Hike #26: The Edmund Fitzgerald Lookout Trail

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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From there the path leads back to the junction and is relatively flat all the way back to the parking lot.

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We finished up our hike just before 11a.m and headed back to the campground.

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My progress on the 52 Hike Challenge can be found here

25 thoughts on “Hike #26: The Edmund Fitzgerald Lookout Trail

  1. kagould17 says:

    Nothing like a little adventure along the way to make for a great hiking story. On our 2018 cross Canada trip, we stopped at one lake in NW Ontario to take a recommended hike. The path was overgrown, infested with mosquitoes (even in September) and the view at the end was not worth it (you had to risk your life climbing a rock pile). But, it does make a great story. Loved your shot of the view of trees and lake from the lookout. Thanks for sharing. Allan

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      You know it’s bad when the mosquitoes are aggressive even in September. It’s even worse when you risk your life on getting to the viewpoint, due to the terrain and bugs, and the views aren’t even worth it. But you’re right, it sure makes for a memorable experience. We also used this as a bug-o-metre going forward. If the bugs were bad, they weren’t as terrible as they were on this trail, so that was always good motivation to continue.

      Just out of curiosity, which trail was it that you hiked along?

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I never even knew this song existed until I hiked this trail and wanted to learn more about the history of the Edmund Fitzgerald. When I read that it inspired a Canadian song, I had to listen to it. Naturally when writing this post I had the song playing on repeat in the background for inspiration.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. ourcrossings says:

    I’m still amazed there’s a place called Pancake Bay Provincial Park. The more I read about the hikes in Ontario the more I want to visit one day. I love visiting fresh water lakes and waiting for a sunset. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 😀 Aiva

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Part of the reason we visited this park was because of its name. Pancake Bay just sounds so charming and scenic. And it was, despite the rough conditions on this trail. The beach, campground and other hiking trail at Pancake Bay were fantastic. The whole stretch along the northern shores of Lake Superior in Ontario is stunning. Now that I’ve spent some time exploring it, makes me appreciate how lovely my home province really is. Thanks for reading.

      Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Haha, you’re right. Looking back through my photos I realized I never really captured any pictures of the muddy swampy section. I guess I was too preoccupied with trying to keep my feet dry and swatting the mosquitoes away! Despite all my complaining, there were definitely some scenic parts to the trail. And it certainly was quite the experience!

      Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      For sure. The trail was absolutely lovely up until after the scenic lookout point, sketchy in the middle, but recovered at the end. I think part of the issue is just around timing. Parks had just opened up for the season, so the trail probably wasn’t used in a few months, and the mosquitoes were in their prime feeding stages. I’m sure it would be absolutely lovely later in the season, especially in the fall when the leaves are changing colour. It was also really interesting to learn about the history of the area and of the Edmund Fitzgerald. No regrets.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. carolinehelbig says:

    This is so cool. I’ve always loved the haunting Gordon Lightfoot song about the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald—nice to know this trail exists. Good you persevered through the mud and mosquitoes.

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I’ve been listening to that song a lot lately. Brings back memories of my road trip. I think the only reason we persevered was because we had hope that the trail was just going to get better. And it did. Eventually. Looking back, this hike was probably one of the highlights from our trip and we would often reference it when hiking along other trails. If there was a muddy section or lots of mosquitoes, we’d say something like “well, at least it’s not as bad as the Edmund Fitzgerald Lookout Trail”!

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  4. Janet says:

    Oh my goodness…I wrote a blog about getting a little mud on our shoes, but NOTHING like what you experienced here. LOL I really do like how the trails are marked in your “neck of the woods”. It’s done very well. Do you speak French?

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Maybe it was just the time of year when we hiked this trail but the muddy patches were terrible. I guess it also didn’t help that we somehow got off the main trail and walked down some alternate path that (thank goodness), eventually joined back up with the main trail. Either way, neither of us were having much fun with those muddy sections. It was quite the experience. Haha. And yes, it’s really nice how well marked some of the trails are here. It certainly helps when it’s not entirely clear where the path is. I speak a bit of french, but as time passes, the rustier I am with it.

      Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Yes! Especially considering how well marked the trail was too. I’m still not sure how we managed to get off the main trail. Thank goodness the “path” (more like swamp) we were on joined back up with the main trail. We’ve certainly had some good laughs about this hike after the fact.

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The section that leads to the lookout was easily the nicest portion of the trail. The path is relatively flat (except for the stairs to get to the viewing platform) and well maintained. The lookout is easily the highlight. After that, the terrain becomes more wild. It’s not too bad from Pancake Falls back to the parking lot though. Thanks for reading.

      Liked by 1 person

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