Three's a Charm in Ontario

Rainbow Falls Provincial Park

Rainbow Falls represents slices of two different worlds. It is divided into a small section along Lake Superior and a larger one just inland off the lake. The park is named for the rainbows that often rise from the glittering cascades that fall down the rocky steps from Whitesand Lake to the Whitesand River, which also lie within the park's boundaries.

The Whitesand River has a rather dubious, if not apocryphal, history. In the past, it has been known as the Selim River, Hewitson River, and Maggot River. The latter stems from various accounts of attacks that occurred in the area. In all these stories, the victims' bodies were left exposed to decay along the river's edge.

The river and falls have been shaped by the cracks of the bedrock below. The erratic jointing has caused the river to run over a number of ledges and drop in a series of cascades rather than one large fall. The rock along the shore of Lake Superior here is made up of granite, while the islands just offshore are composed of diabase. These islands are known as "cuestas" due to the steep ledges on their north faces and the gentle slopes on the south side.

Inland, the forests teem with small animals like hares, chipmunks, and squirrels, while deer, moose, and black bear are sometimes but less frequently seen. Listen for the drumming of ruffed grouse as they beat their wings in the woods or watch the skies for great blue herons as they sail above the waters of Whitesand Lake. Take a guidebook and try to identify the clusters of berries growing on the forest floors. Walk the cobble beaches of Lake Superior and watch the gulls soaring overhead.

The waters of Lake Superior are littered with the hulls of ships that have floundered in its waters. Off the shores of nearby Rossport lie the remains of the ship Gunilda. The Gunilda was in the employ of the Standard Oil Company when it struck a reef and sank in 1911. The 195-foot vessel now rests in about 250 of water.


There are three trails to explore within the park, as well as a segment of the larger Voyageur Hiking Trail.

Rainbow Falls Trail: This is a self-guiding, 1 1/2-mile trail which follows the Whitesand River before crossing the falls. The first part of the trail is a long wooden walk with stairs that lead down to the falls. There are several places to hop off and get closer views of the rushing water. At the bridge, the trail leads up into the sloping hillsides to a set of overlooks with marvelous views of Whitesand Lake as well as Lake Superior and its many islands. Those wishing to continue on will see signs for the Casque-Isles section of the Voyageur Hiking Trail. This is a 30-mile stretch of trail that winds along the shores of Superior, from Terrace Bay to Rossport.

Back 40 Trail: Rated as the most challenging of the park's trails, the Back 40 is a 1 1/2-mile climb that reveals grand vistas of the two lakes and surrounding country.

Superior Trail: The Superior Trail begins with a series of high, rocky steps that terminate on a flat slab of Canadian Shield. Here are terrific views of Lake Superior and the surrounding hills. The trail winds over this rocky stretch before funneling into a spruce forest.

Whitesand Lake

Whitesand Lake is nestled beneath the green hills that surround the park and has sand beaches for swimming, as well as a boat launch. Visitors can rent canoes and paddle boats from the park for a day of paddling or pedaling. Whitesand is home to good populations of smallmouth bass, while the Whitesand River is the place for rainbow and speckled trout in spring and steelhead during the fall run.


Campers can choose between the Rainbow Falls or Rossport campgrounds. There are 97 sites at Rainbow Falls scattered through the woods, including a small cluster lakeside on Whitesand. The Rossport campground places visitors along the shores of Lake Superior. These 36 sites are extremely popular and usually fill before those at Rainbow Falls.


The park's gates are shut during the winter, but skiers can tackle the campground roads that double as cross-country trails.

How to Get There

From Ouimet Canyon, continue along the shores of Lake Superior past the tiny village of Rossport to Rainbow Falls Provincial Park.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 2 Jun 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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