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Back Roads Bill takes us to parks near Sudbury (9 photos)

This week Bill takes us to more parks in Northeastern Ontario, he’s headed towards the City of Greater Sudbury and its three nearby provincial parks and some other honourable mentions as he completes this series of five stories

The summer is going by too quickly, a daily vehicle permit is a great way to explore a provincial park for the day; bike, hike, swim, picnic and make some magical outdoor memories and explore nearby communities.

We have been visiting many provincial parks. This, the fifth installment in a series including day trips to these three parks, these parks on Highway 11, and these parks near North Bay and throughout northeastern Ontario and this week it is the cluster of three parks closer to the City of Greater Sudbury – Fairbank, Windy and Halfway Provincial Parks and some others scattered throughout the region.

Really big thanks to Dave Sproule, Natural Heritage Education Specialist -Zone Marketing Specialist for Ontario Parks for providing some background information.

Fairbank Provincial Park, near Sudbury

Fairbank Provincial Park sits on the edge of the Sudbury Basin, created by a meteorite impact 1.85 billion years ago. Geologists estimate that the crater was huge – about 250 km across! After all that time it’s eroded down to 30km x 60km across, Fairbank Lake sits at its western end. Take the Fairbank Lake Road past the Totten mine at the Worthington turnoff on Highway17 West.

“Fairbank Provincial Park is a great family park. It’s not too spread out, and there’s lots to do on a day trip. The main feature is obviously Fairbank Lake. It’s well-named – a pretty lake set into the hills, with lush forest and even a scenic cliff across the water,” Sproule said.

“The meteorite created one of Canada’s most significant mining regions. Miners have been extracting nickel and other minerals for over a hundred years. Some signs of that activity can be seen along the park’s hiking trail. The trail also provides excellent views of Fairbank Lake from high above,” he added.

Fairbank Provincial Park has just about everything a family might want for a day at a park.

It has a great sandy beach for swimming and building sand castles, a volleyball court and the lake is perfect for watersports like canoeing (the park rents canoes). The park’s hiking trail provides great views of the lake, crossing open bedrock, passing through leafy forests, and skirting the lakeshore. It’s a great place for a picnic, of course, to refuel after all that activity.

My takeaway was the single basketball shooting area overlooking Fairbank Lake. It is not a full-sized court but a sizeable concrete pad beckoning one to shoot hoops.

Windy Lake Provincial Park, near Sudbury

Windy Lake Provincial Park is known throughout the Sudbury region as having one of the best beaches in the area. Next to Batchawawa Provincial Park, north of the “Soo,” it is one of the longest beaches in all of the parks’ systems.

“Long and sandy, with great views of the hills across the lake,” Dave says, “It’s popular on summer weekends, so trying weekdays is a good idea, or book your daily vehicle permit in advance.” 

You can book your day use permit up to five days in advance of your visit! Help speed up your check-in time and plan your trip with confidence knowing you have guaranteed access to the park, even on busy weekends.

Windy Lake Provincial Park sits on the edge of the Sudbury Basin, a huge meteorite crater nearly 2 billion years old. The drive from Sudbury up to Windy Lake passes through the Onaping River Valley, a rugged and scenic route that is actually part of the rim of the crater.

At the end of the last ice age, some of the Sudbury Basin filled with meltwater. A river flowing off the edge of the glacier into this “lake” deposited lots of sand. That sand now makes up the flat upper level of the park where the campground is, and another lower level where the sandy beach is on the shores of Windy Lake.

“Windy Lake Provincial Park is a great spot to relax on a sunny day; it has one of the most popular recreational beach areas in the Sudbury region. Sailing, windsurfing, motor boating and waterskiing are favourite summertime activities with the large day use area making it an ideal spot to spend the day relaxing, playing beach volleyball, swimming with the kids or picnicking with your family. You can also bring your four-legged family members – the park has a pet exercise area with its own beachfront.”

Along with its great sandy beach, there are lots of picnic tables for family picnics in the day use area, and a large grassy area for games. A boat launch provides access for motorboats. This is neat. A unique day use opportunity is the reservable day use area. It comes with its own bit of sand beach, a beach

volleyball court, its own outhouse and a very large picnic shelter – this makes a great location for those large family gatherings like reunions.

Halfway Lake Provincial Park, near Sudbury

Halfway Lake Provincial Park may be one of the Sudbury region’s hidden gems. It is a great day trip for anyone from families to adventurers, to nature lovers. It has great hiking trails. It has an Earth, Wind and Fire theme as there have been recent forest fires and tornado ravaging parts of this park.

Moose Ridge is a short trail with a great lookout in the middle, with views over the campground and Halfway Lake itself. Echo Pond is longer and takes hikers through some of the rugged Canadian Shield and Boreal Forest that makes Halfway Lake Provincial Park different – it sits just north of Sudbury, but contains a piece of the Boreal Forest that is usually found further north. Hawk Ridge Trail gives hikers a challenge – a 15K trail through all that rugged boreal landscape, as well as some beautiful lakes that most visitors don’t see on the west side of the park. This is a favourite but at present, the Osprey Heights Trail, just north of the park’s entrance, with a moderate to difficult rating, length: 6 km, or 2 hours, is temporarily closed; call ahead to see when it will reopen.

The Boreal Forest reaches a bit further south here, just north of Sudbury. East and west of here, maples dominate. At Halfway Lake Provincial Park though, Black Spruce, Jackpine and Trembling Aspen dominate giving the forest a much different look. Ask for the canoe day trip loop map that takes you from Halfway Lake through Benny, Moosemuck and Bailey Lakes you will get a feeling for that Earth, Wind and Fire theme.

The park’s beach might just be the nicest one in the region. Beautiful sand and nice and shallow in the buoyed area for kids. The picnic tables are metres from the lake’s edge and the Park Store is a stone’s throw away.

Two kilometres, south of Cartier, which is south of Halfway is one of the largest roadside erratics on the east side of the highway, there is a safe pull-off area here for photos.

Honourable Mentions

There is a smattering of other parks to mention in this series of five stories. Don’t forget Chutes Provincial Park in Massey, just off of Highway 17.

Find the Twin Bridges Trail - 6 km return (2 hours), moderate in difficulty. Following the Aux Sables River, this trail leads to lookouts at the falls and the Seven Sisters Cataracts. Interpretive panels at the Falls Lookout tell the history of the area. There is an interpretive trail guide available.

After checking out this trail, head downtown to see the many Laval Bouchard life-sized metal sculptures found on both sides of the “main drag.”

North of Elliott Lake on Highway #639 is a favourite, Mississagi Provincial Park, where the rugged landscape dominates. Bring your canoe or kayak for Semiwite Lake, starting from the campground you will find two secluded beaches near the far end of the lake and an island on the south side. Or try the

Helenbar Lookout Trail - 7 km (2-4 hours) of moderate difficulty. Focal points include huge boulder erratics, a spectacular lookout and views of the surrounding mountainous landscape. There is a white sand beach on Semiwite Lake where the Helenbar and Semiwite Lake Trails meet. It is worth the hike.

Check out Miners’ Memorial Park within the city, see this story for a preview.

North of the Sault is Batchawawa, a day-use park only with one of the longest sand beaches on Lake Superior. A must-see and do when travelling Highway 17.

The water is shallow and protected and the warmest on the Lake Superior shoreline. Try the Lookout trail just north of Pancake Bay Provincial Park entrance on the north side of Highway 17. The Lookout Trail is a seven km return (2-3 hours) hike to the lookout.

This hiking trail takes you through a mature forest dominated by tall sugar maples and yellow birch. It is a wonderful fall hike. This stretch of Lake Superior is known as the “graveyard of the Great Lakes” where the Edmund Fitzgerald sunk in a fierce Superior storm in 1975. Highlights of this trail include two lookout platforms offering spectacular views of Lake Superior and Pancake Bay.

Aubrey Falls Provincial Park is a park with no camping located on Highway 129 about halfway between Thessalon and Chapleau. Non-operating parks like this one do not have operating dates.

The trail to the falls is a 2-km round trip and easy to follow. You cross over a small bridge over the gorge and follow the rest of the trail to the viewing areas. It is a hidden gem that showcases Aubrey’s seven different waterfall chutes.

Potholes Provincial Park is another non-operating park, about 32 km east of Wawa on Highway101. There is a 350-meter self-guided hiking trail and boardwalk, through a jack pine forest, that winds in and around the natural beauty of these distinctive pothole landforms created by glaciers thousands of years ago.

The interpretive panels along the trail provide information on the geology, flora and fauna found in this nature reserve. You are not far from a selfie at the “goose” in Wawa.

At Wakami Provincial Park south and east of Chapleau visit the Historical Logging Exhibit it is a self-guided trail. Here you can discover the history of logging in the Wakami area from the 1920s to the 1940s when horses were slowly being replaced by machines. This is demonstrated with restored logging equipment as well as various log buildings on display and a variety of interpretive panels along the route.

Drive into Chapleau and pay a mindful visit to St.John’s Indian Residential School Cemetery. The commemorative cemetery is located on Hwy. 129, approaching Chapleau from the southwest, just before the Chapleau Inn and Suites, south of the OPP detachment on the east (right) side of the highway.

It was purposeful to stay away from the larger parks like Grundy, Killbear, Pancake Bay, Algonquin, Killarney (take the “Crack” trail if you cannot afford time for Silver Peak) and Superior, (a must-see is the Agawa Pictographs). All of these have day trip assets such as trails, day use areas and canoeing/kayaking opportunities. By latitude, it was good to investigate the less utilized parks just off the beaten pathways and near smaller communities.

Here’s the map link.

My pick for the best of the waterfalls is Kap-Kig-Iwan (High Falls). For the bike trails, my picks are Kettle Lakes vista and Mississagi (Helenbar). For diversified day canoe/kayak and paddle boarding opportunities, my pick is Samuel de Champlain. And, for something made, my pick is the disc golf course at Mikisew. 

My pick for the best beaches are Windy, Halfway and Batchawana parks and for heritage exhibits, I am going with Marten River, Wakami. In the area of natural heritage, my pick is the culturally modified trees at Nagagamisis and the best barefoot, organic trail, in my opinion, is the Restoule-Lookout Trail. And, if you are looking for backcountry campsites or day use at an introductory level to canoe/kayak, my pick is Fushimi.

Enjoy a provincial park pass every season. Collect those park badges. Daily vehicle permits are available year-round and each park has its own operating dates so check ahead to plan your adventure. Take the back roads to get there – yours to discover!