After making our breakfast and packing up the soaking wet tent we set off down the Nipigon River Recreational Trail, which is an 8.3 km pathway that runs along the Nipigon River, connecting the communities of Nipigon and Red Rock.
The trail was first envisioned in 1980 by Ted Nyman, who rallied the Economic Development Committees of the surrounding communities, an army of enthusiastic volunteers, and support from several levels of government. The trail was officially opened in 1995.
We left the marina on a wide, flat, crushed gravel trail that ran through a forested corridor of trees. Many homemade bird feeders lined the green tunnel. They were all shapes and sizes, made from a variety of different materials, and painted in bright colours. It was obvious that someone fills these feeders regularly because there was a large and enthusiastic flock of Black-capped Chickadees following us down the trail, scolding and expecting handouts. One of them landed on my empty hand, checking for treats, and a Red Squirrel seriously considered checking out what was on offer as well.
The trail was also lined with interpretive plaques provided by Parks Canada which described the trees and other vegetation growing along the river. One of these described the White Birch as being an important food source for Pine Siskins, Ruffed Grouse, moose, porcupines, beavers, hares, and many small mammals. Indigenous people used it to make canoes, tipis, baskets, and other containers. Today the flexible, sturdy, wood is used to make skateboards among other things. On this hike, White Birch bark has been among the best materials to start a fire with when the wood is wet.
As we walked the forested trail we periodically came out to the shores of the wide, calm, Nipigon River. Its surface was ruffled by the breeze, and the dark shapes of the hills rose up beyond. A few wispy white clouds created sweeping patterns in the blue sky, but we kept a close watch on them since squalls were predicted in the early afternoon.
At one point we emerged onto the rocky shore to find a Spotted Sandpiper foraging along the river's edge. At first we didn't recognize which species of shorebird it was, because the non-breeding adults don't have the spotted breasts which give them their name. However, the consistent tail bobbing soon provided a useful clue.
About 2 km into our hike the trail became a little more overgrown. Tall, wet grasses overhung the footpath. Signs of fall were everywhere - in the yellow and deep red leaves of the trailside shrubs, in the plentiful caterpillars, and in the beautiful yellow, white, and purple wildflowers.
At one point we came to the Stillwater Bird Blind. A small trail lead out into a marsh, but it was actually below the level of the river, and got increasingly wet as we went. Around 142 species of birds have been reported on eBird in this area, so I think the blind would be well worth a visit if you remembered to bring your rubber boots!
The trail brought us out to an area of old field, and then we crossed the train tracks. Shortly after that we crossed Halfway Creek on a lovely wooden foot bridge. As far as we could tell, we were about halfway to Red Rock by this point.
After this the trail changed once again, and was much more reminiscent of the Casque Isles Trail. In other words, we began to climb up a rocky footpath into Boreal forest. As we approached Red Rock we'd seen the cliffs towering above the river ahead of us. Now we had the chance to climb up and look down from above.
When we saw ropes leading up beside the rocky path we had momentary flashbacks to the East Coast Trail in Newfoundland, but luckily no rappelling was required here.
The ropes were there more as guides on the steep but manageable climb. They were followed by a wooden staircase with a flight of 127 steps going straight up, and then a second flight of 62 steps (maybe more). With 50 lbs backpacks on this gave us quite the workout, and Sean decided the best strategy was to crawl up part of the second flight. Clearly his age is beginning to show on the trail this year.
A second set of ropes and a gentler climb finally brought us out to the Eagle Ridge Lookout. The view from up on the wooden lookout platform was well worth the climb! We could see all the way back to Lake Nipigon, with the community of Nipigon on is shores.
In the other direction we could look down on Red Rock, nestled among the tall cliffs surrounding it. The rolling, forested hills, lakes, and rivers, and the steep cliffs of this area are stunningly beautiful!
At the lookout there was also an interpretive plaque with information on Peregrine Falcons and Bald Eagles. Peregrine Falcons, the fastest birds on earth, nest on the towering cliffs along the Nipigon River and around the north shore of Lake Superior, and Bald Eagles can been seen fishing along its length as well.
We took a break and enjoyed the view, but dark clouds rolling in along the horizon gave us the motivation to begin the climb back down. Overall the climb down was more gradual, and there was only one staircase with 64 steps on the way down. We passed a beautiful campsite with a picnic table and fire pit on an open rock, which would have provided a stunning view of the stars on a clear night.
Shortly afterwards we came to a second lookout, which featured a great view of Red Rock, with its tidy looking marina below. It also featured two red Parks Canada Adirondack chairs as a testament to the spectacular view.
A wide, red gravel trail brought us gently down from this lookout through a beautiful forest of spruce and birch. We passed several other people headed up to the lookout as we made our way down.
When we reached the trailhead at the bottom of the hill we had another exciting surprise. There was a slightly damp visitor's log book which dated back to 2010, and we found an entry from Dana Meise! For those who don't know, Dana Meise was the first person to complete the entire Trans Canada Trail, from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic Oceans, finishing in 2018.
He passed through Red Rock on July 27, 2011. Again, we were reminded that we follow in the footsteps of others - whether volunteers who have dedicated their heart and souls to developing these trails, community groups who lead regular local hikes, or those giants of exploration who dared to be the first to undertake the Trans Canada Trail.
After several hours of walking, we made our way into the small, friendly town of Red Rock down a winding, paved road. This small scenic community overlooks Lake Superior's Nipigon Bay, and is nestled among the cliffs of Red Rock Mountain and the rugged shores of Lake Superior.
As we walked into town we noticed a series of interpretive signs that are part of a historical walking tour of the community. It looked quite interesting, but the sky was turning so dark that the street lights came on, and the wind was becoming quite fierce, so we didn't linger.
Red Rock is known far and wide for the three annual events it hosts: the Annual Trout Fishing Derby, the Live from the Rock Folk Festival, and the Paju Mountain Run. It is also known for its historic Red Rock Inn, which is where we planned to spend the night.
At first glance the Inn looked a little like something out of a Stephen King story, with its peeling paint, rows of windows, wraparound porches, and rambling rose gardens, nestled under a towering cliff, with a powerful storm bearing down upon it. However, once we stepped inside we discovered an incredible, warm, and welcoming experience. The owner, Don, is renovating and restoring the Inn, and he has created a unique environment that feels a like coming home. The 83 year old Inn has all the original wooden paneling and trim, and it is filled with antiques and handmade quilts. There is a majestic dining room with a spectacular view out over the bay, a dance floor, a separate lounge with a fireplace, armchairs, sofas, and board games, a huge communal kitchen, and a pool hall with a (currently unlicensed) bar in the basement. The rooms are filled with antiques, including classic books series and toys. It could be the set for an Agatha Christie mystery, but instead it is the sort of inn that you want to cozy down in and stay for longer.
We were very glad to find shelter only minutes before the squall hit, bringing with it heavy rain, thunder and lightning, and incredible winds. We spent a wonderful evening talking with Don and the other guests, some of whom were current or previous residents of Red Rock, and some of whom were using Red Rock as a base from which to explore the area. It was a lovely and completely unexpected place to find in this small and beautiful community on shores of Lake Superior.
One of the many interesting things Don gave us to think about, was his experience of Covid 19 this year and his perspective of geography. He said most of his business usually comes from Americans, and when the border was closed due to the pandemic, he lost over 600 reservations overnight. However, he has been doing okay, because people from Toronto and other parts of southern Ontario are taking staycations up around Lake Superior this summer. Noting that for the first time in decades Ontarians are rediscovering their own "backyards" noting that most don't realize the shear size of the province they live in. He pointed out that if someone from Toronto drove 1,000 km south, they would be at the Georgia/Florida border on the Gulf of Mexico - which seems vast and distant. Yet if they drove 1,000 km north, they would be in Red Rock Ontario, and they would still be able to drive another 1,000 km north and still be Ontario.
Don also said Red Rock is halfway between Newfoundland and British Columbia, if you drive the Trans Canada Highway. I don't think the same is true on the Great Trail, but it certainly helped put this hike into perspective! Red Rock is certainly a welcome and beautiful place to enjoy one of our final nights in Ontario on the Trans Canada Trail in!