Things to know before you go
The Orphan Lake Trail is one of a few trail systems in Lake Superior Provincial Park that require you to have a permit to park, hike, and camp. Luckily, getting one is easy: visitors can purchase a daily vehicle permit right at the trailhead by filling in the envelope and depositing it in their self-registration box or by stopping in to purchase one at the Lake Superior Visitor Centre as you enter Lake Superior Provincial Park. You must display your permit on your vehicle dashboard.
Remember to bring all of your garbage with you and dispose of it in the containers right on site. There are also outhouses and lots of trail signage before you head out on the trail. Once you begin, visitors will find the trail is very well marked with blue markers.
The Orphan Lake Trail is approximately 164 km north of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario–about a 2-hour drive.
What to expect on the Orphan Lake Trail (besides great scenery)
The Orphan Lake Trail is a moderate 8 km (5 mile) looped hiking trail with three beautiful lookouts along the way. This hike offers amazing diversity: hikers can climb to the highest peak for panoramic views of Orphan Lake and then out over Pebble Beach and Lake Superior for gorgeous waterfront views. Follow along Lake Superior’s shoreline and then follow the Baldhead River mouth up to the falls and back to the trailhead. It can take about 2.5 hours to 4 hours to complete the trail depending on how long you stop at the various lookouts and the pebble beach. It took us a little longer because we stopped to take lots of pictures along the way.
The trail has many steep ascents and descents where you traverse over exposed tree roots and lots of rocks and boulders. It is quite helpful to use hiking poles to make sure you are steady on your feet. Really good hiking boots or shoes are recommended for this hike.
At the trailhead, the hardwood and evergreen forest consists of sugar maple and yellow birch trees. This provides you with a lot of shade for most of the hike so wear bug spray as the bugs can be quite bad depending on the time of the year. Near the yellow birch trees, be on the lookout for the rare but beautiful Pink Lady Slippers also known as Moccasin Slippers. They are quite prevalent near the end of June.
Other beautiful flowering plants you will find are mushrooms and Canadian Bunchberry Dogwoods.
The first lookout is on the west side of Orphan Lake from on top of a steep cliff. This lake is gorgeous!
The second lookout is a stunning panorama of Lake Superior and the pebble beach below. You feel like you are on top of the world. This is well worth the climb!
As you descend down to the pebble beach, you traverse through a cedar forest with some of the biggest cedar trees I have ever seen in Algoma. The scent of cedar is quite nice along the trail.
Once you reach the pebble beach on Lake Superior, turn to the right and head towards the river mouth of the Baldhead River. This area is a very nice place to stop to hydrate and have a picnic lunch or snack. It is also the halfway point of the trail. You might even want to go for a refreshing swim if you are hiking on a hot day. If you turn left, you will be following the Coastal Trail as this is the conjunction of the two trails so keep to the right.
The Orphan Lake Trail follows the river as you climb the trail to the Baldhead River Falls. There are a few little trails that you can follow that take you right out onto the beautiful rock formations of the falls. I found the rock formations there just stunning. This is where we chose to stop for a lunch and relax with the thundering water cascading over the rocks. The breeze and the sound of the falls were welcomed on this day as our hike was during a hot 30C temperature by the time we reached the falls.
While we ate, there were a few other travellers that came by to enjoy the view. One group consisted of nine teenagers from the Sault that were enjoying a quick dip in the falls and traversing the rock formations with great agility. Oh to have that agility once again! We enjoyed their company.
Once we left the falls we had to begin our ascent back up to the east shore of Orphan Lake. It was great to see the lake from the eastern perspective. Beautiful wild irises and driftwood covered the east shore.
As you leave Orphan Lake you continue the steep climb where the trail once again joins the trailhead back to the parking lot. Part of this area of the trailhead is an area that burned in the forest fires of May 1998.