Experiencing the authenticity of the wild in Pukaskwa National Park

It can be very challenging for trail builders and land managers to strike a balance between trail experiences for beginner or novice users, all the way to experienced users seeking wilderness.

Factor in rugged terrain (like our experience building beginner mountain bike trails in Abbotsford, BC) and it can create a very difficult situation for trail builders to offer green-level singletrack.

This is because many novice users lack the skills, knowledge, and supplies to venture too far from facilities - so often, they are left to hike and bike paved pathways, or wide gravel doubletrack trails close to roads and the trail head.

But as both trail builders and avid trail users, we know the experience that can be had on more intimate, narrow trails. Take someone out for their first hike or bike ride on a 'boring' trail and they might not understand why we love it so much!

It is a delicate equilibrium, creating facilities and trails where someone who might have very little experience in the outdoors feels relatively safe and doesn't wind up lost, hours from their car, but also learns about the authenticity of hiking, or mountain biking in nature. Until you've felt the whoops of singletrack on a bike, or perhaps hiked up a rocky summit to a great vista, how can you understand the appeal of the act?

Last week, we were lucky enough to visit Pukaskwa National Park, located on the northern shore of Lake Superior, which a fantastic job of balancing these challenges.

The park is well known for its 60km point to point Coastal Hiking Trail which sees a few hundred adventurous backpackers every year. Hike the coastal trail and you are witness to the lake's power, the fantastic granite shaped by glaciers thousands of years ago, and flora and fauna usually only found in the arctic - but who have made a home along the Superior's shores.

But what if you are only visiting Pukaskwa for the weekend, or night? Or what if you are seeking an introduction to hiking to learn what it is all about. The park's front country trails offer just that.

Twisting, rocky trails travel to incredible lookouts along the lake, all on terrain that families can do together, within walking distance of their campsite. Fun for experienced hikers and outdoors people, but also accessible to new users, to give them a positive, authentic experience which makes them want to return and try it again.

During our time at Puaskwa we were able to work with Parks' staff and also the trail crew from the Pic River First Nation. Unfortunately, trails were still covered in snow so building was out of the question, but we were able to apply trail building theory to design exercises in the field.

AJ and I also had the opportunity to snowshoe part of the Coastal Trail! With just a taste of the 5-day backpacking route,we will certainly return to hike the full Coastal Trail someday…hopefully with a little less snow!

Thanks for a great week exploring Pukaskwa, and learning from the 20+ years experience of Park staff!

See photos from our visit to Pukaskwa!