Photographing the North East Shore of Lake Superior

by Dr. Robert Berdan
May 29, 2011



Map of the five great lakes showing north east shore of Lake Superior

The drive along the north east shore of lake Superior is one of the most beautiful routes in Canada. In part it is because the area is still largely wilderness and sparsely populated. The highway follows the lake for much of the 705 km distance and passes through numerous provincial parks. I have driven this route three times in the past ten years on my way from Calgary to Midland, Ontario where my folks live. The entire trip from Calgary to Midland is 3600 km and takes me 3 days one way. I usually get up about half hour before sunrise and drive to about a half hour before sunset. I stop frequently when ever I see the possibility of a photo-opportunity and try to explore the parks en route searching for waterfalls and other scenic vistas in the limited time I have. After driving for 12 hours through the prairies the rugged relief of Lake Superior is a welcome sight and one of the first vistas near the north end of the lake is Kakabeka falls (see below).

Kakabeka falls in Ontario by Robert Berdan ©

Kakabeka Falls taken with a 20-35 mm wide angle lens, Blue\Yellow Polarizing filter, at F16. Because the rock is fragile visitors are not permitted into the gorge. The Name "Kakabeka" comes from Ojibwe word gakaabikaa meaning "waterfall over a cliff".

The Sleeping Giant near Thunder Bay  Ontario by Robert Berdan ©

Heading south from Thunder Bay, I photographed the Sleeping Giant, a rock formation that resembles a giant Indian lying on his back. The island forms part of Sleeping Giant Provincial Park and includes 250 m high steep cliffs. An Ojibway legend identifies the giant as Nanabijou, who was turned to stone when the secret location of a rich silver mine now known as Silver Islet was disclosed to white men. Photographed from Terry Fox Monument in Thunder bay using a 70-200 mm zoom lens View 360 panoramic view from Terry fox monument here.

Photograph from the cliffs of the Sleeping Giant by Robert Berdan ©

View from the cliffs off Sleeping Giant Provincial Park looking north.

Sunrsie on lake near Shriber, Lake Superior by Robert Berdan ©

Lake along side highway17 near Shrieber facing East at sunrise (18-200 mm Zoom lens, no filters, tripod)

Rossport Bay - sailboat in harbour by Robert Berdan ©

Rossport is a small picturesque village with a protected bay about an hour drive south of Thunder Bay. It features several Inns and restaurants and offers numerous photographic opportunities. See the Rossport web site below for more pictures and information.

Rossport bay by Robert Berdan ©

Rossport looking east

Rossport bay at sunset by Robert Berdan ©

View from beach in Rossport around sunset facing east.

Lake Superior after sunset by Robert Berdan ©

Facing West after sunset south of Rossport - 300 mm lens. The island appears like a mirage on the lake.

About Lake Superior

Lake Superior is the largest of the five great lakes and was called Lake Gichigama by the Ojibwe meaning "big water". French explorers referred to it as le lac superieur meaning "Upper lake" above lake Huron. The English upon taking control of the region around 1760 anglicized the name to Superior. The lakes surface area is 82, 413 km2 and has an average depth of 147 m and its shoreline stretches 4387 km (including islands). At the deepest point it is 224 m (733 feet) below sea level and has an average temperature of 4.4 °C. The low temperature makes it potentially lethal to boaters that fall overboard. In most locations I stopped to view the lake the water is crystal clear. During a storm the waves can reach 6 m (20-30 feet) high and numerous boats have perished in its waters, the most famous being the SS Edmund Fitzgerald (see pictures of this boat moored in Midland Harbour by K. Berdan). The rocks round the lake date back to the Precambrian era (4.65 billion to 450 million years ago) and are rich in minerals such as gold, nickel, silver and copper. There is a gold mine near the town of Marathon. During the last glaciation that occurred 10,000 years ago the area was covered with ice 2 km thick and the rocks still show evidence of being scarring by glaciers.

Sunrise Lake Superior south of Rossport by Robert Berdan ©

My shadow at sunrise, taken between Rossport and Terrace Bay. In places the shoreline is rugged and other
places the rocks are smooth with large scratches created by the glaciers.

Glacial striations on granite - lake Superiort by Robert Berdan ©

Smoothly carved rock with glacial striations. Glaciers acted like sand paper to smoothen the hard granite.


My son Brandon on ridge overlooking Hattie Cove in Pukaskwa national Park by Robert Berdan ©

Pukaskwa National Park is a relatively new national park established in 1978. The park is located about midway between Thunder Bay and Sault Saint Marie. The park is relatively isolated with almost 2000 square kilometers of land along the coast of Lake Superior. There is a 57.8 km Coastal hiking trail which I hope to one day experience. Most of my visits to the park have been limited to a few hours and a few short hikes near the park entrance. The appearance of the shoreline reminds me of the West coast with rugged rocks and wind swept pines.

Pukaskwa National Park Shoreline by Robert Berdan ©

Wind swept cedar and lichen cover the rocks along the coast in Hattie cove.

Pukaskwa shoreline by Robert Berdan ©

Granite covered in lichen in Hattie cove.

Trail in Pukaskwa and Dye in granite Katherin Cove by Robert Berdan ©

Left: Trail in Pukaskwa Park    Right: Dyke - different coloured rock that intrudes into the surrounding rock along
the coast from Katherine Cove.

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Short 1 min. video of Kakabeka falls, Pukaskwa, Lake Superior and Chippewa water falls - taken with Canon 5D Mark II.

Brief History of Lake Superior

The first known people to live in the region appeared about 10,000 years ago after the last ice age and were known as Plano. These people used stone-tipped spears to hunt caribou. These people were followed by a group called Shield-Archaic (c. 5000-500 BC) who used bows and arrows and are believed to be the ancestors of the Ojibwe and Cree. The Anishinaabe, also known as Ojibwe and Chippewa have inhabited the lakes regions for at least the past 500 years. After Europeans arrived, the Anishinaabe made themselves middlemen between the French fur traders and other Native peoples. The Anishinaabe forced out the Sioux, Fox and Iroquois from the area. While at Agawa rock we met several Objibwe that were setting up what like a sweat lodge.


Agawa Rock is at the south end of Lake Superior provincial park in Agawa Bay. From the parking lot. you pass through an eroded dyke and walk past large boulders that lead you down to a stone shelf (see below). Along the route photographed I photographed a Spruce Grouse after first walking by him. Along the rock wall are pictographs thought to be painted by the Ojibwe in the last hundred years or so. I couldn't help but notice the similarity of the pictographs at Agawa rock and those I photographed in Alberta at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park and also on the West Coast near Bella Coola.

Path leading to Agawa Rock and Pictographs by Robert Berdan ©

Path from the parking lot down to Stone shelf next to Agawa Rock - its only about a 500 m walk to the pictographs.

Spruce grouse at Agawa rock by Robert Berdan ©

Spruce Grouse along the trail to Agawa Rock wall. We almost walked right by without seeing him until he moved.

At the entrance to Agawa rock face, you can see a shelf with guard rails and light coloured visitor sign. It is possible to walk along the lower rock face and photograph the pictographs, but only if the lake is calm and you are sure footed - use extreme caution. If the conditions are icy or there are waves covering the rock don't take the chance of falling in as the rock wall is steep and slippery making rescue difficult. Thee is a life-savor ring on a pole next to the sign just in case someone falls in. The best lens to photograph the pictographs is a wide angle or 60 mm macro lens as you can't back up very much. Alternatively you can photograph the rock wall from a boat, but good luck holding your camera lens steady in the waves.

Agawa rock showing pictographs by Robert Berdan ©

Pictographs - Panels above from left to right:

1. Canoe, figure and caribou or deer    2. Misshepezhieu , canoe and two serpents. 3. Horse and rider and four spheres.

Agawa rock pictograph showing Misshepezhieu and two serpants by Robert Berdan ©

Close-up of one panel showing canoe, Misshepezhieu and two serpants. Misshepezhieu, the spine-backed figure with horns is thought to be a water spirit that symbolizes power and it appears in several locations around Lake Superior. You will also see this symbol at many of the gift shops on T-shirts. If you are interested in learning more about the pictographs you can purchase books in the local craft stores or see the references below. Do not touch the pictographs as it will cause them to deteriorate more quickly. Take only pictures and treat the area with the respect it deserves.

Agawa Rock and photographer by Robert Berdan ©

The ledge in front of the pictographs on this day was relatively dry and the waters calm. You can see why you shouldn't walk along the rock wall during bad weather. Also be sure to wear soft rubber shoes and traverse very carefully.

Rock island viewed from Agawa Rock by Robert Berdan ©

Rock island with white pine trees photographed from the Agawa look out.

Coastline of Lake Superior from Agawa Rock by Robert Berdan ©

Coastline looking south from Agawa Rock lookout.

Coppermine Pt. Lighthouse, Lake Superior by Robert Berdan ©

Coppermine Pt. Lighthouse photographed from the highway. Originally located on the cape about 20 km north of Batchawana Bay, but after deactivation the lighthouse was sold to a restaurant and campground at Hibbard Bay. The lighthouse is currently located off highway 17 about 100 km north of Sault Sainte Marie and can be photographed from the road. I used a 70-200 mm lens.

Cirrus clouds over lake Superior by Robert Berdan ©

Cirrus clouds over Lake Superior just after sunset in front my hotel. 12-24 mm lens on a t ripod.

Waterfalls by Robert Berdan ©

Waterfalls - (White Lake Provincial Park?) - I should have marked this site with my GPS or photographed the park sign.

Kathern Cove in Lake Superior Provincial Park at different times of the day.

Kathern Cove in morning light by Robert Berdan ©

Kathern Cove Lake Superior Provincial Park in the morning light

Kathern Cove Beach in Lake Superior Provincial Park by Robert Berdan ©

Beach at Kathern Cove in Lake Superior Provincial Park, Ontario - no crowds on this Sandy beach - mid day.

Katherin Cove lake superior at sunset by Robert Berdan ©

Kathern Cove at Sunset - see panorama, map and more pictures of Kathern Cove. I used a 2 stop Neutral density filter.

Kathern Cove Lake Superior by Robert Berdan ©

Kathern Cove showing white quartz veins in the rock at sunset - 2 stop grad filter,and tripod.

In spite of the fact that I have visited the north shore of Lake Superior three times, I am still not satisfied that I have captured the essence of the place - how could I in just a few days? What I hope is that I have been able to show the potential this area has for photography and why it has inspired so many artists in the past. If I lived in Ontario I would certainly be exploring this area often with my camera. I am sure I will visit this area again in the future - my favorite time of the year to visit and photograph is Autumn. If you might be thinking about visiting the area check out some of the links below for more information. RB

Links and Additional References

Reference Books


T. Conway and J. Conway (1990) Spirits on Stone, The Agawa Pictographs. Heritage Discoveres, CA. ISBN 1-878094-00-9.

B. Chisholm and A. Gutsche (2006) Superior Under the Shadow of the Gods. Lynx Images Inc. ISBN - 0-9698427-7-5.

P. Dean (1992) Sagas of Superior the Island Sea and its Canadian Shore. Rainbow Printers Ltd. Thunder Bay ISBN 0-9694702-4-X .

G. McGuffin and J. McGuffin (1995) Superior - Journeys On An Inland Sea. Bost Mills Press. ISBN 1-55046-067-6.

C. Blacklock ( 2007) Minnesota's North Shore. Photography BookISBN 13: 978-892472-19-9.

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