Sea Kayaking on Lake Superior


The largest of the five Great Lakes is Superior in more than name. The word ‘lake’ seems inadequate given its immensity. With its 2000km perimeter, Lake Superior is a sea filled with fresh, sweet water. Its largest island, Isle Royale, is nearly half the size of the Isle of Man. To launch a solo sea kayak onto Gitche Gumee (the lake’s Ojibwe name meaning ‘great sea’) is to encounter the raw power and elemental grandeur of nature. Vast stretches of the shoreline remain far removed from the intrusions of civilisation, making it easy to imagine that the earth is newly minted or at least as pristine as it was when Grey Owl explored the “fresh untrammelled horizons” of northwest Ontario’s wilderness.

Lake Superior Ontario

Superior’s north shore covers more than 700km between the community of Sault Ste Marie (known as the Soo) at the eastern gateway to the lake and Thunder Bay, the largest regional city. Connecting them, Trans-Canada Highway 17 largely traces the edge of the lake but arcs inland from the town of Wawa around a barely inhabited tract incorporating the area’s only national park, Pukaskwa. The park has no road access except to Hattie Cove at its northern edge. In addition, a series of eight provincial parks and a proposed National Marine Conservation Area preserve the wilderness and provide visitor facilities and camping sites.

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Many place names like Batchawana (Ojibwe for ‘turbulent waters’), Kakabeka (‘waterfall over a cliff’) and Kebsquashashing sing of Lake Superior’s first inhabitants. Pictographs painted long ago on Agawa Rock can be seen at the south end of Lake Superior Provincial Park. While footbound visitors are often prevented from getting a view when high waves make access dangerous, kayakers can approach the mysterious figures of humans, serpents and the mythological Misshepezhieu, a spine-backed figure with horns. Let this water spirit preside over an unforgettable holiday.

Lake Superior Ontario

Several kayak outfitters, like Naturally Superior, guide small groups on epic trips along remote shorelines and to island archipelagos. Trips last from one to 14 days, and may be inclusive of equipment and meals, or offered on a partially outfitted basis where kayaks and tents must be hired. Longer trips are designed with intermediate and experienced paddlers in mind, those who can comfortably cover up to 25 kilometers a day. (Fit beginners normally cover 3½-4½ kilometers an hour.) Tour operators build flexibility into the timetable to make allowance for possible foggy and windy conditions. For example, the trip between Hattie Cove and Michipicoten harbour can take as little as eight days in fair conditions but two weeks if the waves and wind banish you to shore. In any event, time is built in for hiking to waterfalls, swimming from beaches and relaxing.

Untouched beauty awaits in the coves and inlets, at sunrise, midday and sunset, with changing vistas that mesmerised Canada’s most famous school of landscape artists in the 1920s, the Group of Seven. Rocks that have been polished and striated by glaciers or covered with colourful lichens; cedars and pines that have been stunted and sculpted by the elements; ribbons of white quartz glistening in the sun; cliffs, beaches and forest combining along the rugged shoreline, set off by the aquamarine waters of the lake. Lucky trippers might spot a bear track or woodland caribou, spruce grouse or peregrine falcon, moose or chomping beaver.

Lake Superior Ontario

Travel Essentials

Air Canada operates four flights a day from London Heathrow to Toronto and Air Canada rouge connects Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester and Dublin with Toronto. Air Canada rouge will also operate summer flights from Gatwick to Toronto from May 19th, 2016.

Epic sea kayak trips can be arranged by Naturally Superior based at lakeside Rock Island Lodge near Wawa, Superior Outfitters in picturesque Rossport, two hours east of Thunder Bay and Caribou Expeditions (caribou-expeditions.com) operating from Goulais Bay not far from Sault Ste Marie. Prices start from $95/£47 for a day trip or $275/£135 for a weekend (plus tent rental and tax). A six-day expedition might cost about $1,250/£615 inclusive.


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WRITTEN BY SUSAN GRIFFITH FOR THE INDEPENDENT

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