Algonquin Provincial Park
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Algonquin Park was formed in 1893. Its original primary purpose was as a timber reserve designed to keep forest-clearing settlers out of valuable timber lands. Preservation was only a secondary purpose. In 1896, lumber baron J.R. Booth completed the Ottawa, Arnpriror & Parry Sound railway (OA & PS) through the southern portion of the park. Though designed to haul timber logs out of the park, it allowed the vast expanse of Algonquin to be opened up for tourism. Highway 60 was completed in 1933, further opening the Park to visitors. The OA & PS railway was abandoned in 1947; logging was now becoming a tertiary purpose of the park.
Throughout the 1960s, the number of visitors to the park increased exponentially. Organized campgrounds were created and/or expanded. Today, Algonquin is primarily a nature reserve, although logging, including limited clearcutting, continues.
A very few lakes accessible from Highway 60 have leased cottages on them, all following strictly enforced Ministry rules. The environmental impact is minimal,when compared to the amount of waste left behind by some less than eco-friendly visitors to the park. As well, reports of rescues of novice canoeists by cottagers are rather commonplace. Park personnel familiar with wolves report that as of 2013, about 25 packs of wolves reside within the park. Reports of wolf attacks on humans are virtually nil. Until 1958, a bounty was actually paid to park personnel for the killing of wolves; thankfully, in this regard at least, saner heads prevail, and " Wolf Howls" are a popular tourist attraction, which include a detailed lecture regarding the wolf. This event is held without charge, but do dress warmly. Prior to the 1958 ending of the bounty, wolves were largely replaced by coyotes in the ecosystem; wolves appear, however, to be making a strong recovery.
Algonquin's landscape consists of numerous small lakes (with a couple large ones, such as Lake Opeongo), rock outcroppings and rolling hills. Marshes and large swamps are scattered throughout the park, and can provide excellent wildlife viewing.
Flora and fauna
The Algonquin forest is actually not boreal, as most believe, but a mixture of deciduous and coniferous trees. This means that an increased biodiversity occurs. Though deer were once prominent throughout the park, the moose has largely replaced them. Moose frequently stand by the side of provincial Highway 60, eating swamp grasses in spring and summer, and can be seen licking salt off the roads in winter (spring, actually is a far better time to see them, as as the snow melts, the Moose become more mobile, and greater amounts of residual road salt are exposed). Moose are the only large animal most people are likely to encounter. Many people may stumble across a spruce grouse on a trail in the early morning. These birds believe their camouflage is invincible, and you could get as close as 30 centimeters. There are small wolf and lynx populations in the isolated portions of the park. Some bears are known in the park. Algonquin lakes have sizable fish populations, but fishing is regulated in all lakes, most especially the prohibition of bring live bait fish into the park, for fear of introducing invasive species. A small population of wood turtles exist within the eastern section of the park, but it is strictly forbidden to collect them (as indeed it is of any plant or animal within the park); wood turtles,once common in Ontario, are now an endangered species, due largely to habitat destruction, and vast over collection for the pet trade.
Not all of Algonquin's plants and animals are one you would like to have around you. In the southern reaches of the park (Below Highway 60), poison ivy is widespread. Be careful when hiking; adequate clothing is highly recommended. From late April to Early June, the dreaded Black fly is very active. These small insects will bite a chunk of skin off in order to get to the blood. They are known for their tendency to bite around the eyes, and occasionally an unfortunate human has to deal with a black fly that has gone into the eye. Once the black flies die off, they are replaced by mosquitoes. Both black flies and mosquitoes can be usually fended off with DEET insect repellent, or though the wearing of protective clothing; i.e. fly net hats, etc.
Algonquin is not quite part of Northern Ontario, but it shares the typical climate for its region. Springtime in Algonquin is likely to be cool and wet. The summer climate of Algonquin is not uniform. Daily highs could range from 16°C to over 30. In summer, it can be humid throughout June and July, yet the humidity tapers off around August. During autumn, it is cool and dry. The winters are guaranteed to be snowy, cold and harsh. Be sure to plan for the weather you are likely to face.
There are only a few ways to get into Algonquin Park. If driving, there are numerous places where you can leave your car while you enjoy either Algonquin's back country or the Highway 60 corridor front country campgrounds. Algonquin can also be accessed by canoe, from various access points around the park. A less common way to get into Algonquin is by aeroplane. The only airfield is in the northern community of Brent, so if you are getting in by air your vehicle will most likely be a float plane capable of landing on water. Bear in mind, however, that landing aircraft within the park by private individuals is very strictly forbidden. Aeroplanes, too.
A permit is required to use the park's facilities. A daily permit costs $16, and it is good for only one day. An Ontario Parks season's pass costs $80, but can be used unlimited times at any provincial park in Ontario. If you plan on camping, either in an organized campground or a canoe/hike-in campsite, a campsite permit is required. These cost $22 for one day. For fishing, a fishing permit is required, as it is thoughout the Province for those over twelve. These are issued by the Ontario Ministry of natural resources. They can be obtained at some locations in Algonquin. Costs for these permits fluctuate. Catch and release permits are the cheapest.
If you are exploring the Highway 60 corridor, the best way to get around is by vehicle. Some people use bicycles as well, and some even walk; but this is not recommended. Away from the corridor, the only way to get around most of the time is by canoe. Algonquin has an extensive canoe route system, with many portages and campsites. Be sure to obtain a canoe route map before you depart.
There are many natural and historic sites in the Park. No trip to Algonquin is complete without seeing the abandoned OA & PS railroad bed, which is not only fascinating in itself but also passes by some interesting sites (abandoned train stations, logging depots, bridges, even the remains of a train derailment from the 1930s). The Brent Crater and Barron Canyon are both off of provincial highway 17, which runs north of the park. They will provide a fascinating hike.
There is a gift shop in the Visitor's centre, but beyond that there is not much to buy in Algonquin Park. The Portage, Two Rivers and Opeongo stores provide camping, canoeing and other outfitting equipment. All stores tend to be overpriced, but you can occasionally find a good deal.
There is a cafeteria in the Visitor's Centre, but the food is expensive and not of amazing quality. The store at Lake of Two Rivers campground offers "fast food" type meals and ice cream. The Portage Store on canoe lake has dine-in and take out food as well as a small convenience store and ice cream retailer. If you are staying overnight in Algonquin, it is highly recommended (and often necessary) that you bring your own food. You can cook over a fire (a fire-pit is provided in every campsite) or a lightweight camping stove (which you must provide). Please remember that glass bottles and cans are prohibited in all parts of the park, except for organized campgrounds. This ban applies to day visitors as well. There are three lodges in the park that offer meals, Arowhon, Killarney, and Bartlett Lodge, all accessible from Route 60. Meals are expensive but worth it. Reservations suggested.
As always, remember that glass bottles and cans (soda cans as well) are banned in the park. Should drinks be packaged in such containers, pour them into a re-usable plastic bottle. It is highly recommended that you not drink straight out of the lakes. Bacteria and parasites are present. This is especially true for bogs and rivers. Prior to drinking the water, bring it to a full boil for 5 minutes or pass it through a filter.
In the park, it is most likely that you will be staying on a campsite. Remember, camping requires a permit which can be obtained at any Park office.
Leaving the Frank MacDougall Parkway zone where there is organized development, the chief reason for visiting Algonquin is accessing the park interior. There are 2000 km of canoeing routes in 7725 square kilometers of park. Located on the southern edge of the Canadian Shield, there are thousands of lakes and streams. All of the canoe routes involved portaging from lake to lake or stream. Portages range from 2 meters to 5 kilometers, averaging 500 meters. There are 29 entry points to interior routes. Portages are well maintained and marked with a yellow sign at each end. Camping is only permitted at designated Interior campsites. Each is marked by an orange sign. There are also 13 historic ranger cabins that can be rented in the interior. Loons and Mergansers are common on most lakes. Moose are occasional seen. Beaver and otters are fairly common. Both black bear and wolves live in the interior but are rarely seen. A detailed map of the Canoe Routes of Algonquin Provincial Park is published by the friends of Algonquin Park and widely available. An interior permit is required for camping in the interior. The current fee is $11.75 per person per night. A reservation fee of $9 is also charged. Many of the popular routes are heavily used and should be reserved in advance. When reserving a trip, you will need to specify the entry and exit points and where you plan to camp each night. Each campsite is limited to 9 persons. Reservations may be made 5 months in advance. For trip planning, call the Algonquin Park Information Office at 705-633-5572. For reservations, call 1-888-668-7275.
There are 3 backpacking trails, the Uplands, the Highland and the Eastern Pines backpacking trails, all accessed from Hywy 60. A brochure, Backpacking Trails of Algonquin Provincial Park is available.
There are three lodges in the park offering both resort-type lodging and meals. Arowhon Pines is located on Joe Lake off Hwy 60 at Km 15. Its central log dining room is a romantic place to eat. Killarney Lodge is located on Lake of Two Rivers, featuring both cabins and dining. Bartlett Lodge on Cache Lake is located on an island and reached by lodge ferry. There are both cabins and fine dining.
It is imperative that you obtain a canoe map prior to venturing out into Algonquin by canoe. Wandering into the Algonquin wilderness without a map is absolute suicide, unless you are very familiar with the park (i.e., you know Algonquin like the back of your hand). Be sure that when staying on a campsite, there are no dead trees in danger of falling. However, all campsites are dutifully maintained and the risk of being crushed by a falling tree is very, very low.
Remember also that logging still occurs in Algonquin. Logging trucks rumble up and down backcountry roads which are not shown on the map. If you come across a road that is not on the map, do not follow it unless you are hopelessly lost. Not only are they private, but they are narrow and a human will give way before a logging truck does.