A Walk in the Park

Two friends discover one of Northern Ontario's best hikes on a snowy October morning. Read on to follow their adventures.

When it comes to the best hiking in Northern Ontario, Lake Superior Provincial Park is at the top of the list. And within the park, the Orphan Lake Trail is the top-rated, must-do trail. So when Wawa adventurer and outdoor author Sandi Lowe invited me to hike the famous trail with her, there was only one possible answer—I'm in.

Lortz Orphan Lake 1

Because late October in the Algoma region is always unpredictable, the morning of the hike greets us with a blanket of fresh snow. The hike plan still stands, but we procrastinate longer than needed over coffee and a roaring fire at Rock Island Lodge as the temperature slowly climbs, hypnotized by the steady drip of meltwater coming off the roof.

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Due to the time of year and the winter wonderland conditions, not surprisingly, we have the trailhead to ourselves, and the possibility of seeing anyone else today is slim to none. We set off into the forest with mud beneath our feet and dripping snow above. Let the adventure begin.

Where is the Orphan Lake Trail Located? 

The trail is located in Lake Superior Provincial Park, approximately 164 km north of Sault Ste. Marie, about a 2-hour drive. The 8 km (5 miles) looped hiking trail is rated as moderate in difficulty and promises multiple interest points from panoramic views, a pebble beach, rushing rivers, and waterfalls. Allow 2.5 to 4 hours to complete, because time keeps ticking when you're having fun, and there is much fun to be had.

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What Should You Wear When Hiking Orphan Lake Trail?

Sturdy boots, layers, and a waterproof coat are always good ideas, particularly on the last day of October and what appears to be the first day of winter as you traverse the slippery roots and rocks of the rugged Superior landscape. The trail makes its way upwards through the sugar maples and yellow birches well past their fall colour best. The first lookout we reach presents a clifftop view of the trail namesake, Orphan Lake.

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Whatever the Season, Amazing Views Await Hikers on the Trail

Next, an out-and-back deviation involves a challenging climb but rewards with a spectacular panoramic display of Lake Superior and the pebble beach shoreline below. The mouth of the Baldhead River can be seen to the right, straight ahead, you can see the Leech and the Lizard Islands, and to the left, the north side of the  Baldhead Mountain. What a view.

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From the lookout, the trail makes its way downwards 100 vertical metres through old-growth cedars and onto the pebble beach we saw from above. Hard to describe the feeling emerging from the tunnel of trees onto the expanse of beach and water, but it's the feeling that you know will have you coming back. There is no rush—we linger and absorb the silence, the scope of the land, water, and solitude that encompass us.

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We make our way along the beach to the Baldhead River as it spills into the lake. The sound of pebbles grinding beneath our boots as we walk is an irritating contrast to the silence we enjoyed during our break.

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Back into the forest, we go. The trail gradually climbs as it follows the river. We can hear the sound of rushing water long before seeing the source: the Baldhead River Falls, another wow moment for many today. We hop from rock to rock with agility not worthy of our age to get the best vantage point. A flat ledge above the cascade offers an ideal spot for lunch and another break.

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The trail continues steeply up to Orphan Lake and along the base of some high cliffs. Then it turns northeast through a forested area and back to the parking lot. Along the way, one more view of Orphan Lake, this time from the water's edge.

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Lake Superior and the provincial park that shares the same name is a well-deserved adventure-worthy northern Ontario destination, and the Orphan Lake Trail is an excellent example of why. Nicely balanced between the wow factor and effort, the trail leaves you invigorated and wishing for more, just as a memorable adventure should.

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Plan Your Trip to Orphan Lake Trail Now

The Orphan Lake Trail is one of a few trail systems in Lake Superior Provincial Park that require you to have a permit to park and hike. You can purchase a daily vehicle permit right at the trailhead by filling in the envelope and depositing it in their self-registration box or at the Visitor Centre. You must display your permit on your vehicle dashboard.

For more info on visiting Lake Superior Provincial Park visit us here.

For more info on hiking the Orphan Lake Trail visit us here

About Martin Lortz

Martin Lortz is a freelance photographer/writer specializing in the outdoor lifestyle. Whether he is covering adventure motorcycling, kayak fishing or family oriented outdoor pursuits, his passion for capturing the beauty of nature and the people that partake in it, is evident in his work. His photos and articles have appeared in magazines such as Ski Canada, Explore, Bike, Mountain Life, Couloir, Kayak Angler and Family Camping, as well as in calendars, catalogs and brochures.

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