Algonquin Provincial Park is a wonder of nature. Nestling hills of maple trees, magnificent ridges and thousands of pristine lakes, the park is a nature lover’s opium! While the park is excellent for daily use, you can truly explore and enjoy the splendor of the park though spending time in its backcountry.
The backcountry is the vast interior of the park which is cut off from the humdrum of everyday life. Canoe or foot is the only way to access the backcountry. Enjoy a week of camping in the backcountry with three backpacking trails and over 1,200 miles of canoe routes. There are over 1,900 campsites along these routes and trails for you to enjoy a hot meal, gaze at stars by the campfire and get a night of rest before you set out into the forest the next day.
Other than canoe tripping and backpacking, admire the rugged beauty of the park — the interiors offer stunning sights. If you’re camping in the spring, especially, you are sure to see over a 100 species of migratory birds which make the park their home in the season. You can also spot moose and other wildlife during your time in the backcountry. Throughout May there are excellent opportunities to catch trout for your campfire meal (though ensure you have the required permits to fish).
The following is a guide to backcountry camping in the park, with details of things you can do, making reservations and essential information you will need to make this experience a safe one. Enjoy the pristine forests of Ontario like never before!
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During your backcountry camping experience, you can also enjoy canoeing in the calm waters. The Algonquin Provincial Park has over 1,200 miles of canoe routes and portages that connect to thousands of serene lakes. It would take more than a short backcountry camping trip, perhaps even an entire lifetime, to explore all 1,200 miles. But enjoying the waters while on your backcountry camping trip is surely a start. The park has 3,000 square miles of opportunities for canoe tripping. So you can pack your supplies and enjoy a few days canoeing and camping in nature.
There are also whitewater canoeing opportunities for those with experience. Given Algonquin Park’s higher elevation, six major rivers that flow to the Georgian Bay and St Lawrence River — Petawawa River, Madawaska River, Oxtongue River, Opeongo River, Magnetawan River, and Amable du Fond River — originate in the park. These rivers have relatively intense currents and make for exciting whitewater canoeing spots for recreation and during vacations. Ensure you have the right equipment and expertise as this can be a dangerous sport.
If you prefer to explore the remote interiors of the park on foot, there are three backpacking trails available. The trails will allow you to explore different loops, ranging from 4 miles to 60 miles in length. The following are the three backpacking trails:
Eastern Pines Backpacking Trail
Eastern Pines is an overnight trail that has loops which vary in length — from 4 miles to 10 miles. The access point to the trail is from Grand Lake — Achray Access Point. It’s typically open from the last Friday in April until mid-October. The season is subject to change depending on weather conditions.
The trail can be challenging for the uninitiated and has several steep climbs and sharp turns. But there are ample resting stops, bathrooms and scenic views on the trail for you to take your time and finish the hike in peace. The permit to access this trail can be picked up from Sand Lake Gate.
Highland Backpacking Trail
The Highland Backpacking Trail is an overnight experience with loops varying in length — 12 miles and 22 miles. Access the trail from the trailhead near Mew Lake Campground which is open throughout the year.
The difficulty level of the trail is relatively high with several steep climbs, long distances, and sharp turns. The trail is equipped with bathrooms, rest stops and scenic views of lakes and rivers along the way. The permit to access this trail can be picked up from the Mew Lake Campground Office (end of April until Thanksgiving) and West Gate (in the winter only).
Western Uplands Backpacking Trail
Western Uplands is an overnight backpacking trail. With loops varying in length — 20 miles to 60 miles — this trail is the longest backpacking trail in the park. The access point for the trail is the Western Uplands Backpacking Trailhead/Oxtongue River Picnic Ground or the Rain Lake Access Point.
All three trails have designated campsites which can only be accessed by the hikers. All the campsites are located close to the water’s edge. While the trails are maintained frequently, some patches may be rugged and steep. You may want to pace yourself accordingly.
Apart from campsites, you can also opt to stay in one of the historic ranger cabins in the park. Ranger cabins are rustic cabins made of wood which usually do not have water or electrical supply; and this is what makes it a unique, genuinely natural experience. Many of the cabins were built by park rangers dating back to the 1920s and 30s. While there are several cabins peppered through the park, some of them have been restored, improved and preserved for public use. Staying in one of these cabins creates a taste of the lives of the early Algonquin rangers. The money collected from these experiences helps the park maintain the cabins and hopefully give them a longer life.
Situated in the backcountry of Algonquin Park, these cabins are accessible only by canoe. Only five ranger cabins are accessible by car — Bissett Road Ranger Cabin, Brent Ranger Cabin, Brent Deputy Ranger Cabin, Kiosk Ranger Cabin, and Rain Lake Ranger Cabin.
What Should You Know?
While camping in the backcountry is a unique and highly enjoyable experience, some preparation on your part is required, given how remote the interiors can get. The following is some useful information you will need to make your camping experience safe and pleasurable:
There are 29 access points spread around the park which are located either on the periphery of the park or along Highway 60. These are starting points and are the only way for you to enter the park’s backcountry. In most cases, these access points do not have developed campgrounds or facilities.
The backcountry campsites can get booked quite quickly so ensure you make your reservations well in advance. You can call 1-888-668-7275 or make a reservation online. Ensure you have a map of the backcountry canoe routes or the backpacking trail ready for reference when you make a call for reservations. By doing this, you will have the routes, access points and campsites in front of you in case your original itinerary is booked out. The following are some details about making a reservation:
- You can make your booking up to five months in advance.
- The maximum length of stay in any one campsite is 16 consecutive nights.
- A single park permit allows nine people in a group.
You need a permit to enter the backcountry region of the park. The permit allows overnight stays in the backcountry via the canoe routes or backpacking trails. The following are the prices:
- $5.65/person/night – Ages 6-17 (inclusive)
- $12.43/person/night – Age 18+
The ranger cabins are also at an additional cost. The price breakup is provided here.
Rules and Regulations
It would bode well for you to follow the specific rules and regulations for backcountry camping. These areas of the park are remote, quiet and must be protected. It’s the responsibility of the camper that the site they have occupied is left how they found it. The rules and regulations are listed here.
Backcountry camping in Algonquin Provincial Park can be a very enriching experience if you do it right. It’s the perfect way to get away from the chaotic life of the city and enjoy some days of leisure and quiet in the wilderness. What’s important, however, is to respect the forest and not make your presence very heavy. Ensure you consume as little as possible and clean up after yourself.
The park is partnered with Leave No Trace Canada and encourages visitors to follow seven principles to enjoy the park responsibly. These steps are:
- Prepare for your trip and plan in advance.
Camp on durable surfaces, so the forest floor is protected.
Leave no trace, clean up, and dispose of all waste.
Observe rocks, plants, and nature but do not uproot them from the forest to take home.
Build small fires and put them out thoroughly to reduce the impact of campfires.
Respect all flora and fauna around you.
Respect other visitors in the park.
So follow these seven principles, enjoy responsibly and make memories of a lifetime at the Algonquin Provincial Park backcountry!