Algonquin Park Travel Guide

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red leaves & raindrops

red leaves & raindrops

Carol Behan

The chirp of birdsong and the gentle splash of the paddle of your canoe on the calm surface of the water are the only sounds breaking the perfect silence of this paradise.   The sun is warm on your arms and the breeze gentle on your skin.   You’re paddling a canoe on a lake with forested shores, where neat cottages lie tucked away among the trees, and the only other creatures you’re likely to see are a pair of loons on the surface of the water, calling to each other with their haunting cry.  

Welcome to Algonquin Park, where time stands still, and the outside world is far away. This vast area, over 7,000 square kilometres of forest, lake and river, is located about two hours’ drive north of Toronto, in a remote part of Ontario, far from the noise and clamour of urban living. It’s a favourite destination for city dwellers, for a day trip, a weekend, or longer, and offers activities such as hiking, canoeing and camping or simply bird and nature watching. With hundreds of species of animals, birds, trees and plants, it’s not surprising that people are drawn there to catch a glimpse of a moose or a beaver or to see and photograph a rare plant.

If you want to take a canoe trip, summer is the best time to go. If you’re travelling from Toronto, you’ll probably arrive mid-morning, so hire a canoe, paddles and life-jackets from the Portage Store - the supply station - a few miles inside the park.   A good plan is to set out to cross Canoe Lake, and to enter one of the river systems that flow into that lake.

Using a paddle gets tiring after a while, as you’ll soon find out, especially if the breeze picks up and slows your progress. So let the canoe drift in order to rest your arms while you take photos and look for any signs of life in the water. On one of these occasions, something wonderful may happen. The perfect stillness might suddenly be broken by the yodelling wail of a loon in the distance, followed immediately by its companion, taking up the call. You’ll sit transfixed, listening to this unbelievably beautiful sound echoing across the lake, loud and clear. Then as suddenly as it starts, it stops and silence returns. You’ll feel obliged to wait for a while, hoping in vain for a repeat performance, but it may not happen, so instead, head up one of the arms of the lake and after a mile or so and pull in at the shore.

This is a portage, where the canoe has to be carried overland, to avoid a series of rapids on the river. Portages can vary in length from a few metres to a few kilometres, but thankfully, this is a short one. If you’re strong, you’ll be able to heave the canoe upside down onto your head and shoulders, while your companions carry bags, cameras and paddles along the trail to the riverbank. After a snack, set off again up the river, which is even calmer and warmer than the lake. Here, sounds travel for enormous distances. You’ll hear other canoeists chatting and laughing, but won’t be able to see them, and closer by, the chirping of cicadas in the afternoon heat and the lazy plopping sounds of fishes breaking the surface to catch flies is magnified by the perfect acoustics.

On your return, you may find a marshy area, with its shallow muddy bottom full of fallen, moss-covered tree trunks, which will scrape the underside of the canoe as you pass over. Water lilies carpet the surface, and frogs sunbathe on their broad leaves.   If you’re lucky, you’ll be greeted by a frog symphony! In the distance, a frog croaks “ribbid”, while another close by answers in a higher pitch. Others quickly join in, building up to a crescendo of raucous calls, punctuated here and there by the bass tones of a toad, and ending with a single, isolated “ribbid”, like a grand finale. You’ll paddle on, amused by what you’ve heard. Ahead of you, the surface of the water may be broken by a little head popping up, and looking around. A beaver, carrying a stick in his mouth, eyes you curiously, then slaps his tail on the water and swims on, no doubt to carry on with his construction work.

You’ll cross the lake again, with the breeze in your favour this time, and arrive back at the pier, hot and exhausted, to have a meal in the café before setting off on the journey home.

By the time you leave, the light is changing, and evening shadows ripple across the lake. With the sunset, the night shift appears – owls starting their nightly hunt, foxes and raccoons going on the prowl, and even a shy and elusive moose might appear from the shelter of the forest. The moon’s light casts a silver path across the water and silence returns to paradise.

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