August 23, 2019 8:30 am

Road trip Ontario: Exploring Lake Superior Provincial Park

Lake Superior Provincial Park's fall colours in late September, early October are a big draw for visitors, according to the park's superintendent.

Bob Elliott/Lake Superior Provincial Park
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Located in northern Ontario, Lake Superior Provincial Park has lots to offer nature-seeking weekenders and vacationers, whether they’re looking for a short day hike, a breezy canoe paddle or a couple days camping in the backcountry.

The rugged park is located in the Canadian Shield and has vast forests, lakes, rivers, streams and the odd sand beach, Bob Elliott, Lake Superior Provincial Park’s superintendent, told Global News.

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The park, which was established in 1944, is 1,600 square kilometres and on the edge of Lake Superior, Elliott said.

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“One of the reasons for establishing the park was to protect a significant area of the Lake Superior shoreline from development,” he added.

At the time, Highway 17 was being built, Elliott said, and some people were concerned that commercial development along Lake Superior’s coast would come with it. “They wanted some portion of it protected,” he said.

According to Elliott, about 70 per cent of the park’s visitors are from Canada. The majority of the remaining 30 per cent are from the U.S., but there are also visitors from all over the world, he added.

“July and August are the busiest months in this park,” Elliott said.

A sunset at Lake Superior Provincial Park.

Bob Elliott/Lake Superior Provincial Park

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Getting there

Located north of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., getting to Lake Superior Provincial Park is no easy task.

From Toronto, visitors are facing a drive that’s anywhere between about nine and 12 hours. Flights are also available from Toronto’s Billy Bishop and Pearson airports to Sault Ste. Marie, and take about an hour and a half, give or take.

Once travellers arrive in in Sault Ste. Marie via flight, it’s about a two-hour drive to the park. Visitors can borrow a vehicle from one of the rental car spots at the local airport.

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Where to stop along the way

If you’re flying into Sault Ste. Marie, be sure to make a pit stop at the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre. The museum features a number of different bushplanes for aviation enthusiasts to marvel at, including a Beech C-45 and a Fairchild F-11 Husky. Passersby can also stop into Entomica, an insect museum in Sault Ste. Marie, to see several exhibits of freaky and fascinating creepy-crawlies.

If you can’t wait to get to Lake Superior Provincial Park to immerse yourself in nature, stop for a picnic at the Crystal Falls, which are a short drive away from central Sault Ste. Marie by the Hiawatha Highlands. (Note: you will have to pick up food from a grocery store before arriving for your picnic).

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Those who are making a road trip from Toronto or elsewhere may want to divide the drive up over two days. Stop in Sudbury on your first evening on the road and stay at one of many campgrounds in the area — perhaps the Mine Mill 598 Campground or Carol’s Campsite and RV Park. If you’re looking for something a little more luxurious, choose one of many local hotels that are listed on Trip Advisor Canada’s website.

Visitors who travel through Sudbury should take in the infamous Big Nickel — literally a giant 1951 five-cent Canadian coin. Snap a picture in front of it to show your friends and family back home.

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What to bring

If visitors are coming to Lake Superior Provincial Park for a day hike, Elliott said they should remember to bring a map, compass or GPS, hiking boots, sunscreen, the appropriate clothing and a backpack, as well as enough food and water.

“We definitely recommend that anyone leave an itinerary with family or friends [with] when they’re starting, when their anticipated finish date is, where they’re going,” Elliott said.

Those who are going backcountry camping, he added, should also bring a water filter or tablet, pants and the appropriate camping gear.

“We don’t recommend drinking the water directly out of the lakes or rivers for chance of getting water-borne disease,” Elliott said.

The Agawa Falls at Lake Superior Provincial Park.

Bob Elliott/Lake Superior Provincial Park

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People who are hiking should also make sure they’re not overloading themselves because they need to carry everything on their backs, he added.

“There should definitely be some level of experience if they’re going out on Lake Superior because the wave conditions can change pretty fast,” Elliott said. “Have the appropriate safety gear. You have to have a certain amount of gear by law on a canoe or kayak.”

Elliott added that people should make sure they’re wearing a life jacket, as opposed to using it as a cushion in the canoe or kayak.

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What to do

There’s lots to do at Lake Superior Provincial Park, whether visitors are coming for a canoe trip, a day trek through one of several trails or a multi-day jaunt through the back-country.

“One of the most popular sites would definitely be the pictograph site, the Indigenous rock paintings close to Agawa Bay, because it is one of the few picturesque sites that you can actually hike to,” Elliott said.

According to Elliott, roughly 30 to 35 of the pictographs are visible.

“They’re on a cliff face right on Lake Superior, painted by the Ojibway, and they’re estimated to be 150 to 400 years old,” Elliott said.

To get to the Agawa Rock Pictographs, visitors must hike a short but rugged trail that’ll take about a half-hour to an hour to get to.

The Agawa Rock Pictographs at Lake Superior Provincial Park.

Bob Elliott/Lake Superior Provincial Park

“There are 12 hiking trails in the park,” Elliott said. “A couple of the easier trails would be the Crescent Lake trail and Trapper’s trail.”

He added that those trails have relatively flat terrain and are fairly short in length.

“Definitely the more advanced would be the Coastal hiking trail,” he said. “The total length is roughly 65 kilometres along the shore of Lake Superior, so lots of rugged terrain, lots of steep ascents and descents.”

According to Elliott, most people take about four or five nights to hike the entire route — it’s one of two trails that visitors are able to backcountry camp on.

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The second trail that hikers can camp on is the inland Towab trail, which runs along the Agawa River, Elliott said.

One popular trail, however, is the Orphan Lake route, an eight-kilometre loop that starts at the highway, Elliott added. “It goes right down to Lake Superior along Cobble Beach and back up again to the highway. It’s a moderately difficult trail.”

There are also several different routes that people can paddle through via canoe in the park.

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What to watch out for

Leaving one’s travel itinerary with someone before the trip begins is a big safety concern in case something happens, Elliott said. While people do hike alone, he added, it’s always better to be in groups of two or more.

“If anyone is swimming, we don’t recommend people swimming alone, especially in Lake Superior,” Elliott said.

Many people who visit the park want to see a moose or bear, Elliott added, and there’s a good population of each in the park. It’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time, he said.

“There are wolves in the park, foxes, lynx, snowshoe hares, red squirrels and chipmunks,” Elliott said, adding that there are also many birds in Lake Superior Provincial Park.

If people see a bear in the park, they should keep their distance, Elliott said.

“Make some noise so the bear definitely knows you’re there,” he added. “Usually if they know you’re there and they get your scent, they’ll just run away.”

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While it may be tempting to feed the chipmunks and squirrels in the park, Elliott said, they can get in your belongings and be quite destructive.

“We don’t recommend anyone feeding any kind of wildlife in the park,” he added.

To keep bears away from the campgrounds, people should make sure their sites are clean, dishes are washed and that food is put away, Elliott said.

“In the back-country, hang your food up in a tree so they can’t get at it,” he added.

Overlooking the water at Lake Superior Provincial Park.

Bob Elliott/Lake Superior Provincial Park

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Where to stay

There are opportunities to camp both by your car or in the backcountry at Lake Superior Provincial Park.

“The Agawa Bay and Rabbit Blanket Lake campgrounds are the two car campgrounds we have,” Elliott said.

There are also 200 backcountry campsites that are accessible along hiking trails and paddle routes.

“We have campsites along the coast of Lake Superior, accessible by either hiking or paddling, and then we have sites in the interior of the park,” Elliott added.

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If camping isn’t your style, stay at a motel, cabin or lodge in Wawa, Ont., about 25 minutes north of Lake Superior Provincial Park.

Here are the top five user-ranked hotels in Wawa, according to Trip Advisor Canada’s website:

  1. Mystic Isle Motel
  2. Parkway Motel
  3. Lakeview Hotel
  4. Air-Dale Fishing and Hunting
  5. Algoma Motel

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Where to eat

Once you’re done at Lake Superior Provincial Park, you may be craving some greasy spoon grub.

Here are the top five user-ranked restaurants in Wawa, according to Trip Advisor Canada’s website:

  1. Kinniwabi Pines Restaurant
  2. Best Northern Motel and Restaurant
  3. Viking Restaurant and Tavern
  4. Embassy Restaurant and Tavern
  5. Wawa Goose Bar and Grill

The forest at Lake Superior Provincial Park

Bob Elliott/Lake Superior Provincial Park

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The final pitch

“There’s certainly lots to do here for people when they come. If you just want to come to car camp and just relax around the campsite or on the beach, we have that,” Elliott said. “If people want to do [something] a little more challenging into the backcountry, hiking or paddling, we have those opportunities.”

There’s also lots of scenery that can be seen when driving through the park on the Trans-Canada Highway, he added.

“We have really spectacular fall colours in late September, early October,” he said. “That’s a big draw for the park.”

Lake Superior Provincial Park is also not super busy, Elliott added, so it’s a little more secluded than some of the other parks.

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