10 Day Family Camping Trip to Lake Superior and Pancake Bay Provincial Parks
I have camped and enjoyed the outdoors since I was a child. My brother and I would spend our summers visiting my Grandparents on Rock Lake, northeast of Bruce Mines, Ontario and were very fortunate to truly experience the outdoors unlike most have the chance to. My wife and I tent camped very often before having children and have since moved to a teardrop trailer with the kids (in anticipation of a big roads trip out East/West). On my own, I have done multi-day kayak camping in remote and beautiful locations (Bustard, McCoy, Benjamin & Phillip Edward Island, Lake Superior PP Coastal Canoe route) each summer with my brother. You can follow our adventures through our facebook page Canyak Adventures.
A new location each summer
We camp as much as we can each summer with our go-to location being Pinery Provincial Park. Living in South Western Ontario, the drive is the limiting factor with two young children. We do make it a point to try and visit at least one new provincial park each year. This summer we decided to head north to Lake Superior Provincial Park for a week of camping, hiking, canoeing, and swimming. We had heard it was amazing, and we definitely weren’t disappointed.
Living in Ontario’s southernmost city (Windsor), the drive time can be an issue. Taking the Canadian route would cost us 12 hours. Not a fun option with a 3yr old. Cutting through Michigan shortened the road trip to a more reasonable 8 hour drive. We have made this drive many times to visit my Grandparents north of Sault St. Marie. The route through Michigan is absolutely beautiful as I-75 is mostly wooded, in contrast to the 401. Some highlights are driving over the Mackinaw Bridge and seeing the Sault Locks.
Park Overview (Lake Superior Provincial Park)
Lake Superior Provincial Park is one of the largest provincial parks in Ontario, covering about 1,550 sq kms along the northeastern shores of Lake Superior. Highway 17 cuts through the park (when the park was established 1944, there was no road access) from south to north. There are 3 car campgrounds within the park (Rabbit Blanket, Agawa Bay, and Crescent (currently closed)). We opted to stay at Agawa Bay, but did check out Rabbit Blanket campground on a rainy day drive. There are also 200 (first come) back-country sites, and a coastal trail (which I paddled and camped along for 6 days later in the summer). The park is just massive, and we found we did a lot of driving. There are dozens of inland lakes, beautiful beaches, waterfalls, hiking trails and rivers to explore. The small town of Wawa is also worth the drive to check out and stock up on supplies (we did so on a couple rain days). The park has a very nice nature centre as well, located within Agawa Bay. Just a note there is no cell service within the park unless you are near the park office at the north end of the park.
Agawa Bay Campground
This is the most popular of the 3 campgrounds, and with reason. Pretty much every site has a view (although distant) of Lake Superior. It was very busy, and I would suggest reserving a site in advance. As one would expect with a lakeside campground, the sites closest to the water are best. The sites furthest away from the water are also closer to highway 17, which is shockingly close to the campground. Some people might have an issue with the hwy traffic noise (lots of transport trucks). This was probably the only negative aspect of the park. Most of the trees in this part of the park are tall pines, and therefore don’t provide much privacy between sites, but do allow everyone a great view of the water. We enjoyed our site, and the washroom facilities were clean. For us the best part was the easy walk access to the beach. Agawa Bay is rocky, but the kids didn’t seem to mind (some might opt for water shoes). The water can be rough, and the shoreline drops off quickly, so be aware with little ones. As most know the water temperature of Lake Superior can be a wee bit chilly. It was an abnormally hot week so we didn’t mind cooling off.
Things to do and see (at Lake Superior Provincial Park)
The park offers more opportunities for adventure than anyone could possibly fit into one week. We took some sound advice and tips from the staff at the visitor centre as to which trails/lakes were must sees and best suited for small children.
We hiked the Sand River Trail with its many waterfalls and it was absolutely beautiful. We also hiked Orphan Lake Trail loop, which ended up being a little tough with a 6 yr old, not to mention a 3 yr old on my back but was definitely worth it in the end. Trapper’s Trail was a nice easy hike and offers a chance to view wildlife. A highlight for us was our hike to Agawa Rock to view the pictographs (don’t skip this one!). We paddled spring fed Kenny Lake and Lake Mijinemungshing. There are so many options for paddling to choose from. You really could spend a month in the park and not see/do everything.
Extending our trip (to Pancake Bay Provincial Park)
We were so impressed with Lake Superior PP and the beauty of the region we didn’t want to go home just yet! We decided to extend our trip by a couple days and stopped at Pancake Bay Provincial Park. This is a much smaller park, and has an entirely different look and feel to it. This park is known for its amazing (slightly warmer) sandy bottom bay. As with the Lake Superior PP, there is no need to drive to the beach, as it is easily accessible by walking. Another similarity is the campsites are very close to the (noisy) hwy but there are some premium sites directly across from the lake. This park is definitely all about the beach and it is a quick 2 minute walk from any of the campsites. The water was beautifully clear and shallow, which is a bonus for those with small children. The Canadian Carver (general store) is right down the road. They pretty much sell everything, including ice, which the park oddly enough does not sell. While there we took a drive to Batchawana Bay Provincial Park (consists of day beach, no camping) which is a short 10 minute drive South down hwy 17. Beautiful Chippewa Falls is also a very short 15 minute drive from the campground. Overall Pancake Bay PP is a nice little park to visit for a couple of relaxed days.
By Josh Spina.