Hiking Sleeping Giant North of Superior
By Lili Paradi
I always thought I was the spontaneous ‘get-up-and-go’ kind of traveler. At least until my partner, Louis, and I decided to go north (Ontario) for our very first backcountry trip in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
- a jewel of the Lake Superior region and a backcountry dream, in terms of beginner overnight hikes that is.
That’s when I discovered I was a chronic over-packer, making sure that we’d have everything ready for every situation imaginable. I carried a 2L water bottle, my 5lb camera and it’s matching gear, a water filtration which weighed in at just over a pound, and a pound of apples and dry food. In contrast, Louis packed his trusty axe, his fishing rods, and just-enough clothing. His thriftiness gave me space to pack a large amount of my things into his emptier pack.
The 16-hour drive from Toronto is typically broken up through interesting stops enroute.
In Sudbury is the Big Nickel – the largest coin in the world and an advertisement for the Dynamic Earth mine that offers educational tours. On the way northwards, the landscape changed from rocky to forested, with lots of roaring rivers and fish-n-chip shops to tempt one for lunch. It worked.
Next stop was Sault Ste. Marie - a stunning little town across the US border from Michigan. In the city, we walked past museums and gardens, statues of bears and fish, and a plaque for local hero Roberta Bondar – the first Canadian woman in space. The town also offers visitors a glimpse at bush country transportation via the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre. There are plenty of budget motels and hotels here, perfect for a student. We chose one and headed to the famous Soo Locks by the lakefront. Massive freighters, hundreds of meters long, lined the horizon of sparkling lights as we walked the boardwalk to dinner.
As we continued by road, we found road signs lead to plenty of discoveries. We followed one sign down a long winding road to find the Agawa Pictographs. These are the red ochre art that early First Nations had created on stone canvas alongside the crashing waves of Lake Superior. We learned about the value of different art styles, merging over the years pre-colonizers, telling stories of war parties, jiimaan (canoe) journeys, mythical creatures, and animal guides.
Driving through Canadian shield country was like no other. No words can describe the rising and falling fogs through deep forests and the glimpses of mirrored lakes and sky as you drive up to Thunder Bay. Look out for the amazing pink, grey geology and extensive wetlands. There’s a reason we paused the music and enjoyed the sunset through this amazing landscape.
In Thunder Bay, you can see the silhouette of the Giant’s reclining body. It is said the Giant prevents mining efforts from pumping out water from Lake Superior. We understood the implications of the strength of the Giant; looking out from its head you can feel the importance of those bejeweled Superior waters. When we reached Sleeping Giant Provincial Park we set up our tent in the Marie Louise campground walk-in sites. Our plan: a day and a half to travel the 12 hours in and up, enjoy the views, then retrace our steps and travel back within 4 a total of four days in the area. Morning came, and now was the time to do the hike we had been waiting for - all famous 21.8 kms of it.
Hiking the Sleeping Giant was a challenge with a well-earned view at top. After parking at the trailhead, it is a hike in for 7km beside crystalline waters of Marie Louise Lake. Watch for Ruffed grouse and clams along the shores. There are a couple campsites in the backcountry that you will pass, there in case you want to stay for longer and explore the smaller trails. After the first 7km, you reach the top of the Giant Trailhead, where you must dismount from your bikes if you happened to be using them. You ascend immediately straight up the Giant (Nanibijou), facing rocky and steep sections using your hands. Once you finish this climb, you reach a stunning South-facing lookout over Tee Harbour. Lake Superior looks like the ocean, it's so beautiful! Imagine the cliff faces and large forests quintessential Canada and you’ll get the idea. On the North is the large canyon view from many of the iconic pictures. We had completed our quest to the top of the Sleeping Giant Trail!
After returning to the car, we booked a room at the Valhalla Inn in Thunder Bay. This motel looked out onto the silhouette of the small mountain we had just summited. We enjoyed the view, excellent service, and our dinner at Joey’s Seafood Restaurant. The next day, we woke up with the urge to chase waterfalls, and thus found Kakabeka Falls - a nice easy boarded walk for a rainy day. Louis, loving to explore Universities, insisted that we visited Lakehead University. Both of us, loving Art, explored the Anishnabae Art Gallery, which is owned by late Roy Thomas’ wife. She entertained us with stories of her late husband. Beautiful artwork surrounding us, we couldn’t stop ourselves from purchasing some of Roy’s prints to reflect upon.
There is always so much to explore, amazing people to meet, and experiences to have in Northern Ontario. Still to this day we reflect on our memories during our first summer together and look forward to our next trip up - cherishing the awesomeness of a ‘plan-as-you-go’ kind of trip.
Bring water (or a bottle and water purification drops)
Good hiking shoes
Breathable clothing, layers are good for temperature flucuations
A small medical kit with blister plaster
A bathing suit to jump into the lake water (cool!)
sunscreen and hat
Bring a lighter camera too!
Don't be afraid to veer off the main path - tons of tiny trails around that are sign posted