Pancake Bay Nature Trail

Length of stay: 1 day
Visited: September 2021

Pancake Bay Provincial Park is located along the northern shore of Lake Superior. It features a beautiful sandy beach that is reputed to be one of the best on Lake Superior. It was this beach that first attracted voyageurs to the region in the 1700s and 1800s. The name Pancake Bay is derived from folk stories that told of voyageurs preparing fried bread or pancakes from their remaining provisions as they traveled from here to Sault Ste. Marie.

We initially planned to spend another night at Lake Superior Provincial Park, but because the weather forecast was calling for a lot of rain overnight, we decided to just stay in a motel in Sault Ste Marie instead. Along the drive we stopped at Pancake Bay, which is conveniently located right off the highway.

We drove to the day-use area near the beach, which features a Moments of Algoma art installation. After two trips along the Algoma Central Railway in the hills behind Pancake Bay, the Group of Seven formalized their art movement, and officially called themselves the Group of Seven.

We then walked down to the beach. It was windy and the water was wavy. The clouds had started to clear and the sun was poking out.

In addition to its beautiful sandy beach, Pancake Bay offers a couple of hiking trails that weave through a sand dune ecology and provide panoramic views of the surrounding area. We went to check out the Pancake Bay Nature Trail (3.5km loop, rated easy), which is located in the Hilltop Campground.

The trail weaves along the Lake Superior shoreline, through the forest over ancient beach ridges and crosses a fen. Along the way there are nine interpretive panels that describe some of the natural features of the area.

The trail begins along the Lake Superior shoreline. This area was once underwater. About 11,000 years ago, most of the sand on this beach was being carried by glaciers. When the glaciers melted they released massive amounts of water, sand and pebbles. Much of the sand was washed into a larger version of Pancake Bay, one that covered most of the park. Over time, deep sand deposits were laid down on the lake bottom and when water levels fell, it exposed this spectacular beach.

The train then meanders through the forest along ancient beach ridges. Along the way we passed a conglomerate, a type of rock that is composed of rounded clasts of a certain size. This one was formed over a billion years ago when fast moving water picked up and carried pebbles that became glued together and were transformed into solid rock. These small pebbles can still be seen inside the rock.

The section through the cedar grove, which looked like a newer path, was muddy and sodden. But it was worth it to get to the boardwalk which crosses the fen. Many of the wetlands in the area around Pancake Bay are found in between the old beach ridges.

From here the path criss-crosses a creek a few times before leading out to the road and back to the parking lot. With that we hopped back in the car and continued our drive to Sault Ste. Marie.


My progress on the Ontario Parks Challenge can be found here

50 thoughts on “Pancake Bay Nature Trail

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The name Pancake Bay does sounds delicious. We certainly feasted our eyes on that beautiful sandy beach. Walking along the boardwalk through the fen was also another highlight of our visit to this park.

  1. kagould17 says:

    I always enjoy exploring dune environments. This one looks interesting especially with how it was formed and with its position on the water. Thanks for sharing Linda. Allan

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Dune ecosystems are pretty amazing and it’s incredible how they are constantly changing. I enjoyed reading the interpretive panels along the trail that describe how Pancake Bay was shaped. Thanks for reading. Linda

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Pancake Bay is always a fan favourite and we’ve visited every time we’ve driven along this stretch of Northern Ontario. At first I thought the conglomerate boulder was just a glacial erratic, but turns out it’s much more special than that. It’s neat to still see some of the smaller rocks around the outer layer still.

  2. wetanddustyroads says:

    Pancake Bay trail – isn’t that a great name. I can see the water was a bit choppy, but what a beautiful sandy beach! Oh, and when I read “muddy”, I thought it’s going to be one “of those trails”, but it turned it to be great trail (especially with the boardwalk). And I was thinking maybe you’ll end the post making some pancakes … ๐Ÿ˜‰.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It would have been very fitting to eat pancakes at Pancake Bay. Next time. We were only here for a couple of hours to break up the drive and stretch our legs. The nature trail had a couple of dodgy sections with the mud, but overall it wasn’t bad. The boardwalk through the fen was easily the highlight.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words and for commenting. We visited Pancake Bay in the late afternoon and the sun casted a nice warm glow through the forest, which made for a very scenic hike.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      In retrospect we should have brought stuff to make pancakes when we visited Pancake Bay. Now i’m thinking about pancakes. I guess I know what I’m having for breakfast this morning!

  3. John says:

    This park has some great views of the lake, wow! That huge boulder must have been carried by the glaciers, amazing. Pancakes sound delicious!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I’m glad the clouds cleared and we were able to enjoy the nice views of the lake and sandy beach at Pancake Bay. It was neat to learn more about how the landscape was shaped during our hike along the nature trail. The large boulder seemed very out of place and it was interesting to still see many of the smaller rocks on the outer layer. We should have totally made pancakes for dinner. That would have been so fitting.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The sandy beach at Pancake Bay was lovely. It’s too bad the water is always freezing. The conglomerate was super cool. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one this massive before.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Sounds like perfect timing. I didn’t even realize that Tuesday was Pancake Day! When we visited Pancake Bay in August 2020 the nature trail was closed as part of the boardwalk through the fen was damaged. I’m glad that it has since been repaired as it’s such a pleasant hike.

  4. Ab says:

    Another lovely blast from the past of Summer 2020. A colleague recommended Pancake Bay to us very highly. Unfortunately, we didnโ€™t have time to squeeze it in so we stopped by for about 30 minutes on the drive back to Toronto – and to pick up a park crest. ๐Ÿ˜†

    The beach was truly beautiful and the water oh so inviting. I definitely plan to go back one of these days. I appreciated seeing the different trails that I didnโ€™t get a chance to explore.

    Very interesting to know about the origin of the name. I just assumed it was because the Sandy beach sand looked like pancake mix. ๐Ÿ˜†

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Pancake Bay is a great place to spend the day or to camp overnight. The sandy beach is beautiful, but the water is super freezing. There’s also a couple of hiking trails that provide nice views of Lake Superior. It’s too bad that you didn’t have enough time to stay for longer, but at least you picked up a park crest. Priorities.

      I assumed it was named Pancake Bay because the sandy shoreline was as flat as a pancake. I like the real story better about how the voyageurs made pancakes here and decided to name it after their food. All this talk about pancakes makes me want to have pancakes for breakfast!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I just assumed it was a glacial erratic at first until I read the sign and looked more closely at the rock and saw that it had lots of smaller rocks and pebbles on the outer layer. Pancake Bay has a beautiful sandy beach. The water is always freezing though. We went swimming here two years ago, but I wasn’t brave enough to take a polar dip this time around.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      How fitting. I didn’t even realize that there was such a thing as Pancake Day! The sandy beach was gorgeous. I just love the feel of sand between my toes. I’m counting down the days to summer.

  5. Christie says:

    Another beautiful day to be on a trail, Linda!
    We didn’t have time to stop here (last year), but this is definitely a reason to return up North, one day๐Ÿ˜Š
    Happy Tuesday!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We had a bit of a rough start to our road trip in terms of the rain, but I’m glad we had such fabulous weather on the drive around Lake Superior. Pancake Bay is a lovely park to spend the day (and to camp overnight). The beach is beautiful and there’s a couple of nice hiking trails with lovely views of Lake Superior. I love that there’s always so much more to see and explore in Northern Ontario. I have a feeling we’ll be back as well one day. Enjoy the rest of the week. Linda

  6. Bama says:

    It never crossed my mind that a lake can have a beach. Thanks for the little explanation about how it came to be. It would be funny if people actually eat pancakes at this place!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It is pretty amazing that we have so many beautiful sandy beaches here in Ontario even though we’re not on the ocean. The beach at Pancake Bay was gorgeous, it’s too bad that the water is always freezing cold though. In retrospect, we totally should have made pancakes for dinner. All this talk about pancakes makes me want to have pancakes for breakfast!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Talk about perfect timing. I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as Pancake Day, but it sounds delicious. Speaking of which, the beach at Pancake Bay was beautiful. If only the water were warmer.

  7. leightontravels says:

    Love the name of the place and the bit of history behind it. Is it just me or is the trail also entirely “as flat as a pancake?” Not much in the way of elevation? Incidentally, you published this piece on what is Pancake Day in Britain! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Good timing then. I actually had no idea that it was Pancake Day. I’m also disappointed that I didn’t actually eat any pancakes on Pancake Day or when we were visiting Pancake Bay. The nature trail is relatively flat. There are some ancient ridges that we cross, but for the most part it’s pretty gentle. My favourite section was the boardwalk through the fen.

  8. ourcrossings says:

    The beach looks lovely and so does the boardwalk trails glistening under the spells of sunshine. I very much love the name of the bay, too! Thanks for sharing and have a good day ๐Ÿ™‚ Aiva xx

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      There’s just something so magical about hiking in the late afternoon when the sun is just about to set. It casts such a warm and golden glow across the landscape. Agreed, the name Pancake Bay just sounds so inviting. Thanks for reading, enjoy the rest of the weekend. Linda

  9. rkrontheroad says:

    There’s something compelling about a boardwalk across places that are difficult to walk. I think about how challenging it must have been to construct it. It shows care for preserving the fragile environment.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I’ve come to appreciate boardwalk sections as we get to visit a place that otherwise would have been inaccessible to us hikers. I would not have wanted to be the person to help build it though. I can only imagine the bug situation and the mud during construction.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words and for commenting. The name Pancake Bay sounds very inviting. The beach was beautiful and the nature trail was very scenic. It was a lovely park to spend the afternoon.

Leave a Reply