Pukaskwa National Park
Ontario's only true wilderness park
Pukaskwa National Park
on the rugged shores of Lake Superior
is located on the shores of Lake Superior halfway between the cities of Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay just south of the Town of Marathon. The only true wilderness park in Ontario in Canada’s National Park system it is the largest national park in the province and covers an area of 1880 square kilometres with 95% being zoned as wilderness.
Founded in 1978 it is named after the Pukaskwa River and is comprised of a mix of topographical features ranging from rugged rocky shores to the thick heavily forested interior. The parks incredible beauty also offers some fantastic views over Lake Superior, the world’s largest freshwater inland sea.
Interesting 1000-year old man made rock structures known as Pukaskwa Pits can be found along many of the park’s cobblestone beaches. Each 1 – 2.5 metres (3 – 8 feet) long and 1.5 metres (4.5 feet) high they were constructed by the original aboriginal inhabitants 5 000 – 1000 years ago and there prrpose is still unknown to this day.
Inside the park wildlife abounds and includes animals such as:
- snowshoe hares
- black bear
- Canadian lynx
- grey wolves
- woodland caribou
Birds readily spotted depending on the season include:
Location of Pukaskwa National Park
How to get to Pukaskwa National Park:
Located just south of Marathon the only road access to Pukaskwa is at the north end, near Hattie Cove. To reach the park:
From Thunder Bay:
- Take highway 400 north to highway 11, just south of Sudbury take highway 17 west to Sault Ste. Marie then follow Highway 17 (Trans Canada Highway) north to the Highway 627 turnoff (10 km east of Marathon). Follow Highway 627 for about 15 km, until you reach the park entrance.
Pukaskwa National Park Activities:
- Head east on highway 17 which which skirts Lake Superior's north shore and takes you to the turn off to the 627 just east of Marathon.
Despite its northern location the Pukaskwa National Park is open year round and provides a myriad of activities to pursue.
The heart of the Pukaskwa National Park is located at Hattie Cove campground near the northwestern tip. Located here is the park visitors center and 67 front country campsites. This is also the starting point for most of the parks activities and you can get all the information you require on the parks backcountry activities.
With a 67 site campground Hattie Cove also includes 29 sites with electricity with some large enough to accommodate RV’s. Potable running water is available as are facilities such as showers and flush toilets. Please note that not all facilities are available year round.
Peak Season – mid May to mid September –
all facilities available
mid September – mid November –
Potable ater and pit toilets are available and the campground road remains open until snow stays on the ground.
mid November - mid April –
campground road is closed and only pit toilets are available
mid April – mid May –
campground road s closed, potable water and pit toilets are available
To really experience the wilderness of Pukaskwa National Park backcountry camping is a must.
Backcountry camping is available along the 60-kilometer (30 mile) Coastal Hiking Trail. Campsites are primitive and only include a tent pad, outhouse toilet, fire pit and a bear box (to protect your food). You can also camp along the coast at non-developed sites.
Please note that backcountry camping can be dangerous and the park requires everyone traveling in the backcountry to first register in at the administrative office. You must also register out when finished. The number of people permitted in the backcountry is limited so it is highly recommended you reserve your trip well in advance.
Beach Trail –
A very short 1.5 kilometre (0.9 mile) trail that is very easy to traverse. Takes you along the boardwalk to 3 beautiful beaches along the shores of Lake Superior including Horseshoe Beach which is great place to take a quick swim in the cold crystal clear waters of the lake.
Manito Miikana Trail -
This trail is of moderate difficulty and is 2.0 kilometeres (1.4 mile) long. Known as the “Spirit Trail” it has two viewing trails along its length and several other spots that offer excellent views over Lake Superior.
Southern Headland Trail –
At 2.2 kilometeres (1.4 miles) in length this trail is also of moderate difficulty. A great hike that offers spectacular views over Lake Superior and Horseshoe Bay, Hattie Cove and Pulpwood Harbour. A photographers delight!
Bimose Kinoomagewan Trail (aka Halfway aka Trail) –
The “Walk of Teachings” is 2.6 kilometeres (1.6 miles) in length and circles Halfway Lake and features aboriginal artwork along its route.
Coastal Hiking Trail
This trail is not for the faint hearted. At almost 60 kilometeres (36 mile) in length if you wish to complete Ontario’s premier wilderness trail in its entirety then some planning should be in order.
The coastal trail starts at Hattie Cove and runs along Lake Superior’s rugged north shore before finally ending at the North Swallow River. Along the way you will pass by some unforgettable scenery including the White River suspension bridge 23 meteres (72 feet) above Chigamiwinigum Falls. It is a tough hike that will challenge experienced backpackers. Campsites are located along its route but proper planning, equipment, supplies, maps and fitness is required. Registration in and out of the backcountry is also required as are backcountry camping permits and it is recommended that you travel in groups. Please note that groups are limited to 8 people.
Estimated distances and travel times between trail campsites
- There is a self-registration check point at White River
- A trail guide and map is strongly recommended
- Do not attempt to cross swollen rivers, streams or other fast moving water
- Treat all drawn water before consumption
- Read the pamphlet: “You are in Black Bear Country”
- Hattie Cove – Playter Harbour 4.5 kilometres (2.8 miles) – 2 hours
- Playter Harbour – White River 3.3 kilometres (2.1 miles) – 1.5 hours
- White River to Willow River 8.6 kilometres (5.2 miles) – 5 hours
- Willow River to Morrison Harbour 5.6 kilometres (3.4 miles) – 3 hours
- Morrison Harbour – Fish Harbour 3.4 kilometres (2.2 miles) – 1 hour
- Fish Harbour to Oiseau Bay 5.1 kilometrs (3 miles) – 2 hours
- Oiseau Bay to Fisherman’s Cove 7.2 kilometres (4.3 miles) – 3 hours
- Fisherman’s Cove to White Gravel River 7.1 kilometres (4.2 miles) – 4 hours
- White Gravel River to White Spruce Harbour 3.1 kilometres (1.9 miles) – 1.5 hours
- White Spruce Harbour to Hideaway Lake 6.8 kilometres (4.1 miles) – 3.5 hours
- Hideaway Lake to North Swallow River 4 kilometrees (2.4 miles) – 2 hours
58.7 KM (26 miles) - 28.5 h ONE WAY
The trail is a 2 way hike as the only exit point s the way you came in so expect a journey of almost 120 kilometres (72 miles) over some very rough but enchantingly beautiful terrain.
The trail is part of the much longer 600 kilometer (360 mile) Voyager Hiking Trail that will stretch from Sudbury to Thunder Bay and is near completion.
The best way to fully experience what Pukaskwa National Park has to offer is by canoeing.
The wilderness park was simply made for this activity! While there are a number of rivers, lakes and streams that run through the park as well as the opportunity to canoe on open water in Lake Superior there are two main canoe routes that course their way through the park, the Pukaskwa River and the White River routes.
Please note that these are wild, fast running rivers that can very easily become dangerous to inexperienced paddlers. Do not attempt unless you are an advanced paddler or are part of a team of advanced paddlers.
White River route:
Most paddlers start at White Lake near White Lake Provincial Park which is outside the borders of Pukaskwa National Park. The route is approximately 82 kilometeres (49 miles) long and takes an average of 5 – 7 days to complete. In total there can be up to 21 portages depending on the paddler’s experience in running some of the white water rapids. Non-Canadian residents will require a camping permit to camp on adjacent Crown owned land alongside the river. This route is open year round depending on the open water conditions.
Pukaskwa River route:
This is the more difficult of the two white water routes and can only be run in the spring when the water levels are higher. Most paddlers start at the White River near the small Town of White River, pass through a few small lakes before finally reaching the Pukaskwa River for the journey down to Lake Superior. The route is approximately 122 kilometeres (73 miles) long and includes up to 42 portages. Non-Canadian residents will require a camping permit to camp on adjacent Crown owned land alongside the river. Once at Lake Superior paddlers will face a long open water paddle to the nearest town for disembarkation.
Other good choices for paddlers include the many inlets of Hattie Cove and Halfway Lake. Additionally you can also paddle along the coast in the open water of Lake Superior. The scenery is remarkable and will etch memories inside you forever but you should always remember to check weather condition before heading out as Lake Superior is a huge inland sea and conditions can change rapidly, the water is very cold and any mishaps can lead to life threatening situations.
Other rivers Pukaskwa National Park open for canoeing include:
- Cascade River
- North Swallow River
- Willow River
- Pic River (just north of the park)
Paddlers taking the backcountry experience must register-in and out with the park office. Pukaskwa National Park limits the number of people in the backcountry at any one time and also monitors safety to see if schedules are being met. If you are planning a canoe trip down one of the routes listed above it is recommended you make reservations early to ensure availability.
If open water paddling is more of your preference than the coast along the shores of Lake Superior in Pukaskwa National Park will provide the ultimate experience. The shoreline is rugged and provides for some exceptional scenery that can only be experienced from the waters view. A popular route is to kayak from Hattie Cove to Michipicoten.
Please note that this is quite a long kayak journey that will take anywhere from 10 – 14 days depending on the weather conditions and the paddlers experience. It is not for the inexperienced as the conditions can get rough and can change instantly. Fog is a constant possibility and will more than likely occur on any journey. The coast is very exposed and rugged and finding a place to put ashore can be difficult at times. The water is very cold and once ashore, you could be stranded for days until conditions approve. Proper planning is essential. Never attempt the trip alone and you must register-in and out with the park office.
However, as stated earlier, if you kayak anywhere with the parks boundaries whether inland or on open water the scenery and memories you encounter will last a lifetime.
Outfitters, equipment rentals and guides are available as well as water taxi services in some areas. Here is a list of some of the outfitters in the area:
McCuaig Marine Services
Boating whether through motor or sail is a popular activity along the shore of Pukaskwa National Park. As mentioned earlier the scenery along the rugged shores of lake Superior in this area is incredible and can only truly be appreciated when view from the lake. Most boating is done on the Great Lake itself as motorboats are only permitted on bodies of water accessible from Superior. Inland lakes and waterways are motorboat free to protect the environment.
The huge expanse of Lake Superior provides for some remarkable wind conditions that perfectly lend itself to sailing. Interior conditions on the many small lakes are not as good as they are located deep within heavily forested areas and are quite sheltered. Most sailing thus occurs on Lake Superior and why not, it is one of the best bodies of water for sailing in the world.
All boaters that do put ashore in Puskaswa National Park must pay a docking fee and are encouraged to register in and out with the park office. Please note that there are no fueling stations in the park so adequate supplies must be contained on board at all times.
One of the Pukaskwa National Park’s great attractions is the fishing opportunities that abound within its borders and many anglers from across the world flock here to partake in the various fishing activities. Whether fly-fishing, on shore fishing on the various rivers and streams or deep-water fishing in the waters of Lake Superior many a fisherman has commented that it is the best fishing they have ever experienced.
A great variety of sport fish are available and the remoteness of some of the bodies of water allow for landing some very large specimens. Outfitters and charters are available in towns just outside the park so for those who prefer an experience guide this option is always available.
Cycling in Pukaskwa National Park is only permitted on the main campground roads, the trails are not available even to mountain bikes.
The Pukaskwa National Park is open year round and is open to cross country and backcountry skiers. There is an ungroomed trail in the Hattie Cove area. Snowshoers have access to any area of the park they wish but since this is a remote area should be experienced and travel in group for their own safety. Maps should be carried at all times as you can quickly become disoriented in the thick bush.
Winter overnight camping is available in the Hattie Cove campground but there is no car access to the campground in the winter. Proper equipment and supplies are necessary.
For those visiting Ontario Canada that want the ultimate Canadian wilderness experience than Pukaskwa National Park is definitely for you.
Some visitors plan their entire vacation around activities within the park and come back having experienced an unforgettable adventure. Even if visiting for just a day the park provides a unique opportunity to experience some remarkable backcountry scenery along the shores of Lake Superior.
For fit day tripper’s to Pukaskwa National Park a good activity is to hike the first 8 kilometres (4.8 miles) of the Coastal Hking Trail to the White Water Suspension bridge over Chigamiwinigum Falls. It passes through some stunning scenery and gives one a good taste of the Lake Superior shoreline but at 16 kilometres (9.6 miles) over uneven terrain plan to spend the whole and bring proper supplies. Water taxis are available for pickup along the coast if required but make prior arrangements before departing.
For more information, visit the park's official site at: Pukaskwa National Park
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