The North Shore, an often-misconstrued notion of huge waves off Hawaii,
represents an almost endless wilderness in Northern Ontario. It is the
topside of Lake Superior, stretching from Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay. Even by Ontario standards, this area represents a huge playground for outdoor enthusiasts of all types.
Tradition dictates that I must mention the amazing fishing found throughout the reaches of the North Shore, in order for this article to truly represent the area. I am, however, going to only discuss the amazing adventure recreation opportunities that exist.
Whitewater abounds for canoe and kayak enthusiasts, hiking for day strollers and multi-day expeditionists, rock and ice climbing, cycling, and almost everything else you can imagine. What makes the area even the more remarkable is that the area is over 90% government land, meaning access and camping is generally free.
I cannot possibly touch on all the trips one could make, but I will talk of some of the more memorable ones I have participated in and the next backpacker to come along can fill in the gaps.
Lake Superior is the largest inland lake in the world, sitting the furthest north of the five Great Lakes, directly in the middle of North America. The lake itself forms a rough oval with Minnesota on the west, Michigan on the south, and Ontario to the east and north.
Major cities (for transportation, food, and more information) include
Thunder Bay at the Northwest, and Sault Ste. Marie in the southeast. There is a border crossing from Minnesota about 60 km west of Thunder Bay, and Sault Ste Marie shares a border with Sault Michigan. There is 675km between these two centers, so a car would be ideal, although biking is straightforward with free camping all the way through. The Trans-Canada Highway in this area is diverse though, so expect a beautiful and challenging ride.
Other options include hitchhiking which is very common throughout the summer (expect up to two-hour waits in remote sections), and Greyhound buses. There are two Greyhounds traveling east and two more west
every day, but Greyhound is no longer cheap, so check their website for up to date prices, times, and multi-day passes. There
are airports in both cities, but I can’t recommend flying if you have any budget at all.
A few things will shock Southern Ontario and American natives. First, gas is expensive, and the further you get from a major center, the more it will cost. Second, there is usually 70 or 80km between towns, which means gas and food as well as rescue and first aid. Conversely this means you have the ability to be the only tent on a pure white sand beach, no one else in sight, and your car/bike is only 10 meters away.
There is a Youth Hostel on the outskirts of Thunder Bay, and the Algonquin Hotel acts as a Hostel in Sault-Ste. Marie. Hostels are around $20 per night, and other than that there are hotels wherever you find a small town. If you can camp, do it. It is free in 90% of the areas you can find.
One thing that the North Shore is known for is the absolute beauty found in its parks. Lake Superior Provincial Park runs for 80km along the highway, and Sibley has days of hiking and mountain biking under sheer rock. These are just a couple examples, but explore www.OntarioParks.com to find the perfect area for you.
Train and Mountain Bike
Take the Agawa Tour Train from the station mall. It leaves on a daily
basis, and the charge is around $20 to take you and your bike. Put your
Mountain Bike in a cargo train, and tell the man who takes it that you want to get off at mile 38. Move up to one of the passenger trains, and sit back to enjoy the striking beauty as you move north through the Canadian Wilderness, you will never forget this experience.
At mile 38, unload your bike, and bike on a dirt road going north beside the train track until you get to mile 42 road. I think this is a good spot to camp and explore, however I didn’t bring any camping gear, so I finished in one day.
The mile 42 road is over 50km of dirt, old bridges, river crossings and
side roads (bring a topographic map). The scenery is impressive, and
swimming holes abound. The road ends up at Batchawana Bay Provincial Park, where you can camp again. This is a good spot to camp (but stay outside the park boundary for a free night), and bike the Trans-Canada back to Sault-Ste Marie, or have a vehicle waiting for you at the park (preferably with a cooler and a barbecue).
The entire North Shore has countless climbing areas, but the Nipigon area is probably the most interesting. Nearby you will find a 60 meter cliff with bolted moderate climbs, a 20 meter free standing pillar, and the ice climbing is world famous.
In the winter months the area teems with climbers from the Thunder Bay University who would love to share a ride with someone who will climb. If you can get up here, you will love the experience. Either season you visit, bring a tent and stick out your thumb for a cheap adventure (bundle up when you hitch in the winter).
I have a small Volkswagen, and I find this is the best way to go. I load it up with camping, climbing, diving, and hiking gear. Squeeze in a friend, and some food for a full experience. Write me if you’re interested at email@example.com.
One area of interest that I have been unable to touch on is the amazing
diving. If you have Scuba gear, or you are a history buff, the area is
teeming with shipwrecks, some over a hundred years old.
If you want more information about this area you can email the author or check out our North America Insiders page.
Ontario is huge! I’ve been travelling in the province all my life and there are still places I’ve never seen. Northern Ontario, for instance, is really the wilds with access only by plane.
Whether it is the Great Lakes or some of the smaller streams and
rivers, one sixth of Ontario is covered by water (though most of
it is perpetually cold).
This adds up to some excellent outdoor experiences. Provincial
parks are great for camping because 1) you’re not camping in someone’s
backyard field 2) they often have great access to trails, canoeing,
etc. Avoid parks deemed “Recreational” or any park close to urban
areas. Otherwise, you will encounter music blaring at 7am and lakes filled with more tourists than fish.
Southern Ontario is the most populous area of Canada. Most
of the cultural life of the province (even the country) is in this
Toronto, the provincial
capital, is the forth largest city in North America considered the
world’s most multicultural city with over 100 different ethnic groups.
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