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