Today’s blog comes from Kaitlyn Plastino, Discovery Interpreter at Lake Superior Provincial Park.
As park staff who live and work along the Lake Superior shoreline, we naturally get a lot of questions about the water: “So, how cold is it here?” and “Is it warm enough to swim yet?”
The short answer we give to visitors is: “If you’re not used to the water, it’s probably too cold… but I’ve been swimming since May, so it’s warm enough for me!”
Here in Lake Superior Provincial Park we have a tradition: the Daily Dip.
No matter how cold it is, park staff bathe every day from the time we arrive here in the spring until we leave in the fall.
That means we’re experts on what the water feels like all camping season long!
Let’s explore the many questions you should have about swimming in Lake Superior Provincial Park and why taking a dip in May is completely different than taking a dip in October.
Swimming in May: almost arctic temperatures
The first swim of the year is always the most difficult, but perhaps the most exciting!
When the park staff arrives in mid-May, the first thing we do is unpack and go swimming. Well, we call it swimming, but it’s more like a quick jump in and out.
Agawa Bay typically loses its ice cover completely by mid-April, meaning the water has only been exposed to warm sunlight and air temperatures for about a month when we arrive.
After a frigid, snow-filled winter, the warm air of spring is much appreciated, but very deceptive as to what it’s like to take a dip. While a sunny spring day in Agawa Bay boasts t-shirt weather, the water of Lake Superior screams wetsuit weather.
When we first run to the water, the warmest day will have an average water temperature of 5 to 6°C (41 to 43°F), enough to leave us breathless and feel like needle pricks on our skin.
Cold, windy days can make minimum temperatures even colder!
A cloudy day can lower temperatures by 1 to 2 °C (34 to 35 °F). We definitely didn’t stay long on those days, but it’s easier to get in when the lake is flat as glass.
Swimming in August: Snorkeling, anyone?
As the summer camping season reaches its peak, Lake Superior surface temperatures gradually go from freezing to tolerable to relaxing.
Our August daily swims in Agawa Bay are by far the warmest and most comfortable, as the surface water maxes out at about 20°C (68°F).
Floating on the surface, you could almost pretend you’re in the Bahamas…
…until you accidentally dig your toes in too deep and get the cold shock of your life!
This drastic change in water temperature is due to a process called thermal stratification. The surface of the water is heated by long hours of sunlight and warm air, so it maintains a low density that makes it float as a top layer.
Deeper water receives less heat energy from the sun and remains denser, so it lies beneath the first layer. This layer can be tens of meters thick in the middle of Lake Superior.
However, shallow inlets like Agawa Bay mix easily with the wind and have smaller, more variable thermal layers. If you’ve ever gone underwater to explore the beautiful rocky and sandy bottom of Agawa Bay, you’ve definitely felt the multi-degree change I’m talking about.
Swimming in October: winter jacket over swimsuit
While we close our campgrounds for the season in mid-October, park staff are still hard at work preparing for next year.
At the end of October, the gales intensified and we may have even seen some flurries of snow by then.
Finally, it’s time for our last Daily Dip of the year.
Fall brings less sunlight and colder weather, which cools Lake Superior’s surface waters and begins the process of renewal, when summer’s thermal stratification breaks down and mixes with strong wind storms to form a continuous layer.
In late October, the temperature in Agawa Bay ranges between 8 and 11 °C (46 and 52 °F), just a couple of degrees warmer than on November 10, 1975, the night the famous freighter was lost. of the Great Lakes, the Edmund Fitzgerald. .
In the freezing water, we reflected on what it would have been like to be on one of the many sunken ships as they sank; We marveled at the powerful changes of Lake Superior.
Why make the Daily Dip?
While the Daily Dip may seem like a silly park tradition, the fact is: it’s good for you!
Swimming itself has many health benefits, but cold water is known to boost immunity, increase blood circulation, and provide an adrenaline rush. Unexpectedly, it also gives us the opportunity to socialize and make new friends.
There’s nothing better for staff bonding than freezing in the lake together every day!
Finally, the Daily Dip ensures that we will not miss a single sunset in Agawa Bay. We can attest that they are some of the best in the world.
With that, let’s take a dip!
Will you join our challenge during your next visit?
Before taking your daily swim in Lake Superior, check out these safety tips:
- Always go swimming with a friend, especially when it’s cold.
- Never stay in the water for more than a few minutes or go too far from shore in extremely cold temperatures.
- wear a life jacket on wavy days or if you’re not a strong swimmer, and be careful of possible hangovers
- Not every day is safe to take a dip; No swim during a storm
- know your limit and stay within it
- Make sure you warm up after swimming with a hot chocolate!