Hike #38: White River Suspension Bridge

Distance hiked: 18km
Location: Pukaskwa National Park, Ontario
Date: August 12, 2020

Located along the rocky shore of Lake Superior, Pukaskwa is one of five National Parks in Ontario and protects part of the longest undeveloped shoreline anywhere on the Great Lakes. It was established in 1978 and is known for its rugged coastline, which naturally makes for some great hiking.

We camped at Neys Provincial Park the previous night. From there it’s about a 40 minute drive to Pukaskwa. Since it was still cold outside when we woke up, we drove to Pukaskwa and figured we could make breakfast there. We arrived at the park just before 9:00a.m and waited a few minutes for the park office to open to pick up our park permit.

We had a rather ambitious day ahead of us as we planned to hike the White River Suspension Bridge Trail (18km, rated difficult). The trail follows the Coastal Hiking Trail (a 60km trail that weaves through the boreal forest and near the Lake Superior coastline and is part of the Trans-Canada Trail) to a suspension bridge 23m above the Chigamiwinigum Falls. As with most trails in Pukaskwa, the White River Suspension Bridge Trail starts at the Visitor Centre.

The first stretch of the path passes through a prescribed burn area around Hattie’s Cove. The prescribed fire started on May 14, 2012 at 12:19p.m and by 3:45p.m it was mostly over. There are a few signs along the path that provide more details on why the boreal forest needs fire to be healthy and the logistics of the prescribed fire in 2012.

Here you can see the death and rebirth of the boreal forest. The trail continues to follow along Hattie’s Cove, providing lovely views of the water. The path consists of a mix of walking along wooden boardwalks and the forest ground.

The path then follows along a stretch of wooden boardwalk atop a wetland. 

The path then weaves through a dense and mossy forest. From here the terrain becomes significantly more challenging. We were constantly navigating up, over, around and down lots of roots and rocks. And there were muddy patches and puddles (ponds?) of water along the path, which added a different kind of challenge.

The trail itself isn’t well marked. There are a few signs to point you in the right direction, but these were few and far between. But the forest is dense, so the path is quite obvious. So we had little concern of getting lost.

After a few gruelling kilometres, the path leads down to Playter Harbour. There’s a small sandy beach here with a nice view of Lake Superior. There’s also a turnoff here for a backcountry campsite.

A few hundred metres from Playter Harbour there’s a pit toilet, as well as a junction and turnoff for the Mdaabii Miikna Trail, which follows along the shoreline of Lake Superior and loops back with the Coastal Hiking Trail.

We continued along the main trail. At this point the path levels out considerably and is relatively flat. The path continues to meander through a dense mossy forest. There are also a few wooden platforms to help hike over some muddy areas. After 700m there’s another turnoff and sign for the Mdaabii Miikana Trail.

The trail continues through the forest and eventually leads to the suspension bridge, featuring lovely views over the gorge and Chigamiwinigum Falls.

There were very few places to take a break along the trail, including at the suspension bridge. We found some rocks to sit on, which weren’t the most comfortable, and ate a snack. Ideally we would have liked to stay longer to rest.

The path continues along the longer Coastal Hiking Trail, but after crossing the suspension bridge, we turned around and hiked back the way we came. The first stretch was relatively flat and the path meandered through the forest and provided good shade coverage.

We then hit the rough and rocky patch just after Playter Harbour. Many curse words were muttered, but miraculously my shoes managed to stay relatively free of mud. Once we reached the marsh, the remainder of the path was pretty easy going.

We finished up our hike at 3:30p.m. Overall it took us just over 5.5 hours to hike to the White River Suspension Bridge and back. Along the way we passed a few other hikers, mostly people who were backcountry camping along the Coastal Hiking Trail and only a handful of day hikers. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to do this trail with a full pack. It was challenging enough with just a day pack!


My progress on the 52 Hike Challenge can be found here

37 thoughts on “Hike #38: White River Suspension Bridge

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The trail was more challenging than we thought, but was totally worth it for the views of the gorge along the suspension bridge. It also helped that we had fabulous weather for hiking. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  1. kagould17 says:

    We found a lot of the trails we hiked in the Great Lakes area in 2018 to be poorly marked and either underutilized or overgrown and that the scenery at the end point was often underwhelming. This trail looks like it has plenty to offer, with the boardwalk, falls and suspension bridge. I am with you, this trail would have been real challenge with a loaded pack. Thanks for sharing. Allan

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We ran into that issue with a few of the trails we hiked along during our Northern Ontario road trip. I guess some of these areas don’t get a lot of visitors, so the vegetation can easily creep back and trail maintenance isn’t high on the priority list. This trail wasn’t marked, but seemed to get pretty decent traffic, which was surprising given its distance. Thanks for reading.

  2. Ab says:

    This looks amazing! I’m even more convinced now that we are going to make a stop at White River next time and to hike this trail. I can never say no to a suspension bridge! 🙂

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I’m a sucker for suspension bridges too. We didn’t have time to stop at Pukaskwa National Park on our first road trip earlier in the summer, but glad we made the time to explore it on our second time around. I wish we could have spent another day here though as there were a few other shorter trails I would have liked to hike. There never seems to be enough time.

      • Ab says:

        Yah, time and not even vacation days always get in the way! 🤣 Something to look forward to in 2021. It’ll be here soon!

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        I made the mistake of not using all of my vacation days during the summer and still have about 2 weeks left. I kept thinking things would get better. Well, they got worse. Next year I plan to do a better job of mapping out my vacation days and just assume travel restrictions will remain in place.

      • Ab says:

        The good news is you have an extra two weeks to have an epic summer roadtrip next year. It’ll be here before we know it!

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        Yes! It almost feels like it’s still summer with the weather that we’ve been having over the past few days. I contemplated turning my AC back on yesterday as it was getting a little stuffy in our apartment, even with all the windows open.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I like that Pukaskwa National Park kept the First Nation’s names for some of the landmarks in the park, including the name of the park itself. Pronouncing some of these names was quite the struggle, but fun to attempt. It certainly is a beautiful area and I can see why it was turned into a national park.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      That it does. I love trails that feature a suspension bridge for that very reason. Even though the hike was challenging, it was worth the time and effort. I’m glad we didn’t turn back early and made it all the way to the suspension bridge. Take care.

  3. alisendopf says:

    Oh my goodness! That is so beautiful. Well worth the 18km trek. Well done! I love that it’s a mix of coast and inland, which is so different from what I’m used to. I hope you get in your 52 hikes. Do you have enough planned to hit the target?

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      This was easily in the top 5 of our favourite hikes this year. It’s funny because the description of the trail on Parks Canada’s website indicates that there is minimal elevation gain, so we thought this would be a walk in the park. Not so much. But sometimes it’s the challenging hikes that are the most rewarding. We’re taking next week off and plan to do some hiking so we should be completing the 52 Hike Challenge soon. Now I just need to think of what we’re going to do for next year to keep us busy!

      • alisendopf says:

        Yeah, I think the ‘minimal elevation gain’ is all relative. Usually a good hike is about 1,000m or 3,000′ elevation, whereas this one is about half of that. Still – it is nothing to be sniffed at! Elevation is elevation.

        The funny thing is – I have NEVER been to this area in the summer. I hear it’s gorgeous 🙂

        Congrats on completing your goal soon. Way to go!

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        For sure, a lot of it just depends on the terrain. A flat path with lots of rocks and roots as obstacles can sometimes be more challenging than a smooth path with elevation gain. Hoping to finish up the challenge this week. The weather isn’t the greatest, but the end is in sight.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Pukaskwa is so beautiful! We were only here for a day, but I would have loved to spend more time there and explore more of the trails in the park. My advice would be to just take your time, whether you’re hiking a few hundred metres or a longer trail like the White River Suspension Bridge. Always wear sturdy footwear and bring plenty of water and snacks. But most of all, just have fun. It’s okay to turn around if the trail is more challenging than you thought. I’ve certainly done that before!! Hope you’re able to make it to Pukaskwa, you will not be disappointed.

  4. Monica says:

    Planning our 2021 summer Great Lakes road trip and found your site. I am very grateful for photos and clear information on condition, distances, and time – details lacking in other reviews of this particular hike.

    If you like suspension bridges – Ferris provincial park near Campbellford has a dandy one. You can either walk through the provincial park from the main entrance to get to the bridge (not a difficult trek at all) or else leave your car outside the park at the bridge’s other end, and only have to walk a couple of hundred metres to get to it. Low effort for spectacular views.

    The Pukakswa suspension bridge trail looks great to me – but I am doubtful I will be able to convince my travel companion, tween daughter. 2-3 hours is just about her limit for a single hike, I think I won’t be able to coax her into even a short one again if she discovers I have lured her into a 5 hour long haul!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words. Pukaskwa is such a beautiful area. I wish we could have spent another day hiking some of the shorter trails. There never seems to be enough time. The White River Suspension Bridge Trail is challenging, but the views along the way are incredible. Even if you don’t make it all the way out to the suspension bridge, the first stretch through the prescribed burn zone to the marsh is quite scenic. We visited Ferris last month and it was neat to see all the icicles along the cliff. The views from the suspension bridge are stunning. We’re planning on taking another road trip around Northern Ontario this summer and plan to stop at Eagle Canyon, which boasts of being home to the longest suspension bridge in Canada. All the best on your Great Lakes road trip!

  5. Allison says:

    I did this hike for the first time when I was 5- I was born and raised in Marathon and was lucky to live along Lake Superior – truly a beautiful place! My heart and honestly never really left there.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      What an incredibly scenic spot to grow up. We fell in love with the Lake Superior shoreline during the pandemic and went on a few road trips through Northern Ontario in 2020 and 2021. There are so many fantastic provincial parks in the area, along with Pukaskwa National Park. Even the drive is stunning. This is easily my favourite spot in Ontario.

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