6 Trails for Maritime Sights
The Lookout Trail at Pancake Bay gives a view onto the waters where the Edmund Fitzgerald sank.
Every town on our shores can claim maritime heritage, from commercial fishing to transportation of goods to recreational sailing.
So you likely already know that you don’t have to travel far to “meet the maritime” here. But did you know that many trails let you walk your way to our nautical connections, past and present? It’s a great way to get out, get some air and exercise, and get a better knowledge of our heritage. Let us suggest six satisfying strolls with great views that offer a bit of maritime heritage along the way.
1. Edmund Fitzgerald Lookout Trail
Lake Superior’s most famous shipwreck, the Edmund Fitzgerald, went down within sight of this lookout at Pancake Bay Provincial Park, about an hour north of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
Starting near the campground, the Lookout Trail climbs through a northern hardwood forest to stunning views of Pancake and Batchawana bays and even Michigan’s Whitefish Point. It’s a 7-kilometre (4.3-mile) round-trip hike of moderate difficulty. Interpretive panels at the lookout provide Fitzgerald history and guide your gaze to the wreck site. Watch for passing freighters, too, traveling to and from Sault Ste. Marie.
2. Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site
Courtesy Algoma Kinniwabi Travel Assocation
6 Trails for Maritime Sights
The Sault Ste. Marie Canal, once vital to a national shipping network, is now the centerpiece of a park on the St. Marys River, shown here.
A site rich in maritime history, the Sault Ste. Marie Canal on the Canadian side of the St. Marys River was built in 1895 as the final link in Canada’s Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River system. When it opened, it was the world’s largest lock and the first to be powered by electricity. Parks Canada took over the canal in 1979, and it was designated a national historic site in 1987. Today the lock serves tour boats and recreational vessels.
On the north side of the canal, explore historic buildings like the Powerhouse. Cross over to South St. Marys Island for walking, geocaching and wildlife viewing on the 2.2-kilometre (1.4-mile) Attikamek Trail. The accessible trail through woods and wetlands takes visitors directly under the International Bridge.
Because of the St. Marys River’s strategic importance, thousands of troops were stationed at the locks during each of the World Wars. You can still spot remnants of their encampments as you walk through the site.
3. Au Sable Light Station
Near the middle of Michigan’s Shipwreck Coast – that infamous Lake Superior shoreline from Whitefish Bay to Munising – is Au Sable Point. Here, more than a dozen ships wrecked on the shallow reef.
The point and its historic light station, part of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, are accessible by a splendid hiking trail just above the beach. The mostly level trail (3 miles round-trip) starts at the Hurricane River Campground. Look for the skeletal remains of three shipwrecks poking out of the water. Signs on the trail point them out to hikers; follow the steps down to the beach for a better view of the wrecks.
At the light station, park rangers lead guided tours of the grounds for a modest fee.
4. Ashland Waterfront Trail
6 Trails for Maritime Sights
The Ashland Waterfront Trail, built on an old railroad bed, offers reminders of the city’s past life as a hub of commercial maritime activity. Wood pilings mark the site of a demolished ore dock.
The paved Waterfront Trail, once a railway along the city’s docks, spans more than 4 miles along the lakeshore and offers far more than beautiful Lake Superior views. Along the route you’ll find reminders of a time when Ashland, Wisconsin, was a bustling port city. During World War II, more than 6 million tons of ore were shipped from the Soo Line Ore Dock, recently demolished down to its concrete base. The waterfront at one time had 16 commercial docks in all.
In recent decades, Ashland has developed tourism and recreation into a pillar of its economy, evident at the many lush parks the Waterfront Trail passes through, from Maslowski Beach and Prentice Park in the west to Bayview Park in the east.
5. Duluth-Superior Waterfront
Get a glimpse of a working waterfront on trails in the Twin Ports.
Superior’s 5-mile Osaugie Trail is a paved, multiuse path along the city’s eastern waterfront. Watch for commercial and recreational vessel traffic as you pass the Superior harbor entry, working piers and Barker’s Island, which is home to the SS Meteor museum ship.
Hikers can see some of those sights from the Minnesota side, too, on the Park Point Nature Trail, which starts at Sky Harbor Airport. Near the end of the point, just off the trail, look for the ruins of the Minnesota Point Lighthouse, built in 1858.
Duluth’s famed Lakewalk starts in Canal Park at the Aerial Lift Bridge and Duluth Ship Canal, the site of much maritime activity during the shipping season, and extends all the way to Brighton Beach at the city’s eastern end – more than 7 miles in all. Back in Canal Park you can choose to head west where the Lakewalk links with the Cross City Trail, a still-developing route beside the harbor and the St. Louis River that currently goes west 3 miles to the Lincoln Park neighborhood.
6. Grand Portage Corridor
We might not think about it as our “maritime” heritage, but long before modern roads, Ojibwe people and European traders used waterways to travel quickly from place to place.
The Pigeon River, which divides Minnesota and Ontario, was an important route between inland winter camps and summer homes on Lake Superior – with one significant hitch.
Impassible rapids and waterfalls necessitated an 8.5-mile overland journey to bypass the river’s final 21 miles. This Grand Portage (Gichi Onigamiing, or “Great Carrying Place,” in Ojibwe) now lives on as a hiking trail. It connects Grand Portage National Monument’s stockade to Fort Charlotte on the Pigeon River.
Follow the historic portage route and imagine the lives of those who traversed it long ago, carrying heavy loads of goods and equipment. During the peak years, traders hauled literally tons of furs over this route. Archaeologists have recovered many artifacts and identified features like designated resting places.
The 17 round-trip miles are a lot to ask of a one-day hiker, so take a shorter jaunt by either starting at the halfway point on Old Highway 61 – there’s a small parking area – or hike from the waterfront up to the highway and back. Whatever you choose, do stop at the national monument to learn more about the area’s rich history. There’s no fee for admission or special programs.