Pack your kayak, sneakers, fishing rod, and camping gear, and spend a few days exploring the small, wooded group of islands that make up Slate Islands Provincial Park. Located at the northern tip of Lake Superior, this unmanaged natural area owned by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources boasts picturesque landscapes and the world's densest caribou population.
From the mainland town of Terrace Bay, Ontario, it's an 8-mile open water crossing (by kayak or by ferry) on Lake Superior to reach the islands. Once you're there, set up camp by the deserted cabin sites scattered among the islands—you'll find open areas to pitch tents, along with fire pits and outhouses.
During the day, troll for lake trout while paddling around Slates' interior bays and inlets and scout for woodland caribou. Hikers visiting Patterson Island—the Slates' biggest island at 12 square miles—can tour the spiderweb network of caribou trails that lead deep into the forest interior.
WATCH VIDEO: Writer Gustave Axelson catches more than a little glimpse of caribou in this short clip.
MAPS AND PERMIT: Request a map when you call the park office (807-825-3403) to purchase your required Crown Land Camping Permit ($10/night Canadian).
-Mapped by Gustave Axelson
- Distance: 19.0
Location: 48.675707, -86.9955011
This campsite looks like it's straight from the Swiss Family Robinson. You'll find lots of amenities, too: Mini root cellars for keeping food cold and a picnic table protected by a shelter framework with a tarp overhead. Previous campers have carved idols out of old logs.
Location: 48.673203, -86.9935863
Puds Camp, a deserted cabin site and popular caribou hang-out, is named for a paper mill worker in Terrace Bay. Hikers: This is a good spot to pick up caribou paths for hiking into the island's interior.
Location: 48.6728114, -86.9918328
Caribou Highway: This area is prime thoroughfare for woodland caribou. The path here is so well trodden, it looks like an official hiking trail.
Location: 48.6694822, -86.9891453
The high rocky cliff to the north is a remnant rock formation (a shatter cone) from the meteorite that struck Earth here a billion years ago and created the Slates.
Location: 48.6632208, -87.0016302
This heap of steel and timbers was a logging barge that ran aground in the 1930s and was abandoned. There's a grassy open area here where caribou come out to graze at night. There's also a deserted cabin up the trail called the "Devil's Roost" with a nice overview of the Slates' interior waters.
Location: 48.6560963, -87.0149278
Glide across Pike Bay's quiet waters. It's said that giant northern pike swim in these waters.
Location: 48.6665543, -87.0183221
Come N' Rest Cabin, a deserted cabin site on McColl Island, has a fine fire pit and lots of great areas to pitch a tent. The site borders some of the quietest waters in the Slate Islands and is sheltered from the weather. Bonus: Campers will find a cast-iron bathtub on the shore. The tub was dropped here after the Slates' lighthouse was automated, and all of the lighthouse keeper's furniture was moved out of the lighthouse. People who camp here often fill the tub with lake water and build a fire beneath it to create an outdoor hot tub.
Location: 48.66393, -87.0252326
A fence made of saplings stands here, a remnant of the corral that caribou biologists used several years ago for herding caribou. (Biologists had to physically subdue the caribou for blood samples and DNA analysis.) Today caribou biologists visit the Slate Islands in winter to collect fecal pellets in the snow; these frozen samples contain bits of gut lining that can be used for blood samples.
Location: 48.6285974, -86.9894028
The historic Sunday Harbour Lighthouse stands on the southern end of Patterson Island. Caution: Be careful paddling outside of the Slates' protected interior waters. Only attempt this in a kayak when the waters are relatively calm.
Location: 48.6748668, -86.9919777
Photo by © Layne Kennedy