A unique, once in a lifetime journey to
one of the norths most popular destinations
Located 183 kilometeres (114 miles – by rail) north of Sault Ste. Marie the Agawa Canyon has long been a favourite tourist destination in the Algoma Country region.
Carved by the Agawa River over a billion years ago and accessible only by canoeing, hiking or rail the beautiful, shallow canyon is home to the Agawa Canyon Wilderness Park. With its walls rising to a peak of 175 metres (575 feet) above the river it has long been known as a haven for natives and wildlife. Agawa itself is an Ojibway word meaning “shelter”.
Today the area is very popular among adventurers that seek to explore the untamed beauty of the Canadian wilderness and it has long been a much-appreciated subject among artists including members of Canada’s famed Group of Seven.
Four waterfalls cascade down the sides of the canyon walls into the tannin coloured waters of the slow moving Agawa River and there are 5 short nature trails leading to these and other scenic spots including a manmade lookout platform 76 metres (250 feet) above the canyon floor that gives you an impressive panoramic view of the entire canyon. With 372 steps to the top of the “Lookout” it is not easily climbed but the vista from the top is well worth the effort.
The canyon has quite a diverse collection of flora and fauna as well as an abundant stock of wildlife. Common species to be seen include: beavers, otters, chipmunks, groundhogs, golden eagles, broad wing hawks and Great Blue Herons. Larger mammals such as bear and moose occasionally enter the canyon but due to its steep walls, presence of humans and the railway tracks they tend to avoid the area.
The canyon is especially beautiful in the fall when its broad-leafed trees turn into a multitude of colours and it’s at this time that it’s visually spectacular. The best time to visit to experience this wonder of nature is in late September or early October.
Location of the Agawa Canyon
View Agawa Canyon Park in a larger map
Getting to the Agawa Canyon:
Visitors can partake in a long wilderness hike or a whitewater canoe adventure to get to the canyon but for most there is only one way to experience this marvel of the Canadian north and that is by taking the Agawa Canyon Tour Train.
Operated by the Algoma Central Railway the line runs between the communities of Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst but the actual Canyon Tour Train only runs between Sault Ste. Marie and the canyon. You catch the train in "The Soo" (Sault Ste. Marie) at: 129 Bay Street
The train leaves the city and slowly winds its way through the pristine wilderness of the Canadian Shield offering spectacular views of immense granite formations and beautiful lakes and rivers. After an approximately 4-hour non-stop journey you begin descending into the canyon before finally pulling into the park station and stopping at mile 114. You will then have 1-½ hours to explore the park before hopping back on the train for the return trip.
The Tour trains are available in the summer, fall and winter months. During late September and October for the changing colors and in December, January and February for the "snow train" as the canyon is a popular destination for snowmobilers and ice climbers. Please note that the train will not actually stop and let you get off inside the canyon during the winter months as there is simply too much snow.
To get more information about the Agawa Canyon Tour Train visit their official site at www.agawacanyontourtrain.com
Activities at the Park:
As time at the park is limited you should really plan on what you would like to see. The following are some of the interesting things to see or do.
There are 4 waterfalls within the park:
- North Black Beaver Falls 53.3 metres (175 feet) high
- South Black Beaver Falls 53.3 metres (175 feet) high
- Bridal Veil Falls 68.5 metres (225 feet) high
- Otter Creek Falls 13.7 metres (45 feet) high
Five short nature trails traverse the park to its most scenic spots:
Talus Trail –
running along the base of the west canyon wall past the Ed Foote Trail leading to viewing platforms overlooking the North and South Black Beaver Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls. A short journey it should only take approximately 40 minutes (return) to fully complete the trail.
Ed Foote Trail –
named for a former Park Supervisor who tragically drowned in the river it follows a glacial terrace to a height 15.2 metres (50 feet) above the canyon floor. It should take approximately 20 minutes (return) to complete.
Lookout Trail –
probably the most difficult to complete physically it is also one of the most rewarding with respect to the breathtaking views of the canyon it offers. After ascending almost 76 metres (250 feet) and 300 stairs above the canyon floor you come to the lookout platform and are rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views of the canyon below. For those that feel the journey is too difficult there is an intermediate platform after only 80 stairs that also provides quite a good view of the park although not as impressive as following it to the end. The entire journey should take approximately 40 minutes (return) to complete or only 20 minutes (return) if you only travel to the intermediate platform.
River Trail –
following along the banks of the meandering Agawa River to Black Beaver falls and Bridal Veil Falls. This trail should only take approximately 40 minutes to complete (return) and along the way you should encounter abundant river wildlife including otters, beavers and speckled trout (brook).
Otter Creek Trail –
This trail follows the small Otter Creek to the smallest waterfalls in the park: Otter Creek Falls. Probably the least traveled trail in the park because of visitor’s limited time in the canyon.
Many people reach the canyon by canoeing down the Agawa River and it is a great way to experience the Canadian north. This is however a whitewater river and participants should have experience or at least be part of a group. There are guided expeditions in the area that provide a thrilling whitewater and backcountry camping experience with the highlight being entering the narrow Agawa Canyon and marveling at its high steep walls while paddling down the river that was the cause of its formation.
There are no camping facilities in the Agawa Canyon itself other than the rather expensive canyon view camp cars (converted railway cars), but there are many backcountry camping locations in the near vicinity. Please note however that this is backcountry camping at its best and there will be no facilities of any kind in the area.
Many people choose to visit the canyon the winter months as it is an experience unlike any other. Popular activities include:
- Winter camping
- Ice climbing
Ice climbing was established in 1986 and has become extremely popular. Routes include:
- Salmon Run
- Sweating Whiskey
Snowmobiling in the area is also extremely popular and arrangements can be made to transport your machine aboard the train to the general vicinity of the area. Please note that making arrangements for this should be done well in advance as space is limited and is booked up very quickly.
Photo by Jeff McColl firstname.lastname@example.org
The Agawa Canyon tour is a once in a lifetime trip that one should really consider if planning a trip into the Algoma Country region of Ontario. Please note however that it is a return trip only and will take a whole day from your proposed itinerary.
It is however a trip that many have found extremely rewarding as up to 100,000 passengers make the journey annually. Many do however find the journey boring and a waste of time as it is a relatively long train ride through the endless forests of the Canadian Shield but for those who love nature and wish to experience the untouched wilderness the trip is unmatched.
The actual time in the canyon is somewhat short but is limited by the fact that it is a 4-hour return journey thus the entire round trip will devour at least 10 hours of your time.
While I wouldn’t actually go out of my way and plan a side trip just to take the Agawa Canyon Train Tour it does make sense to include it in your itinerary if your are in the Algoma Country region or are planning a trip to Sault Ste. Marie or the nearby Lake Superior Provincial Park.
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