#yoursTOdiscover: Pukaskwa National Park
It’s a bit of a trek to get there, but so worth the while.
Gorgeous, rugged landscapes. Long, quiet beaches lapped by brisk waters and an endless horizon. Skies that put the countless paintings inspired by them to shame. Indigenous culture, incredible wildlife, and – my favourite – tranquillity.
Pukaskwa National Park is located on the North-Eastern Shores of Lake Superior, about a thirteen-hour drive from Toronto (which is where my family started from). If you are likewise coming from Toronto, you will probably want to break the trip up. For us, travelling with two children, we made the trip in three legs – from Toronto to Sudbury (about a four-hour drive) for a leg-stretch and a visit to the mines of Dynamic Earth, then a three-and-a-half hour drive to Sault St. Marie where we spent a night at the luxurious KOA Campground nearby. The next morning, it was a final four-and-half hour trek along some of the most beautiful roads in the province to get to the park proper.
While remote, Pukaskwa caters to all kinds of travellers – those comfortable putting their worlds on their backs and hiking deep into the woods or canoeing to remote campsites and families of car-campers like ours. We chose to stay at Hattie Cove Campground, and were thankful for it. Upon our arrival, we were told that the site was busy, by their standards – there were about 10 sites full out of the sixty or so available. As such, we were able to get our pick – a great spot near a comfort station with a clean, modern washroom and shower facility and sink for washing dishes, while also a short hike away from the beach and nearby trails.
Our site was spacious, clean, and came with a picnic table, grill for a fire and even an electric outlet to plug our smartphones into (just to check the weather updates, of course!).
My family camps a couple times a year, so we have invested in some decent camp-gear for treks like this. As you can see in the picture above, we have a big tent, an Outbound 2-room, 8-person that we got on sale for $100 at the end of the camping season a few years back. We also have a solid Coleman cooler for about $100 that can store all the perishable food we need for a week.
Some other camping supplies you will need:
- sleeping bags (it gets cool at night at Pukaskwa, so ones that are rated 1°C to 15°C are a good idea)
- foam mats (to put under the sleeping bags and give a bit of cushion between you and the ground)
- tarps (to put under the ground and help your tent last longer, and to put above to create some space to outside in case of rain)
- an axe (to cut wood purchased on-site into smaller chunks for campfires)
- some camp dishes, including cutlery – doesn’t need to be fancy, just things that aren’t likely to break if they’re jostled around or dropped)
- camp pots and a cook-stove with fuel (a bit more convenient for cooking than the fire!)
- a basin (for storage and for doing dishes, if your campsite is further away from the comfort station)
- a can-opener (always!)
- fire-starter material (my trick – put lint from the clothes dryer in a cardboard tube from a paper towel roll – they catch on fire nicely and make a great base to teepee your wood onto!)
- a good pair of hiking boots
- a backpack (to carry your camera, lunch, water bottle and spare sunscreen/bug repellent in)
- a solid water-bottle or canteen
- a wide-brimmed hat
- a swimsuit (if you don’t mind some fresh water!)
- goggles or a mask, plus flippers and a snorkel (to get out and explore some of the bays in the camp)
- a camera (to capture all the amazing sites you will see)
- a light jacket (in case you’re out on a windy day)
If you forget anything, don’t fret – the nearby town of Marathon has everything you need.
Some things to do:
There are a number of incredible trails that take you through the woods, over Canadian shield and along the shore of Lake Superior. When we were there, the camp and trails weren’t busy; while out hiking for hours over several days, we ran into at most ten other groups of hikers. The rest of the time, we felt like we were on a Lord of the Rings-style adventure (and may have hummed the theme tune while walking over a picturesque hill or two).
As an added benefit, if you go in late July/August, there are wild blueberries everywhere. There’s nothing like finishing your lunch off with some fresh-picked and delicious berries while looking out over the lake on a cloudless day!
One day-hike takes you along the Bimose Kinoomagewnan Trail, where you can learn the Seven Grandfather Teaching of the Ojibway. These are some incredible insights that, if everyone carried with them in daily life, the world would be a better place.
At the start of all these trails is a Visitors’ Centre which holds a wealth of information about the park, its history, and the various animals that live there, including a community of over 200 moose. The Centre also offers programming for children, which is both informative and fun.
If beaches are your thing, there are a couple places to swim at Hattie Cove, though the water of the main beach is definitely cold. There are some bays where the water is a bit warmer, though. If you just want to relax on the sand and catch some sun, there are a couple beaches available for this. When we were there, we had one beach to ourselves for a good three hours – it was incredible. There are also canoes available for rent, and some amazing spaces to paddle in.
And of course, sometimes, you just want to do nothing. There are so many spots around Hattie Cove just to sit with a book, or put up a hammock and take a nap. The air is fresh and clear, the sound of breeze through the trees soothing.
It may be a bit of a drive to get there, but trust me – your heart and mind will thank you for it.