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Trail Deep Dive – Coastal Trail in Pukaskwa National Park

Nestled along the shores of Lake Superior in Ontario, Canada, lies Pukaskwa National Park—a pristine wilderness steeped in history and geological significance. At the edge of this park lies the Coastal Trail, an iconic route that offers adventurers a chance to immerse themselves in the rugged splendour of the Canadian Shield while tracing the footsteps of northern Ontario’s ancient cultures.

History and Cultural Significance

Archaeological evidence traces the human history of Pukaskwa back to the hunter-gatherer groups of the Palaeo and Archaic periods (7500 BCE to 200 CE). Identified archaeological sites in the park predominantly date to the Initial Woodland period (200-800 CE) and the Terminal Woodland period (600-1750 CE). It is believed that some of the area’s “Pukaskwa Pits” (Maandawaab-kinganan) may have originated during this time. These pits are a key feature of the park and can be found along the trail. These pits are depressions made by digging out and ringing an area with the cobbles found in certain areas. Most of these pits are found within 100 meters of the shoreline; however, at the time that they were made they would’ve been much closer to the shore line. The reason they are so far back now is due to continental rebound, which began after the last ice age and continues today. Knowing that these pits would’ve been much closer to the water, one theory, among many, is that the indigenous peoples used these to catch and store fish.

Cobblestone fields

Following contact with European settlers, from the 1700s to the mid-twentieth century, the local history of Pukaskwa underwent rapid transformations. Waves of European exploration and development, fur trading, timber harvesting, mining, and settlement reshaped the landscape. By the 1840s, Upper Canada’s expansion prompted the opening of lands in Ontario’s near north to colonists, spurred by mineral discoveries in the region. Subsequently, seasonal activities like fishing, trapping, logging (with up to 400 people in camps on the Pukaskwa River), mining, and recreational tourism became economic mainstays. The area also gained prominence in shipping, becoming intertwined with the lore of shipwrecks as early vessels navigated Lake Superior’s coastal waters well into the twentieth century.

Amidst the comings and goings of explorers and settlers, the presence of the Anishinaabe people endured. Stories recount their traditional activities such as fishing, hunting, trapping, and even carrying mail for the Hudson Bay Company. Many Anishinaabe individuals continue to engage in traditional practices within the park, including camping, fishing, harvesting plant materials, and participating in ceremonial rituals, ensuring their cultural heritage remains an integral part of Pukaskwa’s history.

Geological Marvels Along the Trail

The Coastal Trail isn’t just a journey through history—it’s also a voyage through geological time, offering a fascinating glimpse into the ancient forces that shaped the landscape of Pukaskwa National Park. From towering cliffs to cascading waterfalls, each step along the trail reveals the intricate myriad of geological features that define this pristine wilderness.

The park’s rugged coastline, sculpted by millennia of erosion and glaciation, showcases the raw power of nature in its most elemental form. Towering cliffs of ancient granite rise majestically from the shores of Lake Superior, bearing witness to the flow of time.

Pukaskwa national park
Navigating the rocky coast
Pukaskwa national park
Hiking through the forest

Practical Considerations

Before embarking on your journey along the Coastal Trail, there are a few practical considerations to keep in mind:

Permits and Reservations: Overnight camping along the Coastal Trail requires a backcountry camping permit, which can be obtained through the park’s website or visitor center. Reservations are recommended, especially during peak season.

Trail Conditions: Be prepared for variable trail conditions, including mud, roots, and fallen debris. Sturdy footwear, trekking poles, and appropriate gear for changing weather conditions are essential.

Weather Conditions: Check the weather forecast before setting out and be prepared for sudden changes in weather conditions. Weather on Lake Superior is famous for changing rapidly, and the coastal parts of the trail could become impassable in rough weather.

Leave No Trace: Practice Leave No Trace principles to minimize your impact on the environment. Pack out all trash, respect wildlife, and tread lightly to preserve the park’s pristine beauty.

Safety Precautions: Bring plenty of water, high-energy snacks, a first aid kit, and a map or GPS device to navigate the trail safely.

Campsite Amenities: All campsites have ample space for 1-2 tents (perhaps more depending on party size) a designated fire pit, privy and bear box.

The Trail

The trail begins at the Visitor’s Center; just off the side of the parking lot you will see a sign for the hiking trails. Hikers use the same trailhead for both the Coastal Trail and the Mdaabii Miikna. The Coastal trail is a 60 km linear trail, while the Mdaabii Miikna is approximately 25 kms, looping off of the Coastal Trail. Both of these trails have their own unique and interesting challenges, but they both feature the rocky and scenic coastline of Lake Superior. Hiker’s of the Coastal Trail have two options for hiking: Take a water taxi to or from the end of the trail at the North Swallow campsite and hike the 60 kms there or back OR hike the trail in both directions. We have made both choices and both have their merits.

Water Taxi at Hattie Cove

These challenging routes wind through a diverse landscape of rocky cliffs, dense forests, secluded beaches, and tranquil coves, offering hikers an unparalleled opportunity to immerse themselves in the raw beauty of the Canadian wilderness. Here are the key highlights of the Coastal Trail: 

  1. White River Suspension Bridge: This bridge stretches over the Chiguamiwimagim Falls approximately 7 kms from the trailhead. This raging waterfall is an awesome site to see and helps you appreciate the true power of nature.

  2. Hook Falls: Another powerful, although shorter, waterfall on the White River as it flows out into Lake Superior. It’s only about 9 kms from the trailhead and makes a great lunch spot!

  3. Willow River Suspension Bridge: This bridge stretches over the Willow River as you continue deeper into the backcountry. Just after this bridge, you have a choice to continue on a forest path, or take a detour along the coast.

  4. Oiseau Bay: This is the longest beach in Pukaskwa National Park and home to the endangered “Pitcher Thistle”. These unique plants only bloom once every 13 years. Watch your step!
Favourite Campsites: Willow River, Fisherman’s Cover, White Gravel River, White Spruce Harbour and North Swallow

The national park has an excellent document for backpackers to use when planning their hike. I’ll attach a link to it here. We also have trail journal videos as well a trail guide video you can watch to gain a better understanding of the trail and what you can expect. 

The Coastal Trail in Pukaskwa National Park is more than just a hiking trail—it’s a journey through time and geological wonder. As you venture along its rugged paths and breathtaking vistas, take time to immerse yourself in the rich and pristine wilderness. The Coastal Trail offers a glimpse into the soul of Pukaskwa National Park, inviting adventurers to forge unforgettable memories amidst the splendour of Lake Superior’s shores.

CategoriesArticles Travel

Trail Deep Dive – La Cloche Silhouette Trail

The La Cloche Silhouette Trail is a renowned backpacking trail located in the heart of Killarney Provincial Park, Ontario. Spanning approximately 80 kilometres (50 miles), this loop trail offers a challenging yet rewarding experience for outdoor enthusiasts. The dramatic peaks showcase the rugged beauty of the Canadian Shield landscape. Named after the iconic La Cloche Mountains and the French term “silhouette,” which pays homage to the distinctive skyline the mountains create, this trail promises breathtaking vistas, diverse terrain, and a glimpse into the geological and historical wonders of the region.

Geological & Ecological Significance

Killarney Provincial Park is situated within the Canadian Shield, a vast geological formation that encompasses much of central and eastern Canada. Composed of igneous and metamorphic rock, the Shield is renowned for its rugged terrain and abundant mineral resources. The La Cloche Mountains are among the oldest mountain ranges in North America. Composed primarily of Precambrian rock dating back over a billion years, these rugged peaks have been shaped by millennia of erosion, creating a dramatic backdrop. On clear days, a hiker can see all the way to Georgian Bay from the mountain peaks. 

During the last Ice Age, glaciers sculpted the landscape of Killarney, leaving behind the characteristic granite ridges and rugged topography seen today. The trail traverses terrain shaped by these ancient glaciers, with evidence of glacial striations and moraines visible along the route. Smooth granite outcrops, towering cliffs, and massive boulders dot the landscape, serving as reminders of the region’s tumultuous geological history. The trail also winds its way through dense boreal forests characterized by a mix of coniferous and deciduous trees. Towering white pines, majestic red maples, and fragrant balsam firs provide habitat for diverse wildlife, including moose, black bears, and white-tailed deer.

Historical Significance

Along the trail, hikers can discover remnants of the region’s rich cultural heritage. From ancient Indigenous campsites to relics of early European settlers, such as logging camps and pioneer homesteads, these historical sites offer insights into the human history of the area.

The region surrounding Killarney has been inhabited by Indigenous peoples for thousands of years. The Ojibwe First Nation, in particular, has longstanding ties to the land, with archaeological sites and traditional territories found throughout the area. The trail passes near several Indigenous cultural sites, providing opportunities for hikers to learn about the rich cultural heritage of the Anishinaabe people.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the forests of Killarney were exploited by logging companies seeking valuable timber resources. Remnants of this logging era, including abandoned logging camps, sawmills, and tramways, can still be found along the trail, serving as reminders of the region’s industrial past.

In 1964, Killarney Provincial Park was established to protect its natural and cultural heritage for future generations. Since then, the park has become a haven for outdoor recreation, wilderness preservation, and scientific research. The La Cloche Silhouette Trail plays a vital role in promoting conservation and fostering a deeper appreciation for the park’s ecological and historical significance.

The Trail

We have hiked the full length of this trail 3 times, in 2017, 2018 and 2020. We have completed the trail in both directions, so a lot of the information in this next section will be based upon those experiences. While the park suggests 7-10 days to complete this trail, we’ve done it all 3 times it in 5 nights, 6 days and 4 nights, 5 days. We have stayed at many different campsites along the trail, but we definitely have our favourites! 

Western Side

Starting from the George Lake Campground, hikers have the option to hike the trail clockwise or counter clockwise. Traditionally, most backpackers hike in a clockwise direction. However, there are pros and cons to both. For example, the first approximately 30 kms from George Lake Campground to the northern side of Threenarrows Lake, in the clockwise direction, contain fewer dramatic climbs and descents than the remaining portions of the trail. The only exception to this is the main climb at the beginning of the trail and “The Pig” portage.  For this reason, most backpackers prefer to start their hike with this section, as it is easier to do with a full pack. One more reason we liked hiking the trail clockwise was being able to have lunch at the top of The Crack on our last day. The spectacular view was the perfect way to celebrate our “almost” completed hike. Having said that, hiking up The Crack on the first day and having our first break at the top was also a great way to start the trip. Then, coming down through the “easy stuff” on the other side of the trail with lighter packs felt like we were flying.

La Cloche Silhouette Trail, Killarney Provincial Park
Jeremy at the to of "The Crack"

While the first 30 kilometres of the trail from George Lake Campground to Bodina Lake is not as dramatic as the middle section of the trail, it does have its challenges. Right at the beginning, there is a large climb and descent. From there, the next large climb is “The Pig” portage between kilometres 7 and 9. In this section, you will also find the remains of logging encampments. Threenarrows Lake, formerly known as Long Lake, owes its existence to these historical logging activities. In 1900s, the construction of a dam across Kirk Creek transformed the landscape, merging three existing lakes and raising the water levels. This expansive reservoir facilitated the transportation of logs over long distances so operations could extend further eastward. In 1934, Mr. Fred D. Coppock, an affluent industrialist from Ohio, reconstructed the dam in exchange for leasing Doris Island.

La Cloche Silhouette Trail, Killarney Provincial Park
Crossing beaver dam in Eastern section
The North

The north portion of the trail, from Threenarrows Lake to David Lake, is the most challenging portion of the trail. You will notice your climbs and descents become more and more steep and extreme. Your first major descent and ascent will be around the waterfall. The ascent at Moose Pass is particularly challenging.

The first time we hiked the trail, this pass almost made me quit. I vividly remember getting to about 10 metres from the top and sitting down on a rock and bawling my eyes out that “I can’t backpack”. However, a small pep talk from Jeremy and an electrolyte gummy later, I made it to the top, enjoyed the view and worked up the courage to persevere. Since then, my favourite part of this section has 

become walking the ridgeline between Little Mountain Lake and David Lake. In this area, you are up on top of the white granite mountains for much of the hiking, giving you epic views for a good stretch.

While you will experience multiple, steep ascents and descents that are measured in the 100s of metres, the epic views from the white tops of the mountains are a worthy reward for your hard work. Almost all of the lakes on the trail are easily swimmable, and most campsites are right on the water. For us, this is motivation enough to propel us through the hard ups and downs of a day’s hike. Sometimes, we would get up early in order to have lunch at a swimming spot and relax in a lake after lunch before moving with the second half of our day. 

La Cloche Silhouette Trail, Killarney Provincial Park
Mountain top views on western side
The Eastern Side

The section from David Lake to the top of The Crack is no less challenging than the northern section. Be careful around the intersection with the Silver Peak trail here, as it is easy to get turned around. This area features lots of hemlock forests, fragrant pines and rocky mountaintops. The lakes in this section are some of the clearest in the park and make for great swimming.

Continuing to head clockwise, the trail leading from the bottom of The Crack back to the George Lake Campground is also free of significant ascents and descents. The last 7-8 kilometres of the trail will take you in between lakes, through boggy marshlands and over beaver dams on your way back civilization. Right before the end of the trial, you will come to one last ascent and descent. This is the last epic view of the trail before returning to the front country.

What to expect at campsites

Every campsite has a designated fire pit constructed of local rocks. They are also each equipped with a “thunderbox”, which is basically just a box with a seat overtop of a hole in the ground where you can take care of your essential “business”. Most sites are located on a lake with access to water. Many of the lakes are excellent for swimming and we usually try to ensure we get to camp with plenty of time for this activity. Backcountry campsites do not have bear boxes, so you will need to hang your food in a tree. 

Planning Your Trip

Killarney is a very popular destination, so you will want to plan well in advance. You can book your sites online at the Ontario Provincial Parks reservation site. Here is a spreadsheet you can use to help you quickly calculate distances between campsites. 

Campsites We Love:                                                      Campsites we avoid:                                                 Campsites with steep water:

Best View: Heaven Lake #47                                        #8 Kirk Creek – Lots of bugs                                     #17,18: Threenarrows Lake
Best Overall: David Lake, #34                                      #59 Bodina Lake – boggy lake                                #22: Moose Pass
Best Swimming: Topaz Lake #7                                  #23 Moose Pass – in forest, no good water          #46: Bunnyrabbit Lake
                              Bunnyrabbit Lake #45,46                                                                                                       #48: Proulx Lake

We really like Jeff’s map for our trip planning. It has lots of details, including expected hiking times for beginning, average and veteran backpackers. It has accurate kilometre markings as well as historical facts and details. 

The La Cloche Silhouette Trail offers an unforgettable journey through the rugged beauty of Killarney Provincial Park, showcasing stunning landscapes, geological wonders, and rich historical heritage. Whether you’re an avid hiker, nature enthusiast, or history buff, this trail provides an immersive experience that celebrates the natural and cultural treasures of Ontario’s wilderness. As you embark on this adventure, take time to marvel at the ancient mountains, explore hidden historical sites, and connect with the untamed beauty of the Canadian Shield.

Backcountry sites can be booked online through the Ontario Parks Reservation System

CategoriesArticles Travel

Ontario is a Backpacker’s Paradise

Ontario, Canada, is a vast and diverse province known for its stunning landscapes, pristine northern wilderness, and endless opportunities for outdoor adventure. For backpackers seeking to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the region, Ontario offers a variety of remarkable destinations. In this article, we’ll explore our top three favourite places to backpack in Ontario and a bonus runners-up.

Killarney Provincial Park – La Cloche Silhouette Trail

Killarney Provincial Park, often referred to as the “Crown Jewel of Ontario Parks,” is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Located on the northern shores of Georgian Bay, this park is renowned for its striking pink granite cliffs, crystal-clear lakes, and lush forests. 

The La Cloche Silhouette Trail, is a challenging 80-kilometre loop that takes hikers through diverse landscapes; including dense forests, serene lakeshores, and rugged white-granite mountains. The stunning views from the peaks along the trail make the effort 100% worth it. 

The trail is very well marked and features many designated backcountry campsites. Most campsites provide easy access to a pristine, swimmable lake. If you’re not sure about hiking, Killarney is also known as a canoeists paradise, with a variety of routes to take with varying difficulties. 

Over the years, Killarney has become more and more popular, making it difficult to book sites (even in the backcountry). A great alternative is Heaven’s Gate Trail, just a couple of hours east. It features the same mountain range as Killarney, but there are no officially designated campsites and no front-country amenities. If you need flexibility or want to go last minute, this is a great choice!

Ontario: A backpacker's paradise
Ontario: A backpacker's paradise
Pukaskwa National Park – The Coastal Trail

Venturing further north along the shores of Lake Superior, backpackers will discover the remote and awe-inspiring Pukaskwa National Park. As Ontario’s only wilderness national park, Pukaskwa offers an unparalleled opportunity to experience the untamed beauty of the boreal forest and the rugged shoreline.

The Coastal Hiking Trail, stretching over 60 kilometres along the Lake Superior coastline, is a challenging but immensely rewarding route for backpackers. Towering cliffs, secluded beaches, and panoramic views of the vast lake make this trek an unforgettable adventure. Backpackers may encounter wildlife such as black bears, moose, and bald eagles, adding an extra layer of excitement to the journey.

As a linear trail, backpackers have some flexibility with how far in they want to venture. If you want to do the whole trail, but not there and back, you can hire a water taxi to drop you off at the end and hike your way out. Or, if you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can hike the whole 120 kilometers in and out. 

For a shorter, loop route, consider the Mdaabi Miikna trail that was opened around 2017. While the trail is not as well beaten as the much older Coastal trail, it also offers stunning views, crystal clear waters and gorgeous campsites. However, if you were to hike this loop from the trail head, your total mileage would be approximately 30 kilometres round trip. Don’t let the distance fool you! This terrain is just as challenging as the Coastal trail, just shorter but just as beautiful.

For more information on this trail, click HERE

Lake Superior Provincial Park: Coastal Trail

Nestled between Sault Ste. Marie and Wawa, Lake Superior Provincial Park boasts some of the most breathtaking scenery in Ontario. With its rugged terrain, dense forests, and pristine lakeshores, this park offers an array of backpacking opportunities suitable for all skill levels.

The Coastal Trail within Lake Superior Provincial Park is a 65-kilometre linear trail that winds along the rugged shoreline of the largest of the Great Lakes. Backpackers will witness the power of Lake Superior’s waves crashing against the cliffs, and the trail offers access to beautiful sandy beaches and hidden cobblestone coves. 

Within the park, there are many different access points to the trail. This means you can tailor your trip to your backpacking goals. Want a shorter hike? Choose one of the many access points along the trail. Want to only hike one way? Get a taxi from Wawa to drop you off at one end. Want mostly sandy beach walking? Hike the middle portion! The possibilities are endless!

Here’s a video to help you plan your trip!

Ontario: A backpacker's paradise
Casque Isles Trail
Runner Up – Casque Isles Trail

This little known trail is a hidden gem located on the north shore of Lake Superior between Terrace Bay and Rossport. This 53-kilometre linear trail boasts all of the same beauty and views of the Lake Superior Coastal Trail and Pukaskwa Coastal Trail, but without the need for reservations or paying for camping. 

Maintained with dedication by the enthusiastic volunteers of the Casques Isles Hiking Club and the Voyageur Trail Association, the Casque Isles Trail holds significance as a crucial part of both The Great Trail and the Voyageur Hiking Trail. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced hiker, the trail is segmented into five sections with 11 access points, providing the flexibility to tackle this journey in smaller portions or conquer it all in one go—the decision is entirely yours to make. 

The trail is the best marked trail we’ve ever been on! Each campsite also boasts bear boxes, privies and…. picnic tables! It’s essentially backcountry luxury out here!

If you’re interested in this trail, check out our Trail Guide. 

Ontario’s diverse landscapes and abundance of fresh water lakes provide a stunning variety of backpacking opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. These are just a few of our favourites, but there are so many more out there to explore! So, pack your backpack, lace up your hiking boots, and embark on an adventure in Ontario’s backpacker’s paradise.

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