National Parks Summer Guide: Pukaskwa

Pukaskwa by Mark Harris
Pukaskwa by Mark Harris

Had you decided a long time ago to brave the Canadian wilderness but never actually did? Then read further, get to know about Pukaskwa National Park, and start planning your escape from the hustle and bustle of city life! Even though the weather along the Lake Superior coast can be more than unpredictable, daily temperatures in summer usually exceed 20 degrees Celsius, promising an ideal vacation. Pukaskwa, named after the Pukaskwa River, is in fact the only wilderness park in Ontario. Its 1,878 square kilometres of untouched nature, rugged landscape of Canadian Shield, shoreline of Lake Superior, one of the largest lakes in the world, and ancient forests are without doubt worth spending a few days off the beaten track.

1 Getting to Pukaskwa

2 Flora and Fauna

3 Experiences to Discover

4 Hiking
4.1 Easy Walks
4.2 Moderate Hikes
4.3 Challenging Hikes

5 Swimming

6 Paddling

7 Boating

8 Town of Marathon

9 Summer Events
9.1 Art in the Park
9.2 Canada Day and Opening of Anishinaabe Camp
9.3 Marathon Summerfest
9.4 Cultural Week

10 Where to Stay
10.1 Camping
10.2 Accommodation in Marathon

11 Useful Websites

Getting to Pukaskwa

Pukaskwa National Park, established in 1978, can be found south of the town of Marathon, in the Thunder Bay District of northern Ontario. From Marathon, you can find the only road access to the park, at its north end, near Hattie Cove. Follow Highway 17 to the Highway 627 turnoff (10 kilometres east of Marathon), then continue through Highway 627 for 15 kilometres.

Flora and Fauna

The park is abundant in numerous species of rare arctic plants, foxes, muskrats, and otters. A modest population of Woodland Caribou can be found there as well, their survival being of primary concern. The most exciting resident of Pukaskwa is, however, the bear. During your stay in the park, do not disturb wildlife. Stay at least 100 metres away if you spot any animals, do not approach too closely when taking pictures, and avoid feeding wildlife (it's illegal in national parks). For more information regarding bear behaviour, see this brochure.

Experiences to Discover

Hiking Trail Pukaskwa National Park by Mark Harris
Hiking Trail Pukaskwa
by Mark Harris

Pukaskwa provides plentiful opportunities for outdoor sports such as hiking, canoeing, kayaking, winter sports, and wildlife spotting.

Hiking

Dozens of trails leading along the coast of Lake Superior or through the ancient woodland provide stunning vistas across the area. Bicycles aren't allowed on any of the national park's trails, but cyclists can use Highway 627 and campground roads.

Easy Walks

  • Beach Trail (1.5 kilometres) runs through a famous driftwood beach with exotic dunes called Horseshoe Beach. Dip in Lake Superior or just sit and relax while listening to the waves roll in.

Moderate Hikes

  • Southern Headland Trail (2.2 kilometres) is a rugged landscape and excellent vistas of Hattie Cove, Pulpwood Harbour, and Horseshoe Bay ideal for enjoying views of arctic plants.
  • Bimose Kinoomagewnan (2.6 kilometres) will tell you about stories of elders who portray human virtues in local culture.
  • Combination Hike (6.3 kilometres) offers great views and is ideal for exploring the forests of Pukaskwa.

Challenging Hikes

  • White River Suspension Bridge by Mark Harris
    White River Suspension
    Bridge by Mark Harris
    Coastal Hiking Trail (60 kilometres one way) winds along Lake Superior's coastline. The trail was re-opened in July 2011 after complete reconstruction of the White River and Willow River suspension bridges and trail improvements. Pukaskwa's Coastal Hiking Trail is a premier hiking destination in Northern Ontario.
  • White River Suspension Bridge via Coastal Hiking Trail (9 kilometres), a full-day hike, will take you through rugged a Coastal Hiking Trail and above the Chigamiwinigum Falls.

Swimming

For those who are tempted to take a dip in Lake Superior and brave its icy waters, there's a protected bay. Beware of staying an unsafe distance from the shore and for too long in the cold water since hypothermia can set in. Make sure to wear anti-exposure suits. There are several safer swimming sites available in nearby Marathon.

Paddling

Paddling the wildest shores of all, the Great Lakes is as rewarding as it is challenging. Some of the trips may take several days and lake travellers should be prepared for abrupt weather changes.

  • Hattie Cove has inlets suitable for experienced paddlers.
  • Halfway Lake provides a peaceful, inland paddling adventure.
  • White River is navigable at any time of year in the open-water season.
  • The more difficult Pukaskwa River can only be accessed in spring, from May to early June.

For paddling guides, contact Friends of Pukaskwa.

Boating

Both sailing and boating are permitted on Lake Superior. Fees must be paid in advance and boaters within the park waters are advised to register with the park office (telephone: (807)229-0801, ext. 242). Motor boats are allowed only in areas accessed from Lake Superior.

Naturally Superior Adventures

Caribou Expeditions
Caribou Expeditions

This enterprise specializes in guided sea kayak trips on Lake Superior together with guided canoe trips on local rivers. Other services include: sea kayak instruction, paddling festivals, vehicle shuttles, kayak and canoe rentals, and outfitting.

Caribou Expeditions

Guided sea kayak and canoe tours, river trips, wilderness overnight camping, instruction, and rentals (starting at $20) are offered for adventures on Pukaskwa's waters.

Town of Marathon

The location on the shores of Lake Superior makes Marathon great for outdoor recreational activities. Its name has nothing to do with the Battle of Marathon and there's no direct relation to long-distance running. The town is named after the Marathon Corporation of Wisconsin, which used to own the pulp mill in the town decades ago. Hunting, fishing, boating, hiking, and bird watching are favourite activities there. Indoor swimming is available at the Port Hole Pool.

Penn Lake Park with its shallow warm waters can be recommended as an alternative to the cold Lake Superior. Its series of beaches and swimming areas are suited with picnic sites. For excellent scenery of the surrounding terrain, take the Penn Lake hiking trail. A campground is located in the park. For more information, drop at the Marathon Visitor Information Centre, opened every day during the summer season.

Summer Events

Art in the Park
June 29nd to September 4th

Pukaskwa National Park was one of those painted by the Group of Seven for its mesmerizing beauty. The local community is supportive of artists. This summer, you can enjoy culture and meet local artists from across Ontario if you happen to be around. Each artist will share her expertise. Don't miss the opportunity to take part in some of the workshops and take away some inspiration!

Canada Day and Opening of Anishinaabe Camp
July 1st

This event with free admission features guided hikes, delicious refreshments, a sunrise pipe ceremony, and plentiful activities for everyone.

Marathon Summerfest
June 29th to July 2nd

Marathon Summerfest
Marathon Summerfest

Canada Day celebrations, a fish derby, cosmic bowling, and a baseball tournament are just some of the numerous events included in Marathon Summerfest 2012. Take your kids with you.

Cultural Week
July 27th to July 31st

This event aims to promote the culture of the people who have been connected with the north shore of Lake Superior for generations, the Anishinaabe people, and gives everyone interested a unique opportunity to immerse themselves in their language and traditions for fours days.

Where to stay

Camping

Frontcountry Camping
Hattie Cove Campground

This campground provides beautiful views across the park and wonderfully fresh air. It's located at the north end of the park and can be reached via Highway 627. You can get your tent in this campground for just $15 to $18.

Backcountry camping

Backcountry camping is available at primitive campsites along the Coastal Hiking Trail or random camping along the coastal canoe route. Call the park in advance to reserve your backcountry trip, as its number is limited.

Accommodation in Marathon

Wayfare
Wayfare Inn

For more demanding visitors, Marathon offers quality accommodation, including:

Peninsula Inn located one kilometre west of the town of Marathon, past the municipal airport. The facilities include a golf course, the rates of which start at $91.00. Peninsula Inn offers separate units for bigger groups of travellers too.

Travelodge on the corner of Highway 17 and Peninsula Road in Marathon is a hotel that provides standard services as well as free large-vehicle parking and a pet-friendly atmosphere.

Wayfare Inn can be found west of Marathon Intersection on Highway 17 and one of its main benefits it that it has jacuzzi rooms.

Useful Websites

Pukaskwa National Park at National Parks of Canada website
Friends of Pukaskwa
North of Superior Tourism Association

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