The map says that in good weather, the Pukaskwa Coastal Trail can be a terrific hike. If the weather is bad, The Wild Coastal Trail of Pukaskwa National Park is horrible. We prayed for good weather.
Deb and I were a little nervous all summer leading up to our final adventure of the year – The Pukaskwa trek. We kept telling each other that we have to get out and do some day hikes to get back in shape. But instead, we spent our summer of fun going whitewater kayaking and rafting, kayaking the slate islands, taking photos on a moose safari and popping over to Universal Studios for the opening of Diagonally.
Pukaskwa Lake Superior Coastal Trail
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While trekking the Arctic headwaters last winter one of our guides said to me “You know the Pukaskwa is difficult right?” “More difficult than this?” Here we were snowshoeing 100km over snow and ice pulling 100 lb sleds through deep slush and killer portages and she’s telling me the Pukaskwa is hard?
A couple of weeks before the Pukaskwa trek, we resigned ourselves to the fact that we were in a bit of trouble and we were just going to have to suck it up and go with it.
Where to Stay when Doing the Pukaskwa Trek
We met at Naturally Superior Adventures on the shores of Lake Superior in Wawa the night before our hike. Naturally Superior offers guided tours of the Pukaskwa and other Lake Superior adventures. It’s an excellent place to spend a night or two relaxing before the long trek.
Our guide Brendan was a young and fit 22-year-old who has already guided around the world. He’s been ice climbing on glaciers, and white water kayaking on crazy rivers. I hoped and prayed we could keep up to him.
It was a restless sleep before the trek. We didn’t want to leave the soft duvet on the comfy bed in the lodge. Weather can be cold above Lake Superior, so we’d be trading in the fireplace for our sleeping bag. But surprisingly we were felt ready to go. We can do this!
Shuttle to North Swallow
The weather took a turn for the worse once we arrived at the park headquarters in Hattie Cove. But we were scheduled to go out to the trailhead by shuttle, so we were on the boat and ready to go.
During our 60 km boat ride up the coast to North Swallow, we had severe waves and heavy fog. The word horrible came to mind. As Dave and I reminisced about the Drake Passage crossing to Antarctica, our fellow passengers stepped outside for fresh air to keep from tossing their cookies.
The 1 1/2 hour ride turned into 3-4 hours of bumping and thumping. But miraculously the heavens opened up 10 minutes before we reached our destination. We suddenly saw the striking shores of Lake Superior and the waters calmed just in time for our landing. By the time we reached the beach, the day was hot and the sky was clear.
Start of the Coastal Hiking Trail
Most hikers take the boat 30 km up the coast to hike half of the Pukaskwa. Other do day hikes from the office, and then there are a few of us that decide to do it all. When you start at North Swallow, (where we started) you are hiking through a wild untamed country over the Canadian Shield and Boreal Forest.
If you don’t have a lot of experience, like us, we recommend hiring a guide. There are very few trail markers and you need to be completely self-sufficient. We had Brendan leading our way, so we took no wrong turns.
Carry Everything In and Out
For the first half of the trip, our packs were really heavy. We had to carry all food and gear on our backs. For water, we had a water purification system, so we filled up our bottles each evening with lake water and purified it for the net day of the hike.
We also had to carry all garbage out of the national park. It is a leave no trace hike made to keep the beautiful land of Northern Ontario in pristine condition.
Adjusting to Life on the Trail
The first hour or so was all about getting comfortable with our packs. We hadn’t hiked on high cliffs or jagged rocks with so much weight on our backs before, so just walking over boulders was a bit of a challenge. Where we would normally be hopping with ease from rock to rock, we were now trying to keep our balance.
Pack Hiking Poles
Naturally Superior supplied some hiking poles which we were very grateful for. We nearly declined their offer, but after 10 minutes of walking, we were so happy we had them. They kept us from toppling over on a regular basis.
The day started with a nice elevation gain and after an hour or so, we were high on a rock ledge overlooking the massive lake.
The Weather was on our side
Brendan kept commenting that it gets easier the closer we get to the head office. “Once we’re five days in, we’ll have a better trail and easier path.” He said. We didn’t find it too difficult at all and I kept wondering what all the fuss was about.
I kept asking, “So what do people find hard about this?”
That’s when Brendan said, “imagine climbing up these rocks with rain and water flowing down” It would be like ice.
Yes indeed. I imagined what this trail would be like in the rain and realized that horrible is the right word. The rocks, roots, and trails would be treacherous. It would be miserable and it could be dangerous. Lucky for us, we had extremely nice weather throughout our trip in Pukaskwa National Park.
Different Terrain of the Pukaskwa Trek
We walked pleasantly through the thick forests, we stopped regularly to take photos, we stopped for mid-day while overlooking magnificent views.
Campgrounds on the Pukaskwa
We had campsites booked throughout the hike so we had a clear objective of how far ot hike each day. By the time we got to the campsites, Dave and I were exhausted and our feet ached. Luckily, Lake Superior is freezing, so we dipped our toes in each night and it felt like we entered a foot spa.
Having a guide made things easy for us. We relaxed and set up our tent while Brendan made us delicious vegetarian dinners. If you re going to explore Northern Ontario, this is doing it in style!
Want to see another Epic Hike? Check out our Great Ocean Lodge Walk to the 12 Apostles, Australia
The Coastal Hiking Trail
Hiking the Pukaskwa is a difficult hike indeed. We huffed and puffed and heaved and hoed. There were days where all I wanted to do was get to camp so I could lay down, and there were others where I was invigorated and excited about the challenge ahead.
On day one, we were surprised with how much we were enjoying ourselves. This wasn’t so bad. Yes, the packs were heavy, our feet were hurting and we were hot and sweaty, but we had great company, incredible scenery and excellent guide. With all these factors helping us out, how could we not succeed?
How to Get to the Pukaskwa National Park
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To book a guided hike to the Pukaskwa visit the Naturally Superior Adventures website. They also offer kayak and canoe trips on Lake Superior. For more information on the Pukaskwa, visit the Parks Canada Pukaskwa Website
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