Fall Hikes: Duchesnay Falls & the Laurentian Escarpment
The Duchesnay and Campus Trails on the northwestern border of North Bay each offer outstanding scenery and a chance to stretch your legs on an ancient and historic part of the Laurentian Escarpment. But the Duchesnay Trail gets the lion’s share of short-term tourist visitors while the Campus Trails remain a semi-secret treasure enjoyed mostly by North Bay residents.
Note: As you’re travelling throughout the region, please make sure you’re following all COVID-related safety protocols; wash your hands frequently, keep physically distant and wear a mask. Read more here.
Duchesnay Falls Trail
Part of the popularity is location. Duchesnay Trail is easily accessible right off of Highway 17. Hikers should look for a picnic table sign on the north side of the highway, about a kilometer west of North Bay. There is a driveway that leads to a paved lot. The trail entrance is hard to spot but just listen for the sound of running water at the north-west end of the parking area.
This is the second reason why the Duchesnay Trail is so popular with visitors. The trail runs parallel to the Duchesnay Falls, a 70-metre high waterfall that cascades in stages down from the top of the escarpment. The volume of water varies with the time of year. During the spring runoff, the falls can be quite spectacular (and even intimidating). In the summer and fall seasons, the water volume drops low enough to allow hikers to scramble along most of the riverbed without getting their feet wet.
The Campus Trails
The lesser known Campus Trails have two entrances. You can connect to them by climbing the Duchesnay Trail which is a short but challenging hike up the escarpment. Alternatively, you can enter the trails from the adjoining Canadore College and Nipissing University campus nearby. From Highway 17, turn north on Gormanville Road, circle around the roundabout to College Drive, and turn left on the North Access Road at the campus.
On weekdays, non-students must park in the visitors’ lot (Number 4) but on weekends, they can use Lot 7 which is just a few hundred metres from the trail head. Walk behind the Canadore building and you will see a big pond marking the beginning of the trails. From Monday to Friday, there is a $1.25 an hour charge to park on campus ($5.75 per day) but weekends are free.
“I’ve lived in North Bay all my life and the trails have been up there as long as I can remember,” says Dave Cotie, Canadore’s Director of Facilities whose job it is to manage and maintain the twenty kilometers of trails. Combined, the 16 paths that make up the Campus Trails extend more than 20 kilometres and range in physical challenge from easy to very difficult.
“Just keep in mind these are nature trails, not sidewalks through the forest,” says Dave Cotie. “Even the easy trails have small obstacles like tree roots and rocks to watch out for.” The trails are enjoyed by hikers and bicyclists in the warmer months, and snowshoers and cross country skiers in the winter.
There is a look-out post at the top of the escarpment that affords visitors a lovely view of Lake Nipissing. The look-out is about a 30 minute walk from the campus entrance – a steep but not difficult climb. Although they are now called the Campus Trails, the history of these forest paths go back much further. Many of the trails are named after trees which gives an indication of a former economic activity in this area.
Lumber & Empire
The Laurentian Escarpment was once part of a massive 19th century lumber empire owned by John Rudolphus Booth who built the largest sawmill operation in the world. But Booth’s mills were in Ottawa, more than 300 kilometres away.
To get his raw material from North Bay to Ottawa, massive logs had to be skidded down the rocky escarpment, pushed across Lake Nipissing by steam tugs, loaded aboard Booth’s private railroad that carried 4,000 logs a day to Lake Nosbonsing where they were floated downstream all the way to Ottawa. Lumber from Booth’s mills was used for Canada’s Parliament Buildings and was also shipped overseas to Great Britain where it ended up, among other things, as the decks of many famous British steamships including the Lusitania. Think of that, as you wander along these quiet forest paths.
There are numerous signs and maps posted along the trails, but it’s best to download a trail map to carry with you. The trails are officially closed by sundown. “We’ve have had a few people spend the night out there… usually involuntarily,” Cote laughs. Dave also requests that visitors bring back everything they take onto the trail. “Nothing is worse than seeing an abandoned coffee cup or plastic straw on an otherwise pristine trail,” Cote notes. “If you can pack it in, please pack it back out.”
Stay a While
To take full advantage of what the North Bay area has to offer, consider spending the night nearby! Both the Comfort Inn and the Hampton Inn are just a few kilometers east of the trails and close by to food, shopping and entertainment.
For those seeking a fully serviced camp site or cottage to rent in the area, consider Booth Landing Camping & Cottages on Wasi Lake in nearby Powassan. As the name implies, there is a boat landing there that was originally built by the 19th century lumber baron John Rudolphus Booth as part of his North Bay to Ottawa operation.
His railroad and log booms are long gone, but modern visitors to the area can now enjoy boating, swimming, bass and walleye fishing, ATV trails, and golf. The camp sites and cottages often fill up in peak seasons so if you plan to visit the trails and area, it is best to reserve in advance.