A city defined by the lake, Kenora is an underrated gem in northwestern Ontario. It’s a place where walleye fishing and loon calls paint the scene. Seaplanes depart from the harbourfront, flying visitors to exclusive lodges, while boats dot the harbour, highlighting Kenora’s lake-centric spirit.
Beyond the water, Kenora’s charm extends to historic streets, showcasing diverse architecture as well as a true sense of community, evident in its lively events and welcoming locals.
Easily reachable from Winnipeg and Thunder Bay, Kenora stands out with its sandy, rocky beaches and has placed itself firmly onto the map as a fishing mecca. The city thrives with options: from water sports on the lake to immersing in history or finding refuge in a rustic lakeside cabin.
Having explored Kenora over the past year, we’ve put together this guide with our favourite activities, culinary delights and hidden spots for the perfect day trip or weekend escape.
Kenora’s vibrant past
It’s hard to imagine that just over a century ago, Kenora — then called Rat Portage — was a town in the midst of transformation.
| Fun Fact | The traditional Ojibwe name of Kenora is Wazhashk-Onigamiing, meaning the portage to the country of the muskrat, which is where Rat Portage derived its name from.
From its ancient roots with Indigenous peoples, particularly the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) community, to the arrival of European explorers drawn by the allure of the fur trade, Kenora’s past weaves a captivating narrative.
The town’s transformation into a vital transportation hub, accelerated by the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the late 19th century, further shaped its destiny. Further growth followed with the discovery of gold in the area, which sparked a gold rush at the end of the 19th century, while its proximity to vast forests fueled the growth of the logging and lumber industry.
The city’s name of Rat Portage was the centre of contention, with some considering the name bad for business. After much contemplation, bickering and plenty of back & forth between legislators and townspeople, a name change was approved in 1905. Rat Portage became Kenora, derived by combining the first two letters of two nearby towns; Keewatin and Norman with Rat Portage.
Today, Kenora stands as a testament to the harmonious coexistence of its past and present, where Indigenous roots blend with diverse cultures, their deep connection with the land and lake, shaping the area’s culture and traditions for generations.
How to get to Kenora
Located around 200 km east from Winnipeg and 500 km northwest of Thunder Bay, Kenora is easily accessible for a day trip or a long weekend getaway. Take Highway 1 and once closer to the city, take Highway 17, which runs through Kenora. From Winnipeg the trip takes around 2h 30 min and from Thunder Bay it takes around 5h.
If you feel adventurous, the road trip from Toronto to Kenora takes around 20h along the scenic shores of Lake Superior.
Kenora Airport is located 9 km northeast of Kenora, where Bearskin Airlines is the major airline carrier operating out of the airport. For international flights, you will first have to book your trip to Winnipeg, from where it’s approximately a 2h 30 min drive to Kenora.
The best things to do in Kenora
Stroll through downtown Kenora
Although downtown Kenora is small in size, it boasts an abundance of attractions and activities, creating a wonderfully walkable city. You can admire a series of historical buildings dating back to the early 20th century lining the streets, enjoy a coffee at the waterfront where you can see the float planes take off or stroll along the harbourfront market on a warm summer’s day.
Walk along the streets and enjoy:
There is a vibrant mural scene in Kenora, with around 22 beautiful murals adorning the side of buildings and alleyways. The Kenora murals project began in the early 1990s with the aim of revitalising the downtown area and preserving the town’s history and heritage through art. Local artists and community members collaborated to create large-scale murals that depict significant historical events, cultural icons and natural beauty of the region.
| Tip | While exploring downtown, make sure to keep an eye out for the murals. Pick up a mural map from the Discovery Centre and learn more about the stories behind each of them.
Downtown Kenora’s rich history comes alive in its notable historic buildings, shaping the town’s distinct character.
Among these treasures, the Kenora Post Office, now the town hall, stands out. Built in 1898 on Main Street, this architectural masterpiece harmoniously combines High Victorian, Second Empire, and Richardsonian Romanesque styles, capturing the early 20th-century design ethos. Equally captivating is the St. Alban’s Cathedral on Main Street South, a Gothic Revival marvel born from the ashes of a fire-ravaged church in 1917. The cathedral’s design features a steeply pitched gable roof, towering arches and majestic towers.
A little further down Main Street at the Second Street junction, you’ll find three architectural gems. The splendid red brick building, housing Tilley’s Pharmasave, was erected in 1897 for Hose Hardware, showcasing locally sourced bricks. Across stands the iconic Kenricia Hotel, a 1907 creation by acclaimed architect Frank Newell, symbolising Kenora’s rise as a tourist destination. Completing the trio, the Doner Block’s enduring exterior, mostly unchanged since its origins as the Imperial Bank of Canada, adds an air of intrigue.
The town’s history and heritage are well-preserved through these structures, providing a glimpse into its past and serving as landmarks that contribute to the city’s unique character.
Kenora boasts a picturesque waterfront area along the northern shores of Lake of the Woods, known as the Harbourfront. The waterfront features a walkway that stretches along the shoreline, ideal for leisurely strolls, jogging or cycling. During the summer months, the Harbourfront Market attracts locals and tourists with its offerings of fresh produce, artisan crafts and various goods. The area comes alive with community events, live music performances and festivals, creating a vibrant atmosphere for all to enjoy.
You’ll find several restaurants and cafés close to the waterfront that offer dining experiences with breathtaking views of the lake. For those seeking a more adventurous experience, several companies provide boat tours and cruises, allowing you to explore the lake’s islands, bays and natural beauty.
The Kenora Rotary Club has played a significant role in developing and enhancing the waterfront area, contributing to its beauty and accessibility. Their efforts have resulted in well-maintained parks and green spaces, providing peaceful retreats for picnics and outdoor activities.
If you have a little more time or it’s drizzling outside, go by the Muse Museum for a dose of fascinating history and art of the region. We love learning about a city’s history as it gives you a more in-depth knowledge and appreciation of the area you’re visiting.
Two facilities dedicated to Kenora’s history, art, and culture make up The Muse:
Lake of the Woods Museum: The Lake of the Woods Museum focuses on preserving and showcasing the history, heritage and culture of the Lake of the Woods region. The museum houses a diverse collection of artifacts, documents, photographs and artworks that provide a wealth of information into the area’s past.
You can explore exhibits on topics such as the Indigenous history and culture of the region, the fur trade era, early settlers, the development of Kenora, and the natural history of Lake of the Woods and its surroundings. The museum serves as an educational resource for both locals and visitors and provides a comprehensive understanding of the various communities that have shaped the area over the centuries.
Douglas Family Art Centre: The Douglas Family Art Centre focuses on contemporary art and serves as a hub for visual arts in Kenora. It hosts a variety of exhibitions featuring works from local and regional artists, as well as artists from across Canada. The center aims to promote and celebrate the arts while providing a platform for artists to display their creations and engage with the community.
The Art Centre might offer rotating exhibitions, art classes, workshops and special events to enrich the cultural life of the area and foster creativity and artistic expression. Both the Lake of the Woods Museum and the Douglas Family Art Centre contribute to Kenora’s cultural scene, providing opportunities for residents and visitors to explore the area’s history and appreciate the diverse talents of local artists.
| Opening Hours | In July and August: Sunday to Saturday, 10am – 5pm. Check the website for opening hours during other seasons.
| Admission | For Museum OR Art Centre: Adults – $5.00 Seniors (ages 65+) – $4.00 Students (ages 6-17) – $4.00 For Museum AND Art Centre: Adults – $8.00 Seniors (ages 65+) – $6.00 Students (ages 6-17) – $6.00
For more information on exhibits and current opening hours, check out the Muse Website
Take a walk along the Greenbelt
During our time in Kenora, we spent many moments on the Greenbelt. Not only does it provide beautiful views of the Kenora skyline, it has a variety of things to see and do in this little corner of Kenora.
Head to McLeod Park where you can park your car and safely walk under the highway to the waterfront. A small flower park has been placed here, but the main attractions are:
Husky the Muskie
Husky the Muskie is an iconic landmark you can’t miss on your visit to Kenora. It is one of the world’s largest fish statues, representing the muskellunge, also known as muskie, which is a species of fish commonly found in the waters of Lake of the Woods. It stands proud over the lake, depicting a leaping muskie fish with its mouth open. It is designed with intricate details, including scales and fins, making it a lifelike representation of the species. After taking some snaps of the statue, turn towards the lake and look out. If the clock strikes the hour, you will see:
The Goodwill Geyser, maintained by the Rotary Club, is a well-known landmark in Kenora. It shoots a powerful jet of water up to 75 meters high into the air every hour on the hour, lasting for 15 minutes. This water display can be witnessed from 8 am to 11 pm during the summer months.
This area is also an excellent sunrise spot, with the sun rising behind the city of Kenora, lighting up the city in beautiful soft hues.
Lake of the Woods Brewery
No visit to Kenora is complete without a stop at Lake of the Woods Brewery. Located in the historic building of the old Kenora Fire Hall, Lake of the Woods Brewery is a small but impressive brewery priding itself in their unique craft beers using an old-world technique not used often throughout the world.
We have visited the brewery several times, enjoying a flight of their craft beers, cider and a bite to eat. On our last visit, we delved a little deeper into the history of the brewery and went on a tour around the building where we learned about their craft beer process, from grain to the delicious golden liquid poured out to enjoy on a hot summer’s day.
| Good to know | They offer a variety of beer styles, including pale ales, IPAs, stouts, lagers and seasonal brews, catering to a wide range of tastes.
| Unique | Visit the on-site store and get your hands on a 2023 Limited Edition bottle of Lake of the Woods Brewing Company’s “Deep 6”. This beer is aged under the ice for 6 months in 20 feet of water on Lake of the Woods and comes complete with a dusty-old vibes bottle which is wax sealed. Learn more about the process here.
Get out on the water
M.S Kenora cruise
With over 14,500 islands and 25,000 km of shoreline, Lake of the Woods beckons to be explored. This is why we were excited to embark on an afternoon cruise on the M.S. Kenora, one of the main attractions in the city. The cruise departed from Kenora’s harbourfront and took us around the northern part of Lake of the Woods, while pre-recorded messages informed us of the history, interesting tidbits and facts about the region.
It’s a peaceful cruise where you can grab a snack and a drink, indulging in the lake-equivalent of people-watching: a family enjoying time on their private boat, a couple having fun on their jet skis, two friends trying their luck at catching fish or simply observing all the different styles of cabins on the mainland and islands.
| Good to know | M.S. Kenora sails several times a day. The lunch and afternoon cruise takes around 1,5h while the dinner/sunset cruise takes 2,5h.
If you would like more freedom to venture where you want, there are plenty of opportunities to rent and head out on the water. One such company is Kenora’s newest eco-tourism business, Mosswood Adventures, which offers hourly outdoor leisure rental items such as water bikes, kayaks, stand up paddle boards, pedal boats and more!
| Where | Find them at their pop-up at Garrow Park
| Opening hours | Thursdays and Fridays 12:00PM – 6:00PM – Saturdays and Sundays and Holiday Mondays 11:00AM – 6:00PM
Parks & trails
Even though it’s a must to get out on the water, there are also beautiful spots to be discovered on the shore. Here are a few of our favourites:
Waa’say’ Gaa Boo (Tunnel Island Trails)
This is a beautiful trail not far from Kenora. It was a beautiful summer morning when we meandered through the forest trail. We hiked through a mix of forests and on rocky terrain taking us to several viewpoints overlooking the many corners of the lake.
| Tip | There are two loops you can hike here. The A-Loop is a 5.5km trail and the B-Loop is a 6km trail. On the A-loop, make sure to check out the scenic viewpoint halfway through the hike on the Voyageur Trail.
Norman Park/Splash Park
Norman Park is a small area with a sandy beach and views over Coney Island. It’s a great spot for families as it has a playground as well as a fun splash park. If you don’t have kids, it’s still a beautiful spot to visit outside of the splash park hours. We arrived here in the early hours, the sun had just risen and all was quiet, safe from a family of ducks floating around on the mirror-like lake.
South of Kenora, we found the perfect picnic spot at Ancinabe Park. We grabbed a pizza to go from Black Oven in downtown Kenora and found ourselves a cosy spot under one of the many gazebos in the park. We enjoyed the perfect view from up there, overlooking the inlet, the sandy beach, boardwalk and boat launches. Despite the windy conditions, it didn’t stop the locals and visitors from heading out on the water in their boats, jet skis and kayaks. It’s a quaint little spot, surrounded by holiday cabins perched on the rocky shores.
Keewatin – Mink Bay Trail
The Mink Bay Wetland is a beautiful area nestled in the west end of the City of Kenora. This area has the distinction of being the earliest settled area in Keewatin. This trail system winds through the wetlands and wilderness areas of Mink and Portage Bay and into the green spaces and businesses of downtown Keewatin.
| Good to know | The trail takes you on a 4.3 km hike on easy to moderate terrain.
Where to eat & drink
Some might say this is the most important category on any travel itinerary and we concur that exploring the local drink and food scene is a must! On our visits to Kenora, these places stood out to us:
- Black Oven // Located in downtown Kenora, Black Oven is a must-visit for pizza enthusiasts. Their delicious wood-fired pizzas and inviting ambiance make it a top spot for a casual meal. Do as we did, and grab a pizza to go to enjoy a picnic in the many beautiful spots around Kenora.
- The Hungry Pug // A top breakfast and lunch spot in Kenora, The Hungry Pug offers locally and globally inspired dishes with the best Vegan/GF/DF options, including fresh baked goods.
- Lake of the Woods Brewery // Indulge in a craft beer experience at Lake of the Woods Brewery. Their wide selection of locally brewed beers and tasty pub-style dishes create the perfect combination for a relaxing evening. Do as we did and join a brewery tour after.
- Iron & Clay // A charming coffee shop in Kenora, offering signature artisanal blends and a cosy ambiance, perfect for coffee enthusiasts seeking a delightful experience in the heart of the community.
- HoJoe Coffee & Eatery // A cosy coffee shop and eatery, HoJoe serves up artisanal coffee, homemade baked goods, and light breakfast and lunch options. Perfect for a quick pick-me-up or a leisurely meal.
- Ye Olde Chip Truck // Craving some classic fish and chips? Ye Olde Chip Truck is the place to go. Grab some fresh, golden-battered fish and crispy chips while soaking in the scenic views. There are two trucks, one is located at the discovery center and the other one at Old Market in downtown Kenora (only serves chips).
- Waffles on Coney Island // In July and August, head to Coney Island on a Sunday morning and treat yourself to waffles and delicious toppings.
- The Boathouse // A lakeside restaurant with a relaxed ambiance and a menu focused on fresh seafood and grill options. As the only lakeside restaurant, it’s perfect for a scenic dining experience.
Summer equals a plethora of festivals and events in Kenora. For up to date dates, make sure to check out the official Kenora calendar.
Beer on the Pier
Presented by Lake of the Woods brewery, the Matheson Street Pier transforms into a vibrant community event with live music, a selection of beer and ciders from Lake of the Woods brewery and food options to keep hunger pangs at bay. It’s a free event and great for families with a family friendly games area.
| When | July
| Cost | Free
The flagship event of the Lake of the Woods Arts Community comes alive on the grounds of The Muse – the Lake of the Woods Museum and Douglas Family Art Centre – with a spectacular array of live performances, artist exhibits and demonstrations and the tremendously popular KidZone.
| When | July
| Cost | Free
Harbourfest in Kenora is the largest music festival in Northwestern Ontario, showcasing a vibrant celebration of music, entertainment and community spirit. Held annually over the August long weekend, this festival is a significant highlight of Kenora’s summer calendar.
By day, Harbourfest offers family-friendly entertainment, a diverse range of local vendors, and a delectable array of food options. As night falls, the festival transforms into a musical extravaganza, featuring nightly concerts that span different genres and create an electric atmosphere. Beyond music, the festival embraces Kenora’s heritage with activities like a classic car show and a captivating wooden boat parade. The grand finale—a pyro-musical fireworks display over the harbor—brings the event to a spectacular close.
| When | August
| Cost | Free
Coney Island Music Festival
The Coney Island Music Festival in Kenora is not your typical day at the beach. It’s a fantastic event designed for the whole family, featuring a lineup of live acts that take the stage at Coney Island.
This exciting day-long festival is a perfect blend of live music, tasty refreshments from the snack shack, engaging activities for kids with prizes, and a chance to enjoy the stunning shores of one of the most beautiful lakes. One of the highlights of the Coney Island Music Festival is the showcase of works and crafts by talented local artists, adding a unique artistic flair to the event. Whether you’re a music enthusiast, an art lover, or just looking for a fun day out, this festival has something for everyone.
The best part? The event is free for the entire family, making it an accessible and affordable option for a day of entertainment.
| How to get to Coney Island | In summer, there’s a daily shuttle that departs from Kenora Harbourfront from 10 to 11 a.m. 1 to 2 p.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. A return trip costs $10 and all children under 3 years ride free!
| When | July
| Cost | Free
Other things to do in Kenora
Cemetery Walking Tours
One of the more unique experiences in Kenora is a cemetery walking tour in one of the largest cemeteries in northern Ontario. Led by Braden Murray, The Muse Educator, these guided tours offer a unique opportunity to explore the history of Kenora through the lives of those laid to rest here. With over 14000 graves, Braden Murray unearths true crime stories, murder mysteries and the intrigue of the Ontario-Manitoba border conflict. You’ll gain insights into the impact of sickness and disease, alongside an infamous, grisly bank robbery etched into Canadian history.
| Good to know | The tours are held on Friday nights at 7:30pm through summer and are $10/person
Matiowski Farmers Market
Northwestern Ontario’s largest market, the Matiowski Farmers’ Market features a variety of fresh meats, locally grown fresh produce and delicious baked goods, dips and spreads. The market takes place every Wednesday under the Whitecap Pavilion during the summer months.
Where to stay
Wild Woods Hideaway
The name says it all, turn off the highway and you’ll find yourself meandering the paths with rustic cabins tucked away in the forest canopy. Wild Woods Hideaway is a rustic eco-resort on the outskirts of Kenora by Mink Bay. We stayed here for three nights and felt completely enveloped in nature.
We spent moments at the cabin, enjoying freshly brewed coffee on our patio, while the forest echoed with the playful songs of flitting birds. During the day, we explored the hiking trails around Mink Bay, in the evening we made our way to the dock, grabbed our paddles and set off on a sunset canoe trip around Mink Bay.
| Good to know | As a rustic eco-resort, Wild Woods Hideaway’s cabins and tents provide the essentials, however toilets and the shower are shared. Some of their cabins do have a compost toilet, but there is no running water in any of the accommodations.
| Price | Log cabins: $124 / night on weekdays $139 /night on weekends, prospector tents: $94/night on weekdays and $109/night on weekends
| Open | Open May 1 to Oct 31
What to do next?
Need more planning guides for your trip to Kenora and Lake of the Woods? We got you covered!
Our trip was hosted by Tourism Kenora. As always, all opinions are our own and you will always read our genuine thoughts and experiences.