Lake Superior Fall Colours

Joel Smith and Sharon Person
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Editor’s Note: Joel Smith and Sharon Person are members of LTV’s sponsored content team, The Leisure Explorers. Do you own a Leisure Travel Van and enjoy writing? Learn more about joining the team.

We live in Ontario and have family in Manitoba, so we have driven the Trans Canada Highway around Lake Superior many times and absolutely love the drive. But, if you can time things properly for peak of fall colours, it is truly spectacular. We left Winnipeg in the third week of September and travelled to Rushing River Provincial Park in Ontario where we got our first views of the changing leaves. After dinner, we did a walk around the campground to check things out. This was our first time staying at this park during this season (they normally close earlier).

Dogtooth Lake in Rushing River Provincial Park
Rushing River campsite

The following day we decided to camp at Sioux Narrows Provincial Park which wasn’t very far away, so we spent the morning doing all the hiking trails in Rushing River (6 kms for the Beaver Pond and Granite Knoll trails, 4 kms for the Pine Ridge and Lower Rapids trails). Here are a few fun facts about the Granite Knoll trail:

  • The granite knoll is an example of a dry berry batholith, which is a 2.6-billion-year-old rock formation that is very common in the Lake of the Woods area.
  • The scratches in the granite show the direction of the glacial advance.
  • Rushing water polished the granite, making the smooth rounded hills.
  • In this area they have found pottery, flint chips, a copper arrowhead, a musket ball, and small trade beads which help tell the story of the aboriginal people meeting with the European explorers or traders.
  • On the granite knoll, we saw lichen and mosses as they are adapted to living on the harsh nutrient poor rock.

It was an excellent day for the hikes!

Beaver Pond Trail
Granite Knoll Trail

Lower Rapids Trail

We decided to continue south on Highway 71, so that we could visit two more provincial parks we hadn’t yet stayed at;  Sioux Narrows (46 kms from Rushing River) and Caliper Lake (56 kms from Sioux Narrows). The great thing about having parks this close together is that you can stay just one night at each and still have ample time to do some hiking. In Sioux Narrows, we explored the Viewpoint Trail north of the beach area. The following day, on the way to Caliper Lake we stopped and did the Boreal Trail near Nestor falls. This trail was listed as moderate difficulty in the Alltrails app, as it covered 7 kms and has an elevation of 181 m. There were some muddy, root covered and rocky sections, so we were glad we had brought our poles along for this hike. Since our nighttime temperatures were mild, we took a non-electric site at Caliper Lake overlooking the lake. It’s a great spot to enjoy a glass of wine and relax after the challenging hike that day. In the Ontario Provincial Parks, oftentimes the nonelectric sites have the prettier views, so it’s always worth asking the ranger what their favourite site is when you check in! 😉

Sioux Narrows Viewpoint Trail
Boreal Trail near Nestor Falls
Caliper Lake campsite

Boreal Trail
Fall colours

Our route continued south on Highway 71, until we reached Highway 11 where we started heading east. Our next stop was Quetico Provincial Park which was a 277 km journey. The nice thing about travelling at this time of year is that the campgrounds are typically not very full, so you can get the best site available and even stay extra nights (like we did at Quetico) to do the hiking trails. We hiked just over 16 kms in Quetico covering French River Portage and Falls Trails, Camp 111, Baptist Creek, and Teaching Trail. The French River Portage was one of the most difficult passages, up until the mid 1800’s, for settlers that were heading west, then improvements were done to the route. The elevation differential from where the French River dropped over the falls and down to the subsequent rivers and lakes was quite significant. We saw a few people on the French River trails but no one was on the other trails we completed. Quetico was a forest preserve from 1909 to 1971 when it became a Wilderness Class Provincial Park.

Fall colours along Highway 11
Toasting our campsite in Quetico
Quetico Trail Map

Reflections on the Beaver Pond
Forest floor

French River Falls

The day we left Quetico, we were travelling 340 kms to Rainbow Falls Provincial Park near Rossport. This campground is very small, so it’s best to reserve a campsite in advance. We selected a nonelectric site right by Lake Superior. Along the drive, we were just blown away by the fall colours with the various shades of yellow and orange. As you get further south, the colours changed towards the red spectrum.

We then took a 22 km (return) side trip to Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park. This Park doesn’t have camping, but the short hike to the canyon is well worth the stop – especially at this time of year. The fall colours were absolutely spectacular and we even got a few glimpses of sunshine peaking through the clouds.

There are two theories about how Ouimet Canyon was formed. It is believed that molten magma created a layer under the surface rocks and then cooled. The first theory says that during the last glacial period, the weight of the ice caused the hardened magma (diabase) to slip 20 to 40 metres east thereby forming the narrow canyon with straight sides. The second theory says that the glacial meltwaters went down a crack and tunnelled through the softer rock below, which eventually collapsed the diabase forming the canyon. Either way, the current canyon walls have vertical joints, so erosion eventually severs off large rocks which build up in the bottom of the canyon. I think you will find these photos breathtaking and you will probably want to add Ouimet Canyon to your travel bucket list. The canyon is beautiful anytime of year, but the fall colours add a whole other layer to the experience. We arrived at Rainbow Falls in time to have dinner and then enjoy a beautiful sunset from our campsite on Lake Superior.

View from Terry Fox Memorial
Ouimet Canyon

Ouimet Canyon from the second viewing platform
Drive from Ouimet Canyon
Fall colours everywhere
Sunset on Lake Superior

We got an early start the next day, as it would be a 432 km day to go from Rainbow Falls to Pancake Bay Provincial Park. This is our favourite section of this drive as it passes through Lake Superior Provincial Park. We had stops at Aguasabon Falls & Gorge, White River to see Winnie the Pooh, and the Old Woman Bay picnic area. The nighttime temperatures were starting to get cooler, so we had selected an electric site at Pancake Bay to run our small plug-in heater.  We’ve found that in many of the Ontario Provincial Parks, the electric post can be a long way away as it’s usually shared among sites.  We have a 25’ 30-amp cord and also a 50’ 30-amp extension cord.  The Park does have some extension cords they will loan you, but they aren’t 30 amp. The beach is very pretty in this park, so we took a walk after dinner.

Aquasabon Falls and Gorge
Winnie the Pooh in White River
Old Woman Bay on Lake Superior
Lake Superior Provincial Park
Beach in Pancake Bay Provincial Park

Our last section of this trip was from Pancake Bay to Chutes Provincial Park, which was 285 kms. Our first stop was at Chippewa Falls and I have included a picture of the falls when we went out to Winnipeg and another one from the way back, so you can see the dramatic difference with the fall colours. In this area they have an easel tour where you can go to the some of the locations that the famous Group of Seven painters did their work (Group of Seven Tour) and Chippewa Falls is one of those locations. Once we arrived in Chutes Provincial Park, we did a couple of hiking trails to see the lower and upper falls.

Near Chippewa Falls
Chippewa Falls on our way to Winnipeg
Chippewa Falls on our return trip!
Example Group of Seven artwork done at Chippewa Falls
Chutes Provincial Park Lower Falls
Chutes Upper Falls

I have included a map of this journey so you will have a better sense of the area we travelled. I would highly recommend this journey at any time but if you can time the trip to see the spectacular fall colours that adds a whole other level of enjoyment. You can certainly see why the Group of Seven Artists loved to paint in this area, especially in the fall.

Joel Smith and Sharon Person

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