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Why you need to visit Algonquin Park

Algonquin canoeing

Why you need to visit Algonquin Park

When you think of quintessential Canada, it might very well be Algonquin Provincial ParkExternal Link Title that you see in your mind: maple-dotted hills that turn into a blaze of crimson, gold, and orange in fall; thousands of glassy lakes, clear rivers, craggy ridges, solitary moose, and calling loons. It's a stunning outdoor playground made up of more than 7,650 square kilometres of parkland and you can only get to know it from a canoe, horseback, or on foot -- hiking or snowshoeing, depending the season.


Ontario's very first park and its largest, Algonquin is in the middle of the province, between the Ottawa River and Georgian Bay. Though it contains incredibly pristine wilderness, it's only three hours from Toronto and about four-and-a-half from Ottawa. Outdoor aficionados call it some of the best camping in the world, whether in a backcountry tent or cozy pine cabin. You might call it your outdoor adventure central basecamp during your visit. Just get your park permitExternal Link Title, check the weather forecast, and gear up.


There are so, so many, but to start you off, here are 10 reasons you should visit Algonquin ParkExternal Link Title:

1. Canoe

Voyageur Quest

You're in Canada -- you have to try canoeing! Algonquin paddlingExternal Link Title is fabled, with 2,000 kilometres of routes and portages, so you can choose something short or plan something epic. Go backcountryExternal Link Title and hire a guide to help you  on your journey. Off-the-grid veteran outfitter Voyageur QuestExternal Link Title leads small-group canoe excursions or lodge-based trips with perks such as torch-lit ice skating, full-moon canoe paddles, and lake trout cooked over an open flame. Expect expert guides, gourmet eats, and fun around the campfire. The company's comfy cottage outpost even has a floating sauna. A little luxury with your wilderness goes a long way.

2. Wolves

Group wolf howling

Talking to the animals isn't just for Dr. Doolittle. Since 1963, naturalists have been leading public wolf howlingExternal Link Title sessions, a core element of the park's education program, which teaches people about the 35 packs of eastern wolvesExternal Link Title that populate Algonquin. Groups gather for a series of howling sequencesExternal Link Title on Thursdays in August and September -- and if conditions are right, the pack responds. First, staff stake out where the social animals have been seen gathering, then they schedule a session nearby. Sometimes you hear pups yipping or a solo crooner, but other times you score with what the pros call a "full pack howl" response. Listening to the eerie, primitive calls is nothing short of thrilling. Learn why wolves howl in the first place and get technique tips at this long-running park tradition.

3. Wildlife

Go moose-spotting

If you like the idea of a moose munching on poplar twigs while you unpack your picnic in a meadow, Algonquin is your place. Many believe its the best venue in North America to spot these majestic creatures. Spring is best for spying these gentle giants, but you're likely to see all kinds of wildlifeExternal Link Title in any season: white-tailed deer, beaver, 250 bird species, black bear, and of course, howling wolves. It's easiest to see wildlife in winter due to the lack of foliage, plus you get to enjoy the spectacular solitude. Bring your binoculars and head out in early evening or at dawn, the best time for an encounter. Pick up a guide book External Link Titleor follow a signed interpretive trailExternal Link Title to make the most of your time immersed in nature.

4. Explore on skis

Nordic ski and snowshoe

Swooshing along through the sparkly, powder-dusted woods and snow-frosted hemlock is up there when it comes to outdoor Zen. Algonquin offers a 110-kilometre network of groomed and ungroomed cross-country ski trailsExternal Link Title for skiers of all levels. Plus, there's skate skiing and skijoring (a combination of skiing and dog sledding), too. December to March is the typical season, and insiders rate the Leaf Lake Ski Trail External Link Titletops for its thrilling skiing and jaw-dropping views. Warm up in one of the shelters as you glide along the trail network. You can also snowshoe anywhere except on the groomed trails. The hardcore can snowshoe in and snow camp at Mew Lake CampgroundExternal Link Title, which is open year-round. Rent equipmentExternal Link Title just outside the park.

5. Hike

Go for days or just stroll

Interpretive walking trailsExternal Link Title are plentiful and open year-round in the park. Be sure to pick up a trail guide bookletExternal Link Title,External Link Title found at all trail heads and park bookstores, before you start. You can stroll, hike, or portage with your canoe through most of these routes, so pick your scenery, then hit the trail. Backpackers can do day loop trailsExternal Link Title or multi-day, overnight backcountry expeditions.

6. Fish

Find out how to hook the big one

Angler? You're in luck: Algonquin boasts some of the best brook and lake trout fishingExternal Link Title around. It's not surprising: there are 1,500 lakes and 1,200 kilometres of streams these fish call home. Canoe and fish in the backcountry in non-winter months, pre-register for a skills workshopExternal Link Title (Algonquin's brook trout are notoriously skittish), join researchers for fall field workExternal Link Title, or hire an outfitter to take you out. Whichever you pick, check the regulationsExternal Link Title before you head out. 

7. Dog sled

Learn to mush

Tearing through the woods pulled by a pack of yapping Huskies running at 30 kph -- now that's exhilarating. Not only is it a rush, it's a fun way to see the park, too, considering Algonquin has two dogsledding areasExternal Link Title. Several pro outfittersExternal Link Title, such as Voyageur QuestExternal Link Title and Wilderness AdventuresExternal Link Title, can take you on a custom tour. Choose from day trips to full-week mushing expeditions.

8. Rejuvenate

Retreat to Northern Edge Algonquin

Need to disconnect? Do it at Northern Edge Algonquin Nature Retreat & Awareness CentreExternal Link Title, a sanctuary for both getting in touch with nature and recharging. Relax, join a canoe trip or unplugged concert, do a yoga retreat, or take a naturalist-guided hike, snowshoe, ski, dogsled, paddle, or biking excursionExternal Link Title. Select low-, medium-, or high-intensity, depending on your mood. The solar-powered lodge serves local, organic fare and has a wood-fired sauna for apr?s-adventure.

9. Stargaze

See the Northern Lights

Astronomers both pro and amateur flock to the Radio ObservatoryExternal Link Title, home to Canada's biggest radio telescope. Tour or join a moon-viewing or stargazing party, or stake out a spot  anywhere for some spectacular stargazing --no telescope required. You might even catch the aurora borealis dancing across the horizon. But you'll for sure see countless glittering stars, thanks to the dark sky and lack of urban light anywhere nearby. Check Space WeatherExternal Link Title for meteor showers, comets, eclipses, airglows, and such.

10. Camp

Go cushy or go mountain man

In Algonquin, you can camp (just about) anywhere. First, pick your ideal type. If you're into roughing it, get a map and make your plan. Take a look at Jeff's Map of AlgonquinExternal Link Title and go over required essentialsExternal Link Title. For a more cushy option, rent one of 15 tidy, rustic former ranger patrol cabinsExternal Link Title, available from April to mid-October. There's no electricity or running water, but most include bunk beds and wood stoves. You can reach five by car; the others, by canoe and portage. Some even have screened verandas, private docks, and gas-run lights. Start planning early, though. You must reserve your spot five months in advance on the Ontario Parks websiteExternal Link Title. Then, prepare to savour the solitude.


In many ways, Algonquin stands for a lot of what Canadians hold dear: wilderness, self-reliance, and reveling in the outdoors all times of the year. Getting to know this special place is stepping right into the heart of it all.