My wife and I enjoyed a fantastic day in Algonquin on August 17th. We arrived at the West Gate at approximately 8:30 AM and browsed the shop before purchasing our day-use permit (and a nice t-shirt for me that features the park’s backpacker symbol). We also grabbed the current copy of the Raven newsletter and park guide. Before departing on our first adventure of the day, we changed into our wool socks and hiking boots.
Our first activity was a hike along the Track and Tower Trail, one of the longer trails along the Highway 60 corridor (I believe that the Mizzy Lake and Centennial Ridges trails, at 11 and 10 km respectively, are the only trails longer than Track and Tower). After a stretch through the woods, the trail skirts the edge of Cache Lake, where the remnants of a railway bridge/trestle are visible. The next major landmark was a dam where water flows out of Cache Lake, heading southward. A bridge across the stream (or river) lead right to a cliff, highlighting the ruggedness and beauty of the Canadian Shield. After following a portage for 100 metres or so, the trail diverged to the south and led to a staircase; not long after we reached the western-most point of the trail, with an incredible view of Cache Lake and the western end of the park. Descending the fore-mentioned staircase and following an old railway bed, where the sound of a nearby Loon’s call was quite a surprise (a pleasant one, naturally) we were treated to a lovely view of the Madawaska River and crossed a short portage that leads around a short series of rapids. This is the site of a former rail bridge; the concrete supports are still there, though the steel structure that replaced an older wooden one is lone gone. At that point the trail follows one of Algonquin’s bike trails, before heading north into the woods and back to the trailhead on Highway 60. An alternate route follows the bike path and leads to Mew Lake. However, our destination (and car), awaited at the end of the main loop path (7.5 km). More forest and lakeside vistas greeted us along the final 2.5 kilometres or so back to our car. Completing the trail was quite a thrill, considering we had wanted to hike it back in April. Sadly, at the time, we were ill-equipped for the snow that still covered a lot of ground in Algonquin and the surrounding area. Hiking the Track and Tower Trail last Sunday felt really good, both for the sense of accomplishment and all of the lovely sites and sounds along the way.
This photograph shows the water that flows below the Cache Lake dam:
Next, we were off to the picnic site at Lake of Two Rivers. I spotted a Common Loon swimming off shore while we ate our lunch, and had a good look at it through my binoculars. Back at the car, we continued eastward along Highway 60 to the Welcome Centre.
Having had a good look at the displays at the Welcome Centre during our April visit, we didn’t stay for very long. A look at some art in the gallery near the entrance and some time in the Friends of Algonquin bookstore, along with a visit to the observation deck, comprised all of the 30 minutes or so that we stayed. I love the selection of natural history books and field guides at the shop, and picked up a Princeton guide to trees of North America, along with another guide to the Bumble Bees of North America. I look forward to learning more about the members of the genus Bombus that reside on this continent. Also, I just had to get the crests for the trails that we planned to walk today. My wife has kindly offered to sew them on to the camping blanket that we picked up on our last visit.
Onward! We turned west for the Bat Lake Trail (I’ll share some pics in an upcoming post). The varied terrain and vegetation along the trail was quite something: relatively flat land at points and steep climbs and descents at others. The interpretive guide for this trail does a fantastic job of explaining some aspects of the park’s ecology. Two points along the trail note how the composition of the surrounding forest changes suddenly from conifers to hardwoods; the reason for this being the differences in the soil (and other material in the ground) left by retreating glaciers centuries ago. Areas with more sand, which hold less water, are ideal for conifers (good old gymnosperms), whereas the deciduous trees (yay angiosperms) prefer a more soil-rich till that’s better at holding water. Yet another section, past the eponymous lake, is ideal for Alders, which transfer a good amount of calcium back to the earth upon their passing, much to the benefit of the surrounding flora. Okay, botany lesson over! The lookout provided an astounding view, as expected. Some people who had started on the trail ahead of us were on the bench and kindly took out picture, although point-and-shoot plus back-light equals less than stellar photograph. After a descent from the lookout that was surprisingly long (we had no idea we had hit such an elevation en route to the lookout), and a trek along a boardwalk through a bog, we reached the titular Bat Lake. According to the guide it has a pH of 4.8, meaning it isn’t all that great for most of the park’s flora and fauna. However, it’s said to be an ideal spot for Spotted Salamanders to lay their eggs. I was hoping to see at least one salamander but never did, much to my disappointment. However, my eagle-eyed wife spotted a submerged turtle (my best guess is that it was a snapping turtle, based on its size and the shape of its head) immediately adjacent to the wooden planks that extend from the shore to afford a better look at the lake. It had a tag, 887, so the stewards of the parks’ wildlife must monitor it on a fairly regular basis. Another brief trip along a bog, then passing through the stand of Alders mentioned in the guide, brought us back to the trailhead and our car. It was just after 4 PM and we decided it was far too early to end our day at the park.
Actually, that decision had been made while on the Bat Lake Trail. I had thought of going to the Peck Lake Trail, which I had walked with my parents last November, but thought that it would be nice for my wife and I to hike a trail that neither of us had been on. We settled on the Whiskey Rapids Trail and continued west along Highway 60. (Some pics of the trail will be in an upcoming post.)
At 2.1 kilometres, it was the shortest trail of the day for us (Bat Lake clocks in at about 5.5 kilometres). It was no less spectacular by any means! The trail follows the Oxtongue River for most of its length, and the highlight, naturally, is the titular set of rapids. According to the guide, some loggers lost a barrel of whiskey while attempting to shoot the rapids in poor light, while bringing it back to their fellows; though, according to the story, there wasn’t much of the liquid left in the barrel as it was. The loggers searched and searched but never found it. The rapids themselves were rather tranquil when we saw them, see this video but I’m sure they’re quite something to behold during the spring melt.
Having finished our third trail (the crest for which I’ll have to pick up on our next trip), our day in Algonquin was nearly done. Our final stop for the day was at the place it began: the West Gate. We changed out of our boots and I had one last look in the shop (another t-shirt and some lapel pins were obtained; proceeds from sales help Ontario Parks so I’m happy to contribute and get some cool threads etc. in the process). With that, our day in Algonquin was done. We were disappointed not to have seen any moose, but that was balanced by the 3-4 moose we saw back in April. With all the winter salt gone, and fewer biting insects, the moose are probably spending more time in the deep forest and away from the busy highway.
This was my third visit to the park in less than a year, and its majesty and beauty are still as incredible to me as before. I’ve barely scratched the surface of what the park has to offer. Camping, a cabin trip, and possibly some backcountry adventure await in the future. It’s a magical place, and I hope I never lose the feeling of awe and joy I experience when I’m there.