Length of stay: 2 days
Visited: February 2022
Algonquin Provincial Park is the oldest provincial park in Ontario and is open all year-round. In the winter the Highway 60 corridor, which travels 56 kilometres across the southwestern corner of the park, is regularly plowed. Along this stretch there are plenty of opportunities for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, skating and even winter camping.
Day 1: Bat Lake
It took us longer than expected to get to Algonquin. We left the house later than usual as we had to first shovel the driveway. We got 15cm of snow the day before and because of all the wind overnight, most of the snow we shovelled the day before ended right back on our driveway. Then the drive took us nearly twice as long as there was a snow squall warning in effect and the blowing snow across the highway significantly reduced visibility. Traffic was slow. There were even a few accidents, including one where part of the highway was closed so we had to go on a bit of a detour. But eventually we made it to Algonquin with a few hours of daylight left.
We checked in at the West Gate to pick up a map of the trails. We then drove to the trailhead for Bat Lake Trail (5.6km, rated moderate), which is located about midway along the Highway 60 corridor. There were a few cars in the parking lot, but we had no issues finding an empty spot at this time of the day. From the parking lot we found the access point to the trail, except we ended up going the wrong way around the loop. No big deal though.
By the time we hit the trail, the wind had subsided and we were quite sheltered in the forest. Temperature-wise it wasn’t too bad. It was -4°C and felt like -11°C with the windchill. It was mostly overcast, but we could also see the sun between the clouds. The trail was packed down with snow and marked with 13 numbered posts.
The trail winds through a variety of forests, including an impressive hemlock stand, features a lookout of the surrounding area and contains two viewpoints of Bat Lake, a naturally acidic lake that does not have any fish. Since we hiked the loop backwards, the first part of the path was relatively flat. After passing the viewpoints of Bat Lake it’s a super steep climb to the top of the ridge, which leads to an overlook. Since we had a significant rainfall a few days earlier followed by a snowstorm, there were some icy patches. We were glad we wore our snowshoes.
From the overlook it’s a gradual descent into the valley. The real highlight of the trail was the frozen waterfall near viewpoint #4. With the help of our snowshoes we were able to get up close to check it out.
We continued along the main path through the dense forest. The remainder of the trail was relatively flat and we were back at the parking lot in no time. Overall it took us two hours to complete the trail.
On the drive out of the park, we stopped at the turnoff for the Western Uplands, which contains a long multi-day trail with backcountry campsites (32km, 55km and 88km loops). We’re not that hardcore to attempt even the shortest loop, let alone in the winter. But we stopped here to watch the sunset. We walked a few hundred feet to the start of the trail and enjoyed the nice views of the setting sun on the bridge.
We hopped back in the car to warm-up and drive to our accommodations. The downside to visiting during the Family Day long weekend meant that all the hotels and motels within a 50km radius of Algonquin were completely booked. Instead we had to drive just over an hour to Bracebridge to some sketchy motel. Options were limited. The 2 star rating was very appropriate.
Day 2: Mizzy Lake
We woke up to another blustery day outside. Since it was the long weekend, we decided to get an early start to the day to beat the crowds. We planned to hike the Mizzy Lake Trail (10.8km, rated moderate), which is reputed to be a great spot for moose sightings.
We first checked in at the West Gate to inquire about the conditions on the Mizzy Lake Trail and to use the heated washrooms. By the time we got to the trailhead it was just after 9:30a.m and we were the first car in the parking lot. We strapped on our snowshoes and headed out into the forest. This time we hiked the proper way along the trail.
Mizzy Lake Trail loops through the forest and wetlands and visits nine small lakes and ponds. There was a narrow path through the forest that was mostly packed down in the snow. There were also 13 numbered posts and a series of blue circles on the trees to help with navigation.
The first part of the trail was pretty straightforward and scenic. The path hugs the shoreline of a small lake and winds through the forest, providing much protection from the wind. The trail then follows the eastern shore of Mizzy Lake.
Near viewpoint #3, there’s a junction and map of the trail system. For those who have had enough and want to head back, they can take this turnoff to form a smaller loop. At this point we were feeling pretty good, so we continued onwards along the main trail.
The next stretch is entirely flat and winds through a valley. The trail was less packed down with snow here, but we could still see footprints and snowshoe prints in the snow. Once we reached West Rose Lake we were out in the open wind and the blowing snow made it a bit hard to navigate.
At viewpoint #5, there’s a turnoff for the bear’s nests. According to the sign, none of the black bear nests were visible at this time, so we decided to skip it since it would add an additional 1-2 kilometres to our hike and the path did not look well travelled. We would rather save our energy.
We then passed by Wolf Howl Pond. While we didn’t hear any wolf howls, we sure felt the wind howling. The wind had also blown a lot of the snow over the trail, which made navigation a bit tricky. The worst were the boardwalk sections. If you strayed from the main path, which was packed down, you could end up knee deep in the snow.
We were thankful to be back in the forest, even if there were some rolling hills to tackle and a few smaller lakes along the way. We even took a break at one of the benches at viewpoint #11 to eat a snack and drink some water. The trail was harder than we anticipated and we were getting tired. As we were sitting on the bench, we kept thinking about how awesome it would be to see a moose right about now and how that would give us some extra energy. Except we didn’t see a moose. And the issue of taking a break while hiking in the winter is that if you slow down for too long, you can start to feel the cold. So on we went.
After passing Dizzy Lake, it’s a short stretch through the forest and back to the parking lot. There were still some rolling hills to climb up and down, which we were getting real tired of. We were very happy to see our car again. We took off our snowshoes and were ready to head home. Despite the challenge, we were thankful to get some fresh air and exercise. Plus Algonquin just looks so beautiful in the snow.