Everyone has a favourite season, but more often than not, Fall is the winner. The spectrum of changing colours in Ontario is remarkable, unique and quite the sight to behold. So where should you go on a road trip to take in this splendour? How about Algonquin Park?
When driving along Hwy 60, which runs across the park, it's not just the Maple Trees to watch for. Besides being the oldest provincial park in Canada, Algonquin Park has a very diverse set of plants (over 1000 species of both plants and fungi), each which have their own colour flourish as they prepare for Winter.
How far is the trek to Algonquin Park? About two hours from Barrie, and 3.5 hours from Ottawa or Toronto... but getting there is part of the fun. Make sure to take as many back roads as you can to take in as much colour as possible. Go rain or shine as we saw a rainbow in Burleigh Falls on the way to the park. Keep your peepers peeled for wildlife along the way too. Over the journey we spotted over 25 Wild Turkeys (Lakefield, along Hwy 28 N and near Lake St. Peter), a Turkey Vulture (near Carnarvon), two Heron (Lakefield and near Silent Lake Provincial Park) and Hawks galore. If you're lucky, you just might spot a Moose or two!
Most of the roads are currently pretty much construction free getting to the Park. 121/35 is clear, with only minor bridge work near Oxtongue Lake and on 62/127 is in good shape with two bridges reduced to one lane in Maynooth. Neither bit of construction will tie you up for very long.
Check in to the East or West gate, depending on the direction you are entering the park as you will have to purchase a Daily Use Pass which is $16/vehicle a day. Look at the 'Animal sightings' boards for what has been recently spotted, or to give you an idea of where to start looking.
Trail Swag Tips: Things to bring:
- Sunglasses - because the sun is lower in the sky this time of the season and can make for difficult driving conditions.
- Toque and gloves: The temperature varies this time of year and early morning walks can be quite chilly.
- Good hiking boots - whether its a long hike or a simple 1km loop most trails are very hilly and peppered with roots.
- A water bottle: Stay hydrated!
- A cooler/picnic basket - Share a meal with family in the great outdoors at Algonquin's picnic spots such as Costello Creek, Lake of Two Rivers, East Beach, or Tea Lake Dam.
- Lots of layers - who knows what the weather will bring this time of year, and it helps when you have a car to store everything. A packable rain jacket is also handy to bring along for unpredictable Fall showers.
- .50 cents: Toss .50 cents into your pocket to pick up one of the trail guides as you being your hike. Each book contains a map and plenty of interesting facts about the hike you are about to begin.
- Your camera: Be sure you've got those batteries fully charged and ample memory cards for all the photo snapping you will be doing.
Don't drive too fast or you'll miss all the beauty. Sadly there will still be speed demons trying to pass you on the road but don't let them hurry you up in enjoying your experience in the park. Now is also the perfect time to put your cell phones away along with your children's iPods, Nintendos, or other distractions such as in-vehicle movies, so that you can pique their curiosity in nature.
The West end changes colours first, and according to the Friends of Algonquin website and the Ontario Parks Fall Colour Report, NOW is the time to go. Thankfully Algonquin is so massive, that even if you are tied up this weekend, you can still enjoy the colours on the East end next week as it takes a long time for the entire park to turn.
Sometimes you will be driving past a patch of Maples that haven't begun to change or a group of conifers, when a single tree will stand out and almost take your breath away with it's vibrance. Maybe it's just the way the sun rays catch the leaves, or maybe you visited on just the right day, but it makes it worth the trip.
Fall in Algonquin isn't only about the drive. Make sure to plan the day around a hike or two. From the 1.5 km hike at Spruce Bog Boardwalk Trail (which is wheelchair accessible), to the 10 km difficult hike at Centennial Ridges Trail, the leaves are just starting to fall to begin carpeting your hike for all ages and skill levels.
The quickest route to a great vantage point is the Lookout trail, which is 1.9 km although it can be a bit of a steep climb for those that weren't prepared. The view from the back of the Algonquin Park Visitor Centre is also easy to get to (and is also wheelchair accessible).