More like an inland sea than a lake, the steely waters of Lake Superior comprise the largest freshwater lake in the world – and one of the wildest. Its northern shore between Sault Ste Marie and Thunder Bay is a windswept, rugged region formed by volcanoes, earthquakes and glaciers, its steep, forested valleys often overhung by a canopy of grey sky. In 1872 Reverend George Grant wrote of Superior: “It breeds storms and rain and fog… It is cold… wild, masterful and dreaded.” The indigenous Ojibwa lived in fear of the storms that would suddenly break on the lake they knew as Gitche Gumee, the Big-Sea-Water, and white sailors were inordinately suspicious of a lake whose icy waters caused its victims to sink like stones: Lake Superior never gives up its dead. For the most part, Hwy-17 sticks close to the north shore of Lake Superior between Sault Ste Marie and Thunder Bay, but a screen of trees almost always keeps the lake out of view. This stretch of road is 690km long, so unless you’re up for a gruelling thrash, it’s much better to dawdle and dally. Along the way are two magnificent parks, Lake Superior Provincial Park and Pukaskwa National Park, where there’s camping and hiking – though the insects can be unbearable from May to August, sometimes longer. The small towns dotted along the highway mostly fail to inspire, but low-key Wawa, about a third of the way along, has several good places to stay, while diminutive Rossport, a further 300km west, is easily the prettiest settlement hereabouts.
Greyhound buses regularly travel Hwy-17 between Toronto and Thunder Bay en route to Winnipeg, but don’t expect them to drop you exactly where you want: if you are aiming for a specific motel or campsite, check how far you’ll have to walk.