Picking the best hike of the year is a tough decision to make, especially since in my book, there are no bad hikes! This year was a record year for me for the most hiking adventures completed. I took every chance I got to spend outside and found many awesome places to explore. Living in Sault Ste. Marie Ontario is one of the greatest blessings I count each day, and its beautiful playground that surrounds it is one of the main reasons why.
Lake Superior Provincial Park was my second home this past summer. It is such a beautiful park and it keeps calling you back, as there is so much to see and do there. I am fortunate to be a relatively short drive away from there, so naturally I took as many chances I could get to explore it. I have been up there alone and have also taken many friends there too. Time seems to stand still in the park. Cell reception disappears through out most of it and you have no worries to think of, just natural beauty all over!
This brings us to the Orphan Lake Trail, located roughly halfway along HWY 17 that runs through the park. This trail starts off very leisurely with a slight up hill. The total length of the trail spans 8km and it is hiked in a loop fashion. Finishing this loop can take anywhere from 3-5 hours, depending on your walking speed of course. I have never taken less than 5 hours to complete this trail, as I usually like to stay out there for at least 6 hours or more because there is so much to take in on this hike.
The first lookout is pretty close to the beginning of the trail and it showcases the feature it is named after, Orphan Lake. From this vantage point, it is clear why it is called that. It looks as if it is orphaned off of Lake Superior that you can see beyond it. This park's main focal point is the largest great lake of the world, Lake Superior. However the park is home to many smaller inland lakes. The majority of the hiking trails around the area will have emphasis for the fresh water sea, and it is pretty obvious why they do, but this hiking trail showcases them both, which makes it ultra special.
Algoma Country is known for its rolling hills, sheer cliffs and tall pine skylines, which translate to some of the most beautiful lake views in Ontario, and perhaps the whole world! So seeing that iconic small Algoma type lake on this hike is something so beautiful to me. As you descend down towards the shores of the lake, you will find that exact look that captures the true spirit of the region. It is absolutely breathtaking in any season. The trail wraps around the western shore of the lake, offering you a few different vantage points.
Next up is going to be a secondary lookout. Definitely head up there, and you will not be disappointed! Being there is just pure bliss. You see so much, far and wide. With a number of different rock outcrops, you have lots of options to sit and relax and take in the beauty of the area. I usually spend a nice 30 minutes up here because the feeling of being up so high and seeing such an incredible view deserves to be cherished and enjoyed.
Once you have enjoyed your time up there, it's time to make your way down to the shore of Lake Superior. This section of trail is awestrucking to me. You will navigate around large boulders and outcroppings, really getting the feel for the Canadian Shield landscape. You will notice the trees start getting larger and larger, and in the summer months the mosses will be very lush and green. It makes me think of being on the coast of the Pacific. Depending on the weather out on the lake, you may start to hear the waves crashing against the shoreline as well. Before you know it you are introduced to a pebble stone beach.
At this point the hike shares itself with the famous Coastal Trail which is an overnight backpacking trail, so make sure you go the right way. (It is well marked) Now that being said, I do encourage you to explore this beach as much as possible. Many people choose to take a break here, bask in the sun and also take in a nice swim. My greatest tip to anyone doing this hike is to walk over to the very end of the beach to the tip of the sand spit where the Baldhead River flows in. Once you are the point, turn around and let your eyes feast on the view that highlights how gorgeous this lake's coast truly is! From here you can see the last vantage point you were at. It is pretty spectacular to see how high up you were from beach level.
After you have said your fair wells with the beach, you will make your way along the Baldhead River and discover the Baldhead River Falls and Rapids. Yup, there is a waterfall! My very first time hiking this trail, just before getting to the beach, I thought to myself that this trail has so much stuff to offer, all it needs is a waterfall and it will be set. My mind was blown once I heard that rushing water in the distance. So yes, this trail truly does has have it all!
The rapids are really neat to explore, just be sure to watch your step as the terrain gets a little tricky to navigate. Afterwards you will trek back upwards toward the start of the trail. You will eventually join back to Orphan Lake again and get to see it from the other side. Just before it though, you will find yourself hiking close to a really tall cliff. If you are there in the winter, you will have a much better view of it as the leaves from the trees won't be obstructing it, however there is a nice spot even in the summer to take a break and relax for a bit from all the uphill hustle you will be doing. Yes this is true, the most physically demanding portion of the hike is towards the end, but it is all worth it, trust me on that one!
To recap, the reason why this trail is my top pick for 2018, is because it has everything you could ask for from a hike. From the views, to a secluded beach, waterfalls and forests so lush you just won't want to leave! Time escapes on this trail and spending the full day here is how I like to experience it. It has a special place in my heart, and I am sure it can be for you as well.
Below are a few videos you may watch to see more what it is like, one made by yours truly and the other made by a good friend of mine and outdoor adventurer Bushtreck Boosh! Thank you for reading, and keep in touch for more adventures, photos and illustrations.