Trail of the Month - Below the Cliff Trail May 2022
Authors: Dawn White, guest blogger and Carole Blaquiere Trail Length: 3 kms Hiking Time: 1.5 hours (at a slow pace) Parking: Designated Parking at trailheads on Robertson Lake Road.
This blog series will showcase one trail each month in the spectacular Algoma Highlands. As an ecotourism operator, the best part of the job is exploring new places and sharing these finds with others. We hope you enjoy these posts as we share our adventures and inspire you to get outdoors!
The Below the Cliffs Trail is part of the Robertson Cliffs Trail System north of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Owned and maintained by the Algoma Highlands Conservancy, this premiere trail system has lots to offer in every season. The Below the Cliffs Trail is a relatively easy walk with stunning views in the early spring before the leaves come out. It is a short trail so we included a portion of the Robertson Cliffs loop, part of the Voyageur Trail.
We walked this trail on April 30, and it was in exceptional condition. The snow had melted and the trail was dry for the most part. To access the trailhead, turn right on Old Highway 17 from Hwy 17 North and follow the Blue Ontario Tourism signs to Robertson Cliffs Trailhead. TIP: There are three different parking areas. We met at the third parking lot (main lot by Voyageur Trail Trailhead sign), left one vehicle there and brought the second vehicle back to the first parking area. This allowed us to start the trail from the first parking area and have a vehicle waiting for us at the end.
Trailhead sign across from the first parking area
We began by following the blue blazes and proceeding towards the cliffs. Before long, we encountered a large swampy area where the melted snow has accumulated into a large pool. The beautiful thing about hiking at this time of year is there are NO mosquitos, so you can linger and admire the swampy pool without being eaten alive.
Blue blazes indicating a right turn.
Snowmelt pond at the bottom of the cliffs.
The trail turns to run parallel with Robertson Lake Road as you get closer to the cliffs. The view from the bottom of the cliffs is stunning without leaves concealing the imposing rock faces. We proceeded to walk by rockfalls, moss covered boulders, and large glacial erratics scattered haphazardly through the forest. TIP: If you hike with a dog, be aware there are porcupines in the area. We had Willow with us, who wandered into the forest closer to the cliffs and returned a few minutes later with a collection of porcupine quills firmly embedded in her muzzle.
This trail is best walked at a slow pace at this time of year because there is so much to see. We stopped a few times when we had a good view of the cliffs above to watch the peregrine falcons. If you’ve never seen falcons in action, they are amazing birds who nest in the cliffs. In early spring, they are guarding their nests. If you have patience, you may be lucky enough to see them battling with crows in the air as they protect their eggs. These spectacular creatures can fly to a maximum speed of 390 km/h and put on quite a show.
Algoma Highlands Conservancy Trailhead sign at second parking area.
Erratic boulders in the forest.
After 1.5 kilometres, the trail ends where it loops back to connect with Robertson Lake Road at the second parking area. Here we did a short stint of road walking, and then headed back into the forest following the blue-blazed Voyageur connecting trail. This is the most challenging part of the hike…a brief but steep uphill section that links with the white-blazed main trail. To the left, at the intersection, you can continue on to the top of the cliffs or head to the right towards the Trailhead just over a kilometer away. We turned right – our early spring hiking legs are not up to the cliffs trail just yet!
Robertson Cliffs from below.
The remainder of the trail is rolling ups and downs that take you back to the third parking lot. Here we climbed into the vehicle, discussing how to remove the porcupine quills from Willow’s face. The key to enjoying this trail in the early spring is to be patient and watch. To the hurried hiker, the landscape may seem bland and brown. However, to the observant and attentive hiker, the trail is a world of wonder on a sunny day, with imposing cliffs, birds of prey, sparkling moss, birdsong, and running water. The Below the Cliffs Trail is also a great option if you’re thinking of trekking to the top of the cliffs later this season and you need to build up your climbing legs.
Are those porcupine quills or weird fangs in Willow's muzzle?