeka (if driving to the park was not desirable).
That said, we were able to extend our excursion by taking the boardwalks and trails upstream of the falls.
Then, we crossed the bridge traversing the Kaministiquia River before the trail skirted the opposite side of the river.
The trail eventually led us downstream to perhaps the lookout with the most comprehensive and frontal view of the Kakabeka Falls (see picture at the top of this page), which was near a Visitor Center.
It took me about 15-20 minutes to walk to this lookout from the most distant lookouts on the other side of the river.
Overall, we spent a little over an hour to get the full experience of the Kakabeka Falls.
By the way, this Visitor Center on the far side of the river also had a couple of campgrounds nearby as well as a separate parking area.
So if you had a cooperative partner, you could conceivably have someone drive to the other parking area to cut the walking distance in half.
Extending a visit to pursue the Little Falls
From looking at the park maps, it was possible to really extend our visit here by doing a much longer like from the Visitor Center at the opposite side of the Kaministiquia River downstream to the Little Falls.
This would involve hiking along a combination of the Mountain Portage Trail and the Little Falls Trail.
We didn’t bother doing it given the time commitment (it appeared to take at least a couple hours to do) so we can’t say anything more about it.
The “Niagara of the North”
Finally, as you might have gleaned from this write-up, we had heard that Kakabeka Falls was given the name the “Niagara of the North”.
This was probably due to its impressively high volume and size.
However, geographically, the falls was only 5 degrees of lattitude north of the mighty Niagara Falls itself.
Moreover, we’re aware of larger waterfalls in the Northwest Territory (Virginia Falls being one of them) that probably deserve the moniker more than this waterfall.
Nevertheless, like with Niagara Falls, the Kakabeka Falls has been said to have been tapped for hydroelectricity further upstream.
So that made us wonder what a spectacle this place would have been had it been allowed to flow unchecked!
Kakabeka Falls resides in Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park near Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. It is administered by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation, and Parks. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.
The nearest city of note to Kakabeka Falls was Thunder Bay.
We drove west of Thunder Bay along the Harbour Expressway, which eventually became the Hwy 17 and Hwy 11 (part of the Trans-Canada Highway) west of the intersection with Hwy 61 on the outskirts of Thunder Bay.
We followed the Hwy 17 and Hwy 11 road for 25km, where just west of the Village of Kakabeka was the well-signed turnoff on the left leading to the Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park.
This drive took us about 20 minutes.
Following the signs, the main car park was the large lot to the left of the payment kiosk (i.e. you don’t drive across the bridge).
However, it turned out that there were campgrounds on the other side of that bridge so we were able to cut the already short hiking on the boardwalk trail by driving across the bridge then briefly parking by the Visitor Center on the other side of the river.
That said, this latter route was not that well-signed, which led me to believe that the park authorities don’t recommend casual day visitors to drive across the bridge.
Driving from the USA-Canada Border to Kakabeka Falls directly
Finally, since we also managed to drive from Kakabeka Falls direct to the international border near Pigeon River Provincial Park (roughly 65km to the south), we learned that the GPS as well as GoogleMaps tended to steer us onto unpaved farm roads.
So to save you the trouble of fighting the GPS, here’s the best route to take.
It goes from the international border to Kakabeka Falls without going northeast to Thunder Bay where we would have to backtrack via the route described earlier in this section.
From the international border, drive north on the Hwy 61 for about 40km to the turnoff with Hwy 130 on the left.
Then, go north on Hwy 130 for about 5km to Barrie Drive.
Turn left onto Barrie Drive and go for about 2.8km to River Road.
Turn right onto River Road and follow this for about 5.5km to Hwy 588.
Turn right onto Hwy 588 and follow this for roughly 1.7km to Hwy 11/17 (Trans-Canada Hwy).
Turn left onto the Trans-Canada Hwy and follow it for the last 5.6km (going through Kakabeka Village) to the Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park on the left.
As for geographical context, Duluth, Minnesota was 154 miles (about 2.5 hours drive) north of Minneapolis, Minnesota, 189 miles (about 4 hours drive) southwest of Thunder Bay, Canada, and 397 miles (6 hours drive) northwest of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
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