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Our 5th & Final Day On The Coastal Trail In Pukaskwa National Park

Our 5th & Final Day on the Coastal Trail in Pukaskwa National Park

Day five was our last day of hiking on the Coastal Trail in Pukaskwa National Park. For those of you who joined me at the beginning of the hike you might be wondering how we ever did it in five days considering the extremely slow and inauspicious start we had. Somehow we did – and this is how the last day unfolded.

"Beautiful mist rising off of Lake Superior"

Beautiful mist rising off of Lake Superior

It was bloody cold outside on our last morning, only 2°C according to my thermometer and I had a decidedly harder time than normal leaving the warmth of my tent. But I felt energized once I saw what a beautiful morning it was.

My friend Ted got a fire going – as he did most days – and in no time we had water boiling and a hot cup of coffee in our hands. As a side note don’t forget the fire starter. Jo on the other hand seemed loathe to leave the tent and Keeper the dog wasn’t moving either. But they missed the first light and the mist rising over Lake Superior.

"It's equally beautiful over the Willow River"

It’s equally beautiful over the Willow River

When we finally hit the trail it was about 9 AM and the sun had some warmth to it. It looked like it was going to be a great day.

We had 16.4 kilometres and about 8.5 hours of hiking ahead of us.

We dispatched with the first 7.6 kilometres to Hook Falls quickly – mainly because it was easier than expected. It was also very pretty. We passed small lakes, a waterfall and then hiked a series of ridges with views of the nearby hills. If we’d been a week later the colours would have been at their peak.

"view of the woods starting to colour up"

The morning offers views like this

"A blast of colour on the trail"

A blast of colour on the trail

"Leaves are already starting to fall"

Leaves are already starting to fall

We arrived at Hook Falls on the White River for lunch – ahead of the suggested time for once. There are a few campsites here, and in fact our reservation had been for Hook Falls but I think the three of us were happy that we ended up at Willow River instead. Sometimes it pays to be slow.

I particularly enjoyed seeing the White River as my son had canoed it as a teenager. It’s a far more powerful river than I anticipated especially as it narrowed toward its’ end.

"Hook Falls"

Hook Falls on the White River

"A major set of rapids start here"

A major set of rapids start here

"The White River has some incredible power"

The White River has some incredible power

The hiking from Hook Falls all the way to the White River Suspension Bridge ended up being quite gnarly despite looking benign on the map. Sometimes contour lines don’t tell much of the story. It involved a tremendous amount of up and down as well as some clambering over logs left from a period of flooding.

"Looking down at the frothing White River"

Looking down at the frothing White River from the bridge

"Crossing the White River Suspension Bridge"

Crossing the White River Suspension Bridge

"These signs are even in the middle of nowhere"

These signs are even in the middle of nowhere

Once we made it over the suspension bridge the hiking got noticeably easier for several kilometers. It was almost like a walk in the park.

There was only one problem.

Jo’s knee started to let her know of its presence. She had pulled something on our first day when we were backpacking in the dark. But it wasn’t until we were on the homeward stretch that it really started screaming at her. To her credit Jo found some energy and resolve deep in her soul and kept moving forward. We checked out Playter Harbour as a possibility for the night but Jo was of one mind only and that was to keep going. And so we did.

"The beach at Playter Harbour; it's also a campsite"

The beach at Playter Harbour; it’s also a campsite

Once we had reached the extensive boardwalks through the swamp at the far end of Hattie’s Cove we knew we were home free. It was at most a couple of kilometers to the parking lot.

"boardwalk at the far end of Hattie Cove"

A long, easy section of hiking along boardwalk at the far end of Hattie Cove

We arrived at the parking lot at 6:15 which I though was pretty darned good considering how Jo’s knee had slowed us down at the end of the day. The marching bands and flag wavers were nowhere to be seen. Instead it was an underwhelming finish.

But really our thoughts went like this – remove backpacks, get out of our boots and drive the two hours to Wawa for dinner. A warm meal and a comfortable seat in the car were very much on our minds. Interestingly only three cars were in the parking lot – ours and two from the group we had met on the boat on the first day.

It’s now been a few weeks since we’ve completed the hike. I had an email from Jo the other day – who is now on crutches and awaiting an MRI – saying this:

You know reliving the pics makes me want to do the trail again; is that a weird feeling? I don’t think it is. I would do this one again. The Coastal Trail is hard, gnarly, beautiful and desolate. If you ever get the chance – go!

Other posts related to this trip you might enjoy:

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 57,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 27 Comments
  1. Leigh, Thanks for sharing your story on Pukaskwa park. We did the circle tour around Lake Superior in 2012 and 2013 and that park was one of our favorite stops on both trips. The short hikes close to the campground and the White river hike were some of the best we have done and we wouldn’t hesitate to do them again. The only problem is that there is too much of the world left to explore.
    Hope you have many more safe hikes!
    Doug and Jan from Wisconsin

  2. Sounds to me that you should all just be glad you finished!! I hope Jo’s knee is nothing serious.

    1. @Billie In hindsight we realize that she was really lucky. She just happened to be on prednisone on the trip and that kept the inflammation down. Without that – and Tylenol and Advil, I’m not sure how the trip would have gone.

  3. They say misery loves company and sometimes misery just loves misery. It is funny after the hard trip how you and your group would love to go back. I feel the same way after every hike especially after a good meal, a soft bed, and some time from the experience.

    1. @Ted It’s amazing the perspective you get after a few days of recovery time. There is another coastal trail a few hours by car south of where we were which I’d like to do some day. It’s in Lake Superior Provincial Park.

  4. Excellent photography! I enjoyed your well written description of the hike. Pukaskwa is a favourite repeat destination, and we have enjoyed the day hike to the White River suspension bridge. Your Coastal Trail description encourages us to consider a lengthier overnight hike, to the Willow River.

    1. @Don It’s a tremendous hike BUT do it in the fall when the bugs have mostly disappeared. I have heard horror stories about how bad the bugs can be. It’s one of my favourite backpacking trips in Canada.

  5. Hi Leigh, I’m planning on hiking the trail this year. Beyond trekking poles, are there any pieces of gear you wouldn’t do without or wished you’d had on the trail?

    1. @Kiirsten When it got wet I found the trail terribly slippery – even in good leather hikers. I was on my butt a lot because of that – on purpose. Wonder if lightweight Yactrax would help. Make sure the pack is rugged as you may be dragging it up rocks. My friends pack was returned to MEC after the 5 days as it fell apart. Bring bug dope. I think I was fine for everything else – but did find the first few days that I had a heavy load.

  6. What a great trip report – detailed information and great photos. Can’t wait to make the hike Fall 2016. Thanks for the help! … Nick

  7. Hey Leigh, just read this series. Awesome as always. Would you say this was more or less challenging than the Akshayuk pass? I did that last year (the whole 100Km) and wanted to get an idea… Thanks a bunch!

    1. @Mo I’d say slightly less challenging because you don’t need to carry as much food. But the actual walking was actually more challenging at times – especially when the lichen covered rocks were wet and everything was “slicker than snot”. I would call it one of the best backpacking trips in Canada – and once on the trail we say only one other person in 5 days. If you’re going earlier than September be very prepared for bad bugs.

  8. Hi Leigh
    My husband and I are hoping to do the Coastal trail this fall. We have been in touch with the boat charter. My question: how did you coordinate taking the charter with another group? As we are only 2 we definitely don’t want to charter the boat for just us but also aren’t too excited about the prospect of carrying food for 10 days (+ 10 days worth of dog food!) to do the out and back without the boat shuttle….which leads me to another question-if we were to do 6 days on the trail as an out and back starting at Hattie’s cove and turning around at Fisherman’s Cove would we miss some of the best areas of the trail? (Hideaway lake, White Spruce Harbor).
    Thanks for your help!

    1. Hi Jenn,
      The fellow who runs the boat charter knows its expensive so he will make suggestions over the summer for other groups to hook up with you. Reinforce that. And yes you would miss some of the best area of the trail. Every day had its charms – and miseries – but they were all amazing days. I’d say bite the bullet save for the charter – how often will you ever get here? and do the whole trail. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed and carrying food for 5-6 days is way easier. Get a dog carrier so he/she can carry at least some of the kibble.

  9. Hi Leigh,

    My girlfriend and I are planning on doing this trip late August. Definitely looks beautiful. Anyway, I just wanted to ask you how difficult it was for the dog? We are hoping to bring our dog along but are uncertain about whether he could hack it. What was the most difficult terrain for the dog and how frequent did you come across it?


    1. @Charles After the first day the dog was completely pooped at the end of every other day and was in no rush to get out of the tent. But really he was fine – probably just a bit stiff. There was only one section on the 2nd or third day where we came through a cleft in the rocks to meet Lake Superior. It was wet and a bit tricky going so we lifted the dog to avoid any injuries. Places that were slippery for us were of no issue for the dog. It’s a glorious backpacking trip. Check closure dates this year as some work is being done in the park and if I remember correctly they are closing earlier than normal.

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