Distance hiked: 10.5km
Location: Pancake Bay Provincial Park, Ontario
Date: June 29, 2020
Along our road trip around Lake Superior, we stopped at Pancake Bay Provincial Park for a day. Located on the northern shore of Lake Superior, Pancake Bay is reputed to have one of the nicest sandy beaches in Ontario. Besides its gorgeous beach, it also has a couple of hiking trails, including the Edmund Fitzgerald Lookout Trail (14km round trip, rated moderate).
The trailhead is located across Highway 17 from the campground and the trail itself consists of three interconnecting routes:
- Lookout (6km round trip)
- Falls Trail Loop (10.5km round trip)
- Tower Lakes Loop (13.5km roundtrip)
The trail was named after the shipwreck, SS Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank in Lake Superior during a storm on November 10, 1975, losing the entire crew of 29 men. The shipwreck is one of the most well known stories around the Great Lakes and led to changes in Great Lakes shipping regulations and practices. It also inspired the famous Canadian song – The Wreck of Edmund Fitzgerald.
The trailhead is located across the road from the campground. The first 1.6km of the path was quite gentle and relatively flat. The trail is well-marked by a series of blue markers with a hiker symbol on them.
We hiked clockwise toward the scenic lookout. There are a series of stairs up to two viewing platforms which provide panoramic views of Lake Superior and Pancake Bay. At the viewing platforms there are a couple of interpretive signs 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 sank.
Past the 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 Tower Lakes Loop, we decided to cut the hike short and just continue along the Falls Trail Loop.
At some point we took a wrong turn and stopped seeing blue markers. Instead the “path” turned into a swampy muddy mess, which was pretty much a breeding ground for the mosquitoes. But we did see other footprints and bike tracks through the mud, so that gave us hope. 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).
Progress was slow in the beginning as we were carefully trying to avoid the mud. But fear and the constant harassment of mosquitoes can sure be a good motivator. Eventually we stopped caring about whether our shoes got wet or muddy (because they already were). Turns out the path we were following was actually Ch. Smith’s Rd, which is a bit misleading as this “road” is certainly not maintained, overgrown with vegetation and covered in mud. But then the sketchy path eventually leads to the real trail and we came across a map of the trail. I nearly cried with joy.
Based on the map, Pancake Falls was only 580m away. After checking out the conditions and ensuring the path wasn’t covered in mud, we decided to backtrack and head to the falls.
There’s an interpretive sign located near the falls that provides some fun facts about the Pancake River. The Pancake River is one of many cold water streams that flow through the surrounding landscape towards Lake Superior. In the spring and fall, a number of different fish, such as rainbow trout, brook trout, pink salmon and chinook salmon spawn in the river.
The path down to the falls was a bit steep in areas. When we reached the base of the falls, we took a break to rest, drink some water and eat an orange.
The remainder of the path back to the trailhead was luxury in comparison to the mud “trail” we were on earlier. We followed the trail along the road, which was an actual legit gravel road, until the trail winds back through the dense forest.
The path then crosses the road and winds back into the forest. And if you’re thinking you can just continue walking along the road, you can’t, because it’s washed out. Oh, and there was also a massive puddle (some may even call this a pond?) to cross over to get back onto the trail.
From there the path leads back to the junction and is relatively flat all the way back to the parking lot.
We finished up our hike just before 11a.m and headed back to the campground.
My progress on the 52 Hike Challenge can be found here