Length of stay: 1 day
Visited: June 2020
Located on the northern shores of Lake Superior, Pancake Bay Provincial Park features a pristine sandy beach that spans across 3.2km. It is sheltered from the open lake, shallow, and is reputed to be one of the finest beaches in Ontario. In addition to swimming, Pancake Bay offers a couple of hiking trails that weave through a sand dune ecology and provide panoramic views of the surrounding area.
After spending the last two days at Killarney Provincial Park, we drove 5 hours to get to Pancake Bay Provincial Park, stopping in Sudbury to pick up groceries along the way. We arrived at the park at around 9p.m. The one benefit of camping this early in the season was that it was still light outside by the time we arrived. We picked up our permit, set up our tent, and made a quick dinner before heading to bed.
We had another early start to the day. The great thing about starting early is that it’s still reasonably cool outside and there aren’t many other people on the trails. The bad thing about starting early is that the bugs have a similar idea. We planned to hike along the Edmund Fitzgerald Lookout Trail (14km round trip, rated moderate), which is located across the road from the campground. The trail consists of three routes, so you can scale up or down depending on how much time you went to spend hiking. We initially planned to hike the entire trail.
The first 1.6km of the path was quite gentle and relatively flat. The path reaches the first of two interconnecting loops. We hiked clockwise toward the scenic lookout. There are a series of steps up to two viewing platforms which provides panoramic views of Lake Superior and Pancake Bay. At the viewing platforms there was a couple of interpretive sign explaining the history of the area. From the lookout you can see across to Whitefish Point. This stretch of Lake Superior is known as the “Graveyard of the Great Lakes” where the Edmund Fitzgerald, an American Great Lakes freighter, sunk in a storm in 1975. This ship was the largest on the Great Lakes and remained the largest to have sunk there.
Past the scenic lookout the path becomes progressively more rugged to the point where we were even questioning whether this was an actual trail. The path was narrow and overrun with vegetation. When we reached the point where the trail meets with the second, longer loop, we decided to cut the hike short and just continue along the Falls Trail Loop (10.5km instead of the full 14km).
At some point we took a wrong turn and stopped seeing blue markers. But we did see other footprints and bike tracks through the mud. We reached a certain point where we decided to just keep going because we made it this far and the path couldn’t possibly get worse (spoiler: it gets worse). The “path” we were following was actually some unmaintained “road” (I use this word loosely as it was a muddy mess). The road eventually meets up with the trail and we came across a map of the trail. We decided to hike to Pancake Falls as it was only 580m away. Turned out to be a good call as the path was surprisingly decent. The path back to the trailhead was luxury in comparison to the mud “trail” we were on earlier.
When we made it back to the car we took a small break to eat a snack as there were limited opportunities to take a break on the trail due to all the mosquitoes and mud. We drove back toward the campgrounds and stopped to hike along the Pancake Bay Nature Trail (3.5km, rated easy). The trail begins along the shoreline of Lake Superior before winding through a dense forest along ancient beach ridges. The trail also features a boardwalk and passes through a wetland. There are nine interpretive signs, providing background information on the geology and plant life of the area.
We finished up our hike shortly after noon. We headed back to the campsite to change into our bathing suits and take a swim (more like polar dip) into Lake Superior. The nice thing about our site was that we were next to a boardwalk leading to the sandy beach.
Since shower facilities are closed at provincial parks for the 2020 season due to the pandemic, going for a swim was the only way to wash away all the sweat (tears) and bug spray. After a long morning of hiking, the water sure felt refreshing.
Afterwards we walked back to our campsite to dry off, eat some lunch, take down our tent and pack up our car. We left the park just before 2p.m. From there it’s a 6.5 hour drive to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park.
19 thoughts on “Pancake Bay Provincial Park”
I hate those moments when you wonder if you are on the trail or not. They do not always work out as well as they did for you. Looks like some great views on the hike though. Thanks for sharing. Stay well. Allan
It sure was a memorable hike, that’s for sure. And agreed, we’re lucky that the unmarked path eventually led back to the trail as we weren’t particularly keen on backtracking through the swamp. We definitely had a few good laughs after the fact. Thanks for reading.
Looks like a great place! Love the pictures and love the name!
I’m not going to lie, one of the reasons we stayed here was because of the name of the provincial park. Pancake Bay just sounds so inviting. We were pleasantly surprised that it lived up to (and exceeded) our expectations. The beach was fantastic and it had pretty decent hiking trails (even if we did get lost through a swampy area on one of them).
I agree, the name certainly does sound inviting! Looks great, and I look forward to more of your posts!
Oh good! We had such a fantastic time on our road trip around Lake Superior (and Pancake Bay) that we’re planning on coming here again in August.
Great! I bet you can’t wait to go back!
Wow, aren’t those amazing views! I’m glad to hear you made it back safely. As we go hiking with our daughter, we wouldn’t be able to go were we please and have to pick a very well marked trail otherwise one of us ends up carrying an extra 25 kg 😂😂😂 thanks for sharing such beautiful photos, I love the name of the park! Aiva
Ha, that does sound like pretty good motivation to always pay attention to directions and trail markers. The Lookout Trail was pretty scenic and enjoyable, minus the detour through the swamp. Things could have been a lot worse. Looking back on our trip, this hike was certainly one of the most memorable moments and still gives us a good laugh.
Pancake Bay? That’s awesome!
In retrospect we should have made pancakes for breakfast. That would have been fitting.
Wow! Totally new to me and what a great name. The beach is glorious. On my list now, thanks!
Part of the reason we stopped here was because we were curious to see what this park was like with a name like Pancake Bay. We were quite happy with our decision as there were some decent hiking trails and the beach was lovely. We managed to get a site near the beach and could hear the waves when falling asleep.
Wow, great photos. I’m with you, I like an early start.
It’s easy to take great photos when the scenery is just so beautiful. I’m typically an early riser and just find that getting an early start to the day usually works out really well when travelling. We hardly ever have any issues finding parking and there are less people out on the trails. Plus, if we leave early enough, there can be good wildlife viewing opportunities. It’s just a win all around.
I love the beautiful photographs. Thanks for sharing. 🌹👍🙏
It helped that Pancake Bay is so incredibly photogenic. Thanks for reading and commenting.
Another beautiful trail and place to hike. But, oh my, those stairs!!!! I would have turned back for sure.
Maybe we should have turned back after those stairs. The rest of the trail was rough and rugged. It also didn’t help that we somehow got off the main trail and had to walk through this swampy area, all the while being swarmed by mosquitoes. It was quite the memorable hike, that’s for sure!