Two days in Algonquin? Yes you can

I like going for hikes for these reasons:

  1. To breath nature
  2. Great exercise with very little exhaustion
  3. … cant think of anything else

So, not that many. Therefore, I can often fulfill those needs without driving 3 hours to a provincial park – as a matter of fact, I have beautiful trails from walking (no pun intended!) distance of my house. 

Wow! Not the best start for a travel post, is it? I am sorry. I’ve been so cranky all the time – must be 2020! Switching to positive mode… right now. 

Algonquin is BEAUTIFUL. And, as the first provincial park of the country, it carries history. Those trees have seen chronicles of rangers, loggers, kayakers, hikers. The park protects precious wildlife of this planet, and literally helps the world breath better. It deserves all the love and attention it can get. 

And it did! It was hard to find campground space for the summer, to not even mention the cabins or yurts. 

We went mid-October, and we didn’t camp – but not because we couldn’t find the space. My friend had booked the campground about two months in advance, but the week before we noticed the weather getting quite dreadful, and I hate being cold prefer being warm. I found a cheap motel online and booked it. I’ll tell you more about it on my Huntsville post.

I was actually looking forward to some Canadian camping experience, but I am too familiar with how I feel when I am freezing my @#$ off!

Anyway – it looks like I am getting as lost here as I got while hiking the trails – let’s get to the part where I share my knowhow. 

Perhaps getting lost is part of the experience, considering we were so disoriented even before arrival, while doing our researches. The thing is: the park is so big and with so many different trails and features, that it is kind of hard to know if two days in Algonquin even makes sense.

But we did it! We left Toronto around noon of a Thursday, and were back home by Saturday at 2PM. We only completed three trails, but could definitely have squeezed another one if I had proper hiking boots.

Here is how it went:

Thursday – Hemlock Bluff

We drove straight to Hwy 60, where most trails start. I was quite impressed with how well organized everything is. The first stop is the “entrance”, where the tourist information house is. You have to stop there to get a parking pass, unless you are staying at a campground. The daily pass is $20 and should be visible on your car’s dashboard. We also got free maps that give you info on the trails. 

As it was already 4PM and we did not want to risk hiking on the dark (it was October but not Halloween, thank you very much), we chose to do the short Hemlock Bluff, because:

  1. We like uphill views better than a flat trail
  2. It’s a 3.5km, and I think it said it would take us 90 minutes to complete it… but hey, we are young and fast so we’d probably do that much faster.

Right? Wrong! Algonquin laughs. 

It took us two hours, and the last thirty minutes were a little unnerving – it was, afterall, getting dark and we did NOT prepare for night hiking. I was essentially very unprepared: no hiking boots and my running shoes got wet in the first 15 minutes of this trail. For warmth I was wearing an old but fancy long jacket on top of my hoodie – which was actually good, as it had some big pockets and I put everything in there. I also didn’t even know that we had to follow the colored marks on trees, but even with those, it can get confusing at times. I started having doubts if we were on the right track. 

Luckily my Blair Witch feelings didn’t consume me for too long, as soon after we found ourselves back at the start. Praised be that parking lot! And we were rewarded with one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen while driving away.

1st day hiking lessons learned

  • You need an access/parking pass if you are visiting Algonquin for the day. Get it at the auto-machine or with the agent (if working hours) on the “entrance” area on Hwy 60. $20
  • Use the trail info on the free maps but cautious with the estimated time of hiking. It could be less, but more importantly… it could be more! Give yourself enough time before sunset
  • Trails will be muddy during Fall. Dress accordingly! 
  • Look down to see what you stepping but make sure to always look up to locate the colored tree markers.
  • Bring a night-light if you have it (head lamp is ideal). And make sure you have battery for your phone.
  • Have newspapers or something else to protect your car floor from pasty-muddy shoes.

My crazy friend (same one that dragged me to Algonquin) wanted to go on a longer hike that first day. Thank goodness we didn’t! We would be in serious risk of being lost in the dark jungle without ANY proper supplies.

Friday – Track & Tower

We woke up around 7am (which is a sleep in for a new mom like me!), had breakfast (stay tuned for my post about Huntsville), hit dollarama for supplies (nuts, chocolate, stuff to protect car from dirt, plastic wrap to protect my feet from getting wet), and drove back to Algonquin.

Again, Hwy 60 as it was the best located entrance AND where most trails start. Again, stopped to get our day parking pass. This time there were employees in the shop, so we got to ask questions (such as “why are there two colors markers?” Answer: it depends where you started the trail, or which direction you’re going. Always follow the same color, dah!) and purchase the pass in person (the day before we got it at the machine).

We chose to do the Track & Tower because: 

  1. We like uphill views better than a flat trail
  2. The distance of 7.5k seemed decent

I really liked our choice. I mean, I still think that most trails look the same, but… the yellow trees were beautiful, and it was quite a good exercise – not a dramatic ascending but enough for a good warm up.  

Just like Hemlock Bluff. And just like the day before…

  • My feet got muddy and wet on the first 5 minutes of walking
  • We got slightly lost (actually more than the day before)
  • At the end of it, I was quite fed up.

Explaining (I’m really into doing lists today)

  • I didn’t have and didn’t want to buy hiking shoes, so used my running shoes. I did this genius trick of wrapping my feet, with socks on, with plastic wrap. Than I put a second pair of socks to hold the plastic in place! I think that had 50% efficiency on keeping my feet warm and not too damp… but maybe it did nothing? Cant say.
  • Because it was autumn, and it had rained a lot on the night before, we kept looking down to avoid muddy puddles… until we got lost. Couldn’t find the markers. At Hemlock Bluff, there are parts of the trail that are very open, and it can get hard to actually follow one path.
  • The trail ended up being 9.5k, way longer than we expected. I used my run app to track it, so when we approached 8k and still didn’t seem to be close to the end, I was like: “WTH”. And tired, hungry, wanting a drink! LOL see lessons learned for more.

SO yeah, when we finally finished the Track & Trail, my friend and I hit a roadblock: in our friendship! Nah, we’ve been friends for too long, thus Im comfortable enough to tell her I didn’t want to do any more trails for the day. I proudly declared that I am now almost middle aged and I’d rather go back to town and start drinking than go for another identical looking trail to walk more and again get my feet wet. My back hurt. It was cold. I was thirsty – and not for water!

But, of course, I am not that mean or difficult. And we found a common ground: let’s at least do another silly one, which doesn’t sound like a real trail anyway. We drove to the other end of Hwy 60 to…

Algonquin Logging Museum (Trail)

  1. It was a little trail after all
  2. There’s a cute bookshop
  3. The shop attendant confirmed the trail was dry

Surprisingly, I loved it and I will super recommend it. First you’ll enter the shop, buy souvenirs if desired, but please take the time to see the dioramas and exhibit about the history of logging in Algonquin.  I had no idea how interesting it was: pretty much the park was supplying wood to the crown since the 1830s, and the logistic to make it happen involved loggers living in unheated wooden camps, sawing massive pine trees with handsaws, and transporting it with horses and canoes to the rivers that would somehow connect to Ottawa port. Many workers lost lives to this operation, that also brought Ontario to being born. The evolution throughout the years goes together with the history of modernization of the country.

The trail consists of life-size displays that give you a great idea of how it all worked on the past. It’s really cool and well done.

On the end, this short 1.5k trail was the most meaningful one on the trip of the two Brazilian-Canadian immigrant friends of 20 years.

2nd day lessons learned:

  • If you don’t have hiking shoes, bring two pairs of runners.
  • Always look up and locate the markers before you look down to see where you’re stepping
  • Don’t underestimate the short trail OR the museum. It can be the best part!

Saturday – Huntsville

We woke up, grabbed a coffee and a snack in Huntsville, and headed home. No more walking. No more Algonquin – at least for now. Don’t tell my crazy friend – she wants to go back every year, and I said no – but I might actually accept another Algonquin adventure in a few years from now. Canoeing maybe? During the summer, definitely!

Please stay tune for another post about Huntsville – this one got way too long! Just like those trails 😉

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