Point Pelee National Park - Kayak Trip / Canoe Trip
Point Pelee National Park contains one of the last large freshwater marshes on the Great Lakes. In all 8 square miles of park land protects a variety of habitat for wildlife, including open fields, forests, marshes, ponds, and sand beaches. Point Pelee is the southernmost tip of mainland Canada, and its southern location, coupled with the moderating influence of Lake Erie, ensure a warmer climate than in almost any other part of Canada. This moderate climate allows many plants and animals that are not normally found in Canada to thrive within the park. The point extends far south into the lake, a natural crossing point for migratory birds flying north or south across Lake Erie. The incredible bird watching brings visitors from all over the world, with over 400,000 visitors enjoying the park each year. The forests of Point Pelee were first set aside under British rule in the 1790s as a naval reserve to save virgin stands of oak and white pine for ship building. In spite of the naval reserve, squatters moved in to use the point for farming and fishing. The passage between Point Pelee and Pelee Island is the most treacherous passage on the Great Lakes, having shallow water and many shoals. Since the mid-1800s over 275 ships have been lost in the Pelee Passage. In 1902 a lifesaving station was established at the tip of the point and remained operational until the 1930s. In 1918 Point Pelee became Canada's ninth national park. Today the park's boundaries are identical to those of the naval reserve of the 1790s.
Trip Highlights: Fantastic bird watching, hiking trails, sand beaches, unique wildlife in a southern microclimate.
Beginner: 4-5 mile loop through the marsh (West Cranberry Pond and Lake Pond).
Intermediate/Advanced: 11-mile loop from the Marsh Boardwalk to the Northwest Beach (includes a 0.3-mile walk from one launch site to the other).
Trip Duration: Day trip.
Navigation Aids: CHS chart 2123; Canadian topographic maps 40 J/2 and 40 G/15 at 1:50,000.
Cautions: Shallow water in the Pelee Passage of Lake Erie can produce very steep waves with sudden storms, the long point produces long-shore currents and rip tides at the tip (many swimmers and waders have died off the tip of the point); cold water in spring and fall.
Trip Planning: Always check the marine forecast before heading out. Strong winds from any direction but north can produce large steep surf. The long point and shallow water can produce strong rip currents and steep chaotic waves; it should only be rounded in calm weather unless you have advanced skills. With strong winds you can choose to paddle on the sheltered side or explore the sheltered marsh area. Lake Erie is relatively warm in summer, but for spring and fall paddling a wet suit or dry suit is strongly recommended.
Launch Sites: Marsh Boardwalk: To get to the park, follow Highway 3 to Leamington, then follow the park signs (brown signs with the outline of a beaver) to the national park. The signs are small and easy to miss-watch carefully so you don't miss any turns. About 1.5 miles south of the park entrance, watch for the signs directing you to the Marsh Boardwalk. There is a parking lot, canoe landing, and observation tower on the edge of the marsh and small inland lakes. It is helpful to climb the observation tower to scout your route east through the marsh channel to Lake Erie. Washrooms and potable water are available. There is also a small food concession.
Northwest Beach: To get to the park follow Highway 3 to Leamington and then follow the park signs (brown signs with the outline of a beaver) to the national park. About 1.5 miles south of the park entrance, watch for the signs directing you to the Northwest Beach picnic area. From the parking lot to the sand beach on the west side of the peninsula is a 200 foot walk over level ground. Washrooms and potable water are available.
From Marsh Boardwalk (N 41° 58.09', W 082° 31.84') canoe landing, follow the weedy channel along the boardwalk then head east toward the open water of the Lake Pond.
At about Mile 0.5 the narrow weedy marsh channel empties into the open waters of the Lake Pond. On windy days paddlers can explore the shores of the Lake Pond and West Cranberry Pond. Head-ing east across the Lake Pond, you come to a narrow sandbar at Mile 1.5, where it is only a short portage of about 150 feet to Lake Erie (N 41° 57.92', W 082° 30.21'). Beginning paddlers can explore the sheltered waters of the marsh and inland lakes or portage for a short paddle on the east shore of the peninsula before returning to the Marsh Boardwalk canoe landing. Weather permitting intermediate and advanced paddlers continue south down the east side of the peninsula.
Heading south you paddle along a narrow sand and gravel beach with a narrow, wooded strip of land separating the marsh from Lake Erie.
After Mile 3.0 the narrow strip of land and the large marsh end, and you follow a narrow sand beach and wooded shoreline. At Mile 4.0 you come to wooden dock posts from an old pier.
At Mile 6.0 you come to the tip of Point Pelee (N 41° 54.45', W 082° 30.54'). The low sand point ends in a long sandbar that reaches far out into Lake Erie. Near the tip is a hiking trail, washrooms, and a phone. A lifesaving station was established at the tip of the point to rescue ships that ran aground while trying to make it through the treacherous Pelee Passage. The lifesaving station operated from 1902 until the 1930s. Caution: The tip of Point Pelee often produces strong rip currents. Expect steep waves and choppy conditions off the point, especially if waves are running against a rip current. If weather conditions permit, round the point and head north up the west side of the point.
Narrow sand beaches continue up the west side of the peninsula, with the exception of a short section of limestone blocks installed to prevent shore erosion. About 1.75 miles north from the tip, you come to West Beach and just inland is the park Visitor Centre.
The sand beach shore continues with several day access beach and picnic sites: White Pine, Black Willow Beach, Pioneer, Sleepy Hollow, and The Dunes. All of these sites have parking, washrooms, and easy access to the beach, making them suitable launch or take-out sites.
Continuing north you pass Blue Heron Beach and come to the Northwest Beach (N 41° 58.24' W 082° 32.20'). You can end your trip here and retrieve your car from the Marsh Boardwalk parking lot by making a 0.3-mile trip on foot. As you walk you are retracing a historical portage route used by the early settlers and Native Canadians. To avoid canoeing around the long point and the risk of the dangerous currents and chaotic seas at the tip of the point, early travelers would make this short portage and pass through the marsh into Lake Erie.
Where to Eat & Where to Stay
At the Marsh Boardwalk canoe landing, there is a small food concession stand for a quick bite to eat called the Cattail Café (519-322-1654). Just north of the park is Paula's Fish Place (519-326-1292), a family restaurant that specializes in fresh fish. For excellent seafood in the town of Leamington try The Dock restaurant. For information on restaurants in the area, call Leamington Tourist Information at (800) 250-3336.
Lodging: The town of Leamington has many lodging options. For information call Leamington Tourist Information.
Camping: With the exception of special event group camping, there is no camping within Pelee National Park. Camping is available east of the point at Wheatley Provincial Park (519-825-4659). For private campgrounds in the area, call Leamington Tourist Information at (800) 250-3336.
Excerpted from Guide to Sea Kayaking on Lakes Superior & Michigan: The Best Day Trips and Tours by William Newmanm et. al. with permission from Falcon Publishing.
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