Tales of an Empty Cabin

The bleached cabin walls are barely visible through a screen of tall cedars. We pull the canoes ashore and investigate. The tiny A-frame could very well be the haunt of fairies, with its miniature door and sofa-sized front porch. Exterior walls of split cedar shakes bristle with spikes, a common northern tactic to deal with marauding black bears. The entire structure, barely the size of a queen-sized bed, is perched atop chest-high posts. We wonder about the cabin’s origin, hidden in the deepest wilderness of Lake Superior Provincial Park, in the headwaters of the Sand River.


The mysterious snowshoe cabins of the Sand River.


Lake Superior’s Sand River is renowned for its easy rapids, scenic waterfalls, rugged portages, feisty brook trout and abundant wildlife, including moose, beaver and many varieties of songbirds. These features make it one of the best spring canoe trips on Lake Superior’s north shore, suitable for all levels of canoe campers—so long as they’re fit enough to handle numerous portages. Aside from the Sand’s natural wonders, this enchanting little cabin speaks to the imagination and captures the essence of the mysterious North.


Lady Evelyn Falls on the Sand River.


As it happens, there are four “snowshoe cabins” scattered across the upper Sand River. Between 1949 and 1954, a group of outdoor enthusiasts constructed these tiny huts to be used as shelters along a network of winter trails, under the supervision of “Snowshoe Man” Les Perrine. The Sand River trails were meant to connect with previously established trails along the Montreal River, creating a 150-mile network “modeled somewhat after the Appalachin (sic) Trail,” wrote Perrine in a 1966 letter to the Wawa office of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.


The rapids at High Cliff, Sand River.


The cabins were set on stilts to facilitate entry in the deep snows of winter. Their small size made the quick to heat with a woodstove in the deepest cold. Michigan-based outdoor adventurer Michael Neiger, who obtained copies of Perrine’s correspondence and published them online, notes the average size of the snowshoe cabins was barely five by 10 feet. “The sleeper can start the morning fire while still in the sleeping bag,” wrote Perrine. “In 15 minutes the cabin is warm even when 40 below zero outside.”


After inspecting the cabin and musing about its history, we return to our canoes. Besides keeping our eyes peeled for wildlife, we vow to scan the shoreline for more vestiges of the long-forgotten snowshoe trail. The cabin instantly disappears into the shoreline as we drift downstream, just as it should.


See the snowshoe cabin for yourself. Sign up for Naturally Superior Adventures’ fully guided five-day canoe trip on the Sand River in Lake Superior Provincial Park.