Pukaskwa National Park: Hattie Cove to Michipicoten River (10 days / 170 km)

The magnificence of Lake Superior in all its wild, rugged, isolated beauty is perfectly captured along this section of coastline. Ten days allows for a relaxed pace, and due to possible stormbound days, builds in some flexibility, key for safety and enjoyment. 

Trip Completed: July 2020

Trip Summary

Starting Point: Hattie Cove on Lake Superior 

Ending Point: Michipicoten River 

Total Distance: 170 km

Duration: 10 days 

Difficulty: Advanced

Location

The trip follows the north shore of Lake Superior, starting in Pukaskwa National Park, located at the end of Highway 627, 13 km south of Trans Canada Highway 17 close to Marathon, and ending at the Michipicoten River near Wawa, Ontario.

Traditional Territory: This route takes place on the traditional territory of Michif Piyii (Métis) and Anishinabewaki (source).

Maps & Resources

GuidebookPukaskwa National Park Backcountry Paddling Guide

Map: The Adventure Map: Pukaskwa National Park, and Canadian topographic maps

Campsite Reservations: Campsites located within Pukaskwa National Park require permits. Permits can be booked through Parks Canada and are booked for specific sections of the park (i.e. “North”).

Once past the park boundaries, camping on Crown Land is free of charge to Canadian residents. Non-resident Crown Land Camping Permit Information.

Outfitters & Shuttles 

Naturally Superior Adventures is located at the mouth of the Michipicoten River south of Wawa, where we camped the night prior to starting our trip. The next day an employee of NSA accompanied us to Hattie Cove (2.5 hrs) and then returned our vehicle to the public parking area beside NSA, the endpoint of our trip.

Trip Report

Day 1: Paddle from Hattie Cove to Willow River (12 km)

Early afternoon on the 28th of June, we paddle through the gap that separates the cove from the main body of the lake. This is unnerving as we know the shelter of the cove could be deceiving. Adding to my anxiety is the starkness of the coast itself, beautiful like a Lauren Harris painting, but the barren rock attests to aggressive pummelling by the lake.

Vegetation is stripped from the rocks 30 ft above the waterline. I try to imagine the kind of waves that would scour the shoreline like this, and what we will do if we have winds during the trip.

Today, however, the lake is dead calm, the sky perfectly clear, and so we enjoy a relaxed paddle along the coast to Willow River where we camp directly on the long sandy beach. A couple of hikers from the Coastal Trail, which runs 60 km along the coast of Pukaskwa National Park, are also camped there. Later that evening 3 more groups arrive, but it isn’t a problem as there is lots of space for everyone. 

Campsite: Willow River 

Day 2: Willow River to Fisherman’s Cove (18 km)

We happily don our drysuits this morning as it’s chilly. The conditions are more challenging today, due to a strong headwind and white-capped waves. Then the fog rolls in but it doesn’t interfere with navigation. Dark clouds move in.

At Oiseaux Bay, we stop to make a fire and bake bannock. We like to do this on our longer trips when we’re not in a rush and the warm bread perks the spirit on a cold day.

It takes us nearly an hour to cross Oiseaux Bay and round the corner into Fisherman’s Cove, which is flanked on the west side by a sheer cliff. Fisherman’s Cove divides into two smaller bays at the end; we take the western cove, landing at noon on a nice beach. We set up camp. Swimming would be great if the air temperature wasn’t hovering around 15 °C. 

Campsite: Fisherman’s Cove

Day 3: Fisherman’s Cove to Simon’s Harbour (11 km)

The night brings more wind and then rain, the latter stopping at 8 am. The marine forecast on our VHF radio warns of high winds in the morning, so we decide to sleep in and wait for calm. At 9:00 am we have breakfast then hike up the Coastal Trail, which runs through our campsite, to the top of the massive ridge on the Northwest side of the cove.

At the top, we are easily 100 m above the lake and have a panoramic view of the coast. The trail to the top is rough, made so by the shattered rocks, roots and moss. On the ridge, the moss is up to a foot deep and the lichen hangs in letter-sized sheets from the rocks.

Back at camp we have lunch and pack up. We make decent progress on the water, which is relatively calm near shore, but the wind dynamics are chaotic, seemingly channelled in different directions by the cliffs. At times it is relatively calm, then suddenly a massive gust brings us to a standstill. In a surreal moment, I look up to see a black bear calmly making its way along the steep, rocky shoreline. It takes us 3 hours to cover the 11 km to Simon’s Harbour.

Campsite: Simon’s Harbour

Day 4: Simon’s Harbour to Cascade Falls (18 km)

Up at 5:00 am to greet a cool but not freezing morning. Slow once again getting off (8:00 am), which we blame on suiting up in drysuits, but we are happy to have them on in the chill of the morning.

Under a sunny sky, the wind at our backs, we cruise along in one-metre-high waves. At times we have to fight to keep the canoes from turning broadside. We make sure not to venture far from shore. We stop 11 km down the coast for lunch at Swallow River where allegedly the remains of a trapper’s cabin can be found, but we don’t bother looking for it, happy instead for a warm fire and freshly baked bannock.

After a short 1.5 hr paddle, we arrive at Cascade Falls around 2:30 pm. I’m excited to be here because this was one of Bill Mason’s favourite campsites. It certainly does not disappoint. The twin falls that spill into the lake are surprisingly loud, so we pitch our tent high on the beach in a quiet corner. The beach is a rough mix of rocks, sand, and driftwood. A previous visitor with too much energy has erected a massive tepee of logs. I follow a steep trail to the crest of the falls, which is preceded by another impressive waterfall. 

Campsite: Cascade River

Day 5: Cascade Falls to Pukaskwa River (20 km)

It’s chilly on the water and we are very glad to be wearing dry suits and neoprene gloves. Today the water is the calmest we’ve seen it and we move at a relatively quick pace. We jump over to Otter Island but have no luck spotting caribou that are rumoured to inhabit the island, but we do find an old antler on the beach.

After the island, the landscape becomes a bit less rugged and vegetation grows on the rocks. But as we near the end of our day, big cliffs appear again. It’s a rare thrill to paddle along the base of the cliffs when waves would normally force you to keep a safe distance.

We stop for a snack break on Richardson Island to see the Pukaskwa pits. We find three pits dug into the loose rubble of the shoreline. One pit is considerably larger than the other. Their original function is not known, but what is certain is the gorgeous view from the pits towards the west.

By the time we reach the 80 km mark of the trip and the park’s southern boundary, the sky has turned blue and the day has finally warmed. It’s 1:30 pm and we all crave bannock baked over the fire. Our campsite is a long sandy beach protected by some islands. 

Campsite: Pukaskwa River

Day 6: Pukaskwa River to Redsucker Cove (20 km)

Rain and wind keep us in bed another 2 hrs and we rise at 7:00 am when the rain stops. On the water by 10:45 am and the rain returns. Happily, it does not last as the day is grey and cold enough without it. We’re wearing toques and gloves.

So far on our trip, we have seen 1 kayaker and 10 hikers, all on the first day, as well as one motorized boat, likely a shuttle. We feel quite alone. We have left Pukaskwa Park now. The coastline is more green, the rocks less barren and less polished. At times there are huge cliffs. Our campsite (km 100 of our trip) is on another beach. A thick fog rolls in before nightfall.

Campsite: Redsucker Cove

Day 7: Redsucker Cover to Little Ghost River (19 km)

The fog is lifting as we go about our morning chores, revealing a lovely calm day. We think the drysuits might be a bit suffocating today, but the constant air conditioning of the lake makes them welcome protection. We begin paddling at 7:45 am and as we pass the 101st km, we remark that there are some perfect campsites. Floating Heart Bay is a gorgeous spot. Nine kilometres to go to our next campsite just before Little Ghost River.

There are beautiful long beaches that tempt us before our destination, but tonight we opted for a site annotated on the Naturally Superior Adventures wall map and camped on the rock. No sand in the tent tonight! We face a protected cove surrounded by wooded hills. This is an early stop around 1:30 pm. 

Campsite: Little Ghost River

Day 8: Little Ghost River to Dog River (18 km)

This was the day that freaked me out for months prior to the trip. Point Isacor, a 7 km stretch where landing the boats will not be an option. What if the wind comes up while we are out there? What if the fog rolls in as it has several times during the trip?

I set my GPS to give real-time readings to the first possible landing, but this does little to dispel my anxiety. Turns out that all my worrying was for nothing, as the lake is absolutely calm. Not even swells rock the boats. We end up taking our time, filming and taking pictures. The cliffs along this stretch are immense. We spot two bald eagles. The lake provides a perfect marine green view to the boulder-strewn bottom.

The GPS indicates that our cruising speed in these perfect conditions is 4.8 km/hr and soon we are past the cliffs and hit the first landing at 10 am. Around noon we arrive at the famous Dog River, another star of Bill Mason’s films. I’m determined to camp on the huge sandbar that protects the mouth, just like he did with his family in the 70s.

Perfectly polished rocks and pebbles line the beach, which has two tiers, perhaps a memento of winter and summer storms? We spend the afternoon collecting rocks and exploring the beach. Later we swim on the warmer riverside of the sandbar. With the day so hot I soon attempt a swim in the lake itself but only manage to thrash a quick retreat to shore.

Although there is no breeze to speak of, a swell begins to build in the afternoon. Five paddlers in kayaks arrive and set up camp at the eastern end of the beach. As we are heading to bed the cooler air thankfully returns. 

Campsite: Dog River

Day 9: Stormbound (0 km)

Rain, high winds, pounding surf, and a weather warning keep us from paddling today. Unfortunately, the kayakers lose a bunch of their gear, including a kayak, into the lake overnight. Eventually, they are able to retrieve it as the wind dies down later in the afternoon.

Campsite: Dog River

Day 10: Dog River to Michipicoten (30 km)

We are relieved to awaken to a calm morning. After a quick breakfast, we pack up camp and set off for our final day. The sky is a striking contrast of dark clouds to the north and blue sky to the south, the two meeting along a perfect line overhead. As we coast along the shore, we note many flat, rocky sites that would make perfect campsites.

The wind builds after lunch so we decide not to cross the large bay to Perkwakwia Point and stay close to shore, which turns out to be a nice paddle. Rounding Perkwakwia Point in 3-foot-high waves requires more attention than I care for on the last day of paddling, but soon we are in the protection of the next bay.

Again we stay close to shore rather than sprinting across the 3-km width of the bay to the site of Naturally Superior Adventures. This doubles our distance, but I am grateful for the time to reflect on our trip. We camp on the beach at NSA one more time before heading home.

Campsite: Naturally Superior Adventures

Trip Video

Reflections

While this trip is not physically gruelling due to the absence of portaging and the abundance of beach sites, make sure you are well prepared for stormy conditions. We packed enough food for 12 days. There are also certain sections of the coast or exposed headlands where landing in a canoe or kayak would be difficult or impossible. For these reasons, it’s important to let the lake decide when you should paddle.

The lake was only 4°C during our trip at the beginning of July. Consider wearing drysuits or at least wetsuits. The air temperature, due to the air conditioning effect of the lake, is typically around 15 °C during the day. At night, temperatures can drop to 5 °C. You will need clothing and sleeping bags appropriate for cool camping conditions. 

We carried the following safety equipment on this trip:

  • VHF marine radio – We used the radio primarily for weather reports. In theory, the radio could be used to contact a nearby boat, but we saw few of these on our trip. Note that you are required to take a Maritime Radio Course in order to use a VHF marine radio for communication (with the exception of distress calls).
  • Satellite phone – We rented the sat phone from RoadPost.ca and carried it in a Pelican Box. Never used it, but we thought this would be helpful if we needed to call for a shuttle or to notify our family if our plans changed due to the weather.
  • Personal Locator Beacon – This was carried in one of our life jackets. Make sure that you register the PLB with the Canadian Beacon Registry.
  • Drysuits – We wore drysuits every day with the exception of 2 days that were dead calm and warm. Wetsuits would be an adequate alternative. Most days were cool enough that overheating wasn’t an issue.  

We also submitted a trip float plan to Pukaskwa National Park and left copies of this plan with our families. 

Gallery


Author Bio

My family and I live in south eastern Ontario on the shores of Lake Ontario, but prefer paddling north of it. We have been paddling for almost thirty years in Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba, and have done many flatwater and whitewater trips. 

Instagram: @swampwalker_

YouTube: Gunnel Grabber