Pukaskwa Wild, Winsome and Wonderful

Our boys are always up for a challenge, especially if it involves the outdoors. But we tripled checked that they really wanted to go and hike the Coastal Hiking Trail in Pukaskwa National Park. We tried our best to paint a realistic picture of just how difficult it would be.  Little did I know that even I had underestimated the challenges that lay ahead.

After a 14 hour drive north we pitched a tent in Hattie Cove for the night and woke at a painfully early hour to catch our boat shuttle with Keith and Melissa from McCuaig Marine Services. We were dropped at North Swallow River in a steady rain to start our hike back. Note to self, the end of May is black fly season.

The trail was a very rugged constant gain and loss of elevation. It was rocky and dense and we relied heavily on our hiking poles for balance and grip. There was a substantial amount of rock-hopping to avoid any number of hazards, and felled trees to climb under and over and around. There was never a moment of tedium as a constant stream of obstacles kept us on our toes at all times. We were rewarded for our efforts with some of the most beautiful and breathtaking backcountry that I’ve ever seen. Lake Superior stretches on forever and truly resembles the sea. The sandy beaches sweep out like private playgrounds to explore and enjoy at the end of a long day. Almost all of our campsites landed us smack dab in the middle of a gorgeous beach with sunset views to die for. Even after hiking an eight-hour day, the boys ran out into the sand to dig and build and explore.

I admit that at times the terrain was so demanding and exhausting that witty banter fell by the wayside and was replaced with rhythmic pants of exertion and the sounds of heavily weighted boots drumming against the rock. There were a couple of tears of frustration and “somebody” collapsed at camp one night leaving the burden of set-up and cooking to the others (yes that was me). But with the effort, we could see the confidence growing in the boys. Their steps became less timid and their placement more precise. They called out warnings of upcoming hazards to the group and held back branches and offered a steady hand to each other. They leaned into headwinds and wiped the rain and bugs from their faces. Despite the formidable demands there wasn’t one whine or complaint or outright tantrum. Still they ended every day with hugs and kisses and smiles and thanks.  For possibly the first time in their lives our guys faced real adversity. They learned that by not giving up even when things got exceedingly difficult, they could achieve their goals. They proved to themselves just how strong and capable they really are. It also made it impossible for me to complain. If they could do it with such grace, then so could I.

Our original plan was to hike the trail in seven days. In the beginning we found that our family took about one hour longer to hike each section than was suggested in the Coastal Hiking Trail Planner. The further that we went on the trail though, the better time we made. On the sixth day we completed our section one hour ahead of schedule and the kids asked if we could push on and finish our journey that day instead of making camp. We decided that it was doable and agreed.

After more than 16km on that sixth day, we made our way back into the Hattie Cove campground giddy with the exhilaration of our accomplishment as well as the prospect of a fast-food dinner with all of the fixings. After gorging ourselves on poutine and root beer floats, we rolled back into camp and were treated to a night in gorgeous teepee courtesy of Bonnie Couchie from the Pic River Guest Suite. Even though we arrived earlier than planned, Bonnie had our night’s accommodations waiting for us and we had the warmest and most comfortable night’s sleep in a week.

Before we left on our adventure the possibility existed that we might not be able to finish and that someday we would need to return and give it another go. I know now that regardless of having realized the goal of hiking the entire trail, we will definitely be returning to Pukaskwa.  Not out of an obligation to complete unfinished business, but rather for the love of a newfound gem.  One visit to this magical park simply isn’t enough. Our Ontario Outdoor calendar didn’t steer us wrong when it suggested that we visit. That leaves 11 more months of inspiration hanging on my wall.

To see more of our trip pictures, check out the Pukaskwa National Park set on Flickr!

A special thank you to Mountain Equipment Co-op, Pukaskwa National Park and Ontario Outdoors.  Your support allowed for a successful and memorable trip.

23 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by juliet on June 11, 2012 at 10:32 AM

    I stumbled across your site while researching Pukaskwa after I saw it on ‘the’ calendar at a MEC store. Your experiences and recap have helped to fuel my fire. My son and I are doing the return trip leaving in 10 days and I’m so excited to see those views in person! Thanks for sharing 🙂


  2. Posted by juliet on June 11, 2012 at 10:37 AM

    I blog over here: http://www.scattereddreamsgathered.wordpress.com and will definitely post after the fact.


    • Wow!
      I just visited your website. You are such a strong and amazing woman and Addison is so lucky to have such an awesome mom! If there is anything that I can help you with on your journey, please don’t hesitate to ask!


  3. Thats amazing! Sounds like an incredible trip, and such an accomplishment! Congrats to you and your family for seeing all your hard work and training produce such a great reward. And thanks for sharing your adventure with us.


    • Thank you Anthony! It was totally worth all of the planning and driving and (gulp) hiking to experience such a gorgeous park. We all learned a lot about ourselves and really pushed our limits and by doing so expanded them. Truly a gift 🙂


  4. Posted by nancy on June 11, 2012 at 11:46 AM

    did you have the poutine from Chez Madeline’s in Marathon – by far the best poutine on the north shore of Lake Superior….As well, I tip my hat madame at your accomplishment with your family. Having only hiked bits and pieces of that trail…a real inspiration.


  5. Posted by Dawn McGregor on June 11, 2012 at 12:42 PM

    it is a wonderful park and my husband and i hope to return one day with our two boys (now 3.5yrs and 4mos) — very inspiring! you must be overwhelmingly proud of your sons 🙂


  6. That is so impressive! I really hope my boys would be willing to do this sort of thing when they’re bigger.


    • I wish I had some sage words of advice for you. I’m not sure what we did right that got the boys loving the outdoors as much as we do other than taking them with us whenever we go and starting them early. Maybe our enthusiasm rubbed off?
      I’m sure that if you keep your boys engaged and challenged, they’ll just keep wanting to go and do bigger and better trips. All the best!


  7. Jenny I love your site! I followed your link from the giveaway you entered on my site. Your pictures are amazing and your content is too! I added your site to the Correlating Material on my Nature For Kids site. I’ll be following you from now on too! Take care 🙂


  8. Such a cool hike to take kids on! I went with my class on a six-mile hike this winter in the Rockies. They loved it. We had few complaints from the 5th graders, city kids, no less.


    • That’s par for the course for 5th graders right? They love to complain…lol! It’s amazing that they got to experience the Rockies though! Maybe it will inspire them to further explore the outdoors 🙂


  9. Posted by Kirsten on June 14, 2012 at 12:15 AM

    That is so awesome that your kids are such good backpackers! I am really missing backpacking this summer even though I spend every weekend outside. Working on homesteading just isn’t the same as constantly exploring new trails.


  10. […] to know more about our crazy Pukaskwa adventure? Read all about it in my wrap-up post on backcountrywiththekids.com. Rate this:Share: Pin ItEmailLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]


  11. […] to know more about our crazy Pukaskwa adventure? Read all about it in my wrap-up post on backcountrywiththekids.com. Rate this:Share: Pin ItEmailLike this:Like3 bloggers like […]


  12. Sounds like awesome adventure, I’m thinking about visiting this park this summer and your post made it clear this is the outdoor adventure I’m looking for.


  13. […] en savoir plus sur notre formidable aventure dans le parc national Pukaskwa ? Allez lire notre article de conclusion (en anglais) sur backcountrywiththekids.com. Évaluez ceci :Partager:J'aime ceci:J'aimeBe the […]


  14. Whomever answers FB queries at Pukaskwa directed me to you, and I’m so glad! We are taking our boys up (from NY) this July & August, and will be camping and day hiking & paddling. We can’t wait!


    • Fantastic! It’s absolutely gorgeous in Pukaskwa. You and your boys are gonna love it. If you have any questions, feel free to ask 🙂


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