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If you like things a little less resort-like and want to discover Ontario’s really wild side, then you won’t want to miss Algonquin Provincial Park in all its incredible diversity. Whether you’re an avid hiker, camper, or outdoor adventurer who enjoys a slower-paced travel experience, the largest of Ontario’s provincial parks is well worth a visit.
Stretching over 7,650 sq km from the edge of Lake of Bays all the way to the Ottawa River and framed by the Trans Canada Highway to the north and Highway 60 in the south, Algonquin Park is home to more walking, cycling, skiing and even dog sledding trails than could be traversed in a lifetime. The essence of Algonquin is its vast backcountry of maple hills, rocky ridges, spruce bogs, and endless lakes, ponds and streams, and the only way to really explore this rugged beauty is by canoe or on foot.
Although originally populated by the logging industry in the 19th Century, a growing number of concerned individuals wanted to preserve its beauty and its abundance of nature for all to enjoy. As a result, Algonquin Provincial Park was established in 1893, making it the first provincial park in Canada and a prime example of good forestry practices.
Endless Outdoor Fun and Adventure
Today, the park’s vastness offers a number of activities and programs to those wanting a taste of what “roughing and toughing it” is really all about, ranging from short hikes suitable for all abilities to full-out back-to-nature experiences. And if you’re looking for a less than luxurious night or two away from it all, there are 12 campgrounds to choose from, some located deep in the park’s interior and only accessible by canoe or hiking in the summer months (or possibly by snowshoeing or skiing in winter).
But you need to be well prepared for these getaways for the simple reason that the deeper you go into this ‘backcountry’, the less likely you are to see anyone else, possibly for days at a time. (Don’t worry, some campsites are located close to easy access points throughout the park and allow vehicle access.)
Feeling inspired? Read on to find out more about the best things to do in Algonquin Park.
Things to do in Algonquin Park
Explore Algonquin’s Flora Fauna
Algonquin actually lies in a transition zone between deciduous forests typical of areas to the south of the Park, and coniferous forests, more typical of areas to the north. As a result, both forest types are found within the Park, and even a short trip will take you past vast maple forests as well as spruce bogs, beaver ponds, campgrounds, as well as lakes and cliffs. And each step of the way provides unique opportunities that are exploited by different plants and animals.
Along with Algonquin’s diverse habitats comes an associated diversity in plant and animal life. More than 53 species of mammals, 272 species of birds, 31 species of reptiles and amphibians, 54 species of fish, and approximately 7,000 species of insects are known to hang out within Algonquin’s boundaries.
Add to that the well over 1,000 species of plants, it’s little wonder so many are drawn here to witness Mother Nature in all her splendour. And seeing at least some of them needn’t be too difficult thanks to the park’s vast trail- and waterway network. Just have your camera ready, as you’ll never know just what’s around the corner… perhaps a glimpse of a moose and her calf stopping for a drink in a lake, or a white-tailed deer frolicking through the trees.
Enjoy a Guided Canoe Trip
Algonquin Provincial Park is famous for its 2,200-kilometre-long network of lakes and rivers traversing more than 2,400 lakes and countless streams and rivers. Together, these offer an incredible variety of canoe or kayaking opportunities.
Unless you’re a seasoned outdoors enthusiast used to going it alone, by far the best way to experience this vast network is by participating in a professionally guided canoe trip. Fun day- or part-day excursions are available through any of the three outdoor outfitters located within the park. Led by seasoned professionals, these outfitters will navigate you through the waterways, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the magical landscape of Algonquin Park.
Seeking a longer guided experience? Check out our Luxury Guide to Wilderness Camping in Algonquin Park to find out more.
Take a Hike or a Bike
Given its immense size, it’s hardly surprising that Algonquin boasts countless trails, ranging from lengthy overnight backpacking trails aimed at experienced hikers to shorter walking trails suitable for day outings. Trail guides are always available online or at trailheads, and year-round during business hours at the East and West Gates and the Visitor Centre bookstore.
Algonquin is also a great spot for cyclists. Popular bike trails include the Minnesing Mountain Bike Trail and the Old Railway Bike Trail, as well as the Byers Lake Mountain Bike Trail is located in Algonquin South.
Enjoy Winter in Algonquin Park
Skiers are also well served by Algonquin’s trail networks specifically designed and reserved for cross-country skiers. These include the Fen Lake and Leaf Lake ski trails, which are packed and groomed on a regular basis, and the “left-as-it-is” Minnesing Wilderness Ski Trail.
If you want someone else to do the work for you, dog sledding, offered by commercial operators, is available in two locations in the Park: one along Highway 60 and one in the northwest section accessible from the village of South River on Highway 11.
Visit the Algonquin Art Centre
Located at Kilometre 20 on a small hill next to Found Lake sits a giant, hollow sculpture made of stone. Created in 1953, this work of art was the original Park Museum and in 2005 new life was breathed into the building as the Algonquin Art Centre. This unique project aims to bridge the art world with the natural world, as well as promote the preservation and protection of the environment.
Featuring an indoor gallery consisting of three wings, a shop, an outdoor gallery, and a gazebo, it’s a lot of fun for those looking for indoor things to do in Algonquin Park.
Enjoy a Guided Nature Walk
Regularly scheduled guided walks led by park naturalists explore the Algonquin environment. Some of these walks focus on themes such as birds, wildflowers, mushrooms, or logging history, while others concentrate on more general topics such as forest ecology or animal signs.
Guided walks are held daily from late June to the Labour Day weekend.
Make a Stay of it at an Algonquin Park Resort
For a truly memorable Algonquin adventure, consider booking a stay at one of the three Algonquin resorts located within the park. My personal favourite, Arowhon Pines is located off Hwy 60 around 15 km east of the West Gate and is a charming compound of lodges and log cabins.
The most romantic are the one-bedroom cabins with stone fireplaces and decorated with pine furniture and rustic Canadiana. It’s also fun to share one of the larger cabins (with three four, eight, and up to a dozen bedrooms, all with private bathrooms) with travellers from around the world.
The resort sits on lovely Joe Lake, a postcard-perfect setting located in the middle of some of the best canoe routes in Ontario. A range of all-inclusive packages are available, including an overnight a fully outfitted camping trip that departs from the resort’s dock. Guides are available, but experienced campers are welcome to go it alone. Day trips are also available, following the shorelines that inspired Tom Thomson’s famous landscapes (packed lunches are provided).
If you’re planning on visiting Algonquin for just the day, Arowhon always welcomes day trippers for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The resort’s first-class food is phenomenal, as is the huge six-sided dining room that is very much the centre of the property.
Algonquin’s Other Resorts include:
Bartlett Lodge – Located on Cache Lake, about halfway between Algonquin’s East and West Gates on Highway 60 (at Kilometre 23.5), Bartlett Lodge is a short boat ride across the lake from Cache Lake Landing. Guests stay in their own cabins and enjoy superb cuisine in the main lodge dining room.
Killarney Lodge – Located on the shores of Lake of Two Rivers, along the Highway 60 Corridor (at Km 33.2), Killarney Lodge features private, spacious, and beautifully decorated log or knotty pine cabins situated at the water’s edge, and hearty cuisine.
To learn more, visit the Ontario Park’s Algonquin Provincial Park page at www.ontarioparks.com/park/algonquin.
Kim Kerr is a luxury lifestyles and travel writer and Co-Founder of Riley.