Cape Gargantua. We had never noticed the name on our used Ontario road map (the awkward paper kind that never quite folds the right way) until this past January while we were driving from Thunder Bay to Ottawa in a blizzard. It might have been the fresh snow contrasted against the steely blue waves violently trashing just beyond the highway that made this impressive feature stand out that day. If the sight of the imposing rocky shoreline jutting out into Lake Superior wasn’t enough, the name sealed the deal. We had to go check it out. Fast-forward six months later and Lake Superior has taken on a tropical appearance; the water is a deep aquamarine blue fringed with vibrant green hues of a forest in full bloom. Too bad the water remained a frigid 10°C (probably closer to 17°C in sheltered shallow bays) in the 28°C early-July temperatures.
Three days hiking in Lake Superior Provincial Park
We spent three days hiking around Cape Gargantua in Lake Superior Provincial Park and contrasted lazy mornings spent sleeping-in to the sound of breaking waves with the invigorating feeling that comes with swimming in Lake Superior pretty much any time of year. Ours wasn’t an ambitious itinerary, but a rejuvenating one.
We got a late start on our first day and began hiking down the Lake Superior Coastal Trail from Gargantua Harbour around 3 pm. Our destination of the first night was Devil’s Chair 10.3 kilometers away where we stayed at a cozy campsite nestled in a rocky cove that happened to be full of agates and other very cool rocks (like the piece of floating scoria Chris found in a pile of driftwood).
On the second day we hiked from Devil’s Chair to Chalfant Cove, stopping for a swim at Wrap Bay along the way, and re-traced our steps all the way back to Gragantua Harbour where we made camp on a beautiful beach only a few hundred meters away from the car.
We had originally planned on ditching our heavy gear back at the car on our last day an go for a day hike south along the coastal trail (towards Orphan Lake) but opted to keep taking it easy instead. We took our sweet time getting up, soaked up some sun on the beach, and went swimming in the cold yet inviting water once again. This time Chris took it to a whole other level by swimming out to a little island a couple of hundred meters away. He came back with a considerably lower core temperature and major brain freeze in the name of geology (he wanted to see if there were two different rock types on the island, and he did confirm this). This meant we had to stay on the sunny beach a while longer until he warmed up – not a bad way to end the weekend!
Discrepancies in the Distances
We felt that the hike from the Parking lot to Devil’s Chair on the first day seemed long for the alleged distances listed in the park’s brochure, so we measured all the hiking distances with our GPS on our hike out. It turns out we weren’t just imagining things. Here is what our trusty global positioning system told us:
- Parking Lot to Wrap Bay Junction: 7.2 km
- Wrap Bay Junction to Wrap Bay: 0.6 km
- Wrap Bay to Devil’s Chair: 2.5 km
- Wrap Bay to Chalfant Cove: 3.3 km
An alternate itinerary
An alternative itinerary for a three-day hiking trip to Cape Gargantua would be to hike into Wrap Bay and make base camp there for two nights. From Wrap Bay it would be easy to hike to both Devil’s Chair and Chalfant Cove as day-trips without a full load of gear. Plus, the campsites at Wrap Bay were a lot roomier than those we checked out at Devil’s Chair and Chalfant Cove – some of which only accommodate a two-person tent. Coming back to a relatively warm sandy beach at the end of the day would also be a definite perk.
Good things to know if you plan to go…
- Back-country camping permits ($10/night/person in July 2016) and park maps ($7) can be purchased at the Visitor Center and Park Office
- There is also this handy map of the park area available online
- You can find more information on the Ontario Lake Superior Parks Page and on the Friends of Lake Superior Park Page