To the Heart of Algonquin Park
Algonquin Park is a huge Provincial Park a couple hours north of Toronto. It has held a very special and large part of my heart for my whole life. It is thousands of hectares of lakes, rivers, marshes and beautiful forest. I never feel more at peace than when I am in Algonquin. When I get stressed out at work, I think of being in Algonquin and all is good again.
My cousin Rob shares the same feelings about Algonquin. A few years ago we discovered that there was a public forest access road right to the heart of the park - we knew we had to ride there.
Here is a shot from our campsite to warm you up to this ride report:
Let's go back to the beginning of the ride. We agreed to meet at my cottage which is about 2 hours north of our homes in Aurora, ON.
I got to the cottage before Rob, so I took a few pictures while I waited for him.
It was a beautiful morning to sit and have a coffee and enjoy the absolute quiet. It is still too early in the season for any other cottagers to be here.
Once Rob arrived we hit the road. We were looking for the least slab possible. The gps can be set to find a range of road types between the super highways right down to unmaintained gravel tracks. My gps is usually set on the most "minor road" setting. It found us some incredible trails, which I believe are all public roads.
The ride to the Park was long, but we had a blast!! The weather was absolutley perfect - terribly unique for April in Ontario - but we soaked up every minute of it.
We made it to our campsite and unloaded the heavily laden bikes.
In Algonquin there are 2 types of camping. There is the car camping within campgrounds close to Highway 60. They have comfort stations, maintained beaches, etc. Unfortunately, that is all that most Algonquin visitors see. But there is SO much more to see. The Highway 60 corridor gets a visitor in contact with only a very small section of the Park.
The other type of camping in Algonquin is experienced by canoe. This is how you really get to experience the beauty and the vastness of Algonquin. But it is hard work, there are no facilities, you have to carry on your back all you will need for days without seeing another person, etc.
I had discovered this particualr site by accident 2 years ago. It is a "backcountry" site and provides all the beauty, privacy, serenity, etc. of a canoe access only site. But it is close enough to a small gravel road that we can get here with our dual sport bikes.
So, we set up camp. Now we have bikes that feel remarkably light and agile. Perfect for heading further into the "Heart of Algonquin"...
Whoa man, that's a tease...looking forward to more.
Algonquin has a strange effect on me as well...one early morning, deep into a 4 day portage trip several years ago I proposed to my wife...just weeks after reiterating to her that marriage was not for me. :huh
It is one of the few places I feel truly happy and at peace.
Rob and I knew there was a Radio Observatory set up many years ago in the middle of Algonquin by the Canadian government. It was set up here because it is so far removed from any other light interference.
The largest satellite dish in Canada is located here. It is no longer operated by the government, and has been sold to a private party. We were determined to find it.
We knew it was located near Lake Travers, which we could find on a map. According to our calculations, it would be approximately 70 km inside the park along a forest access road.
The road was very loose sand/gravel, but we were on suitable bikes, with suitable tires, so off we went.
After riding along this road, which gave us several "pucker up moments" due to the pockets of very loose sand, we found this locked gate.
You can see the sign on the right...we found the location of the Observatory, but we did not expect to find a locked gate. Shit! We came a long way to see this damn dish.
We considered skirting the gate, but there were lots of warning signs about video survellance. In a place as remote as this, you could normally laugh off the "video survellance", but we both noticed that our pictures were already taken on the road just before the gate. Sure enough, there was a motion triggered camara. Better not crash the gate...
While were there with our bikes and helmets off, we heard thundering water further down the road. Might as well check that out while we are here.
Down the road a little way there was another sign prohibiting entry, but this time the gate was open and Rob kept going. Who was I to stop him?
Rob found the source of the water noise and stopped on a bridge over a large river with rapids.
We had not seen another person or vehicle in the park for hours. While standing in the middle the bridge checking my IPhone for service (there was none) I felt the bridge shaking. I looked up and there was a pick up truck waiting for me to move. WTF? Where did he come from? Turns out the driver was a Park Warden, and we were not supposed to be here. Didn't we see the sign? What sign??:lol3
I explained we were just doing a little exploring, ya, we shouldn't be here, but we just had to check out the rapids, blah blah...The Warden says "if you want to do a little exploring, get off your bikes and check out J R Booth's old homestead". He told us where to find it and we did. Very Interesting.
This is not something you'd expect to find way out here:
J R Booth was a lumber baron in the early 1800's. His company pretty much cleared most of what is now Algonquin Park of the mighty White Pine trees.
Most of the lumber was shipped back to Europe for ship building. J R built a railway through the park. You know it must have been a big, profitable business to support its own rail line. And I gotta think that building a railway through the rocks, marshes, around all the lakes in Algonquin was no easy task.
The fireplaces from the old house remain.
There were four like this. Rob determined that they were the corners of the old house - you could see where the walls would have gone between them.
If so, this was a Massive house - in the middle of nowhere!!
Came across this mushroom. I have never seen one like this before. It was a deep burgundy colour with gold edges. Yes, not yellow, but gold.
On the way back to our campsite we visited the Barron Canyon.
It is a 100 meter (300 feet) deep gorge cut by water through the granite rock. When the glaciers receded thousands of years ago, they left a huge lake - Lake Algonquin - which eventually drained into the current Great Lakes. This water left a spectacular site!
There was still some snow in the shaded areas.
One more stop before getting back to the campsite, along the river at the bottom of the Canyon we were just on top of.
A beaver gracefully slipped past us. Just after this picture he did give a big splash - I think more for our enjoyment than for any kind of warning to other beavers.
I don't believe there are many 5 Star hotels with a view like this.
I would rather sleep in a tent here than in any 5 Star hotel.
Back to our campsite - just before it got dark:
The next morning we had to head back home, but we were going to take the slow way back:clap
We took the rail trail (based on J R Booth's old rail line - thanks J R!) along the Madawaska river. Beautiful, although the trail was quite beat up. Our bikes were fully laden again and there were huge holes in the trail. Made for lots of interesting moments.
We were told by a local that the trail should be open all the way to the next Town we wanted to get to, but that there was a new detour. Apparantely there is a turtle crossing of the rail line, and there was concern for the turtles with ATV's, off road trucks and dual sport bikes using the rail trail. So, a detour around the turtle area was in order. The lady we spoke with said she had heard from the ATVers that the detour was "pretty rough". Rob and I knew that "pretty rough" for an ATV is likely "killer" for a motorbike. We decided to have a look, and turn around if we had to.
This "detour" was insane:huh It is 6 km in length - cut through very rough bush - up and down a huge hill. I can only imagine what it must have cost to build. I am all for saving turtles, but this seems pretty extreme. A huge amount of other environmental destruction was caused - tons of carbon emissions from the bull dozers to move all this dirt - thousands of trees cut - creeks diverted and likely contaminated during construction - is all that less important than some turtle habitat?
Having said all that, it did make for some difficult but fun riding.
Almost finished the "fun stuff" Pretty soon we will be back on the asphalt.
That Highway 60 corridor I mentioned at the beginning? It is probably the most scenic piece of highway in Ontario. Long sweeping views of lakes, rocky hills...breathtaking. We rode along at a respectable pace, and just drank it all in.
We stopped one more time in the Park before hitting the highway home. This is in a car campground where Rob and I have camped many, many times. We were here as kids with our parents, and now come back every year with our own kids.
Cheers!! Awesome weekend ride!!:freaky
Algonquin is truly a special place.
I really enjoyed that.
Fun stuff, but no fishing rods? (you rode through some of the best brook trout fishing in S.Ontario!)
I'm guessing you found http://www.algonquinmap.com/index.html already right? The most detailed info on all the trails, roads and POI in & around Algonquin. Got lucky with the warden, riding or driving on the logging roads in the park is usually met with furious vengeance with swift & indiscriminate justice. Fines start at $400, each. Just say'n.
How bad were the blackflies?
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