Algonquin Park – A February Day Adventure

This adventure has been in the planning since Christmas.

Note, I’m using the word “planning” here in the broadest possible definition. The idea of “planning” only consisted of me mentioning to Lynn that I wanted to hit up Algonquin in and around the Christmas holidays.

But, as we all know work, life and other important or perhaps not so important things pop up from time to time. But, with decent weather in the forecast(or so we thought) and someone to come in during the day to look after Katie, the plan was set in motion.

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All this was sounding and looking extremely good on paper. However, given all this planning or lack of planning, the one thing we couldn’t control was Mother Nature.

We woke up to a forecast in Algonquin Park of freezing rain in the morning and changing to rain in the afternoon. The whole weather issue and specifically the freezing rain part is going to play a major role in the narrative so to speak. But, not in too bad of a way. Let’s just say, rain gear and a positive attitude over-comes much hardship and wet weather!

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But, putting the rather poor forecast aside, any time spent in Algonquin is always a time that is well invested. In fact, most experts if they’re any type of expert at all, will tell you it’s one of the best, safest and most secure investments one can make. It’s entirely an investment made in oneself.

Given poor weather; good weather; or weather that falls somewhere in between; any time be it a day, week or longer spent in Algonquin is usually just what the “Doctor prescribed.” On that note, I should check to see if fees associated with Algonquin are covered under my drug and benefits plan at work.

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Leaving home and after an uneventful 2.5-hour drive, we arrived at the West Gate to get our Day Pass around 10:45am.

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Our plan for the day was to hit up a couple of the interpretive hiking trails, then head over to the Visitors Centre, plus whatever else piqued our interest during our time in the park.

With the rain now slowing changing to freezing rain, we decided to check out the Two Rivers Trail.

Although we didn’t take a picture, the parking lot would have been easier to get across with skates versus trail boots. Nevertheless, there is an old saying Lynn and I go by, “enjoyment of an outdoor adventure is only limited by clothing choices.” Undaunted by the weather conditions we gathered our gear together, locked the car and headed down the rather hard packed, but even icier trail to tackle the adventure before us.

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Almost immediately, I spotted a Ruffed Grouse in the bush just ahead of us, who seemed for the most part unphased by us intruding in their part of Algonquin and was quite happy strutting along through the bush oblivious to our presence.

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The trail winds its way through a mixed forest slowly climbing towards a cliff edge with views of the North Madawaska River and hills to the west.

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A view of the hills in the west.

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A slick and icy cliff edge. Not the spot for a miss-step or “next stop – bottom of the cliff.”

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A view looking west and the North Madawaska River.

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An icy and somewhat precarious location. All the rocks were coated with a thin, but a slick coating of ice.

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The trail leading back to the parking area from the cliff edge.

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Link to a short video clip of the icy and crunchy approach along the trail to the cliff edge.

Descending the trail, we made it back to the car to find the parking lot now a virtual skating rink. The “rather slick underfoot” conditions were to be the norm for the rest of our day in Algonquin. Ignoring the odd stone that might be peeking through the ice, it would have made a grand spot for a spur of the moment pick-up hockey game.

I think you get the idea!

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Since we were just a few metres away from Mew Lake Campground, we decided to take a drive through to see if many people were winter camping. The short answer to that was No. A big resounding NO. Each campsite we came across was either fully or partially submerged in water; a complete ice sheet or a non-campable combination of both.

In addition, the roads throughout the campground were a virtual ice trail. Let’s just say, turning the car around was an exercise of sliding, stop, reverse, sliding, stop, forward, sliding and so on.

We did see one late-model camping van with a sawdust trail for traction leading from the van to the fire pit and one poor cold tenter with their tent perched rather lopsidedly on their site, trying to find that one high point that hadn’t been assaulted by water or ice.

After leaving Mew Lake, we headed over to the Visitors Centre to check things out there. Having been countless times, including back in the summer of 1993 when it first opened, it’s always fun and educational to take a walk through the exhibits and dioramas. During the week in the winter, the kitchen isn’t open, although the seating area is. However, the restaurant provides coffee, tea, soft drinks, juices, snack foods and some limited choices of microwaveable items on the “honour system.”

Yup, the honour system. All the items have a price listed. Pick what you want and there is a container to drop your money into. You can also go to the bookstore and pay there as well I believe. A pretty neat and innovative way of providing a level of service to those visiting during the week.

The bookstore is my “go-to stop” in the Visitors Centre. Always something interesting to pique my interest and lighten the load in my wallet. Again, during the week in the winter the Bookstore may or may not be open. There is a buzzer you can ring and staff will come out and open it up if you want to in and have a look at things in the store.

A quick walk through the exhibits and a couple of pics.

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View from the Observation Deck

 

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We also took the time to visit the Algonquin Room that has on display until the end of April the works of artist Gene Canning. This is from the Friends of Algonquin Park website:

On the Trail of Tom Thomson, 100 Years Later by Gene Canning

In recognition of the 100th anniversary of Tom Thomson’s time in Algonquin Park, artist Gene Canning paddled and painted the same rivers and lakes as Thomson, completing 150 paintings along the way. This exhibit shares with us Gene’s adventures and experiences in art and travel in Algonquin Park.

This link will take you to the artist’s website and the specific page describing in detail his three-year odyssey in completing “On The Trail of Tom Thomson.”

We spent some time on the observation deck taking pictures of the activity around the bird feeders on the ground below. Unfortunately, mist and drizzle kept Lynn’s time and focus to a minimum on the deck shooting pics of the birds below.

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Lastly, we decided to head over to the Spruce Bog Boardwalk Trail across the road from the entrance to the Visitors Centre. By this time in the afternoon, the freezing drizzle and rain had done its damage so to speak. After sliding the car completely through the parking lot, we gingerly stepped along the edge at the bottom of the plowed banks and onto the trail.

Similar to the Two Rivers Trail, the Spruce Bog Boardwalk was a mixture of hardpacked snow and icy sections. Mostly icy sections for those wondering.

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This little red squirrel decided he wanted to be part of the adventure as well. He would follow us for a bit, then dart out from the trees, sort of look at us wondering where his “snack was” and then scamper back into the trees. A minute or two later he would re-appear and perform the same routine again. He did this three or four times until I guess he figured out we didn’t have anything for him.

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Having gone the whole time in the Park without having a “falling or slipping mishap”, I made it within 10 feet of our car when the inevitable happened.

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Need I say more?

Once Lynn finished laughing hysterically at my tumbling routine, we collected ourselves, skidded and spun the tires to get out of the parking lot and headed back home around 4:30pm or so.

All in all, and despite the rain and icy conditions, it was a perfect day. We’ve learned over the years that most of the time our adventures and outings tend to be “mind over matter.”

If your attitude is positive and weather conditions don’t matter, then a good day will be had. This was no different. Like I mentioned, “enjoyment of an outdoor adventure is only limited by clothing choices.” 

Don’t let rain, cold, or not so favourable weather conditions or forecasts keep you from getting out and enjoying all that nature and specifically Algonquin Park has to offer. Rain just presents yet another side to the beauty that is out there.

Back in the summer of 2015 on the Free Ontario Parks Admission Day, for those who remember it was pouring rain in Algonquin. Rain teeming down in sheets at times might be an appropriate way to describe it.

No one wanted to venture far from their campsite and no one wanted to come up to visit the park for the day it seemed. With rain gear in hand, Lynn and I had the Track and Tower Trail to ourselves for the entire afternoon. No cars in the parking lot when we arrived; no one on the trail and no cars in the parking lot when we finished. It was one of the best days of hiking we’ve had. A moody environment; mist and low cloud covered vistas from the lookout areas. Would have missed all of that if we let the poor weather keep us in a tent.

Get out there. Nature and the outdoors are waiting.

Thanks for reading!

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