Ghosts of the Coast: Backpacking the Pukaskwa Coastal Trail

Once upon a time, Lake Superior’s north shore was a busy place. Before sea lamprey depleted commercial fish stocks, fishermen set nets for lake trout, whitefish and herring on the shoals and lived in bustling outports. Before mechanized logging eliminated the need for axmen, horses and river drives, lumbermen chased millions of cords of pulpwood down Lake Superior’s tributary rivers and powerful tugs hauled the logs offshore to distant mills. About the same time, trappers ranged the coastline and interior throughout the winter months, creating a web of trails and cabins and a staunch bush community.

When Pukaskwa National Park was created in 1983, planners sought to rebuild some of the historic trappers’ trails. The result was the 60-kilometre-long Coastal Hiking Trail, which stretches from the park’s Hattie Cove visitor centre south to remote North Swallow River. Cresting hills and tracing sand- and cobblestone beaches, it compares with Vancouver Island’s iconic West Coast Trail for its ruggedly beautiful scenery—only most backpackers say it’s even tougher. It also touches on the old traplines and fallen down cabins of local legends like “Big Gus” Weidman, Proddy Goodchild and Billy Newman.

Naturally Superior Adventures’ guided backpacking trip takes 6.5 days to hike the Pukaskwa Coastal Hiking Trail. This intermediate-level adventure designed for physically fit participants; going guided means you’ll gain local knowledge about the natural and cultural heritage of this isolated shoreline. As an added bonus, our hike ends with a 120-kilometre boat ride aboard the landing vessel Melissa June and captain Keith McCuaig (another local legend), along the wilderness Lake Superior Highlands coastline to our Rock Island base.

Multi-sport option: Shorten your bucket list by following up the Pukaskwa hike with a seven-day guided sea kayak trip on the Lake Superior Highlands coast.

Watch the late Canadian environmentalist and filmmaker Bill Mason’s documentary about Pukaskwa National Park, here.