Lake Superior Provincial Park: Coastal Trail (5 days / 65 km)

The Lake Superior Coastal Trail is a difficult lightly trafficked 65km thru-hike located in Lake Superior Provincial Park. The trail has some steep sections, plenty of elevation changes and rugged shorelines. The difficulty is worth every step as you are constantly rewarded with stunning views and pristine campsites. It is marked with blue markers and rock cairns which can be easy to miss but it is not hard to find the trail if you ever miss a marker.

Trip Summary

Starting Point: Gargantua Harbour

Ending Point: Agawa Bay Visitor Center 

Total Distance: 65 km

Elevation Gain: 1695 m

Duration: 5 Days

Difficulty: Advanced 

Location

This trail is located in Lake Superior Provincial Park. The nearest town is Wawa to the north.

Traditional Territory: This route in Lake Superior Provincial Park lies on the traditional territory of the Michif Piyii (Métis) and Anishinabewaki (source).

Maps & Resources

Guidebook: N/A

Map: The Ontario Parks Provincial Park Map. This map has all of the campsites, landmarks and distances marked and works perfectly fine. 

Campsite Reservations & Permits: Backcountry reservations required and made through Ontario Parks. Specific sites cannot be booked and are all on a first come first serve basis. 

Outfitters & Shuttles

Lake Superior Adventures: This is a thru-hike and requires a shuttle or ride at one end of the trail. We used Lake Superior Adventures. The cost was $450.00 in 2020 and although this is quite expensive there were no other options available this year. Some groups bring two cars so they can have a car at each end. Our driver was very kind and extremely knowledgeable about the area which was nice.

Trip Report

Day 1: Gargantua to Rhyolite Cove (8.8 km)

We began our first day around noon when we met our shuttle driver at the Agawa Bay Visitors Centre at the south end of the park. We parked our car here and shuttled to the north end of the trail, our starting point at the Gargantua Harbour.

The 14 km single-lane dirt road connecting the main highway to the Harbour is really rough and narrow. If you drive your own car here be careful, as cars do get stuck in this area. Take it slow if you come across another car passing. It will take about 45 minutes to drive this 14 km stretch.

We were dropped off at the parking lot and now on our own! The hiking on the north end of the trail is the most difficult part and has the most elevation changes. One of the reasons that we opted for starting on this end was to be fresh through this section and I would really recommend anyone do the same.

As you hike up to the high points you travel beside spectacular views 80 meters above Lake Superior and through some extremely beautiful old-growth forests. I found the hiking on this day to be very enjoyable as you don’t typically experience hikes like this in Ontario. It resembles a hike that you would find on the West Coast of British Columbia!

We hiked to Rhyolite Cove to start where two campsites were. It took us about three hours to complete this section. The hiking is tiring but not overly technical here and the trail is very well marked. 

Note to travel the true full Coastal Trail you would normally start by hiking further north towards Devil’s Chair and then back south. Like most people, we decided to travel straight south. This cuts some distance from the overall 65 km but we preferred to hike in one direction and not cover the same section twice. Devils’s Chair is a pretty neat rock formation that is worth checking out if you don’t mind backtracking.

If you start in the early afternoon or even earlier you should have plenty of time to arrive at the Rhyolite Cove campsites. If you do the Devil’s Chair section there are some other sites to make this day more manageable distance-wise.

Rhyolite Cove is a common starting campsite so if multiple groups are starting/finishing around the same time it might be overly full. We had two extra groups show up so it was not too bad for us. If you start earlier I would consider hiking to the next group of sites on the map to avoid congestion. 

Campsite: Rhyolite Cove

There are two sites along this cove that are fairly private. The group of sites share a bear locker which was the only one we came across along the trail. There is a sand beach in the front and a smooth red rocky shoreline a few minutes down the trail. It has plenty of great swimming spots and views. This site and all others have thunder boxes so you do not need to worry about burying waste. 

Day 2: Ryolite Cove to Orphan Lake (11.5 km)

We began our second day nice and early. There were a few groups that started out the same day as us so to avoid congestion and have a little more solitude we decided to go one camp further than our original plan.

I would say that this is the most difficult section of the trail as there were plenty of elevation changes here. It is a slow day and you cannot expect to cover the ground here as you would normally expect on a trail. The trail was once again well marked throughout this day and would be difficult to miss a marker.

During this section, we passed by a single campsite with white sand and it was like a tropical paradise. It was honestly the most beautiful campsite I have seen in Ontario so keep an eye out for it! You will know it when you see it! Unfortunately, someone beat us to it so we kept on hiking towards the Orphan Lake sites where we would spend the night.

We arrived at Orphan Lake quite tired in the late afternoon after a long day of hiking. Hard to be disappointed on missing the prior campsite when you see the spectacular views of Baldhead Mountain in front of your camp!

Campsite: Orphan Lake

This campsite was once again phenomenal. We got one of the first sites, which was on the point. It had a great view of Baldhead and the Baldhead River on the one side with a great sunset view on some smooth rock towards the backside. There were plenty of playful Cedar Waxwings by our site which was pretty awesome! You can easily swim in the cold waters here to cool off after this long day.

Day 3: Orphan Lake to Robertson Cove (9.6 km)

Our third day started off by hiking through the forest and over a wooden bridge to get over the Baldhead River. You hike over Baldhead Mountain which is a difficult but rewarding section. There are several excellent viewpoints on Baldhead looking back towards Orphan Lake. I would really recommend taking this part slowly and enjoying the magnificent views!

Once you make it over Baldhead the entire trail does get easier overall but still is technical in certain areas so be careful. This day involved lots of boulder hopping along the shoreline. It could get slippery if it were wet or waves are high. This section is relatively slow as it is somewhat technical hiking. Use caution here as you do not want to have a fall on these rocks!

We also missed some trail markers on a couple occasions here so just be mindful of the markers or rock cairns.

The campsites do get spread out along this section so plan ahead on this day with a plan B in case you come across an occupied site. We arrived fairly early to the single “Island” site at Roberson Cove and were thrilled to score this campsite. Early in the evening we offered to share our single site to a tired family who turned up quite late. They were appreciative and there was plenty of room for everyone to enjoy this incredible space.

Campsite: Robertson Cove

This was my favourite campsite that we stayed on the trail and one that I would highly recommend you try to stop at. It is a single site with a small island that jets out in the front. Since it is a single site so you are more private compared to most of the others. It has great swimming spots with two small white sand beaches and plenty of views all around! We sat on the smooth rocks to enjoy both sunset and sunrise.

Day 4: Robertson Cove to Agawa Point (25 km)

Our fourth day was extremely long and difficult for us. We were looking for a specific campsite that we, unfortunately, could not find. There were no signs or side trails that we could see. After hiking for several kilometres we realized that we had made a mistake and must have missed it somewhere. We later found out that others had this same issue and that a sign must have been missing.

Rather than backtrack, we decided to keep moving forward and ended up going a full day ahead. There were long stretches of hiking on sand beaches on this day. You can cover these quite quickly but walking on sand does get tiring. To make this easier make sure to stick to some of the more solid sections that are slightly wet close to shore.

One of these stretches is the beautiful Katherine Cove which is an amazing long sandy beach. Take a break here and if you’re brave take a cold dip in this brisk but tropical-looking water. We had a bald eagle circling this area as we travelled through which was an awesome treat.

A little ways past Katherine Cove you do have to hike up to the road in order to cross over the Sand River on the highway bridge. There is a separate day hike you can do here that has some nice little waterfalls on the Sand River. We arrived at Sinclair Cove in the early afternoon. Sinclair Cove was one of my favourite spots on the entire trail. It is a day-use site that people do park cars at so we did not have this beach to ourselves. There is a phenomenal lookout on the cliffs that overlook the cove which I really recommend doing.

We had a very long break here to recover and eventually decided to push on to the next day’s site rather than backtrack and look for the site that we couldn’t find. Looking back on it now we probably should have stopped around where we were. The latter part of this day was amazing but also quite challenging. There are massive boulders that you have to climb through from the last ice age. I wish we had more time to explore this area because it was really awesome.

The main pictograph site is also along this stretch which makes for a nice stop. The pictographs are clearly marked and worth checking out. You can easily access this by parking here before or after the trail as well. We arrived quite late to a section of sites on Agawa Bay and decided to go for the furthest one. Nobody stayed at any of these sites that night so it was very quiet. 

Campsite: Agawa Point

This campsite was a great way to spend the final night on the trail. It had a cool little cove that went down below and had some awesome smooth rock to watch the sunset over Lake Superior. It was our only clear night so we were treated to some phenomenal stars here! 

Day 5: Agawa Point to Agawa Visitors Center (10 km)

This was our final day of hiking and a very easy day. We got up nice and early and watched the sun come up one last time over the beautiful Superior landscape. Our bags were quick and easy to pack since our food was almost all gone.

The trail is mainly flat and straight in this section. You can cover this part relatively quickly. You once again go up to the road in one part to cross a river. There are some old ranger cabins you hike by which are pretty run down but cool to check out. After a long straight path beside the shore, you finally reach a paved section that is right by the visitors centre. Time to celebrate! 

Reflections

The Lake Superior Coastal Trail is incredible and definitely a very underrated hike in Canada. I have done plenty of long hikes in the past and have been able to cover solid distances in a day with elevation. However we found the Coastal Trail to be a very slow trail. Do not expect to cover massive distances in a single day. It is technical and has some steep sections.

If there is any rain certain sections could become very slippery and potentially dangerous. Give yourself plenty of time to complete it and be cautious over the terrain. I would recommend 5 nights minimum to enjoy the hike and take in the views.

I would really recommend bringing trekking poles along on this trail as they really help, especially on the technical parts and steep climbs.

The trail is marked and well-travelled but it is easy to lose the trail in some sections. Be sure to really keep an eye out for markers and rock cairns. There are also some side trails that can be confusing when you are following the coastal trail. Be sure to look closely at the marker because the hikers are labelled differently with a backpack on the Coastal. We figured this out after a long detour one day! If you are really lost the trail essentially covers the coastline. Safely make your way towards the coast and eventually, you will meet the trail.

Campsites were amongst the best I have ever stayed at in the Province. The views over the lake are stunning at every site and they all have swimmable areas if you are brave enough for a chilly dip! We did not encounter much wildlife on the trail and did not see any signs of bears. Just be mindful to leave no trace and properly secure your food at campsites.

I will definitely be back to this park to enjoy more of the phenomenal backcountry hiking it offers. 

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Author Bio

I am a landscape, travel and adventure photographer based out of Barrie, Ontario Canada. I seek to document wild places and stories that inspire me. My goal is to inspire people to experience the outdoors while raising awareness in respecting and appreciating the planet. 

Website: www.deanheliotis.com

Facebook: Dean Heliotis Photography

Instagram: @deanheliotis

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