Thu. Dec 7th, 2023
Backpacking Guide to the Coastal Trail in Lake Superior Provincial Park

Today’s post comes from Jordan Welch and Bianca Goncz, Discovery staff at Lake Superior Provincial Park.

Are you looking for a challenging multi-day hike with spectacular views?

The Coastal Trail has it all!

Hike to rocky cliffs, pass through lush forests, and experience the power of Lake Superior.

This linear trail runs along 65 km of the rugged northeast shore of Lake Superior and offers an unparalleled opportunity to experience nature and beauty in the midst of the largest of the Great Lakes.

Hiker on the trailPort to Chalfant

With multiple access points, the route options are endless.

Challenge yourself over several days to complete the trail from end to end or choose a smaller section to immerse yourself in.

That is how:

Your step-by-step guide to planning a coastal path trip

1. Gauge your experience level: have you hiked and camped backcountry before?

It’s important to consider your limits and skill level to plan a realistic trip.

rocky coastrhyolite cove

While the entire coastal trail should only be done by experienced hikers, there are many options for newer backcountry hikers with shorter distances and/or less rugged sections. See the coastal path breakdown below for help.

Beginner * – you have completed a few moderately challenging day walks and may have completed just one overnight trip through the countryside.

Intermediate * * – has completed some 1-2 night trips and many moderate to advanced day hikes.

Advanced * * * – has taken 4+ day overnight trips in rugged terrain, is accustomed to elevation changes, and is well versed in demanding day hikes.

rocky coast

2. Call the parking staff

We will be happy to answer any of your questions.

Contact us at the Agawa Bay Visitor Center (705-882-2026) from mid-May to mid-October, or at the Park Office at Red Rock Lake (705-856-2284) year-round.

3. Buy a map

A map is your best resource for planning and navigating a trip.

Purchase one at the park Visitor Center or the Red Rock office when you arrive.


4. Build your trip

Decide where you would like to start the hike from and where you plan to stop each day.

If you are new to night hiking, it is best to choose closer areas to make your trip less demanding.

5. Make a reservation

As of 2021, the Lake Superior backcountry now requires a reservation for camping. Reservations are also available for day use.

Reservations can be made online here or by calling 1-888-668-7275.

rocky shore

6. Book a shuttle service (if necessary)

There are several local transportation options from third-party operators. Check with park staff for more information.

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7. Familiarize yourself with the park rules.

Special rules apply in Ontario parks, including a ban on cans and bottles on the course.

Please check our website to stay informed.

8. Make a packing list

Backcountry camping is a delicate balance between packing light and making sure you have all the essentials.

This blog post can help you get started.

Coastal Trail CampingCamping coastal trail

9. Stop by the Agawa Bay Visitor Center.

We can print your permits, inform you of current trail conditions, and tell you everything you need to know before you leave.

10. Walk along the coast

Now comes the fun part!

The Coastal Trail is as demanding as it is rewarding; Be sure to stop by on your way out to tell us about your adventure!

ForestSouth of Gargantua

To help you plan your coastal path walk, we’ve broken down the different sections to give you the lay of the land.

All distances are one-way and approximate. Difficulty levels are indicated with the following symbols: * beginner, * * intermediate, and * * * advanced.

North Gargantua — Fantastic Forest (15.7 km)

forest trailHeading to the Gargantua River

Gargantua Road is the northernmost access point of the Coastal Trail. If you plan to hike this section, keep in mind that you will have to come back!

Walking north from here follows an old logging road through one of the more inland, wooded sections of the trail.

The walk is fairly flat with a gradual climb from Gargantua Bay, followed by a short, steep descent to the Gargantua River Bridge.

The trail then forks around Cape Gargantua, with the left fork following the river to Warp Bay. *

Continue past Warp Bay through saplings, bearded lichen and small lakes to explore small rocky inlets and a Chair Island overlook.

The right fork takes you through a stunning forest, then up exposed rocky sections to views of islands in a small harbor.

Go back down to reach Chalfant Cove; the northernmost point of the coastal path (good job!). * *

CampingSilla Island Camping

Gargantua to Orphan Lake: rocks, rocks, rocks (18.5 km)

Traveling south to Gargantua Bay is decidedly different from going north.

A steep forested climb takes you to one of the rockiest and most technically demanding sections of the trail (and we mean rocky).

Prepare for stunning views, but also some of the most challenging days on the coastal path, especially if conditions are wet! Head down and up the rocks to Rhyolite Cove, a small shallow cove of striking red rock.

From here, the difficult (but surprisingly beautiful) hike continues to Beatty Cove and Orphan Lake with difficult, steep sections weaving in and out of the forest.

The end of this segment marks the transition from the drastic elevation change along the northern portion to the eroded bedrock of the middle section. * * *

From Orphan Lake to Katherine Cove: Don’t take it for granted! (14 kilometers)

Orphan Lake is a good halfway point of access to the coast.

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Hike 2.5 miles from Orphan Lake Trail to reach the mouth of the Baldhead River. Here there is a pebble beach with rocks the size of a golf ball or tennis ball.

These rocks can be unruly, so take this section easy, especially if you’re carrying a backpack!

At the end of Baldhead Beach, you will reach the dreaded Baldhead Hill. This is the last hill before the Coldwater River, and it is spectacular!

We recommend a very convincing talk before undertaking this climb. * * *

After Baldhead Hill, be sure to pat yourself on the back before beginning the Coldwater River Beach Walk.

rocky beachcold water river

Between Coldwater River and Katherine Cove you’ll experience colorful coastal geology, along with small inlets and vernal rock pools.

While this section can be especially slippery after rain, it is a welcome “break” after the section from Gargantua to Orphan Lake. * *

Katherine Cove to Sinclair Cove: Forest, Coast, Repeat (17 km)

From Katherine Cove, the rugged topography continues with many rock jumps at lake level.

Expect frequent crossings through rocky coves, alternating with wooded sections and sandy or pebble beaches.

The winding nature of the coast may tease you as you may once again find yourself covering less ground compared to the more linear walks you’ve taken before.

Don’t forget to enjoy the scenery as you enter and exit!

Several nearby islands can be seen as you pass through the Barrett River * * and over rocky outcrops to Sinclair Cove. * * *

Bonus point for those who can spot the large glacier erratic along the way!

From Sinclair Cove to Agawa Bay: the final stretch (11 km)

Sinclair Cove marks the beginning of the end.

cave viewSouth of Sinclair

Although it appears near Agawa Bay on the map, this landmark, accessed from Sinclair Road, is deceptive. This is one of the most difficult sections of the trail and your pace will slow down significantly.

From Sinclair to the north end of Agawa Bay, you’ll cross steep, slippery terrain, but you’ll also be rewarded with spectacular views of the lake.

As you squeeze between boulders, scale granite hills, and navigate giant caves, you’ll get close once again to the park’s spectacular geology. * * *

When you finally reach the northern end of Agawa Bay Beach, it’s all smooth sailing…or a leisurely walk.

Gaze at the tall pine forest as you walk the last hour to the Visitor Center. You’ll know you’re close when you reach the flagstone path! *

Do not forget!

Now that you have some knowledge about the coastal path, here are some tips to keep in mind as well:

Be careful with the weather

Your hiking pace will be dictated by the wind, waves, and precipitation of Lake Superior.


Make sure you triple check the forecast and be prepared for anything.

If you encounter bad weather while walking, crouch down and wait. Safety first, always!

leave no trace

Respect the wildlife and the land you are on. Don’t feed anything or leave anything behind.

Let the people who come after you enjoy these spaces for years to come.

aerial view of the coastal path

With steep slopes and rugged coastal geology, careful foot placement is key on this grueling but rewarding trail.

Are you ready for the Coastal Trail challenge?