Tales From The Pancake Bay Lookout Trail: The Perfect Fall Hike

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The article below was paid for by a portion of a generous micro-grant provided through the 2nd annual Soup Ste. Marie event. Thank you!

Growing up, I always loved summer, and cherished my time at the beach and in the warm waters of Old Mill Bay.  However, in recent years, I have a new fondness for fall.  Warm days, cool nights, coloured trees and crispy fallen leaves, hot chocolate, wearing scarves, mittens, and toques, and hiking my preferred trails, makes the fall months of September and October two of my favourites, and has me longing for them in the humid months of July and August.

Fall happens to be one of my most active seasons, where I venture north and east of Sault Ste. Marie to explore the Algoma region.  Free from the rising temperatures of the summer days and the mosquito season, I can be found in the backwoods of the Superior north shore, or with my feet buried in the sand and a book in my hands at one of my favourite secret beaches.  While fall continues to be a popular tourist season in the Algoma area due to peoples’ interest in chasing the changing colours on our proud Maple trees, the hiking trails and beaches fall secluded, and give way to time to reflect and be alone with nature.

Every year, I make it a habit to venture along one of my favourite hiking trails on Highway 17.  This year, I decided to take the trek earlier, wanting to enjoy the luscious greenery that encompasses the forest floor, and enjoy the warm summer breeze from great heights. Just north of Pancake Bay Provincial Park lays an easy six-kilometre trail which boasts a scenic lookout over mighty Lake Superior, the white sands of Pancake Bay, and the graveyard of the Great Lakes, where the historicEdmund Fitzgerald met her demise on 10 November 1975.  I always try to venture up the highway during the final week of September, usually when the colours on the deciduous trees have reached their optimal peak, showing off vibrant colours of yellow, red, and orange, just before they begin to turn brown and make their descent to the forest floor.  With the close companion of a friend, and my favourite spaniel at my feet, a 45-minute drive north of Sault Ste. Marie places us hikers at the Ontario Park entrance, and another two-minute jaunt up the highway takes us to the trail head of the Lookout Trail.  Located on the right-hand side of Highway 17 when heading northward, the trail is marked by a green sign which reads “Lookout Trail”.

Pancake Bay Lookout Trail, photo credit Meaghan Kent

Pancake Bay Lookout Trail, photo credit Meaghan Kent

A relatively simple trail, which takes less than two hours in its entirety, it is highlighted by the occasional freshwater spring and rock face. It has few inclines, making the trek a relaxing and leisurely stroll through a heavily-ferned forest.  A hidden gem, few people know of the route, making the option of sighting nature’s majestic creatures in their element a definite possibility.  Having seen many deer, birds, and the occasional black bear roam the trail and forage for food, including wild berries and insects, the hike promises remarkable sites.  Perhaps even more remarkable than the wildlife that makes the trail their home, are the breathtaking views which mark the path, three kilometres in.

After climbing metal and wooden stairs to reach the worn platforms which dot the top of a cliffed mountain, the lookout is always worth the hike – no matter the season and the weather.  To the left stretches the Boreal forest for as far as I can see, and continues onto the right.  In front, down below, lies the Trans Canada Highway, and a body of freshwater encompasses the horizon. In the fall months, the trees adorn their fall colours, appearing as a sea of bright hues jarring out of the Canadian Shield, stopping abruptly for the pure white sand which meets the cool, blue waters. The Lookout Trail truly is the perfect fall hike.

Pancake Bay, photography by Meaghan Kent

Pancake Bay, photography by Meaghan Kent

It is in these moments of taking in the amazing panoramic views – which never cease to amaze me, despite having hiked the trail upwards of 10 times – I am always reminded of my studies in History, and how much has taken place in this region, which is now on display before me.  As already mentioned, in 1975, the Edmund Fitzgerald along with her unfortunate crew, were rendered helpless to a November gale-force storm, sinking her remnants to the Superior floor, and forever entrenching her and mighty Lake Superior’s legacy. Her grave site lay in the distance before me, miles and miles off shore near the Township of Whitefish, Michigan. With binoculars, I can spot the lighthouse at Whitefish.

Pancake Bay, photo credit: Meaghan Kent

Pancake Bay, photo credit: Meaghan Kent

But perhaps even more remarkable, and most often forgotten about, were the brave souls of the French Canadians, the Voyageurs, who paddled the open waters in birch bark canoes with no protection from such storms and forces, which destroyed the likes of the Edmund Fitzgerald.  In their 36-foot handmade canoes, the Voyageurs would make the trek back from remote trading posts in Northwestern Ontario, like those in Thunder Bay, back through to Sault Ste. Marie.  Having made the treacherous voyage across the north shore, through tumultuous areas like Old Woman Bay, where wide open Superior gusts in all of her glory, the Voyageurs were treated to the calmer, placid waters of sheltered Superior, including Pancake Bay and Batchewana Bay.  Plus, only being a mere 75 kilometres from Sault Ste. Marie, a locale where they could replenish much needed supplies, legends state that the Voyageurs would feast at the sandy shores on the remainder of their food, which included flour.  Using their flour, they would marvel in a feast of pancakes and then continue their trek – hence the name Pancake Bay.

For the Voyageurs, Pancake Bay was a place of celebration, having endured and survived yet another dangerous journey across open waters.  For myself, the hike at Pancake Bay is also one of celebration.  I am reminded of how lucky I am to live in an area of such grandiose and untainted beauty; how fortunate I am to not have a skyline jarred by skyscrapers; how wonderful it is to be able to breathe the fresh air made clean by the millions of trees that surround me; and how precious the feeling of the warm breeze made cool by the lake air truly is.

After marveling in the glory of the scenery and the spectacular views, we descend back down the stairs, and return on the same trail originally taken.  Upon returning to the vehicle, like the Voyageurs, we are treated to a celebration, a quick stop at either the Agawa Indian Crafts and Canadian Carver or the Voyageurs Lodge and Cookhouse, where we enjoy a delicious treat before returning back to our busy lives in the city.

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