Friday, February 12, 2016

Review: Hattie Cove Campground, Pukaskwa National Park

Playter Harbour, Coastal Hiking Trail
Location: Hattie Cove Campground, Pukaskwa National Park
Website: Parks Canada
Map: Parks Canada
Camping Facilities: Car Camping
Grade: B
Stargazing: Good by the Lake
Summary:Average camping enhanced by being close to glorious Lake Superior and pristine forest setting
Thoughts: The plan was to make my way along the Trans Canada highway towards Thunder Bay, aiming to meet up with some friends along the drive for some camping. I originally had Slate Islands Provincial Park in mind, after reading this article about it's dense elk population (imagine having elk roaming through your site). I was stoked, but then I found out it would cost $500 for a return shuttle from Terrance Bay. Split between 6 couples for one week, you could make a strong case for it. But with just 3 people staying only one night, it would be a total waste. So my friends suggested Pukaskwa (pronounced Puck-a-Saw, as I quickly found out). I had been meaning to see it for quite some time, and figured that it's a low-stress option to enjoy the company of old friends whom I hadn't seen in a while.

Lookout over Halfway Lake
The camping itself was just okay. Some sites are a little more private than others; you'll find that some are inexplicably directly across from one another, with only your cars to provide the necessary screen to avoid any awkward eye contact. But a few sites are large and pretty private. I wanted to see 48, which is a bit off the road and sits next to Halfway Lake, but it was occupied and I was told it's a bit buggy (you can see in the photo on the right that Halfway Lake is a bit swampy). Site 46 would be a winner if it weren't clearly visible from the path to the comfort station. Speaking of which, the comfort stations in the park are clean and comfortable. And as with all National Parks, you pay twice - the entrance "day-use" fee and the camping fee - which I find a bit irritating, but it still ends up being cheaper than car camping in Ontario Parks (by about $3 - 2015 fees). The park staff I dealt with were really thoughtful and allow you to take a drive around to see what site you like best, then register after you've had a gander. You're likely to find something good, but yea, nothing special.

Middle Beach, with it's piles of driftwood
But putting the camping aside, the setting of the park itself is phenomenal. Just a short 5 minute walk from the campground, you're on Lake Superior, with its thunderous waves drowning out any thoughts of the real world that might have followed you on your trip. You could stare at the Lake for hours, watching it play Hot Potato with the beach, as the waves toss the driftwood to the beach and the beach rolls it right back. And at night you'll find that the Middle and North Beaches (probably Horseshoe Beach too) are spectacular for stargazing. The day hikes to Manito Mikana, Horseshoe Beach, and the Southern Headland Trail are all well worth the trip and you'll be entranced by the vistas. I thought the lookout over Halfway Lake (above) was worthwhile (just after you start a counterclockwise tour from the trailhead), but the rest of the hike looked a bit boring so I skipped it. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

Boardwalk at the beginning of the
Pukaskwa Coastal Hiking Trail
The highlight of the park is the Coastal Hiking Trail. With its many campsites and nearly pristine Lake Superior coastal scenery, it is a worthy adventure. There is justification for the use the word "pristine", as you can see from this map that Pukaskwa is one of the last remaining intact forest landscapes in the southern half of the province, as discovered by the IFL mapping team. I was only able to hike to the first campsite, but even that one (Playter Harbour) was something to behold (top of the page here). The backcountry site itself was really spacious, with an outhouse, fire pit and food locker. I'm curious about the other sites, as they contain up to six individual sites - are these clustered together? Or are they somewhat private? Please comment below if you know. As well, I should point out that the trail is well marked and easy to follow, but would be very slippery in spots after a bit of rain.

Lookout from Southern Headland Trail
I'd love to come back and at least make it to the White River Suspension bridge, but it's a full day hike (leave before 10am). A fellow hiker informed me that he wanted to do a one-way hike and get a shuttle back from the North Swallow river, but the guiding company was going to charge him $500 for the trip back so he just walked the whole stretch in a return trip (solo no less!). What is it with $500 shuttling fees in this part of the province? Regardless, Pukaskwa is worth your effort because it's just a beautiful spot - the camping is a means to discover the splendor of this unique wilderness refuge.

Food locker on the
Coastal Hiking Trail
Outhouse on the Coastal Hiking Trail


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