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; email@example.com.
Season May through September is the best time to visit.
-Mapped by Steve Howe
- Distance: 60.8
Location: 48.590554, -86.290336
Visitor Center and trailhead
Location: 48.579869, -86.256134
Playter Harbor Campsite
Location: 48.559679, -86.233126
Chigamiwinigum Suspension Bridge
Location: 48.54868, -86.227928
Location: 48.546079, -86.229
Hook Falls Campsite
Location: 48.500003, -86.243113
Willow Bay Campsites
Location: 48.49714, -86.240124
Willow River Bridge
Location: 48.482384, -86.240775
Cross stream on beaver dam.
Location: 48.467467, -86.231643
Shot Watch Cove
Location: 48.456412, -86.229832
Location: 48.445767, -86.232436
Location: 48.44007, -86.230632
Hidden gully climbs left away from rocky shoreline.
Location: 48.43335, -86.225644
Junction to Fish Harbor campsites
Location: 48.425046, -86.221913
Location: 48.411541, -86.211527
Location: 48.401991, -86.202425
Beach at Oiseau Bay
Location: 48.398087, -86.185153
A plank bridge crosses Oiseau Creek.
Location: 48.392852, -86.181553
Oiseau Bay campsites
Location: 48.371875, -86.19108
Location: 48.359129, -86.177842
At Fishermans Cove, the trail leaves the coastline.
Location: 48.306826, -86.161988
Beach at White Gravel River
Location: 48.305867, -86.16037
Ford the White Gravel River.
Location: 48.303465, -86.158858
Location: 48.28274, -86.147904
White Spruce Harbor Campsite
Location: 48.272687, -86.140754
Strike coastline again.
Location: 48.266948, -86.131901
Location: 48.263407, -86.130593
Location: 48.259421, -86.130105
Location: 48.249908, -86.130341
Tackle a very rough descent.
Location: 48.243206, -86.136366
Location: 48.242822, -86.135349
Location: 48.235272, -86.120629
The trail becomes tough to follow.
Location: 48.213456, -86.109918
Ford North Swallow River.
Location: 48.2119, -86.110135
The route ends at North Swallow Harbor.