8 Things to Add to Your Bucket List if You Love Summer
Summer can be overwhelming. With so many options—hiking, paddling, cycling, swimming, eating, camping, the list goes on and on—and so precious little time, it can be difficult to decide where to start. Our humble advice: begin with this list of easy, diverse, and memorable activities recommended by the folks who live here year-round.
1. Fill a Basket (or more!) with Berries
In Northern Ontario, berry-picking season runs from early summer to early autumn, depending on local climate and berry type. For luscious, mouth-watering strawberries, head to Sault Ste. Marie or Thunder Bay. In the Soo, Thomson Strawberry Farm’s season runs from late June through end of September, with 15 acres of the pick-your-own favourite as well as delicious homemade jams, baking and strawberry lemonade.
Belluz Farms, located in Slate River just southwest of Thunder Bay, opens their fields of the juicy red berries to “U-pickers” the first or second week of July through to the end of the month. The farm also grows pick-your-own raspberries (from late July to end of August) and Saskatoon berries (mid-to-late July), and sells a huge variety of field- and greenhouse-grown veggies.
Wild blueberry lovers should head to the Municipality of Wawa in late July through August. Algoma Highlands Wild Blueberry Farm grows 640 acres of these tasty little treats and sells fresh berries, syrup, sauces, and jams. Or forage like a local along the Voyageur Hiking Trail (find the best berries under the power lines near Silver Falls) and the sandy backroads north of town (ask around for directions). Starting August long weekend and lasting 10 days, the Sioux Lookout Blueberry Festival brings blueberry fever to town with over 100 events, including a biggest berry contest (prize is free ice cream!).
2. Go Fly a Kite
Spooling out line and watching your kite’s colourful wings soar into the cerulean blue sky is a cherished summer tradition. All you need is a breeze, and Lake Supeior is usually happy to oblige. Catch gentle zephyrs in June and early July, with the winds becoming gustier in August. With the right wind direction, nearly any beach will do, but one of the finest is the 3-km-long swath of sand at Pancake Bay Provincial Park, just an hour north of Sault Ste. Marie. For an even wilder locale, park along Highway 17 and walk down to the eponymous beach at the mouth of the Sand River in Lake Superior Provincial Park. Kiters appreciate the flat, wide-open sands, while local swimmers love the shallow waters and offshore islet known as “Bathtub Rock.”
3. Enjoy a Campfire Cookout
Nothing celebrates summer evenings in Northern Ontario quite like a beach-side bonfire with family or friends. Area parks and campgrounds make it easy to enjoy a low-impact blaze with all the amenities of a backyard barbeque.
Park your RV or pitch your tent in a beachfront campsite at Pancake Bay Provincial Park, Lake Superior Provincial Park’s Agawa Bay campground, Neys Provincial Park, or Rainbow Falls Provincial Park’s Rossport campground. All have grill-equipped fire pits that are perfect for making s’mores, baking bannock, roasting weinies, or cooking up something a bit more gourmet.
4. Hike to a Waterfall Swimming Hole
You don’t have to travel to Costa Rica or Maui to experience secret swimming holes and sublime cascades—the abrupt, rocky topography around Lake Superior creates many of these hidden gems right here in Ontario. A local favourite are the pools and falls along the Baldhead River in Lake Superior Provincial Park, accessed by hiking the scenic Orphan Lake Trail from Highway 17. Along with stunning lookouts over both Lake Superior and Orphan Lake, as well as a lovely pebble beach at the river mouth, this moderately strenuous 8-km loop visits two cascading waterfalls that are perfect for a refreshing dip on a hot summer day. When the water level is low, hikers can scramble upstream on the falls’ slippery bedrock to find more chutes and pools not visible from the trail.
5. Treat Yourself at a Trading Post
Along the Trans-Canada Highway throughout Northern Ontario, roadside “trading posts” are a mixture of old-timey general store, souvenir shop, and regional artisan and crafts market. Most offer a wide range of wares, ranging from tacky to tasteful and imported to authentic. The best feature these staples: handicrafts from local and First Nations artists; traditional or unusual locally produced foods; silly, outdoors-themed T-shirts; and generously portioned ice cream by the scoop.
Get all of the above—and snap your photo with Henrietta the moose and the original Wawa goose out front—at Young’s General Store, an institution in Wawa since 1971. For an enormous selection of handmade goods, don’t miss a stop at the Canadian Carver & Agawa Crafts in Pancake Bay. With founders Gerry and June Demers announcing their retirement last spring after nearly 50 years in business, the future of this highway fixture is uncertain. Visit this summer while the Demers are hosting their retirement sale.
6. Paddle a Voyageur Canoe
When it comes to having an authentic and spectacularly scenic northern summer experience, few activities can compare with paddling a replica voyageur canoe. The workhorse of the Montreal fur trade—a vital contributor to the westward expansion of Canada during the 18th and 19th centuries—these freight canoes measured up to 36 feet long and were manned by 8–14 voyageurs. Renowned for their stamina and speed, the paddlers of these canots de maître travelled out-and-back between Montreal and Grand Portage every summer, carrying trade goods westward and returning east with up to four tonnes of furs. Their route followed the mercurial Lake Superior coast, then continued along the North Channel, French River, Lake Nipissing, Mattawa, Ottawa, and finally St. Lawrence rivers.
Today, paddlers can experience Lake Superior like a voyageur in one of these mighty canoes. For the trip of a lifetime, join Naturally Superior Adventures’ 10-day guided excursion along the Pukaskwa coast, or their five-day journey amid the islands of the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area. For an easy excursion focusing on interpretation and conservation, take a one-and-a-half- or three-hour tour with the Lake Superior Watershed Conservancy in downtown Sault Ste. Marie, Whitefish Bay, or Batchewana Bay.
7. Play in the Waves
Experienced local kayakers and standup paddleboarders don’t get off the water when Lake Superior’s infamous wind and waves kick up (usually late summer through fall)—they head to area beaches where spilling waves create ideal surf breaks. Shallow, sandy shores are the safest and most suitable, offering long rides with boat- and board-friendly surf launches and landings. Sandy Beach is a local favourite in the Michipicoten Bay area near Wawa. Along with great surf when the wind is blowing southwest, this public beach also has lovingly restored native dune vegetation (stick to the boardwalk and established trails), pavillion and washroom facilities, and jaw-dropping Lake Superior vistas.
8. Watch a Superior Sunset (or sunrise)
Celebrate the finale of up to 16 hours of summer daylight every evening with front-row seats to a spectacular Lake Superior sunset. On the North Shore, sunset from mid-June through early July is after 10 p.m., with twilight lasting until almost midnight. Ontario’s westerly facing coastline is naturally perfect for sunset viewing, but early risers can also catch the sunrise (between 5:30 and 7 am from June through August) in a few scenic spots.
To watch the sun’s fiery red ball, descend right into (or emerge from) the lake’s watery horizon, choose a beach or lookout facing northwest (northeast for sunrises).