Imagine visiting a group of islands where you can witness rare wildlife and Arctic tundra plant life while paddling around dramatic sea cliffs in the middle of the world’s largest fresh water lake. The Slate Islands are located 13 km off the North Shore of Lake Superior, and to visit is an adventure you will never forget. They are home to the densest population of woodland caribou in Ontario, the cutest population of snowshoe hare, plus the world’s largest shatter rock cone on earth. Paddling The Slate Islands will keep you occupied for days as you paddle within the safety of the interior passageways or venture out to open sea while circumnavigating Patterson or Mortimer Island.
A Sea you Say?
Lake Superior may be a lake, but it feels more like a sea. It’s known for its menacing fog, treacherous storms and unforgiving waters. Many a ship has gone down in Lake Superior and many a sailor has lost his way in the thick dense fog of Lake Gichigami (Ojibwe name of Lake Superior meaning Great Sea)
We would not have to worry about any of this while staying on the Slate Islands. The beauty of paddling here is that you can venture out to open water on calm days and choose to explore the calm bays inside the islands on not so perfect days at sea. We caught a shuttle from Terrace Bay that carried all our gear, and our kayaks to the Slate Islands through Naturally Superior Adventures.
Spending 5 days exploring the two main islands of Patterson and Mortimer and the other 5 smaller islands and islets, we saw some fascinating sights.
Enjoy the best of the Slate Islands!
Interior Slates Islands
The number one attraction on the Slate Islands is the woodland caribou. They house the densest population of caribou in Ontario and chances of spotting a few when you are on the islands are very good. Especially if you have a guide that knows where they like to hang out. We saw 9 during our visit there and if you take a guide with you during your paddling excursion, you have a good chance of seeing them. Our guide Jen from Naturally Superiour Adventures knew exactly where they’d be and within 10 minutes of being dropped off at our camp site, a caribou ran right through.
If you are interested in Geology, this group of islands is the place for you! The islands were created by a meteorite impact somewhere between 400-800 million years ago that formed a crater. Shatter cones can be found throughout the Slates. Shatter cones are formed in bedrock by shock waves create by meteorite impacts. They shock waves create a conical shape in the rocks with thin grooves radiating from the top of the cone. The largest one we saw was 9 metres high and even though shatter cones, rare geological features formed in bedrock by the high velocity shock waves created by meteorite impacts. They have a distinctively conical shape with thin grooves (striae) that radiate from the top (apex) of the cone. The Slate Islands are home to a shatter cone measuring 9 m (30 ft), one of the largest examples in the world (pictured here).
Enjoy our video of the Slate Islands highlighting all there is to see and do and what it’s like to go on expedition with Naturally Superior Adventures!
The Slate Islands used to have a thriving mining and lumber industry. Until the 1930s copper was mined here and there are still signs of abandoned mines. At Lambton Cove, you can actually walk into an old mine and take a short walk down a dark tunnel. There is a deep shaft at the end so don’t get too close.
Many researchers have been to the islands over the years studying the caribou. They used to round up the caribou and herd them into a corral to count, tag and check their health. It’s fascinating to see the old research stations around the islands. There’s even a spot where you can see artifacts gathered from the area on display at a campsite. It’s the honour system, so you’ll see a table full of interesting goodies with no security or chains. So be on your best behaviour.
One of the cutest things we saw on the islands was the snowshoe hare. These little guys have no fear of people. The animals that live on the Slate Islands have no natural predators so they go about their business even after you set up camp. You can spend hours watching them munch and play with one another. We got a kick out of one hare jumping straight up into the air whenever another approached.
Arctic Tundra Plants
Even though the Slate Islands are not located in the Arctic, you can find plant life that can normally only be found in the Arctic. This is because of the cooling effect of Lake Superior. When we were there, the water temperature was a mere 3? Celcius. Being a cluster of islands in the middle of all that cold water makes for some harsh conditions that only the heartiest of plants can survive. It creates a very unique eco-system. Some of the plants on the Slates aren’t found again until you go another 1600 km north!
Outer Slate Islands
The Milky Way
There is zero light pollution out on the slate islands so the night sky is amazing! We had a clear view of the Milky Way like we have never seen it before! The night sky was so beautiful and clear, we want to come back for a full moon!
Stunning Sea Cliffs
The sea cliffs on the Slate Islands are quite beautiful. Especially when you get outside the inner island channels. It’s worth exploring outside the safety of the interior to see the beauty of the wild shore of Patterson Island. When paddling out there, it feels like you are at the end of the world. There is nothing but open water for as far as the eye can see. You truly are sitting on the world’s largest lake and you realize just how small you are. It is comforting to see the high cliffs on the shore. We saw bald eagles fly overhead as we looked on in awe at the unique beauty of the Patterson Island coast.
The highest lighthouse on Lake Superior can be found on Patterson Island, the largest of the Slate Islands. We paddled until lunch around the outer coast to reach Sunday Point. It’s a picturesque landscape with the bright red and while lighthouse standing proud over the lighthouse keepers quarters. Like most other lighthouses on the Canadian side of the Great Lakes, this lighthouse isn’t operational anymore. With technology of today, lighthouses have grown redundant and the government is cutting all funding to maintain them. Lucky for us, the family of the last lighthouse keeper still holds the lease on the land and keeps the light going with solar power. They also maintain the buildings keeping them beautiful. I hope the government finds a way to keep the lighthouses around, they are a part of our history and heritage and they are beautiful stops on anyone’s travel itinerary.
Caribou are so nice, we had to mention twice! Yes you can see caribou on the outer coast of the islands as well. We saw a caribou walking along the beach while paddling and we had a very curious caribou enter our camp and stick around for quite a while as we slept on the outer shore of Patterson island. In total we saw 9 caribou on the Slate Islands. We didn’t manage to snap a shot of the males that ran through our camps quickly, but luckily we caught them on film. If you watch the video above, you’ll be able to see their antlers.
An interesting phenomenon on the Slate Islands are rock pits known as Pukaskwa Pits. These mysterious pits are located along the North Coast of Lake Superior and you can see one on the cobblestone beach of Mortimer Island. Pukaskwa Pits date back 5000 to 10,000 years and were believed to be created by ancestors of the Ojibway. Nobody knows exactly what they were used for. They could have been used as spiritual places when young boys went in search of a vision quest, but then again they could have been hunting blinds or even temporary shelters. Whatever they are, it’s fascinating that they have stood the test of time and that they are just sitting there for anyone to explore.
If you are a fan of deserted beaches, the Slate Islands are for you! Our guide Jen even had the courage to go for a dip! What I love about the beaches is that they are pebble beaches. There isn’t any fine sand that can make a mess in your tent, but the pebbles are so smooth they’re comfortable to sit and sleep on. The beaches are long, beautiful and deserted.
Slate Islands and Naturally Superior Adventures Locations
For information on kayaking the Slate Islands visit Naturally Superior Adventures
To book your canoe, kayak, hiking or even if you are on a road trip through Lake Superior and need a couple of nights to relax in paradise, visit the Naturally Superior Adventures website. It’s a great weekend getaway too!