Pukaskwa National Park, Ontario: Coastal Hiking Trail

Hug pebbly beaches and cliffs along Superior shores in Ontario's Pukaskwa National Park.
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Hug pebbly beaches and cliffs along Superior shores in Ontario's Pukaskwa National Park.

Canada’s most populous province is a land of lakes—Great ones. For an untamed taste of the world’s largest stretch of freshwater, check out Superior’s North Shore, where Ice Age glaciers and storm-tossed waves have sculpted the granite coastline into a wilderness of steep hills and deep gorges with a sprinkling of stunted evergreens.
Ontario’s largest park, Pukaskwa, sees just 10,000 annual visitors, most of whom stay close to their car. Set off on foot to wander virtually alone through boreal forest full of wolf, black bear, and moose.
Pukaswka’s only backcountry route is a sweet one: 37.8 miles of rolling trail, sometimes hard to follow, along rocky coast dotted with beach-front campsites. The track reopened in 2011 after a three-year rebuild of two suspension bridges.
For a five-day itinerary, hire a boat shuttle (pricy) or turn around at Oiseau Bay. Better yet, hike the whole thing as a 76-mile out-and-back. Either way, build in bad-weather days; the route’s granite slabs turn super-slick when wet.
Start from the Hattie Cove Visitor Center and travel occasionally marshy track through black spruce, jack pine, white birch, and aspen. Cross the White River on Chigamiwinigum Gorge Bridge (mile five), then climb bare granite domes and slabs to Willow Bay (mile 10.2), with excellent camping on a long, curving sand beach. From there to Oiseau Bay’s expansive beachside views (mile 19), the trail hugs the coast past five inlets dotted with rocky islands.
South of Oiseau, the last 16 miles are more rugged and less well-marked. The section begins with cliff-brink walking en route to Fisherman’s Cove, followed by a strenuous trek over rocky terrain to White Gravel River at mile 29. Push on along buffed dirt trail to White Spruce Harbor (mile 31), an intimate beach camp. The last 6.8 miles to North Swallow Harbor are slow due to brush and rocky footing, but your reward is a lonely, misty beach alive with pounding surf and the haunting call of loons.
Map Crismar Pukaskwa National Park; $15CAD; (905) 852-6151; chrismar.com
Contact (807) 229-0801; pc.gc.ca

Permit Entry $6CAD/person/day; Backcountry $10CAD/person/night

Shuttle McCuaig Marine Services; $625CAD (holds 12); (807) 229-0193; mccuaigmarine@shaw.ca. 

Season May through September is the best time to visit.
-Mapped by Steve Howe

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 60.8

Waypoints

CTR001

Location: 48.590554, -86.290336

Visitor Center and trailhead

CTR002

Location: 48.579869, -86.256134

Playter Harbor Campsite

CTR003

Location: 48.559679, -86.233126

Chigamiwinigum Suspension Bridge

CTR004

Location: 48.54868, -86.227928

Campsite

CTR005

Location: 48.546079, -86.229

Hook Falls Campsite

CTR006

Location: 48.500003, -86.243113

Willow Bay Campsites

CTR007

Location: 48.49714, -86.240124

Willow River Bridge

CTR008

Location: 48.482384, -86.240775

Cross stream on beaver dam.

CTR009

Location: 48.467467, -86.231643

Shot Watch Cove

CTR010

Location: 48.456412, -86.229832

Campsites

CTR011

Location: 48.445767, -86.232436

Morrison Harbor

CTR012

Location: 48.44007, -86.230632

Hidden gully climbs left away from rocky shoreline.

CTR013

Location: 48.43335, -86.225644

Junction to Fish Harbor campsites

CTR014

Location: 48.425046, -86.221913

Log bridge

CTR015

Location: 48.411541, -86.211527

Ahdik Lake

CTR016

Location: 48.401991, -86.202425

Beach at Oiseau Bay

CTR017

Location: 48.398087, -86.185153

A plank bridge crosses Oiseau Creek.

CTR018

Location: 48.392852, -86.181553

Oiseau Bay campsites

CTR019

Location: 48.371875, -86.19108

Nicols Cove

CTR020

Location: 48.359129, -86.177842

At Fishermans Cove, the trail leaves the coastline.

CTR021

Location: 48.306826, -86.161988

Beach at White Gravel River

CTR022

Location: 48.305867, -86.16037

Ford the White Gravel River.

CTR023

Location: 48.303465, -86.158858

Campsites

CTR024

Location: 48.28274, -86.147904

White Spruce Harbor Campsite

CTR025

Location: 48.272687, -86.140754

Strike coastline again.

CTR026

Location: 48.266948, -86.131901

Lake "218"

CTR027

Location: 48.263407, -86.130593

Simons Harbor

CTR028

Location: 48.259421, -86.130105

Stream crossing

CTR029

Location: 48.249908, -86.130341

Tackle a very rough descent.

CTR030

Location: 48.243206, -86.136366

Hideaway Lake

CTR031

Location: 48.242822, -86.135349

Campsite

CTR032

Location: 48.235272, -86.120629

The trail becomes tough to follow.

CTR033

Location: 48.213456, -86.109918

Ford North Swallow River.

CTR034

Location: 48.2119, -86.110135

The route ends at North Swallow Harbor.