In late June we decided to check out Neys Provincial Park. I had been wanting to check out the Pic Island Overlook for the past couple of years and I also wanted to check out the trails in the park for potential future clients.
Neys Provincial Park is about 30km west of Marathon along Hwy17. It is a beautiful place nestled along the shores of Lake Superior with sand beaches that are littered with driftwood. It has sand dunes and a red pine plantation that has to be 50 or so years old. There was an old, Second World War POW camp located here for which the park has produced an interpretive brouchure. The campsites are well located close to the beach and clean. Access to water is plentiful. There is only one comfort station which could have used some maintenance when we were there but there are several outhouses. You can rent canoes or paddle your own boat either on the lake or on the Little Pic River and of course you can hike.
There are 6 official hiking trails within the park. We only hiked the Tower trek(10.5km), Under the Volcano (1km) and the Point (1.5km) trails as a single hike one day. In addition to these there are the Dune Trail (2.5km), Lookout Trail (2.5km) and the Coastal Trail (19km). We started our trek from the parking area just outside the park entrance. The trail actually starts down the hydro access road between the railroad and the park. There is a small sign on a gate indicating the Pic Island Overlook trail.
This trail follows the access road almost the entire way up the mountain to the overlook. It is kind of boring as you can imagine, fortunately it is relatively easy and quick. The 4.5 km trek took us just over an hour. The overlook is well worth the trip with its large seating structure and its "Moment of Algoma" interpretive sign. By far, the best part is the view of Pic Island and Lake Superior. This area is where Lawren Harris (Group of Seven) painted his famous Pic Island painting. Frank Carmichael and Arthur Lismer also painted this landscape.
,From the outlook we decided to take the Kopa Cove Trail back down to the coast where it meets the Under the Volcano Trail. What we did not know (despite having spoken to park staff about our plans) is that this trail is not maintained very well. It could be a great trail with many lookouts along the way but too many trees have fallen onto the trail making the hike extra difficult. This 2.6 km downhill track took us about 2 hours. It was only when we reached the Under the Volcano trail did the trails show signs of recent maintenance and the footing was back to being solid.
The Under the Volcano trail is an Interpretive trail highlighting the geology, glacial and volcanic history of the area. This trail is connected to the main camping areas and Prisoners Cove by the Point Trail. Both these trails run parallel to the coastline often spitting you out onto beaches and rock lands on the shores.
The Pic Island Overlook is well worth going to and if the park staff do end up cleaning the Kopa Cove Trail, I think this would be a great destination trail. If you are in the area or driving through, stay an extra day to check out this wonderful tribute to the Group of Seven and to see all the other interesting heritage the park has to offer. The new Lake Superior Water Trail also follows the coast line along here, wouldn't it be nice if the paddlers could hike up to the lookout?
Voyageur Trail Association and other trail groups
Recently, I met someone new to using trails in the north who explained to me the confusion they felt when crossing a trail with multiple signage identifying it as the Voyageur Trail, the Trans Canada Trail, and even the National Hiking Trail. Was this not the local hiking trail, how many trails are out there and did they inadvertently move on to another trail? After a while they realized they were all the same trail.
The trail system in the north is limited to the trails that can be maintained. Many trails associations aim to link trails with a common purpose to provide a more visible experience. The Trans Canada Trail is an association that promotes a multiuse trail, The Great Trail, that connects Canada from coast to coast to coast. This trail is made up of local trails that are developed by other groups such as the Voyageur Trail Association (VTA). The National Hiking Trail aims to connect wilderness hiking trails across Canada.
The VTA is the association that supports the development, maintenance and promotion of a hiking trail along the northern coasts of Lake Huron and Lake Superior from Sudbury to Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay in Ontario. This trail system is made up of local trails maintained by local clubs. Currently, there are four active clubs, Nor’westers, Casque Iles, Saulteaux, and Coureur des Bois, who maintain the 600+km of developed trail. The trail itself is separated into 18 sections, not all of which are active nor have trail. For instance, the section from Sudbury to Elliot Lake does not have trails designated as Voyageur Trail.
In addition, trails will also go through parks, conservation areas and private lands, as well as crown land. Many of these organizations will impose their own naming or blazing conventions, causing further confusion to the mix.
When hiking along the Voyageur Trail, it is important to understand how the various organization influence signage. Inform yourself of the blazing conventions of that area that you are hiking. These can be found either on the VTA website or other local sites. Contacts are listed if there are any questions.
As someone who has come to Northern Ontario as an adult, I believe that this unique landscape shapes everything we do here. To begin with is the sheer size of the place. The region is just over 840,000 square kilometres or 310,000 square miles. This is 87 per cent of Ontario’s land mass. To put this in perspective, France and Germany combined are about 900,000 square kilometres.
The Official Road Map of Ontario, which is widely available in Ontario for free, and has Southern Ontario on one side and Northern Ontario on the reverse side. A common mistake is to assume that both are at the same scale. The Northern Ontario side is more than double the scale yet only five per cent of the population, or 740,000, live in this vast area. Population density is 0.9 square kilometres. Don’t forget that the largest freshwater lake in the world (Lake Superior) forms a large portion of Northern Ontario’s southern border.
What does this mean? Most people are located in the five main cities: Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay and Timmins. Outside of these main centres are little towns that can be a hundred kilometres away from the next town. In addition, there are numerous communities that are unincorporated townships. The people who live in these areas don’t have any services that are not run by volunteers. Think volunteer fire services. On the other hand, their taxes are a lot less than their town counterparts.
Infrastructure outside of the main cities and towns is limited to highway corridors. This means that cell service is limited in some areas and nonexistent in others. In addition to the highway corridors, there are thousands of kilometres of roads that need regular maintenance. Damages to roads that are not a high priority often take weeks or even months to repair.
Those of us who live here share this land with a lot of wildlife. Beavers, wolves, eagles, moose and deer are all common. We have had to adjust to living with bears, crows and mice. We don’t leave anything out to attract wildlife. Those of us that feed birds, do so only in the winter.
Weather has a huge impact on us. It can be extremely cold or extremely hot in some areas. In other areas, the lakes moderate the temperatures but can dump a lot of snow. Private contractors are employed to clear the roads quickly, but sometimes it is too much and often main arteries are closed in the winter time.
Most of the area is located on the Canadian Shield, a rocky plateau filled with lakes and forests. This landscape is ideal for the outdoor enthusiast. Whether you enjoy your outdoors from the back of a snow machine or hiking along the beaches and outcrops, there is plenty of space here to do it all. There are opportunities for fishing and hunting, paddling and hiking, skiing and snowshoeing as well as motorized sports in this outdoor playground. Whether you play in the coastal highlands or interior lowlands, there is much to explore.