Length of stay: 3 days
Visited: November 2022
Algonquin Provincial Park is the first provincial park that was created in Ontario and it’s also one of the largest parks in the province. It features a series of interconnected lakes, rivers and creeks that create one of the best places in Ontario to explore the backcountry by canoe. The Highway 60 Corridor cuts through the southern portion of Algonquin and contains a number of campgrounds, access points to the backcountry, and trails for hiking and cross-country skiing.
We booked a yurt at Mew Lake Campground, which is the only campground open year-round in Algonquin, for a few days in the middle of November. We drove down Thursday night and arrived at our site just before 10:30p.m. Our yurt was open and the keys were on the table inside. Our yurt came equipped with furniture, including two bunk beds that sleeps up to six, and a table with five chairs. The yurt also had lighting, a few electrical outlets and a propane fireplace.
Once we unpacked, which mostly just consisted of us taking out our sleeping bags and pillows, we set the thermostat for the fireplace and went to bed.
Day 1: Bogs and Boardwalks
There’s a circular skylight in the yurt, so we got up with the rising sun, or rather, when it started to get light outside since it was overcast and cloudy. After eating breakfast, we set out to embark on a hike. The forecast was calling for 5-10mm of rain in the afternoon and evening and we had zero interest in hiking in the rain. We decided to hike the Mizzy Lake Trail (11km loop, rated moderate) in the hopes of spotting some wildlife. The trail passes by nine small lakes and ponds and contains a few boardwalk sections. The trail is well marked with a series of blue circles on the trees, along with thirteen numbered posts.
The trail starts off through the forest and the path is a bit rocky with a few hilly sections. As we passed Mizzy Lake, there’s a long boardwalk section that hugs part of the shoreline.
The trail then reaches a junction that also contained a map of the area. The Mizzy Lake Trail continues to the left and the Weldwood Road (which the map indicated was now closed) is to the right. We continued along the trail, which overlaps with part of the old road. For the next few kilometres, the path is relatively wide and flat. We hiked through a valley and then along a causeway between West Rose Lake.
According to the map, at post #5 there’s a detour that leads to the bear’s nests. However, there was a sign on the post to indicate that no black bear nests are visible at this time. Since the detour adds an extra 4 km round trip to the hike, we decided to skip it.
After passing Wolf Howl Pond, the trail becomes more rugged and rough. There were a lot of ups and downs and we had to crawl under, hop over or walk around a number of fallen trees. Progress was slow. And we were out of shape. It’s been awhile since we’ve been hiking. We came across a bench on a short boardwalk section by post #11 and figured this was a sign from the universe for us to take a break, and so that’s what we did. From there, we still had another couple of kilometres left. Thankfully there were a few more boardwalk sections to take a break from navigating over all the roots and rocks and fallen trees. After passing Dizzy Lake, the end was in sight.
Overall it took us 3.5 hours to complete the Mizzy Lake Trail. By the time we wrapped up, we were feeling a bit sore and tired, so we drove towards the East Gate to take a break. We stopped at the Visitor Centre to hike the Fire Tower Trail, a short trail along a boardwalk that leads to a replica cupola, a wooden lookout structure that was located at the top of a fire tower. There were a few interpretive signs that explained that fire towers were constructed in Algonquin, starting in the 1920s, to help identify forest fires. At least 23 fire towers were built throughout the park. The use of these towers ended in the 1970s when forest fire detection by aircraft was determined to be more efficient and cost effective.
We then hiked the Spruce Bog Boardwalk (1.5km loop, rated easy), which visits two separate bogs. After crossing the first bog, the trail weaves through a spruce forest before leading to the second bog. The trail is super easy to navigate as it mostly follows along a boardwalk, and there are nine numbered posts and blue circles marked on the trees.
We returned to our yurt to eat a very late lunch and to bunker down for the rest of the afternoon. P, K and E were planning to come down later in the evening to spend the rest of the weekend with us in the yurt.
Day 2: Lookouts and Logging
After eating breakfast, we went for a hike along the Track and Tower Trail (7.7km round trip, rated moderate). The trail winds through the forest and leads to a lookout over Cache Lake. The trail is signed with blue circles on the trees and contained thirteen numbered posts. Along the way there were some notable points of interest, including a dam, several small cascades and a portage that provides access to Cache Lake.
To get to the lookout over Cache Lake involved climbing up a series of staircases to the top of a ridge. The path then leads to a clearing on a rocky outcrop, which provides sweeping views of the surrounding area. This trail is reputed to be especially popular in the fall when the leaves are changing colour. All the leaves have long since fallen at this point. But on the plus side, we had the trail mostly all to ourselves.
The trail loops back to the set of stairs. After meandering through the forest, the trail overlaps with part of the Railway Bike Trail, which leads to Mew Lake Campground. This part of the trail was wide and relatively flat. The path then branches off and weaves deeper into the forest. There were a few sections that were hard to navigate as all the fallen leaves had obstructed the path, but we managed to make it back to the parking lot.
It was really starting to cool down and we were getting hungry. We returned to our yurt to make a hot lunch and to warm up by the fireplace. We headed out later in the afternoon to visit the Algonquin Logging Museum, which showcases a series of exhibits that explain more about the history of logging in the park. At the start of the museum, there’s an indoor exhibit, which was closed when we visited. The real highlight of the museum however, are the outdoor exhibits. There’s a short trail that loops through the forest and passes 20 exhibits which contain a series of old logging equipment and buildings that explain more about logging in the area and how it has evolved over time.
Logging has been an important part of Algonquin’s history and began in the area at least 60 years before the park was established in 1893. Algonquin is the only designated provincial park in Ontario that still allows industrial logging, which is permitted in about two thirds of the park.
The one downside to visiting Algonquin so late in the fall is that it gets dark so early. It was also getting noticeably chilly outside, so we headed back to the campground. According to the weather forecast, it was supposed to plummet to -8°C overnight. We sure were happy to be staying in a heated yurt. To warm up, we made some B52 mixed in with coffee and topped with some whipped cream. We spent the remainder of the evening indoors playing games.
It started to lightly snow later in the evening, which marked the first official snowfall of the season.
Day 3: Some Snow
We slept in a bit later than usual. After eating a hot breakfast, we packed up our stuff. We were supposed to check out of our yurt by 10am, but by the time we actually headed out, it was just after 10:30a.m. Whoops. It was cold outside and there was a light dusting of snow on the ground.
Before heading home, we decided to go on a couple of hikes, starting with the Big Pines Trail (2.9km loop, rated moderate). The trail winds through an old growth forest of eastern white pines and passes the site of an 1880s logging camp. The trail partially lived up to its description. While we saw some tall towering pines, we didn’t really see any remains from the old logging camp. There were a few areas that were fenced off, but we couldn’t see much, just a bunch of leaves, more trees and some fallen branches.
As we continued our drive towards the East Gate, we stopped again to hike along the Hardwood Lookout Trail (0.8km loop, rated moderate). The trail weaves through a typical Algonquin hardwood forest and leads to a panoramic viewpoint overlooking Smoke Lake. The path is short, but super steep in places. It was a good workout before the drive back home.
On the way out of the park, we stopped at the Information Centre to check out the swag and say our goodbyes. It was then time for us to head back home and return to the daily grind.