Sault Ste. Marie: Such Great Heights

The pine we encounter on the flank of Peat Mountain is one of those old-growth monsters that make you feel as if you’ve stepped into a different century, and that a caribou or a dire wolf, maybe even a mastodon, might emerge from its shadows any minute. We can’t see the top of the tree; nor can my girlfriend and I grasp each other’s fingers while reaching around its trunk. We use the dog leashes for a measuring tape (luckily, we’ve brought two dogs) and peg its circumference at around four metres (13 feet).

According to a classic forestry trick for estimating a tree’s age based on the diameter at chest height, that would make this conifer 246 years old. It would have been shooting up out of the thin Superior soil a couple of decades before Upper Canada was established, and it likely topped 18 metres (60 feet) by the time a foundation stone was laid for Fort William.

While trekking the trails of Lake Superior Provincial Park in Wawa, Ont., you’ll find plenty of wonders like this. Massive boulders. Epic beaches. Burls the size of basketballs. But there are also the smaller surprises, like the tiny yellow feather I picked up on Peat Mountain, or the wave-polished pebbles that seem to come in every imaginable colour.

We’ve hiked many notable routes, separately and together. Alyssa, a Newfoundlander, climbed Gros Morne Mountain before I ever met her. When I visited the same national park in the spring of 2017, the peak was blocked by snow, but I managed to navigate other paths to the coast, and to Western Brook Pond, the legendary fjord with its 200-metre (660-foot) cliffs. I’ve scaled Ishpatina Ridge, Ontario’s highest peak, and the Top of the Giant near Thunder Bay, probably the most vertiginous view in the province. A couple of months before this trip, Alyssa and I crested Mount Ararat, a sublime summit (if obscure, compared with its biblical namesake) on the north shore of Lake Huron.

All of these are standouts in their own way, but Lake Superior Park strikes me as, well, superior, if only for the range of its topography and trails — some corkscrewing up steep hills, others skirting waterfalls and rapids, still more hugging the surf-pounded shores. I’ve been here before, and I can’t think of a more beguiling place to lace up my boots.

Read more in re:porter Issue 72, on flights now. To book your flight to Sault Ste. Marie, click here.