Sleeping Giant is one of our favourite Ontario Parks. It boasts some of the highest cliffs in the province that look like a enormous lying figure, hence Sleeping Giant (although to me, it looks more like a giantess). Add lots of amazing views of Lake Superior, over 100 kilometres of hiking and biking trails, swimming and canoeing, and excellent wildlife viewing opportunities and you’ve got Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. (Read my post on Parks Blogger Ontario to learn more about Sleeping Giant and all the fun things you can do there.)
We first camped at Sleeping Giant a few years ago as part of the Lake Superior Circle Tour. This year, we decided to go back and do some backpacking. Our plan was to hike to Tee Harbour and then stay there for a couple of days while doing day hikes to the Top of the Giant and the bird observatory located on Thunder Cape.
We spent the first night at Marie Louise Lake Campground. Our site, #163, was spacious and fairly private with steps leading to the lake. Those steps were an excellent spot for enjoying a meal, a cup of coffee or a book.
The best feature of the site was, of course, a great view of the Sleeping Giant across the lake.
We also had a group of ducks living close by that would often come to visit us.
Cute little duckies weren’t the only animals we met at our site. In the morning, we spotted a skunk sniffing nearby. Luckily, it didn’t stay long and proceeded undisturbed in the direction of the Visitor Centre.
Then a fox showed up, checked all the campsites around and then ran right past completely ignoring us.
After the fox was gone, we finished packing, got our interior permit at the office (backcountry permits are available on the first come, first serve basis), and by 11: 30 we were at the trailhead all ready for our adventure.
The trail to Tee Harbour is an old logging road. It’s fairly level and easy, about 7 km long. It took us close to two hours to get there with a short stop for a snack and some stone skipping.
Tee Harbour is named after a T-shaped peninsula jutting into Lake Superior. There are five sites altogether, a shared outhouse and a food storage box (very useful since the trees looked too short and close together to do a proper bear hang). Three of the sites were already occupied, including the one with a great view of the Sleeping Giant that a park ranger in the office had told us about. The site we chose was pretty good, too. It was spacious with a view of Thunder Mountain and a small sandy beach. There was a sail boat anchored in the harbour, which I first saw as a nuisance but then thought that could be a great place for an escape should we need one.
The other side of the peninsula was rocky and offered some great diving opportunities. We were looking forward to swimming on both sides. Our son was excited about using our new camping shovel on the sandy beach. I was already planning sunrise and sunset photo shoots.
We set up camp, located the food locker and put away the food just to see if it will fit (as it later turned out it was a providential thing to do). In the meantime, a couple staying on the boat came back from their hike so we had a nice conversation comparing life in Thunder Bay and Toronto. After they departed onto their boat, we enjoyed our meal of ramen noodles and boiled eggs.
We were just finishing washing our pot and cups, looking forward to a nice relaxing swim, when we saw some people rushing towards us along the beach and asking to bang our pot. Sure enough there was a big black shape disappearing into the woods behind them.
It is always exciting to see a bear but usually you’d prefer it to be somewhere at a safe distance, not so close to your site when your only means of escape are your legs. Luckily for us, it was right in the middle of the day, our food was already safely tucked away, there were people around, plus that sailboat in the harbour.
The bear reappeared a few minutes later at our neighbours’ site and started going through their possessions. He then discovered a kayak on the beach and spent good thirty minutes trying to open the hatch (as it later turned out, there was toothpaste in there). Eventually, the bear managed to pull the kayak under water and proceeded to our site. All attempts to scare him away with blow horns and pots were useless.
By then, we were huddling at the far end of our little beach together with the campers from that great-Sleeping-Giant-view site. We couldn’t see the bear because of the trees so his movements were relayed to us by the woman on the boat. Apparently, the bear sniffed around the spot where we’d been cooking, then approached our tent and leaned against it with both paws.
“The tent is down,” reported the woman.
“Great,” I thought, “we’ll need a new tent.”
“No, it’s back up. Wow, you have a great tent,” added her husband.
(Well, we do have a great tent. It’s been through a lot and now we can add a bear encounter to the list. You can read more about our tent here.)
As the bear disappeared behind our tent, we heard the roar of an ATV. The bear heard it too and made a dash into the forest barely missing us. Two park wardens stepped out of the ATV together with a man in black decorated with all sorts of weaponry like a Christmas tree. Someone had reported a bear sighting so they showed up to make sure everyone was okay. They weren’t planning to kill the animal but they did shoot a few flares to scare him away. Once the bear was gone, we did an inventory of damages. There were three downed tents, one ripped tent, sleeping bags with traces of claws and a big pile of poop on our neighbours site. We got away fairly easy with a big rip in the tent door but nothing duct tape couldn’t fix.
With a final “there is no immediate danger,” the wardens rode away and we were left with a big decision: should we stay or should we go? All our neighbours were leaving since it was their last day. There was no guarantee that the bear wouldn’t come back knowing that there were humans and, therefore, food. And even if it didn’t pose immediate danger, it was a wild animal and it was impossible to predict its behaviour. The prospect of having a bear lean across our tent as we were sleeping didn’t seem particularly exciting. In the end, the main reason we decided to leave was our son. That was a pretty scary experience for him and making him stay would probably mean no more backcountry trips in the future. As we tried to cheer him up saying that it would be a great story to tell at school, he replied that first he needed to get out of there to be able to tell the story.
The bear was back before we even finished packing so we knew we were doing the right thing. It took us a little over an hour to hike back. By the end of the trail, our son was already making jokes and laughing about the whole incident so we knew he’d be okay. Around eight, we were back to where we’d started that morning.
Park staff gave us a refund for two nights and found us a site at Marie-Louise Campground. This being a weekend, there were no views of the Sleeping Giant this time. Still, it was a pretty decent site, close to the beach, visitor centre and amphitheatre, something our son appreciated a lot.
The next two days were spent trying to get over the disappointment (at least for me) and enjoying all the different fun activities that the park had to offer.
We did a hike to the Sea Lion, which was overcrowded since it is so short and leads to one of the park’s famous attractions.
When we stopped for a snack at a small rocky beach along the trail, it was overflowing with other people, kids and dogs.
We then walked over to Silver Islet, a small community at the tip of Sibley Peninsula.
The rest of the day was spent on the beach, relaxing, swimming and reading. Our son finally got to use his shovel.
In the evening, we were treated to a beautiful sunset that almost made up for all my failed sunset photo plans from the day before.
We then proceeded to the amphitheatre for an evening program. I have to say that programs at Sleeping Giant are among the best, if not the best of all the parks we have visited. They are fun, creative and educational all at the same time. Those programs at the amphitheatre were one of the reasons our son was so excited to be back at the Marie Louise Lake Campground. That evening, we got to see “Tonight Show with Blue Jay” with guests like Sundew, Momma Bear and an orchid-obsessed professor. Roman even got to take part in the show as a volunteer. The next morning, he also attended a program on flint knapping where he learned how to make tools out of stone. Combined with all the other skills he is learning, he is becoming a very useful camping companion.
On Day 3, we decided to do one of the longer trails since hiking was the main reason we came to Sleeping Giant. We chose to hike to the Head of the Giant, which is around 17 km round trip. We started with the Sawbill Lake trail and then followed the Sawyer Bay trail till we reached Sawyer Bay. Both trails are old logging roads and can be biked but they are more challenging than the portion of Kabeyun that leads to Tee Harbour. The Sawyer Bay trail was lined with thimbleberries so we kept snacking along the way.
When we reached Sawyer Bay, we stopped for something more substantial than berries before our big ascent.
We found three sites at Sawyer Bay, two right at the end of the Sawyer Bay trail and one further down the Kabeyun Trail. Like the sites at Tee Harbour, they shared an outhouse, a food locker and even had a table.
All the trails in the park are very well marked. There is a trail marker at every intersection with the distance and difficulty level information in every direction.
However, the distance indicated on the posts differs from the information on the map, which, in turn, is different from the park newsletter. For instance, we found three different distances for the Head Trail: 1 km, 1.4 km and 1.8 km. Not sure which one is correct but I can say one thing with certainty: it is a very challenging climb.
It is really worth all the work, though. Standing on top of the Giant with the wind in our hair and sun in our face, we drank up the view by mouthfuls feeling powerful, intoxicated and humbled all at the same time.
Before leaving the park the next day, we stopped at the Thunder Bay lookout.
We also got to meet a porcupine.
And, of course, we said good-bye to the Sleeping Giant. Until next time!