Sauna Islands

SKOAC: Saunas of Lake Superior

SKOAC: Saunas of Lake Superior

By Sarah Ohmann

March 2002

The Border Islands:

Flatland Island |
Spar Island |
Thompson Island

Silver Islet to Rossport:

CPR Slip |
Loon Harbor |
Swede Island

Sauna Etiquette

Over the last few years a number of club members have been
exploring the saunas along the Canadian shore of Lake Superior. Not only is having a sauna fun in its own right, but also these saunas are located in remote wild areas worth visiting even if you skip the saunas. With the exception of CPR slip, the saunas have been built on crown (government) land by Canadian boaters. The Ministry of Natural Resources has decided to tolerate their presence since they can serve as emergency shelter for boaters.

The Border Islands or Sauna Islands (there is no official name for this archipelago) extend in a line from just north of the border to Pie Island, and have three saunas on them. There is excellent access from the Little Trout Bay Conservation area or Squaw Bay. Though close to Thunder Bay, the area is still undeveloped and the only reminder that civilization is not far off is the occasional whiff of the pulp plant on the "Kam" river!

If you haven’t seen this area before, you should certainly put this trip on your short list. Unlike a lot of the Canadian Shore, these islands are accessible even if you only have a three-day weekend to spare, and the unusual buttes or cuestas found in the northwest corner of Superior are very impressive and like nothing else in the Great Lakes.

Flatland Island:

Flatland Island sauna

Located six miles south of Squaw Bay. This one is easy to reach since the crossing is very short and a line of shoals provides shelter from any weather from the south. Flatland is indeed one of the few flat places in the region and has a spacious grassy area with plenty of room for tents. The sauna is an older structure but still weather-tight and functional. Water levels have been low the last few years, which has kept all but a few of the boaters out of the small harbor. Flatland makes a good base camp for doing day trips to Pie or Thompson Islands.

Spar Island:

This one is a little tricky, since it was built on public land but for private use. We didn’t stop here since we were told that the "owners" did not welcome visitors, in spite of the "martini flag" flying at the entrance to the bay. Rumor has it that there is a trail up to the top of the big cliff on Spar that has an excellent view.

Thompson Island:

Thompson Island sauna

This one is the most deluxe of all of the north shore saunas, and the most heavily used. You will almost certainly find some of the Thunder Bay boating crowd here, moored to the rickety docks along the small harbor. They are a friendly group and a good source of information about the area and its history, as well as gossip about the local boating community! The area around the sauna has very poor tent sites, but a short walk across the point will take you to a large cobble beach with some flat gravel patches.

The Silver Islet to Rossport trip is one of the best trips on Lake Superior, and the saunas make a nice bonus. Most of this section of coastline is very empty, even in the summer, but you will almost always find a few sailors or power boaters in these spots since they offer good anchorages.

CPR Slip:

CPR Slip sauna

on the south side of St. Ignace Island, this is another luxury establishment, including not only a sauna, but also a bug-tight, new cabin. Demand for cabin space is high, but there is an open area for tents. This land belongs to some folks in Thunder Bay, but they have apparently allowed the public access and permission to maintain the cabin and sauna. The last time we were there (June 2001), the boaters were pouring a new concrete floor for the sauna, and they have done a lot of work on the place!

Loon Harbor:

Bahia España

Loon Harbor is a beautiful area located on the south side of the Black Bay Peninsula. The "Bahia España" is located on a tiny islet next to Spanish Island. The island is very poor for camping and does not have a great supply of wood, making it difficult for kayakers to use.

Swede Island:

Swede Island sauna

Just south of Loon Harbor is Swede Island, another popular spot for boaters. There is a cabin here with a mining claim sign over the door. But don’t be fooled: the sign is there to mollify the MNR and the cabin is open to visitors. The logbook inside has entries from many well-known kayakers and canoeists from around Lake Superior. It seemed odd at first they all recorded being near death from hypothermia, but eventually we realized this was for the MNR’s benefit and provided a legal excuse for their firing up the sauna…

Sauna Etiquette

The downside to the saunas is the heavy impact they cause on their surroundings. Some of the boaters bring chain saws along and cut trees down to provide wood for the fires. There were rumors that the recent additional protection given to this area as a result of the Lands for Life process in Ontario might eventually spell an end to the saunas for this reason, but for the time being they will be allowed to stand.

Because we don’t carry power tools with us, we are limited to gathering wood with saws and axes. I would hope that kayakers would stick to scrounging dead and down wood rather than felling trees.

Please do make whatever contribution to the woodpile that you can: burning the wood that others have collected without replacing it is considered very, very bad sauna behavior.

Another contribution paddlers can make is to help keep the sites as clean as possible. If you have the space, pack out bottles, cans or whatever trash you find. Any maintenance repairs you can make on the buildings and grounds are always appreciated as well.



© 2002 Sarah Ohmann