Canada’s oldest provincial park and certainly one of its best-known, Algonquin Provincial Park is a year-round wilderness jewel: a moose- and wolf-roamed tract of lake-laced forests within easy reach of Ottawa and Toronto.
The park encompasses a transitional forest bridging the southern hardwood and boreal zones, which makes for a particularly varied ecological roster. Moose are plentiful and easily seen–including along the roadsides of Highway 60, where the giant deer come to lick salt. Hunting the moose (as well as beaver and white-tailed deer) are the Algonquin Park wolves, which are genetically distinct from the gray wolves of boreal Ontario. They’re eastern wolves (sometimes called Algonquin wolves), smaller and more rufous-toned than gray wolves, and many biologists believe they’re closely related to the endangered red wolf of the southeastern United States.
In August, park staff lead Public Wolf Howls: guided outings in which wild wolves sometimes respond–thrillingly–to imitation calls. The howling sessions follow presentations on the natural history and ecology of Algonquin’s wolves at the Outdoor Theatre. Even if you don’t manage to hear the bellow of a free-roaming pack member, you’re not likely to forget the experience, chock-full as it is of raw excitement.
Black bears are also widespread in the park, feasting mostly on vegetation and insects but occasionally bringing down a moose calf or two. Follow bear-safety protocol when hiking and camping in the park, and savor any sighting of these magnificent critters.
And then there’s the scenery, which encompasses grand reaches of forest, better than 1,000 kilometers of stream- and riverway, and more than 2,000 lakes in glacially gouged basins. The terrain’s quite rugged, from cliffy shorelines and rough highlands to the dramatic 100-meter gorge of Barron Canyon. Heck, there’s even the broad depression left by a meteorite–Brent Crater.
Exploring and Appreciating the Park
Highway 60 offers vehicular access to the park’s front-country; take your Jeep Compass or some other adventure-ready vehicle along its scenic byway to look for moose or access miles of hiking trails. You can also access the park’s dozen developed campgrounds via 60 or Highway 17 to the north of the park. The bulk of the park is roadless wilderness–a canoeist’s paradise, sprinkled with farflung sites along breathtaking waterways and serenaded (in classic wilderness Ontario style) by loon calls and, once in awhile, wolf howls.
Spring brings wildflower displays in the leafing-out forests; autumn brings fiery color to the park’s hardwoods. Winter only ramps up the fun: From dog-sledding and snowshoeing to skiing and snowmobiling, the snowbound Algonquin forests are one giant, white invitation to adventure.
In addition to the developed and primitive campgrounds, there are also both vehicle-accessible and backcountry ranger cabins as well as a trio of commercially run lodges providing accommodations in the park.
The great outdoors are the prime attraction–that goes without saying–but Algonquin Provincial Park also impresses with its interpretive facilities, which include a fascinating visitor centre showcasing the park’s wildlife, ecology, and human history. And speaking of history, the Algonquin Logging Museum elucidates the old days of timber extraction in the region; a highlight is a short, family-friendly footpath passing by an “alligator boat” (a steam-driven tug) and a reconstructed 19th -century “camboose” logging camp. And you can explore the intersection of art and nature at the Algonquin Art Centre, which includes both indoor and outdoor galleries.
John Pearcy is a fitness instructor and is a passionate outdoor adventurer. He likes to share his insights online and has already written for several outdoor and travel blogs.