Onaping High Falls and the Shoreline Discovery Trail

Our visits to Onaping High Falls and the Shoreline Discovery Trail were both half day adventures added into our tour of Lake Huron’s northern coast. Our time in Ontario was bookended by visits with family and friends in Maine and Michigan so I had planned out a fairly detailed itinerary, but not a rigid one. This left us with pockets of free time and allowed us to not have to rush from place to place.

The falls, located inland north of Sudbury, had some walking trails and seemed like a good addition to our itinerary as we traveled west, but this section of the Onaping River turned out to be more interesting than we knew. Tumbling more than 150 feet in several drops the river here is incredibly scenic but it also marks the northernmost boundary of the Sudbury Basin, a huge impact crater that covers the entire area of the Georgian Bay – 81 miles in diameter. Formed 1.8 billion years ago when the third-largest known asteroid slammed into the earth’s crust, the basin was originally almost 10 miles deep before it filled with mineral-rich magma. The point where the waterfall begins – where the river plummets over the lip of the crater – marks the edge of this massive depression in the earth’s crust.

Starting at the top of the falls we crossed the bridge and back, then walked the trail down the west side of the river, darting out of the trees and onto bare rock to get better views of the cascades and rapids. Right before the last drop we came across a couple instances of conical-shaped ridges of rock radiating from small hollows; even without yet knowing the history of the basin – which we learned after we red the signs near the viewing areas at the base of the falls – it was clear these were impact points of some kind. Turns out these are shatter cones formed by the meteor slamming into earth.

Our short hike along the Shoreline Discovery Trail came about from a free afternoon after our arrival at Chutes Provincial Park. Wanting to save the hike in the park for the next day we headed out to the nearby town of Spanish where the Shoreline Trail begins by ascending a bluff above the harbor. We started however by walking below the cliffs and out onto the jetties of the marina in an effort to both get some additional views and some steps in. Once we’d explored along the bay as far as we could we backtracked and ascended the steps up the cliff. At the top was a gazebo which overlooked the outlet of the Serpent River as it flowed into Lake Huron; we stopped here briefly before following the trail towards the lake.

As we crossed the granite ridge we had fabulous views over the marina but as we approached the wooded sections of the trail we also had some great vistas inland over the man-made ponds below. As lovely as the trail was – and as lovely as the views should have been had we walked the ridge out to the end of the peninsula where we’d have had clear sightlines across the North Channel – we didn’t make it very far. There had been warnings about ubiquitous poison ivy posted at the base of the cliffs and though we’d already seen plenty I had been able to avoid it until the point when the trail became almost entirely overgrown. As someone who is highly allergic to the point of needing to visit the hospital each time I’ve been exposed, I chose to turn around rather than continuing on the trail. It was a very pretty short walk however and one worth doing.