Lake Superior is big. It’s not just the largest of the Great Lakes, it is also the largest freshwater lake in the world. It covers an area of 82,100 sq km, which is about the size of Austria. Something this big cries out to be circumnavigated. So why not go for a spin around this mighty body of water and discover everything from spectacular scenery to the home of Winnie-the-Pooh?
We’ll start our Lake Superior Circle Tour in Thunder Bay, Ontario. The route will take us through the Canadian Shield and forests of Northern Ontario to Sault Ste. Marie (two of them) and then into the US for a journey west, around Superior’s southern shore.
Now, be warned: this is a big trip. The marked route is roughly 2000 km long. It’s a drive that takes you through two countries: one province and three states.
Whether camping or staying in hotels or B&Bs, make sure you give yourself enough time. You don’t want to spend all your time driving and missing out on what is a truly and epic trip. Here are some suggested stops as you make your way ’round:
The vibrant port city of Thunder Bay is a vital shipping link between western Canada and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway. About 125,000 live in “The Lakehead” and surrounding areas. The city is a good place to stock up on provisions before heading out on your journey.
One highlight is Fort William Historic Park, a living history museum that recreates the days of the fur trade. And don’t miss the Mount McKay Scenic Lookout, from which you’ll be treated to an incredible view and get a sense of just how big Lake Superior is.
Heading east from Thunder Bay on the Trans-Canada, you’ll pass the spot where Terry Fox was forced to end his Marathon of Hope after 5373 kilometres. The Terry Fox Memorial is a sombre place where you can reflect on the accomplishments and legacy of the 22-year-old Canadian hero.
Terrace Bay and Schreiber, ON are the eastern gateway to the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area. Aguasabon Falls is the big attraction here. A viewing platform provides a sensational view of the 30-metre falls.
White River, ON is best known as the birthplace of Winnie-the-Pooh. The town holds an annual festival that commemorates the bear cub that became the inspiration for the world famous A.A. Milne character. The White River Heritage Museum has a display of Pooh-Bear memorabilia.
You can’t miss Wawa, ON’s nine-metre tall Canada goose. But jumbo bird aside, this part of the Superior route is surrounded by provincial parks, world-class hunting and fishing and plenty of hiking trails. There’s no better place to stretch your legs.
But before crossing, plan to hop on the Agawa Canyon Tour Train. The one-day adventure transports visitors 183 km into the wilderness north of the Soo. Unspoiled scenery stretches in all directions. At Agawa Canyon, you’ve got a few hours to hop off the train to explore. Then it’s back to the city.
Crossing into the United States is easy, but make sure that your paperwork is up-to-date. You’ll need valid passports for everyone, including children. The drive across the International Bridge provides a spectacular view.
Sault Ste. Marie, MI features plenty of outdoor activities, plus the world famous Soo Locks. For more than 150 years, freighters, barges and tugboats have traveled through the locks, dropping six metres in elevation between Lake Superior and Lake Huron. You can tour the locks and, if you have kids, there’s the Locks Quest scavenger hunt to keep them entertained. A number of operators offer boat tours as well.
If you’re running low on supplies or feel the need to do some shopping, Marquette, MI certainly fits the bill. The university town (Marquette University) has plenty to offer. It’s a great place to stop for a few days.
Not far from town is Mount Marquette. The 260-metre high mountain is easily accessible and offers a stunning view of Marquette, nearby mountains and, of course, Lake Superior. The nearby Marquette Mountain ski area provides some challenging trails for mountain biking in the summer and skiing in the winter.
The tour route leaves Michigan at Ironwood and crosses into Wisconsin at Hurley. It’s a fairly quick drive across the northern Wisconsin to Superior.
Superior, WI and neigbouring Duluth, MN mark the far western end of Lake Superior. A 6.5 km sandbar in the shared harbour is a prime location for birdwatching, especially during winter and spring migration. Just south of Superior is Big Manitou Falls, Wisconsin’s highest waterfall. The 50-metre falls are just one of the many attractions to be found in Pattison State Park. Little known fact: Superior was the last port of call for the Edmund Fitzgerald. The ship sank in 1975 and the legend lives on the Gordon Lightfoot classic “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”
Across the bridge in Duluth, you’ll find attractions ranging from the century old Duluth Art Institute to Glensheen, The Historic Congdon Estate, an early 1900s-era mansion and grounds along the shore of Lake Superior.
The final leg of the tour follows Highway 61 as it hugs the western edge of Lake Superior. The highway crosses back into Ontario at Pigeon River. Once back in Thunder Bay, it’ll be time to sort through hundreds of photographs and make notes of all the things you’ve done and seen along the way. And maybe start planning another road trip – maybe one that’s even bigger – say, the Great Lakes Circle Tour!
RESOURCES: Lake Superior Circle Tour