Created in 1893 at the behest of logging companies keen to keep farmers out, Algonquin Provincial Park is Ontario’s oldest and largest provincial park and for many it comprises the quintessential Canadian landscape. Located on the southern edge of the Canadian Shield, the park straddles a transitional zone, with the hilly two-thirds to the west covered in a hardwood forest of sugar maple, beech and yellow birch, while in the drier eastern part jack pine, white pine and red pine predominate. Throughout the park, the lakes and rocky rounded hills are interspersed with black spruce bogs, a type of vegetation typical of areas far further north. Canoeing is very popular here and with an astounding 1600km of routes there’s a good chance of avoiding all contact for days on end. Wildlife is as varied as the flora – any trip to Algonquin is characterized by the echo of birdsong, from the loons’ ghostly call to the screech of ravens. Beavers, moose, black bears and raccoons are all resident, as are white-tailed deer, whose population thrives on the young shoots that replace the trees felled by the park’s loggers. Public “howling parties” – which can attract up to two thousand people – set off into the wilderness during August in search of timber wolves, or rather their howls: many of the rangers are so good at howling that they can get the animals to reply.
Whether you’re after the full wilderness experience or just a quick dabble, access to Algonquin’s backcountry is via the 56km Parkway Corridor – also known as the Frank McDougall Parkway (Hwy-60) – the park’s only significant road linking the West Gate, 45km east of Hwy-11, and the East Gate, on the long road to and from Ottawa.