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Wilderness Tripping: Coastal Trail Backpacking Trip
   Lake Superior Provincial Park
   Algoma District
   Wawa, Ontario, Canada
   July 1-11, 2004


Exploration and Thru-Hike of
the Coastal Trail in Canada's
Lake Superior Provincial Park

July 1-11, 2004

By Gail Staisil
   Midland, Michigan
   Copyright 2004

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View Gail Staisil's photo album no. 1 from this trip

View Gail Staisil's photo album no. 2 from this trip

View Mary Powell's journal from this trip


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Wednesday June 30


As I headed north on Highway 17 in Ontario, I passed by many familiar views. It is a road that I travel often, especially in the winter. My destination for the evening would be Batchawana Bay, where I arrived in the middle of a huge thunder and lightening storm. The lightening had danced across the highway for the last ten miles or so, and I was anxious to seek shelter.

I headed in to the Voyager's Cookhouse to enjoy a bit of dinner. Minutes later the storm ceased, and an amazing rainbow formed on the horizon of the adjacent Lake Superior...the colors were strikingly intense. I knew my unloaded camera lay in the car, so I decided to take in every moment of the rainbow, without capturing a permanent image.

I later checked into the adjacent Voyager's Lodge and repacked my pack, as I waited for some of the others to arrive. Joining me would be Michael, Mary and Dan.


Thursday July 1

The Curious Red Fox

We all met for breakfast at the Cookhouse, amongst many Canadians who were celebrating their Independence Day.

We were preparing for a relaxing day of mostly preparation for our trip. We all stopped at the Agawa Trading Post, a favorite stomping ground, to pursue anything we might like to purchase. Michael left laden with his new historical volumes on the East coast of Lake Superior.. a lot of future reading lay ahead.

We then headed to the Lake Superior Provincial Park headquarters at Agawa Bay, to purchase our permits for our eleven day journey. Agawa Bay is an ancestral gathering spot of the Ojibwa Indians. We stopped at the new Visitor Center which was opened in 2003. This is a phenomenal museum, the exhibits are extremely well done and user-friendly.

Many of the exhibits have voice recordings including diary entries and other significant historical accounts. We were especially enamored with seeing an unique velocipede, which was a three wheeled wooden and steel open handcar, that seven artists used on a journey painting the Agawa Canyon and more via railroad, during the period of 1918- 1922. They lived in a boxcar and utilized the handcar for their daily journeys.

We still had cars to shuttle, which would involve about two hours of driving, so we decided to get moving. We left Dan with our gear at the beach and we headed off to drop Mary's vehicle at Coldwater Creek and Michael's van at Gargantua Harbor. I would be leaving my vehicle at the Agawa Park headquarters, where we would be starting our journey.

The southernmost part of the Coastal Trail starts in a pine laden forest and is reminiscent of many Michigan trails. It is real easy walking in contrast to the more difficult sections that lay ahead.

After crossing the Agawa River, Michael spotted a red fox that emerged from the forest. Although it exited from our view, Michael called it back using various sounds...the fox quickly responded and I was delighted as it posed in various stretches and checked us out.

We headed down the trail and passed the old Agawa Lodge which was opened in 1915, it was a tourist lodge for sportsmen and the like. The lodge was abandoned, but it was in amazingly good shape despite evidence of bird and mammal occupation at various times. We checked out all the rooms, of which there were ten. It had a beautiful stone fireplace and floor. One of the corner rooms had windows on two complete walls, my favorite.

We also surveyed some out buildings of this lodge on our way to make camp, which was in another klick or so. By this time, we had only been on the trail a couple of hours, so we readily enjoyed the evening. We had a good view of Montreal Island and the smaller Agawa Islands off the coast. Michael and I camped in a pine plantation and Mary and Dan camped near the beach.


Friday July 2

Pictographs and Caves

We left camp continuing along the shoreline where we looked at the other campsites that were in the area. One of them contained an old hull of a boat that had beached there.

The trail quickly became root-bound, rocky and it became apparent that the easy part was over. All signage at trail heads warn hikers of the severe conditions, and this is one trail that they don't exaggerate the difficulty.

We quickly noticed distance between ourselves and Michael. He had been investigating an old trap and bucksaw blade. We climbed around, along and over huge times we would barely fit through long slots of rock. Although there are blue markers on trees, sometimes they are quite spread out and we occasionally got off course for a short amount of steps. Cairns marked the way over long stretches of rock. This part of the Coastal Trail is relatively new, so the wear patterns over the rock are obscure.

We were headed to the pictographs at Agawa Rock. These red ocher paintings were left by Ojibwa travelers on Lake Superior. I had visited the area two previous times, once in the late 80's and most recently in February. During the last visit, which was by snowshoe, the paintings were mostly obscured by ice and it was far too dangerous to venture out on the narrow ledge.

As we traveled closer to the pictographs, we could view Ganley Island where a few cabins exist. We could hear voices of people who occupied the island. We had lunch with a view of the island and were looking forward to viewing Agawa Rock. We soon came upon huge caves on the trail, they could be easily walked through.

We were about to leave the second cave area when Dan fell hard and injured himself. He was having severe pain in his side and had muscle spasms with apparent muscle damage. He was eventually able to continue the short ways to the Agawa Rock side trail and parking lot. I'm sure it seemed much farther to him! Mary and I went down to view the pictographs while we waited for Dan's decision, as to whether he would continue the trip.

The Indian paintings were easily viewed on this calm water day. You could also see huge rocks down in the water which leveled out above the water. They would make fine swimming destinations. Although we couldn't wait to swim ourselves, we decided to delay until we made camp later.

It was already 5 PM. Dan decided he would not go on, so we headed to the parking lot where he quickly arranged a ride with tourists. We would meet up with him on Monday at our first food cache, which was in his vehicle. After assuring his safe departure, we headed down to Sinclair Cove. The trail winds around the cove through rocky terrain, involving many ascents high above the water. There were some real cool slot-like passageways.

At one point, I smelled the aroma of food cooking. Since we were headed for the only campsite in the area, I figured it would be occupied...or I was getting hungry and I was imagining things. It became apparent that the site was already taken, so we headed out in search of an unofficial spot, where we could make camp. Off site camping is allowed with certain restrictions.

We camped on a peninsula which was reached by edging our way through slippery rocks in the water, to reach the dry side of the peninsula. It would of been much easier to get there on the other side, but that is hindsight. We settled in to camp, on a mostly barren rock outcropping. There were clumps of pine, tamarack and spruce, so we found suitable places to set up. I hung my hammock with a nice view of distant islands.

We hadn't arrived in camp until 7:30 PM, so our first priority was immersing ourselves in the icy waters. It had been a hot, sweaty type of day so it felt great. By the time we fixed dinner, hung bear bags and set up our accommodations, it was well past sunset which we briefly paused to take pictures of it. I went to bed at 11 PM with chores unfinished, but tomorrow would be another day and they would have to wait.


Saturday July 3

The "Rock Island"

I awoke early to the sound of seagulls on the nearby Barrett Island. It was perhaps around 5 AM that I saw the moon rise. I watched it make it's way across the sky. I kept track until I dosed once more.

It had been warm most of the night. I didn't even wear my light insulated jacket which has been a staple since late last summer. Mary and Michael were doing their morning chores and I quickly joined them.

I left camp with only a short sleeve shirt and pants on, it surely was going to be a warm one. The trail skirted the lake, so we either were on stretches of rocks or escarpment, before the trail made its way into the headlands. The interior trail was more refined today, not easy but certainly not as challenging as yesterday.

Mary spotted sun-dew plants in an unlikely spot among the rocks. We found a sandy and fine cobble beach to have lunch at. We had a couple of klicks to navigate before we would make camp. Traveling the Coastal Trail is a slow process, sometimes it takes an hour to cover one klick. Today's hike was a shorter one but we'll make up for it tomorrow in distance, to put us back on "schedule".

We camped near the mouth of the Barrett River. It has a nice sandy beach and our campsite on the north end of it is secluded. It had a rock "island" in the water not far from shore, so Mary and I ventured out to it and found the water to only be a few feet deep off the shallow end of it.

There were a few other campers in this area, but the campsites are really spaced out nicely. One group was canoeing and the other backpacking. We briefly talked to the later in the morning, as they headed out. They had an ambitious schedule as compared to ours but they commented that we should be happy that we are still doing it....wait a minute! They were very young of course, and probably don't see people our age taking on this trail very often...gee, if they only knew that we're much tougher than we look :)


Sunday July 4

Our Fourth of July Picnic

Raindrops greeted the morning, but we had plenty of time to pack up, before the rain increased in intensity.

I didn't get much sleep last night, don't know why but my mind was racing.

As we left camp, we immediately went into the headlands. The trail promised some outstanding views. We have also seen so many nice wildflowers. There is especially an abundance of lady slippers which we've seen everyday so far.

We were anxious to see the mouth of the Sand River. The trail winds around the mouth on to H17 to cross the bridge. Kayakers had just taken entry into the mouth but wouldn't be going upstream as there are many chutes and much rock. It was easy walking along a sandy beach stretch of Lake Superior. Because the lake has receded in the last few years, nice beaches have appeared and small islands of rock have popped through the surface. These make interesting places for people to hang out, but the beaches were barren of travelers.

At lunch, Michael set up his tarp in the forest near the lake's edge. It made it more inviting to make hot drinks for lunch in the rain. I teased that this is our Fourth of July picnic! The trail from there went in and out of the headlands often. We reached Katherine Cove which is a popular sandy beach in nice weather- it was deserted too, except for a few tourists who took a quick peek after they walked a few steps from their car.

As we continued on, some stretches of trail became extremely difficult. We walked, slid and hoisted ourselves down into crevices between huge boulders. I got my foot jammed between two massive rocks and had a difficult time getting it out, after 3-4 minutes, I wondered if it was in there for good. Michael and Mary were getting further away, but I finally managed to get out without help...I know they would of came back after awhile. The difficulty of this portion of trail lay not only in the rocks, but primarily was the result of rain which had made the rocks extremely greasy. We teased about needing crampons and rope to get through this section.

We were heading towards Robertson Cove, a pretty spot with a small campsite. As we set up our tarps, another rainstorm moved in, this one was quite intense and lengthy. We huddled under our tarps sorting through our gear and got ready to enjoy the evening, after all, it is the Fourth of July!

The rained finally abated so that we could check out the cove. It would be a nice spot in sunny weather. There is a large peninsula of rocks and shelves of rock going out into the water. I watched two loons for a lengthy time.


Monday July 5


Morning arrived, I had a hard time keeping warm last night, the rain and wind combination made it damp and cold. I used both of my thin sleeping bags that I had brought, just in case of this type of weather.

We ate breakfast under our tarps and soon were amused with two cedar waxwings that were eating berries above Michael's tarp.

We followed the rocky coast and stopped for breaks on some of the higher outcroppings. We were headed to the Baldhead River area today. On the way, we would visit with Dan who was camped near Coldwater Creek. We would check on his progress to see when he could join us again. We picked up our food cache and changed into clean clothes and then headed out with heavier packs again. We skirted the shore for awhile and then ascended a bunch to Baldhead Hill, it has spectacular views and it is probably the only time that the Coastal Trail gains that much height -- 110 meters.

We arrived into camp early at 4 PM and enjoyed the small rivulets of water cascading from the hills and the immense roar of Lake Superior. Mary and I stayed down at the beach for awhile, while Michael retreated to the campsite. After some time, we noticed a very large group of twelve young girls coming south down the beach.

They had only started at Orphan Lake but already wanted to camp. The peaceful surroundings were threatening to come to an end. I decided to spend the rest of the evening by the roaring waves as the sculpted rock along the coast, was outstanding. I watched the sunset and headed off to bed. The girls were mostly quiet but sleep was often interrupted by them tripping over the edge of my tarp.


Tuesday July 6

A City Of Tarps

I had slept on the ground last night instead of the hammock. It had looked to be another cool night so I wanted to be warm. I woke early, I was the first one up so I was going to enjoy the quiet. Mary was surprised when she woke up later as she is normally the earliest riser. I packed up my gear and headed down the beach, to wait for the others to finish breakfast and packing their gear.

It was a lovely morning, no bugs, and I was comfortable reading and watching the water which can mesmerize me for a long time. Michael and Mary rejoined me and we headed north to the Baldhead River. It has several bridges on it and is a nice place to hang out. We continued along Lake Superior and saw two gals having breakfast. We haven't encountered very many people at all, excluding the large group.

Much of the trail today is easier than some of the southern sections we have traveled so far, much of it goes back into the headlands. There are still many rock sections but they are not as demanding. We saw two canoes loaded with people as we traversed the rocks. We came to a nice sandy cove with a spit linking a rock island.

Two klicks later, we would arrive at Beatty Cove, our home for the evening. We set up our tarps all in a lean-to fashion, right next to each other. It was quite colorful -- emerald green, black and teal, all colors of nature. Our campsite is on the edge of the beach so our area is ringed with ferns and various wild flowers. It started to sprinkle shortly after we set our tarps up, and the rain increased in intensity by late afternoon. We had a great view, so that compensated for time under the tarp. Mary ventured out to explore the next two points and Michael and I explored a bit behind camp.


Wednesday July 7

An Exhausting Day

It stormed all night, I was waiting for the tarps to blow away, although I knew that they were anchored deep in the sand with wooden stakes that Michael acquired on the beach- dead sticks from trees and such. The winds were fierce, but soon it was morning. The skies were really gray and it looked like it wouldn't change soon.

We stayed at camp longer than usual, but by 10 AM we were on the trail. We had a very difficult section to maneuver. I had done it before and I still remembered the difficulty of it. We headed out of the cove and into the headlands where we spied Telegraph Rock. It continued to rain and we had lunch under Michael's tarp, which he set up to make lunch a more desirable affair. We crossed a bridge upstream on Buckshot Creek. This creek has many small rapids and falls as you walk upstream on it for quite a ways, before you cross the bridge and return on the other side to Lake Superior.

We stopped at the Bear Mountain overlook which has a great view of the coastline. It was starting to fog but we could see the outline of the shore. It is called Bear Mountain because of the reoccurring bear activity in the area. The descent past the overlook to Lake Superior is awesome as far as rock formations are concerned. There are caves and huge walls of rock, the trail runs around massive rocks and descends sharply. Much of the rock is covered with moss and lichens, very colorful. There were also neat yellow birches in this area.

We finally came to the area south of Rhyolite Cove, where columnar rhyolite has eroded into sculptured shapes and flat bedrock beaches. The beaches are a deep ocher red and are outstanding to view. We arrived at camp well after 7 PM. It was a long, hard and exhausting day. We only covered eight klicks of trail, this attests to the difficulty of maneuvering on lichen covered wet rock.


Thursday July 8

Reunite With Dan

We made camp last night in Rhyolite Cove. Mary had a fire, which we later utilized to dry out our rain suits. We hadn't got in to camp until late so we were all eating dinner at 9 PM. By 10:30 PM, everyone was asleep. It rained periodically through the night and this morning. The sky does look a little brighter, it is hard to know what the day will bring -- hopefully some sun, so we can swim!

We left camp and ventured into the headlands. There was a marked overlook which led to rhyolite formations. A granite boulder sat at the edge of the shore, in stark contrast to the rhyolite. The power of glaciers and water has led to many strange groupings of rocks.

We made good headway today, as the rocks were drying out and there were more easier headland sections. Some of the formerly severe sections had been re-routed since my last hike on this part. The trail used to go through a section of almost car size rocks, it had been slow going and of the sections dropped a good five feet at one time. I guess it had a ladder for awhile, but it was not there when I went through this part five years ago. There are still some difficult sections, one of which where you travel through a very narrow slot.

We descended steeply to a flat trail which houses several campsites within vicinity of Gargantua Harbor. There are the remains of an old homestead fireplace and a couple of old wooden shacks along the trail.

We reached camp at 3:30 PM, and looked for Dan who was to meet us today via the access road of Gargantua. Mary searched for his camp, but it was on the other end of the harbor. We once again hoisted our packs, picked up our second food cache at Michael's van and headed over to Dan's camp.

It was now 5 PM, so I made it a priority to swim. We haven't had the opportunity to really clean up for days due to the weather, so Lake Superior felt outstanding. We camped back of the sandy shore with Michael being a distance away. I visited with him, and took pics of the harbor, while Mary and Dan traveled to the other end of the harbor for a walk. There was no visible sunset but the skies were looking better for tomorrow.


Friday July 9

Michael's Trail Work

Morning arrived with just a bit of nip in the air. It quickly warmed up, and we headed out at 9 AM. Our first stop would be the overlook at Gargantua Harbor. The trail is now extremely easy in stark contrast to the rough sections behind us. The first several klicks are actually on an old road bed. It is somewhat rocky, but a breeze to travel. The overlook offered terrific views of Warp Bay, Devil's Warehouse Island and Gargantua Harbor.

We later viewed an old cabin/boathouse in the harbor which was now a back country ranger's cabin. Gargantua was an active fishing village in the late 19th century, as it offered one of the few natural harbors on Lake Superior. It was also a home for loggers and light keepers. We found evidence of three other buildings from the past, including a rock foundation, lilac bushes and old timbers that were nestled among trees. At one time, a cluster of buildings included a cookery, ice making shed and twine shed. Today buttercups and hawk-weed adorn the small trail leading there.

We headed back to the intersection for Warp Bay. More lady slippers lined the edges of the trail, but for the most part this trail is comparatively mundane. Many trees were scattered along the way blocking the trail.

I reached the Gargantua River ahead of the group, so I soaked my feet in the refreshing waters. I relaxed, took some photos and read while the rest of the group arrived. We all decided to eat lunch before we headed off to Indian Harbor, and ultimately to Chalfant Cove. The trail continued to be tree laden, but Michael was aggressively using his bowie knife to make the trail passable for those hikers who traveled behind him. We would be backtracking this way again as well, so we would benefit too.

I traveled ahead of the group and waited for quite awhile at an Indian Harbor bluff location. After awhile, it became apparent that they probably took a break sooner so I might as well continue and secure a camp. Michael told me to go for it anyway, so I left a note letting them know, that I moved on.

I stopped and watched a grouse for quite awhile, it didn't seem to much mind that I was there. I arrived at Chalfant Cove -- no one was there. I found a private bivy site a short ways from one of two regular campsites, which I saved for the rest. I set up camp and was about to go swimming when my partners arrived.

As norm, the short swim was great, it always feels so good on the bug bites.

We all had a nice evening. A female backpacker came by looking for a site. Mary and I visited with her later. She was Elynn from Ottawa. We helped her with her bear bag and told her about the difficult sections of trail, as it was day one for her as she was doing the trail in the opposite direction.


Saturday July 10

The Legend of Devil's Chair

Morning arrives, I can see the cove around me as I lift my head, the morning reflection on the water is great. Last night some small creature scampered over my bug netting twice -- don't know what it was, but the first time it scared me...the second time I didn't care. The stars shone brightly most of the night.

Today we are going to Devil's Chair, I left camp before the others. The trail back to the Warp Bay area was 100% better, because of all the trail work Michael did yesterday. Tons of trees were chopped out of the way, making it smooth sailing. I arrived in Warp Bay to an empty beach -- so surprising as the other times I've been there have been quite busy. It must be just too early in the season for most people. The abundance of bugs probably keeps most backpackers and kayakers away.

The trail to Devil's Chair was mostly in OK shape, there were a few blow downs, but not like yesterday. Thimble berries in bloom, were everywhere, promising ripe rewards next month for those traveling this trail.

I arrived in Devil's Chair by noon. I decided to set up my tarp under some cedar trees near the shore. The campsites here are basic, but the view from Devil's Chair cove is awesome. Devil's Chair is an Ojibwa religious site.

Nana bozo rested here after jumping over the lake -- he protected the Ojibwa. Travelers on the lake often left tobacco and other offerings to honor his spirit. It is also thought that the Jesuits imagined the Devil here and Voyageurs saw the gentle giant Gargantua here...many thoughts on it for sure.All I know is that it was fun to speculate what the image conveyed. Dan had his own interpretation of what it looked like.

Everyone is quiet tonight...after all it is the last night. We are all trying to stay out of the sun and get some reading time in. The sunset was so neat, we watched many changes for a long time before we drifted off to sleep, in view of Devil's Chair.


Sunday July 11

A Quiet Departure

Today the hike out, was swift and unnoteworthy. I stopped in Gargantua Harbor for my last swim. We now had two vehicles at the harbor road, so I jumped in with Michael as he was to leave me at Agawa Bay where I had left my car. I decided to head straight to the Keweenaw instead of having lunch first, as I had a long drive ahead of me.

I was glad I did, because traffic was backed up for quite a stint with people going over the International Bridge. The customs officer asked me what I had been doing in Canada. When I told her, she said, "Weren't you here just last month doing the same thing?" I showed her my permit to assure her that -- yes, I was back for another backpacking stint. It won't be long and they will be asking me that again!



E-mail author at

View Gail Staisil's photo album no. 1 from this trip

View Gail Staisil's photo album no. 2 from this trip

View Mary Powell's journal from this trip

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