Length of stay: 1 day
Visited: September 2021
Ouimet Canyon is known as Canada’s Grand Canyon. It is located just north of Thunder Bay near Lake Superior and is protected as part of Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park. The park is open for day-use only and features a short hiking trail that is reputed to provide panoramic views of the gorge and surrounding area.
We arrived at Ouimet Canyon in the late morning. The sun was shining and it was unusually warm outside for September. The nice thing about visiting later in the season is that we had the park mostly all to ourselves. From the large parking lot, we could access the single hiking trail in the park. The trail is 1 kilometre in length and leads to two viewing platforms that extend over the edge of the steep canyon walls.
The trail starts off along a boardwalk and crosses over a bridge. The trail then forms a loop, which we hiked in the direction indicated by the arrows on the map.
Over a billion years ago, molten rock crystallized and was later exposed when softer, overlaying sedimentary rock eroded. There are a couple of theories to explain how Ouimet Canyon was formed. The first was that it was formed during the height of the last glacial period. The tremendous weight of the ice may have caused the eastern part of the diabase sill to shift or slide 20 to 40 metres to the east, which resulted in the formation of a narrow canyon with distinctly straight sides. Ice, wind and rain continue to shape the canyon walls and create the talus slopes below.
The second theory suggests that the canyon was formed somewhat later, when the glaciers were slowly melting away. Meltwater from retreating glaciers flowed into a large crack in the diabase and tunnelled through the softer rock below. Eventually the diabase above collapsed and formed the canyon. Similar to the first theory, the canyon continues to be shaped and carved out by erosion.
Either way, the gorge looks pretty impressive. From the first lookout, we could see into the gorge and the column-like appearance of the canyon walls. From the rim, the terrain drops 100 metres straight down to the canyon floor. The pinnacle on the far left of the viewing platform is known as Indian Head.
The trail then leads to the second viewing platform, which also provides spectacular views into the canyon. The bottom of the gorge is 150 metres wide and supports a whole different habitat compared to the rim. In the shady depths of the gorge, the air is cold and ice remains beneath the large boulders year-round, which allow several Arctic plants to survive.
From the second lookout, it’s a short stretch back to the bridge and parking lot. We hopped back in the car and continued our drive around Lake Superior.
My progress on the Ontario Parks Challenge can be found here