Places we've parked for the night:
23,24 - Michipicoten Bay
25 - Nipigon
26 - Terry Fox Memorial, Thunder Bay
27 - Downtown Thunder Bay
28,29 - Clearwater Bay, Lake of the Woods
Points of Interest
Alona, Agawa, and Old Woman Bay Lookouts: Braden and I own a plethora of Canadian Geographic Magazines, and in one we found a handy and beautifully written article on Lake superior. The author suggested trips to three outlooks in particular; the Alona, Agawa, and Old Woman Bay Outlooks between Sault Ste. Marie and Wawa. From these vantage points, cliffs and rocky outcrops jutted out into the lake while wild, lush forests opened onto endless stretches of icy water. Huge rocky islands soared out of the water far into the depths of the inland ocean. We gratefully thank Canadian Geographic for their recommendations, and highly suggest stopping off at at least one of these lookouts (Old Woman Bay in particular) if you happen to be cruising the scenic shores of Lake Superior.
Chippewa Falls: Our stop at Chippewa Falls was completely incidental. I was in dire need of a bathroom break, and a little pull off on the side of the TransCanada offered picnic tables and clean bathrooms. A short distance from the loos was a plaque mounted on a large piece of granite, indicating that we had reached the halfway point on the TransCanada Highway. We discovered that before the completion of the highway in this area there was only a much rougher, more northerly passage from Nipigon to Hearst. Four men in the 1960s walked from Wawa to the Sault to advocate the need for a road connecting the communities dotted along Lake Superior. Prior to the building of this stretch of road, goods and people were transported by ferry.
Beside this an obvious path led into the woods, and since it was such a beautiful day, we decided to go for an impromptu hike. The path opened up to a river, with large boulders of granite jutting up out of the water, perfect for rock hopping. The falls were twenty to thirty feet high and were wide and cascading, rushing with white water and creating a strong current in the water beneath our feet. From the rocks we had a great view of the falls to the north, and the TransCanada to the south.
La Luna Cafe: During our stay in Nipigon, we decided that we were in desperate need to do laundry. We found an old Laundromat just around the corner from the main street, but because the library wasn't open, we needed to find a nearby spot where we could plug in and work on our blogs and Instagram account. LaLuna Cafe fit the bill perfectly. We sipped our small batch roasted coffee in the warm, welcoming atmosphere of this tiny cafe, resisting the urge to buy all of the delicious looking baked goods behind the glass counter. After HOURS of waiting for our laundry to dry (we discovered that the pilot light - yes, pilot light - of our dryer had gone out, no wonder all the good ones had been taken) the friendly proprietor Dan and his new baby come over to say hello; he could tell we weren't from around the area, and was probably wondering what the hell we were doing hogging his WiFi for upwards of FOUR hours. He was extremely friendly, and as we chatted and inquired about fun things to do in the area, he let us in on a little secret; a old trestle bridge abandoned by CN. He drew us up a rough map on two tattered pieces of paper and insisted that if we do anything, we check out the train bridge. La Luna was a bumping little cafe, visited by tourists and locals alike while we were there. Local art was displayed on the walls, which reminded me fondly of my old gig at The Atomic Rooster in Ottawa, and the cafe hosted open mic nights, live music, board game nights and craft workshops. This is an awesome little spot; we're really glad we got to check it out. Sayonara Starbucks!
Train Bridge: This could be the highlight of the trip so far. Upon recommendation from La Luna's Dan, we drove west from Nipigon toward Sleeping Giant Provincial Park to find this rumoured 1km long abandoned train bridge. We parked in an empty golf course, found the tracks and walked west towards what we hoped was the bridge. We were greeted with a CN "No Trespassing: Violators Will Be Prosecuted" sign hung on a fifteen foot high chain link fence. The fence had already been cut open with what we can only assume were wire cutters so we shimmied through and began walking along the railway ties. The rails continued on away from us into the distance for what seemed like forever. We were in a scene out of a movie. As we looked down between the ties, which were spaced roughly at six inch intervals, we noted that the tips of the tall lodge pole pines were easily fifty feet or more below us. The further we ventured out onto the bridge the higher we got as the hills fell away from us below. Lake Superior and Sleeping Giant Provincial Park looked brilliant to the South as we walked out over a small house below and cars zoomed by on the Trans-Canada highway to the north. We were scared and exhilarated! No tourists, no admission, what a place!
Terry Fox Memorial: This amazing park located at the top of a cliff off the highway offered exceptional free WiFi and electrical plugs for boiling our coffee water in the morning. Despite our reluctance to stay (we were worried about being asked to leave this national landmark in the middle of the night) the Terry Fox Memorial turned out to be a hot spot for van dwellers and RV travellers alike. The park featured beautiful views across the bay overlooking the Sleeping Giant, huge, rocky islands, and of course, the stunning lights of Thunder Bay. The park itself was home to well manicured lawns, a beautiful granite monument to Terence Stanley Fox embedded with local amethyst around the base, and lush green space abundant with picnic tables, perfect for hosting our own private BBQ dinner. Beautiful walkways and patio stones made for an impressive viewing area of the bay. We were really happy we stayed here and encourage y'all to check it out if you're in the area!
Tourism Nipigon!: Braden and I first met Dan Bevilacqua, executive director of Nipigon Destination Marketing Organization and President of Top of Lake Superior Chamber of Commerce at La Luna Cafe where he was having lunch with is colleagues. Since we have made it a habit to ask the locals what they should see and do in their neck of the woods, we decided (after listening in on their business lunch) that these fine folks would be able to hook us up with some cool excursions. As it turned out, they could do even better than that. On top of giving us some cool suggestions for things to do in the area - like checking out Ouimet Canyon and the awesome zip lining they have there, or venturing into the amethyst mines on our way to Thunder Bay - they also offered to help promote our adventure by linking us on their website and connecting with us on Instagram to help develop our following! We were so flattered, and excited at the opportunity! Thanks guys, stay tuned.
Husky the Musky: We stopped by because Braden's mom remembered Kenora fondly from her summers spent at Clearwater Bay, on Lake of the Woods. She requested that we take a selfie next to Husky, and here it is! Kenora was a beautiful town, surprisingly large and bustling with a stunning waterfront. Unfortunately, when we backtracked to have a better look at the town (and its brew pub) the pouring rain wrecked our plans. Nonetheless, we were glad we stopped by.
Favourite Spots to Lay our Heads:
Lyndsay's - Clearwater Bay! - This one is a given. As beautiful as the Lake Superior leg of our trip was, it rained heavily almost every day. For us, this meant long hours driving, not nearly as many stops to check out the scenery or to go for a hike, and once arriving at our destination, hanging out inside the van waiting for the rain to stop. No surprise, then, that our stay at Clearwater Bay was my favourite along this stretch. We met Braden's lovely extended family at their cottage in Clearwater Bay on Lake of the Woods. They welcomed us with open arms, despite never having met us. We were total strangers, and as it turned out they were as nervous to meet us as we were to meet them. Our fears were unfounded. The moment we walked in the door, Cathy and Bob made us feel like we were at home. Breakfasts were five star, coffee was hot and plentiful, and showers were high pressure. We were blessed with clear skies and good weather for our brief stay, which meant that we had a clear view of their post-Canada Day fireworks celebration over the bay - over an hour long, and far surpassing the display at Thunder Bay - and prime weather for our speed boat excursion, courtesy of Bob, Braden's second cousin-in-law. We cruised the maze like lake in an old 1970s speed boat, gawking at the million dollar cottages that looked like inviting resorts on the high cliff faces rising above the lake. Cathy and Bob's daughter Jen was quiet at first, but very charming and very funny; a pleasure to chat with. On our last day with them, Braden, Jen and I stopped in Kenora for some DQ and to do the tourist thing, but it ended up pouring on us; our cue to get the hell outta dodge. I am so grateful for the generosity of Cathy Muzeen and Bob Betner and their lovely daughter, Jen. Our stay with them will be forever remembered fondly and with great affection. THANKS TO YOU CATHY, BOB, AND JEN!
Braden's - Michipicoten Government Dock Beach - A beach of tiny little pebbles! There was no sand mess, no blowing sand. The pebbles were great to walk on as well. At the time I felt like this was my preferred format for beaches. The glorious pebbles beach was not all that this amazing hidden gem had to offer. Tucked away at the end of a long gravel road, it felt like we were relaxing on our very own private beach along with the ravens, loons, bald eagles and late night fox. The water was pristine as it stretched west towards the coastal peninsulas and coves of Lake Superior, hills stretched on behind in decreasing shades of blue grey.
It turns out this beach was once a life line for the local community. Before a highway was built around the north shore of Lake Superior, supply boats made regular trips along the coast to bring goods and visitors; one of these stops was at this very beach. Massive wooden footings for the dock still remain though the decking has vanished. A subtle reminder of what once was. It feels remote now, surrounded by thick forest and howling coyotes. I could not imagine how remote it felt when the only way in or out was a slow moving ferry.
Coolest Vandweller: We pulled into Nipigon after a long day of driving through heavy rains and a hard drive across the rugged northern shore of Lake Superior. Typically we have found refuge in marinas and lake side parks to sleep for the night. When we pulled into Nipigon we were surprised to see our van's distant cousin. Another GMC Savanna, this one with a pop up roof! I felt the connection and backed into our fully serviced parking spot right next to it with the hopes of snapping a few nice pics and seeing what the owners had to say about their ride. It turns out it was a Safari Condo, a Quebec company that converts vehicles into small campers with many features and luxuries we have only dreamed about. The owners were a couplefrom Quebec who had just done the long and arduous drive across Northern Ontario through exotic sounding places as Kapuskasing, Hearst, Opasatika and Moonbeam. Not much of a drive they said, but their van sure was epic. It has since become a source of inspiration for our ever changing and (hopefully) ever improving van design.
Nicest Drive: Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay: A quick visit to the YMCA in Sault Saint Marie after our night stop in Bruce Mines and we were finally driving along the rugged shores of Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area and the world's third largest by volume to Russia's Lake Biakal and Africa's Tanganyika. One of the nicest drives Canada has to offer east of the Rocky Mountains. The ancient granite of the area's Canadian shield can be seen on the North Shore today, shooting out of the frigid waters and creating amazing grey and pink cliffs. The further north we drove, the wilder the surroundings became. Massive White Pine, Fir and Spruce trees clung to the rocky surface and replaced the cedars that were dominant along Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. Jagged cliffs soared out of Lake Superior with a road stuck to their back; hot pavement cut through endless forest; a snake-like highway rising and falling along the water's edge offering great views of the lake to the west and the forest to the east. As we approached Thunder Bay the road began to climb into the sky before falling back down into rocky canyons carved out by the still roaring rivers. We were driving along what was once a great mountain range, that would have rivaled today's Rocky Mountains but have since been eroded to the nub. Massive islands and the Sleeping Giant appeared off shore as we puttered west near the Terrance Stanley Fox memorial. At times it felt like we were driving through the Coqiuhalla Pass in British Columbia, at others it seemed like we were on Nova Scotia's Cabot Trail or the Gaspe Peninsula. What a drive!