A spectacular, steep-sided gorge cut into volcanic rock of Lake Superior's northern shore is protected in Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park (established 1972, 777 ha), 65 km northeast of Thunder Bay, Ontario.
Volcanic rock has a distinct pattern of vertical jointing resulting in the columnlike appearance on the rock face of Ouimet Canyon. Over millions of years, great blocks of rock have crashed to the canyon floor, widening the gap and littering the bottom of the canyon with shattered boulders.
There are 2 viewing platforms on the west side of the canyon. The cliff wall below the platforms drops straight down 100 m to the rock-strewn canyon floor. Across the 150 m gap to the other side of the gorge, huge columns of volcanic rock reach skyward to form a gigantic rock wall. To the north, the canyon pinches and twists into the surrounding hills; to the south, its folds open to a broad valley and a panoramic view of Lake Superior.
The bottom of Ouimet Canyon has a climate greatly different from the surrounding area. Short periods of sunlight, thick insulating moss carpets and cold, stagnant air enable ice to remain year-round beneath the giant boulders. These cold conditions support Arctic and Subarctic vegetation (eg, Woodsia alpina), which collectively make up plant communities of provincial significance. The remainder of the park is representative of the BOREAL FOREST.
Nature reserves are set aside to protect outstanding natural features for scientific and educational uses. The park, in addition to the viewing platforms, has walkways and interpretive displays to assist visitors in understanding the unusual environment of the canyon. Because of the extremely fragile nature of the plant life, travel to the bottom is restricted.