Trip report: Lake Superior Provincial Park (running from bears, hiking disappointment, rain, wind, cold, and very smart dogs)

If you’ve never been to Lake Superior Provincial Park, you have to go! Since discovering it in 2010, we’ve been back every year except last year, when we went to England, Wales and Scotland instead.

This time we planned a 1 week trip, which is short given the 12 hours it takes to get there from the time we pull out of our driveway, but it’s all we could squeeze in.


Day 1

We left at 7:30 AM with a full day of driving ahead of us. After stops in Sudbury for lunch, Sault Ste. Marie for dinner, and a few pitstops in between, we were at our campsite at Agawa Bay by about 7:30 PM (we saw lots of cool Sandhill Cranes on our way). We bought some wood when we registered, because we cook our meals over a campfire. We were surprised by the chilly temperature, and wished we had packed winter hats and mitts like some campers did! Our site on Lake Superior was a great one.

This guy was having a heck of a time trying to get the sail up and out of the water.

We put up our sleeping tents (for the first time, the kids in one, and us in another), and headed to the Visitor Centre for a program called Night at the Museum. Park naturalists were set up at different stations, where you could ask questions and learn about different topics, such as geology and backcountry camping, and watch a Bill Mason canoeing video. There was also hot chocolate inside and s’mores outside. We stayed for a while, then went back to our campsite and headed to bed.

Day 2

On our first full day at the park – sunny and 13 or 14 degrees Celsius (in August!) – we had a delicious breakfast of chocolate chip pancakes, oatmeal and fresh fruit. We set up our dining tent after breakfast, and then Alasdair headed out for a 2 hour run. Once he came back it was lunch time, and then my turn to go for a 2 hour run. I decided to run partly on Highway 17, and partly in the campground, because in past camping trips when I’ve run on trails I’ve found it terrifying, expecting bears, moose and other scary creatures to jump out of the bush at me! So… I was running (alone, without my bear spray!) along Highway 17 when I spotted a little black head in the ditch across the highway… yup, a bear! It was a young one, nibbling on something yummy. It saw me, so I stopped, walked a few steps, then continued running away from the bear, paying attention to exactly where he was, knowing that I would be turning around and running back past where the bear was! Yes, he was little, but yes, I was still scared! I kept looking over my shoulder and was relieved that it wasn’t chasing me! My blood pressure returned to a more normal level as I got further away from him, but of course I was looking for other creatures as I ran. Every noise, from a tiny bird to a chipmunk can sound big and terrifying! And then a truck honked at me – “Must be warning me that a bear is chasing me!” I thought. Nope. I turned and headed back… toward the bear… looking out for him… and eventually, spotting him again! Before I got to him though, I clapped periodically while I ran, so at least he knew I was there and I didn’t startle him. When I finally did see him the 2nd time, I clapped a few times and he did what all good wild bears should do – quickly run off into the bush! I continued on my run, getting back to the campground as quickly as I could, and vowing to never run along highways alone again while up north. Soon I’ll be forced to simply run laps around my campsite. Ha!

We all swam when I got back from my run, in the c-c-c-cold water of Lake Superior. It was windy and wavy too!

After dinner I think we played cards, and the kids ate cold s’mores (no one really felt like making a fire, I guess).

Keaghan decided to sleep in the hammock (in a sleeping bag with a blanket on top), and surprised me by making it through the night (he wasn’t cold, and wasn’t scared – I would have been!). Ailish wasn’t too happy about having to sleep alone in the tent.

The kids put the hammock up and built a little tarp shelter over it.

Day 3

During a previous visit to Lake Superior Provincial Park, we hiked the Coastal Trail south from Gargantua Harbour, heading for Rhyolite Cove, which apparently had some very cool geological features. We never made it, because it was further than we were able to walk with the kids and still get back to our campsite at a reasonable time. So, this time we decided to try again. It’s a challenging hike, going up and down the rocky face of the coast. The weather was great for a hike, sunny but not too hot (it was about 14 or 15 degrees Celsius). We drove from Agawa Bay to the Gargantua Road, and then 14 km slowly down this unpaved road (20-40 km/h) – we saw a Ruffed Grouse along the road. We started our hike and were quickly rewarded with beautiful views of Lake Superior.

Beautiful coastline

We reached the point where we stopped last time, when we decided to eat and swim in a little cove which we now think is called Fat Man’s Alley. This time we continued on, and after 6 km, we found Rhyolite Cove. Unfortunately, it was very underwhelming! Alasdair talked to someone camping at a backcountry site there, and learned that there were some neat things to see further along. We enjoyed our lunch of bagels and mud, apples, homemade fruit leather and gatorade and then decided to go a bit further to check things out. We did find some neat quartz popping out of the surrounding rock, but that was it. Thankfully, the 6 km hike back to the car went faster than the hike out (we definitely stopped less frequently to pick blueberries!).

Quartz popping out of the surrounding rock

We later found out from one of the park naturalists that had we gone further, we would have found other cool stuff, including an in-land pool of water. Next time!!

Day 4

After our big hike the day before, we decided to take it easy and just hang out at the campsite. We played lots of cards, pine cone baseball on the beach, and swam in the humungous waves (Ailish for just a few minutes, Keaghan not at all – too cold, he said). Alasdair and I had a fantastic time diving into the waves, practising swimming along them (great triathlon training!) and jumping or diving over them. They were so big, that when we surfed them to shore we were sent flying.

Keaghan also spent quite a while carving a piece of smoothly eroded driftwood that Alasdair found on our hike, and Keaghan carried back wedged in his camelbak. He turned it into a sword using a knife that Alasdair found during our hike. We don’t normally take anything out of the park (“take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints”) but we made an exception this time.

Keaghan’s sword

It started raining on Sunday afternoon, and then rained off and on until we left.

Day 5

After a night of heavy wind and rain, we awoke to miserable weather, but Alasdair did his fire starting magic and we had a hot breakfast. We kind of rushed through it so that we could make it to the Visitor Centre by 11 AM to attend a program – Mike Buckner of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources Canine Unit brought his dog Rebel, and gave a super informative and very funny presentation about the work of the unit, followed by a demonstration with his dog. The canine unit recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. Afterwards we decided to drive the hour to Wawa for lunch at Tim Horton’s, to avoid having to cook in the pouring rain. We also got groceries and replaced our phone charging adaptor, which started smoking on the way to Wawa!

On the way back we stopped at Old Woman Bay, because it’s a pretty spot and the waves crashing onto shore looked very impressive. We were not disappointed!

Spot the face of the old woman in this picture.
Panorama at Old Woman Bay.

It was still pouring when we got back to our campsite, and it was cold – 11 degrees Celsius – so we played cards in the van and later ate a cold dinner in the dining tent.

Euchre in the van!

We played cards for quite a while, until the rain let up enough for us to brush our teeth and climb into our tents.

Day 6

We woke up to find that it was still raining, cold and windy. The rain lightened up enough for Alasdair to make a fire for a hot breakfast. We decided that we’d go to the Visitor Centre after breakfast to check the weather, and if it wasn’t going to improve, we’d go home early. And that’s just what we decided to do. We packed up and were on the road by 11:30 AM, after making friends with a baby squirrel at the Visitor Centre (smallest squirrel I’ve ever seen).

Maybe you can’t tell, but I’m sure the baby squirrel was posing. 😉
So cute

We had lunch in Sault Ste. Marie and dinner in Sudbury, and were home by about 11:45 PM. A long day, but we were all happy to be home.

We never did get a chance to do an overnight hike this time because of the crappy weather, and the lake was way too choppy to even take the kayaks off the roof of the van.

Despite the cool temperatures, wind and rain, we managed to enjoy ourselves.

Lake Superior, we’ll be back!!! (I’m hoping to hike the entire 65 km Coastal Trail with Alasdair in the next few years.)

See my blog post entitled “My 10 favourite things to do while camping at Lake Superior Provincial Park”.

2 thoughts on “Trip report: Lake Superior Provincial Park (running from bears, hiking disappointment, rain, wind, cold, and very smart dogs)

  1. Thanks for the photos ‘n story.

    It’s annoying how Google his changed Photos to now make them two-clicks-deep to enable the captions. They also seem to have dropped commenting, which, although little-used, was a nice feature. (especially annoying as I also use them for my photos)


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