We recently traveled from Minnesota to Maine by way of Canada. We had ten days to complete the trip which we hoped would give us enough time to combine short drive days with fun stuff like hiking and kayaking. Along the way I kept a daily journal of the trip. You can read Part 1 here.
This morning we drove for an hour and half without passing any towns. When we finally did come to a town called Wawa we stopped for gas and some lunch. The only disappointment about our route so far is that the towns along the way have been on the run down side and sadly lacking in dining options. I’m not sure if it’s economics, or geographic location that has these towns down, but we’ve seen a lot of bordered up store fronts and closed down restaurants. Instead of the locally owned diners and cafes that we were hoping for, the main options for eating are Tim Hortons, Robin’s Donuts, and A & W. This time the only lunch option was Tim Hortons, so we tried it out. It was…well, let’s just say that lunch is definitely not their thing. The quality of the food was so low that I only ate a single bite of my sandwich. Oh, and the WiFi didn’t work either.
After lunch we only had to drive another 45 minutes before reaching Lake Superior Provincial Park. The park has two campgrounds and we choose the southernmost one because it was next to a long stretch beach. Given that it was a Friday we expected a busier campground, but it was still only about half full. I guess when your campground has 300 sites, it doesn’t fill up on even the most perfect summer weekend. Somehow we got lucky and ended up with the last site next to the beach that was big enough for our size RV. We were so close to the beach in fact that our entire site was sand. Good thing we have 4WD. I took this picture in the evening after some fog rolled in and the lake tuned the same color as the sky which makes it hard to see the water, but trust me when I tell you that there’s one giant lake back there.
The beach is located in a protected cove and stretches on for miles.
We wasted no time getting the kayaks in the water. It was perfectly calm and we paddled along the shore for awhile, admiring the crystal clear water and pink granite cliffs.
The water here might be beautiful, but it’s also very cold! We learned at the visitor center that Lake Superior is the deepest of all the Great Lakes. It could hold all the water in the other Great Lakes, plus three more Lake Eries. All that deep water means that the average temperature is around 40 degrees, and while the surface temps do rise in the warm summer months, even in August the average surface temp is still only around 55. Needless to say, we didn’t go swimming.
That evening we brought our chairs out for sunset and watched as the sun sank below the horizon.
I woke up this morning feeling worn out — like I need a vacation from our vacation. Maybe for our next vacation instead of driving halfway across Canada and trying to fit in as many activities as possible, we’ll spend a week lying on a beach while someone delivers us a steady supply of tropical drinks :)
This was to be our last stop along Lake Superior though, and with rain in the forecast tomorrow I dug deep into my energy reserves and we set off for a hike. The park pamphlet described the trail as a “10 km strenuous climb“. It seems that more often than not these trail descriptions err on the side of caution. It’s like vanity sizing for clothing — designed to make you feel could about yourself. You might think you wear a size four and you just hiked a trail rated “difficult”, but really those pants won’t fit past your knees, and my grandmother could have skipped up that trail. But this time the description was spot on. It started off with a steep climb up a ravine filled with large boulders. No switch backs, no meandering path though the forest, just a relentless uphill climb. Combine that with oppressive humidity and warmer temperatures than we had seen in a month, and this trail really kicked our butts.
I would classify this as a typical eastern side of the country hike. You know the kind where you hike through the dense woods while swatting mosquitos until you eventually reach a tiny opening with a view? At least the view was worth the climb.
By the time we got back to our site it was early afternoon and we had just enough time for quick showers and lunch before 2pm checkout. That’s right — another reason to love Ontario Provincial Parks. Not only is check out at 2, but you can then stay in the day use area of that park, or any other provincial park until 10pm. Love that! We had wanted to squeeze in one more park — a nearby park called Pancake Bay — but we really need to start putting some miles behind us if we’re going to make it Maine by Wednesday. So we packed it up and headed south to Sault Ste Marie. We arrived just in time for a rain storm that we waited out in a parking lot. The plan was to walk around downtown, find a place to eat, and then overnight at the Walmart. The rain put a damper on the walk around town idea, but we did find a casino right in the downtown area that seemed like a better overnight option than the Walmart. When the rain stopped we walked over to a nearby BBQ restaurant for a decent meal.
Today was a driving day. Our goal was to make it as close to Ottawa as possible. With nearly 800 miles to go, there was no way we would get there in one day, but if we could make it within a few hundred miles that would give us a whole day to explore the city. This travel pace is way faster than normal for us. Ideally, we would have spent a leisurely week or two exploring the shore of Lake Huron, then maybe meandered our way around Lake Ontario, lingered in upstate NY, and stopped in Vermont for a visit before the final push to Maine. But we decided instead to spend a whole month in Minnesota, which only left us a week and half to get to Maine. We then decided to spend extra time exploring the north shore of Lake Superior which would mean a few long driving days to get across the rest of Ontario and Quebec. We did stop briefly at a tiny little town park on the shore of Lake Huron for lunch. This was to be our only glimpse of the lake as we continued east.
Before we left the U.S. I downloaded a few audio books to keep us entertained. Tim and I generally don’t have the same taste in books, but Stephen King is one author we always agree on, so when I came across a murder mystery called Mr. Mercedes is seemed like a safe choice. The entire audio book was around 15 hours long, and I think we listened to about 6 hours of it on today’s drive. In true Stephen King fashion we were thoroughly entertained, and the narrator, Will Patton, was excellent.
Now that we’ve left the lake behind, the scenery is not as stunning so I didn’t take a single photo for the rest of the day. We stopped once for some well deserved ice cream, another time for a quick road-side dinner, and then around 9:30 pulled into a quiet Walmart that had already closed for the night. At 438 miles today is now officially our longest driving day ever.
After a hot and sticky night in the Walmart parking lot we drove the final hour to Ottawa where we found some parking in…you guessed it, another Walmart parking lot. It seemed to be our best bet for large vehicle parking near the city, but it didn’t quite get us within walking distance of downtown. So we found the bus stop and hopped on a city bus. Navigating public transportation in an unfamiliar city can be confusing at times, but Tim had done some research ahead of time and knew what bus to take and where to get off. Soon we were walking the streets of the capitol city. Our first priority was lunch. We found a nice outdoor cafe where I promptly spotted poutine on the menu and ordered up a big plate of the Canadian specialty topped with chicken. French fries, cheese curds and warm gravy for the win! I think Tim might have been a little jealous of my lunch choice. Luckily there was more than enough to share.
After lunch we set of to explore the city on foot.
Ottawa is an old city with some really beautiful architecture. It’s also a busy city, and with our visit falling only a few days before the big Canada Day celebration preparations were in full swing. A giant music stage was set up in front of the parliament building which partially blocked our view, and many other buildings were under construction with scaffolding and construction everywhere.
Looking at the buildings was nice and all, but it was really hot — hotter than it should be this far north. So we walked down by the river in search of cool air. We didn’t find any, but we did spot an Aqua Taxi and decided to take it across the river to the Canadian Museum of History.
For $5 each we got a nice cooling ride that delivered us right to a dock in front of the museum.
We spent a few hours in the museum sucking up the air conditioning and learning all about Canadian history. It was a pretty good museum with a couple interesting exhibits. We both enjoyed the grand hall with its giant totem poles and native peoples artifacts the best.
They were setting up for a wedding in the hall. What a cool place to get married!
We also liked the Canadian Stamp Collection exhibit.
After absorbing as much as we could about Canadian history we hoped in the Aqua Taxi and rode back across the river.
Earlier in the day we thought we might spend the whole day in the city and overnight at the Walmart, but in light of the oppressive heat and the exhaustion that was creeping up on both us, we scrapped that plan and in favor of searching out a quiet, cool provincial park for the night. You can really only spend so many nights in a row sleeping in a hot parking lot. So we found the city bus, hopped on for a short ride, and soon we were back at the Airstream and back on the road. It was far too short of a visit to Ottawa, but long enough to know that we would certainly come back again to see more of the city.
We woke up this morning in our peaceful spot at the Voyageur Provincial Park on the shores of the Ottawa River. It had only taken about an hour to drive here from Ottawa last night and it sure did beat another hot night in a parking lot.
We decided last night to drive all the way to Maine today. We have one more day before our scheduled arrival, and considered staying at a park near Sherbrooke for the night, but at this point we’re both ready to just get there. A couple people mentioned that we should stop in Montreal. Our route did take us right past the city, but honestly we didn’t even consider stopping. Maybe if we had a few more days we could have found a campground outside the city and drove in for the day, but with the heat still simmering and our energy levels dwindling we had to skip it this time around. Besides, Montreal is not a new city for us. I grew up only two hours south in northern Vermont, and as the closest large city, Montreal is a place I have visited on countless occasions. It really is an awesome city though, and one of those places that everyone should have on their travel list.
We drove and drove and drove, up and down rolling hills and past countless tiny French-Canadian towns until we finally reached the border town of Coburn. The border crossing here is very small. There’s one lane for trucks and RVs, and one lane for cars. This is logging country and I have a feeling that most of the traffic that goes through here are logging trucks like the one in front of us.
It was another easy crossing and the border guy seemed more interested in the fact that we had come all the way from Minnesota than anything else. He did take a quick look inside the RV, but never even asked about the produce that we had been frantically eating for the last few days in anticipation of it not being allowed in the U.S. We still had a few boring hours ahead of us before reaching our final destination, but it was a relief to know that we would soon be there and could settle in for our month long stay on the Maine coast.
I think the beach would have been my favorite. The water looks beautiful!
That last beach was incredible! Who knew Canada had such gorgeous beaches?
Love the beautiful photos from the kayak paddle on the lake, and the native artifacts in the museum. You guys really covered some territory, I’m sure that month in Maine will feel pretty good :-)
We had a blast, but it definitely feels good to be settled in one place for a bit.
Your comment about the small Ontario towns along the Lake Superior is spot on. The forestry industry has largely disappeared and the Hemlo mine is starting to shut down after running out of ore. Couple that with a short tourist season and there you have it. I like White River and the origins of Winnie the Pooh.
Although the lake is very cold, there are many protected bays where the water warms up quite nicely by mid summer. I remember a nice hiking trail up the coast in Lake Superior Provincial Park with spectacular views of the lake.
If you return to Ottawa, I recommend the Wesley Clover campground in Kanata (an Ottawa suburb) which was formerly the Ottawa Municipal Campground. It’s a nice park with easy access to downtown Ottawa.
That makes sense about the small towns. I can imagine the short tourist season is simply not enough to sustain them. We saw the coastal hiking trail at Lake Superior Provincial Park, but did an inland hike instead. That park is high on our list of places to return. The gorgeous beach combined with so many hiking trails makes it one of those spots where you could spent weeks and never get board.
And thanks for the Ottawa CG recommendation. We’ll keep that in mind for next time. They city definitely deserves more than a single afternoon of exploration.
It’s nice you had a sunny day for all the great photos you took. Thanks. Another bucket list item for me.
OMG that trip made ME tired and I’m sitting still. I was waiting for the poutine photo and you did not disappoint! LOL Glad the crossing into the US was uneventful (it really is a crap shoot isn’t it?) and you are at your destination. Now breatheeeeee….