Hiking in the Land of the Giants
It was one of those bucket list items that was only recently added. But, after nearly two years I decided this was the time. I’d wanted to hike Sleeping Giant Provincial Park ever since I’d seen an image of it in an article circulating the web. The article was titled 14 Natural Wonders You Won’t Believe Are in Ontario, and boy did it stir my wanderlust.
That article actually inspired me to start exploring more of my own backyard of Ontario and visit all of its natural wonders. So far I’ve visited 8 of the 14. In the past two years I’ve hit up Elora, Webster’s Falls, and Cheltenham Badlands. And this year I added another 4 more, including Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. I even planned a whole Northern Ontario road trip around my visit to the Giant.
Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
Once named Sibley Park, for the peninsula its one, Sleeping Giant Provincial Park is located an hour east of Thunder Bay. Set on the tip of the Sibley Peninsula which juts out of the northern shore of Lake Superior, its home to a wealth of wildlife, nearly 200 bird species, and the grand Boreal Forest.
Sleeping Giant Provincial Park is home to some of Ontario’s highest cliffs. And it offers around 100 kilometres of trails – the largest trail system of all of Ontario’s Parks. The park has much to offer visitors, from camping to swimming and sea kayaking to hiking in the summer. And the fun doesn’t end when winter falls as there is snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
It’s All in the Name
Many ask, ‘why is it called Sleeping Giant?’ If you’ve ever seen it from afar, like from Thunder Bay, then you’d know. The tip of the peninsula where the park sits literally looks like a giant laying down. And like so many grand Ontario natural wonders, like Ouimet Canyon, there’s a story behind the giant.
One legend tells of a giant named Nanabosho, son of the west wind, Kabeyun. While sitting on the beach one day he discovered silver. And afraid for his people, he made them bury it at the end of the Sibley Peninsula.
Sometime later, Nanabosho saw a warrior heading to where the silver was, with two white men in his canoe. Desperate to save the secret he created a storm that sunk the canoe and drowned the white men. But Nanabosho was punished by the Great Spirit. He was turned to stone and now lays watching over his silver secret.
Top of the Giant
Sleeping Giant Provincial Park is full of amazing trails, most leading you to or by one of the park’s natural gems. But its signature trail is the Top of the Giant Trail.
We hit the Kabeyun Trail mid-morning, not fully committed to hiking the Top of the Giant. At a casual stroll, we breathed in the fresh forest air. The trail was wide and we surprisingly had it all to ourselves. About a kilometre in we hit the Sea Lion Trail. This short trail is much rockier and steep at times. A rustle in the bushes near my right foot grabbed my attention and I just caught the tail end of a slender garter snake slither off the trail. Our first stop was a pretty little stone beach at Perry Beach.
From here we clambered up the rocky trail that brought us to a large sweeping view of Lake Superior. And there to the right sat the Sea Lion. While it now more resembles an awkward arch, info boards at the lookout show what it looked like in its glory days. It actually once looked like a lion sitting on its haunches, but sadly the head has broken off, and the name remains.
After heading back the way we came we met up with the Kabeyun again and continued on. The trail remained much the same for a few kilometres, with the occasional little babbling brook snaking along and hints of Lake Superior to our left. I just went into zen mode. I soaked in the scent of forest flowers lining the trail, crisp northern air, and the presence of the giant lurking ahead.
The next stop on the trail was Tee Harbour. Not a soul around but a family of mergansers floating in the still waters and a pair of yellow swallowtail butterflies dancing along the shore. Perched on a log that sat on the shore, I indulged in an apple while I watched this perfect wild moment. Laughter and squeals broke the quiet, followed by a rustle in the bush close by. A single deer sprung from the green, only pausing briefly to catch my eye before darting into the bush on the far side. Shortly after a group of bicyclists sped by.
Continuing on our way to Lehtinen’s Bay, we passed by the trail marker leading to the Top of the Giant Trail. As we wandered down to the Bay we discussed if we should do it, could we do it. All the research I’d done said it was a difficult trail and I was hiking with my aunt who’s twice my age and has asthma. While fit and regularly active, I still worried for her. But her gung-ho attitude was game. She said we can at least try. So, after a stop at the incredibly picturesque Lehtinen’s Bay, with a fabulous view of part of the Sleeping Giant, we eagerly trundled back to the Talus Lake Trail head which would lead us to the Top of the Giant trailhead.
The Talus Lake Trail is part of the new path to the Top of the Giant. The old Chimney Trail had to be closed due to the danger of fallen rock. And the Talus Lake Trail is only a hint at the intensity the Top of the Giant Trail has to come. After ascending some steep hillside steps, over rocky terrain, we met the Top of the Giant trailhead. From here it began casually, considering what was to come. We wound around a serene lake and then we hit the wall!
The wall before us was a literal vertical climb up giant steps and over rocky switchbacks. I don’t recall much from the climb, except the frequent stops for both my asthmatic aunt and myself to catch our breath. I just remember being hyper focused. I can do this. Slow and steady. Became my mantra.
Then all of a sudden, I looked to my right. And there before me was an incredible view. We were nearly to the top. I could see Lake Superior beyond a huge stretch of forest far below. This view refueled us and we clambered on. And before we knew it we were face to face with the sign stating you’d reached the Top of the Giant, 750 feet above Lake Superior. But don’t think that was the end! We were surrounded by forest. We still had a couple of kilometres to go before we reached the “Top”.
Along the way to the “Top” there were nearly half a dozen stunning viewpoints. Large rock ledges stretch out offering sweeping views of Lake Superior and the lush and green Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. At one we joined a gathering of others to sit and enjoy our lunch with this astounding view. But I knew this wasn’t the “Top”. Others thought it was. I was hell-bent and determined. We’d come this far, I would see that epic view!
Eventually, we made it. I don’t think I’ve ever smiled that big. I was in complete awe. I stood on a narrow precipice above some of the highest cliffs in Ontario, 950 feet above the Lake. I could have cried. There are no words that could justify the sheer beauty and breathtaking experience to get there. Looking out over the view, I knew even photos couldn’t do it justice. I made to the Top of the Giant and I could feel his immense presence. Perhaps, he even had a hand in helping me get there. I closed my eyes and gave thanks to the spirit of the Giant.
In total that day we hiked over 27 kilometres, for around nine hours, and only saw a fraction of Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. But I’d say, we saw the best it had to offer. And after that hike I realized that we must continue to push ourselves, for we are capable of so much more than we think.
Some of Sleeping Giant Provincial Park’s trails: Kabeyun 37km linear, Top of the Giant 22km return, Kabeyun to Tee Harbour/Lehtinen’s Bay 14km return, Wildlife Habitat 2.1km return, Sea Lion 2.5km return
Parking Fee: 14.50 (Day Pass)
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