I never tire of the scene. You are on the West side of the Sault, traveling on the Trans Canada Hwy when you come over the rise of the long hill heading down to Goulais River. There it is, in all its majesty, the largest freshwater lake on the planet, Superior. I can’t help to have Gordon Lightfoot’s 1975 iconic song turned up, The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald, “The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down of the big lake they called Gitche Gumee”.
My memories of this iconic Canadian drive are many. You never know what this lake will throw at you; from staggering vistas, wild wind or cloudless warm summer days, this is one of our gems. Heading to Thunder Bay there’s a plethora of places to stop, and if you have the time, stay a while. Take your pick of activities, a canoe trip, hiking or just setting up a tent or parking your RV to feel this landscape. Ontario’s Lake Superior Provincial Park would be a good choice to start, about 2 hours from the Sault. A few places to consider once you are in the park. Agawa Bay for starters, with the visitor centre and its ocean like beach and don’t forget about the pictographs, the ancient rock drawings just a little further down the highway.
If you are spending time, there are many day hikes; hard to choose which one though. The Nokomis Trail overlooking Old Woman Bay has spectacular views. The bay is where the famous film maker, artist and canoeist, Bill Mason filmed part of his film “Water Walker”. Take a walk along the beach at Old Woman Bay, and if you are there when the winds are coming from the West, not gentle breezes but the kind that will move objects on the beach, you will feel the power of the lake in all its might. Another favourite is the Sand River hike, a short walk, following the river course along its well trodden path. Waterfalls, rapids and the magnificence of a wilderness river as it cascades its way to the lake provide the visuals.
Wawa and its famous goose is worth the stop with its visitor centre just off the highway. A bit of trivia here, Wawa gets its name from the Ojibwe word for “wild goose,” wewe. Wawa was defined as the wild goose in The Song of Hiawatha. It stands almost 30’ and is made of steel, used to be plaster, but the weather played havoc with it. Once here, you need to get off the highway, maybe take the Michipicoten Harbour Road down to the lake which is a few kilometres south of the main entrance into the town. You will cross the bridge over the Magpie River, there is a short hike filled with views and dramatic scenes of Precambrian rock and water falls. For a number of years I ran The Gales of November photo workshop out of Naturally Superior Adventures base, the long time outfitter on the Government Dock Road. The unobstructed views of the lake here are breath taking. Continue along the road to the Sandy Beach Eco-Interpretive Park, a spot where A.Y.Jackson painted “Shoreline” in 1959. The beach affords you great views of the lake as well as headlands and the dune grass that has now repopulated the beach. At the parking lot, you will find a salute to first nations as well as a tribute to the Group of Seven just down the trail.
The journey continues to another favourite, Pukaskwa National Park. I have paddled the coast and hiked the coastal trail a few times. Is there a park in Ontario that can compare to this place? Hike its trails or paddle its clear waters, you are in the wilds of the boreal forest. Outdoor skills are a necessity, especially if paddling. The lake can be smooth as a mirror but in no time the winds can force you ashore. I highly recommend adding a few extra wind days and a few books to help pass the time. Or better yet, higher a local outfitter to take you, a chance to really enjoy what Superior has to offer. If heading into the backcountry you will need to register with the Park as well as take a mandatory safety orientation and emergency info session. Pukaskwa can also be enjoyed by camping at the Hattie’s Cove campground. Take a hike out to one of the headlands, look out and wonder what it was like to paddle a 36ft canoe along the shores in the times of the fur trade. Francis Anne Hopkin’s paintings of this time period, around 200 years ago are some of the finest created in that era.
Another park is Neys Provincial Park, just north of Marathon. This used to be a prisoner of war camp during World War 2. If you are passionate about art, especially the Group of Seven, hike up to what I like to call Harris’s perch where Lawren Harris painted Pic Island in 1924. It is just over 4 km in length, but well worth the effort. Good walking shoes, as well as water and a few snacks will help.
I am still only half way to Thunder Bay, the basket is full of so many opportunities to enjoy this part of Ontario. If you are an artist, a writer, a hiker or just have a passion for
nature; then a trip along the Superior Coast is a must.