National Parks In Ontario: Pukaskwa…Our Kids Try to Set a Record!

This is our inaugural BIG trip year. We feel that the kids are ready to take on some serious expeditions and we’re milking this coming of age for all it’s worth. 2012 is chocked full of back to back awesome trips. Come the end of January though, it felt like we were just killing time until the fun would begin. The spring looked lean and long. I opened our complimentary 2012 Ontario Outdoor Adventures calendar and started flipping through the pages, counting the weeks until our first trip of the year was planned. It hit me like a slap in the face. Right there on the square reserved for May 23rdwas the answer to our spring tripping drought. Hike Pukaskwa’s Coastal Trail, it read. Yeah baby, let’s do it! With only four months until our departure, the race was on to prepare ourselves for what some people spend years planning for.

Pukaskwa National Park © Klaus Rossler Photography 2011

The Coastal Trail in Pukaskwa Provincial Parkis Ontario’s answer to B.C.’s West Coast Trail. Rated as an advanced hike, my husband Fraser and I had put thoughts of it on the back burner after our boys were born in favour of short hikes, canoe trips and winter camping. Well, we dusted off the dream this spring and put it back on our plates. With Zach and Luke a strong and well experienced 8 and 10 respectively, we felt confident that we could tackle the challenging terrain and unpredictable weather that Pukaskwa is notorious for. Perched on the edge of Lake Superior’s wild north shore, it is Ontario’s only wilderness national park and the trail includes suspension bridges, river crossings and boulder fields.

courtesy of Parks Canada

I began researching our chances of a successful expedition. I lucked out and made quick friends with Lyn Elliot, a super friendly kindred spirit from the Parks office in Pukaskwa. What a wealth of information! We talked weather, trail conditions, bugs, packing considerations…and then the clincher. She mentioned in an early email that if we completed the entire trail, we were most likely the “youngest” family to have done so. By all accounts, our boys will be the youngest hikers to complete the trail end-to-end. That was it, we were thoroughly hooked. It was like a first accent and a World Record rolled into one ambitious but doable hiking first. We were going to be the first to realise this achievement, the perfect motivation for a firm commitment. We are going to Pukaskwa, we are going to hike the whole 60km Coastal Trail and because of other commitments, we only have seven days to accomplish it in. Hikers, start your engines!

There are only two options for approaching a hike on this single access point trail, the “double-back” method (hike in and then turn around and hike back) and the boat shuttle. We waffled on which to choose. The double back meant that the pressure was off. If we didn’t make the progress that we hoped for, we could just turn around when half of our time had been eaten up and safely assume that it would take an equal amount of time to get back. Other points in the “pro” double back column… the first half of the trail is well travelled, better maintained and technically less advanced, plus we could avoid the added expense of the boat shuttle. However, and most anyone who knows me can attest to this, I have an aversion to the easy way. To me, only hiking half of the trail would mean that someday I would need to return and complete the entire thing in order to check it off my list. If I’m going to drive 14 hours to get to the park, there is simply no way that I’m not doing the whole trail and so we are going with longtime water taxi operator Keith at McCuaig Marine Services. Luckily for me, Fraser is always willing and more than able to entertain my tripping whims. The question then remained, what about the kids? Will they want to go? Are they capable? Will the frustration of a trip too far above their abilities sour them for all future crazy proposals? Well they certainly want to go, they couldn’t be more excited and it’s not just because they will be missing a week of school! As for the other concerns, I suppose the answers to those questions await us at the end of this journey.

courtesy of Parks Canada

If you want to start planning your own visit to Pukaskwa, check out the AMAZING trip planners that the park has just come out with. They really are the most comprehensive, helpful and easily navigable trip planners that I have ever had the pleasure of using. There is the Coastal Paddling Route Trip Planner and the Coastal Hiking Trail Trip Planner. Every single question that we had was answered in this document. Everything from driving distances between major cities and the park to hiking distances in kilometers and hours between camp sites, weather conditions and sunrise and sunset times. And you don’t have to be crazy like us as there is car camping in Hattie’s Cove (with free WIFI at the visitor’s centre) and you can do day trips on the hiking trail or any number of shorter overnighters. They offer tons of interpretive programs, a junior naturalist program for the young and young at heart as well as an Art in the Park series. Really fabulous. No, really. Check it out. Really

Stay tuned because our trip is in two short weeks! You can watch our progress real-time on a Google map by way of our SPOT Connect (satellite GPS messenger) and I will be tweeting and updating Facebook from the trail…you gotta love technology! Here is a link to the SPOT map page. Of course there is nothing much to look at right now, but starting on May 26th I’ll be doing regular location check-ins. Also look for a complete trip report and some spectacular pictures when we get back. Wish us luck!

21 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by beechcreekproject on May 12, 2012 at 9:44 AM

    Sounds like there is a great adventure ahead of you guys. Can’t wait to hear how it goes. I use the SPOT messenger as well but only for check-in. If I were to go on an extended trip as you are I would invest in the option to show my progress as I went along. It’s given me a lot more peace of mind as well to my wife having it with me. Since I hike alone most of the time (except for Paco) she finds it comforting to know that I could get a message out for emergencies. You guys stay safe and keep on hiking.


    • Thank you! I’m worried about accidentally calling for a rescue…lol! I certainly feel better about taking the kids into a remote area knowing that I can contact services for help, or just let our family know that we’re okay.


      • We borrowed a spot for our most recent canoe trip. I was also petrified of accidentally calling for a rescue! What worked well for us was a small pelican case that I happened to have anyways – the spot fit perfectly within it, so there was no way a button could get accidentally pressed (at least while the case was closed!)

      • Can it transmit through a Pelican case or did you have to open it? Thanks for the tip!

      • That’s a good question…I’m not sure. We didn’t use the tracking feature, so had we needed to hit the emergency button, or had we wanted to hit the ‘ok’ button when we got to camp, we would have just opened up the case to do it.

      • Hm. We’re gonna have to test that before we go. Thanks!

  2. Wow, this trail looks amazing! Have fun and good luck….I will be following along 🙂


  3. Posted by colocald on May 12, 2012 at 11:40 PM

    Looks like an awesome hike! You’re so lucky your sons are as adventurous as you sound! I think it sounds kind of scary – but I’m just a rock climber. 🙂 Good luck and kick butt!!


    • I think we have to be part rock climber to do this hike…lol! We are all taking a small leap of faith with this adventure, but I think my boys have inherited our craziness, so this is just the beginning of a long nutty journey together. Thanks for stopping by!


  4. Posted by colocald on May 12, 2012 at 11:42 PM

    Ok – don’t know if wordpress sent in my comment! Here it is again just in case!
    Looks like an awesome hike! You’re so lucky your sons are as adventurous as you sound. I think it sounds kind of scary – but I’m just a rock climber. 🙂 Good luck and kick butt!!!


  5. Sounds like an awesome trip… can wait to follow along with you. Maybe in few years we’ll have to give it a try 😀


  6. I’m eager to hear how your trip goes.

    I’m interested in backpacking, but my crew is pretty solid on canoe tripping (we love the water too much). Perhaps, when you write about the success of your kids on this hike, the big kids in my group will be convinced to try a trip this summer! 🙂

    Have a great time!

    ~Anthony from TwoCanoe


    • We adore canoe tripping and we’ve got a few weeks of it coming our way this summer 🙂
      However, there is something appealing about going all Indiana Jones on that trail with suspension bridges and boots around your neck wading through swollen rivers…exciting!
      You’ll have to give it a try. Or at least paddle Pukaskwa…my friends tell me it’s not to be missed!


  7. Posted by thewolfshead on May 16, 2012 at 11:41 AM

    Have you ever done the Lake Superior Provincial Park coastal trail? Also recommended as a slightly easier trek (at least not as isolated and more marked!).

    Have fun!


    • We have not done that trail, but it is certainly on the list! We were supposed to get there this summer, but it will have to wait for next year 🙂


  8. Have fun keep safe that’s a nasty part of Ontario, but very beautiful area.Good Luck


    • Thanks! It should be gorgeous albeit buggy when we are up there 🙂 we are taking our Spot satellite GPS Messenger and our first aid kit… Hopefully it’ll come back untouched…lol!


  9. Posted by cathy on July 29, 2013 at 11:45 AM

    Just found your blog. Great job!!!! Myself and 9 friends are heading to hike the coastal trail in August of 2013!!!!!!


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