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MITRA G. CHATTOPADHYAY

SONGSOPTOK THE WRITERS BLOG | 4/15/2017 |




Algonquin Provincial Park
– the most attractive travel spot 
in Ontario, Canada.

We live in Toronto which is in the Ontario province of Canada. Ontario -home of Canada’s most diverse population, gives the province a multicultural buzz like food, festivals, cultural activities, sports… almost everything. To all its directions and corners, scenically, Ontario is one of the most beautiful provinces of Canada.. Getting away to the cottage is long standing summer tradition; we could escape from the busy and highly populated Toronto city to the lake districts and provincial parks of Ontario to celebrate a vacation. Algonquin Provincial Park is one of the province’s largest protected green places.   In fifteen years; we visited Algonquin Provincial park twice.

To the north of Toronto, Algonquin Provincial Park and Muskoka Cottage Country are high rated tourist attraction spots for outdoor life: camping, cottage-living, hiking, canoeing, fishing. Though they are open round the year, hundred percent facilities are available from May to Mid-October.  July and August are the busiest travel months. But, we like to visit the tourist places of North, Northeast Ontario during fall; especially from Mid-September to Mid-October when the foliage of the entire regions blooms luxuriantly and becomes most dramatic with bright gorgeous colors of fall.

First time, in Summer, we headed to Algonquin Park for camping.  We means my husband, Jhumri and Misha- my elder daughter and her husband, Jhelum- our younger daughter and myself.  We started at dawn, It was Saturday, so our first halt on the long way driving was in Barrie. We visited the Saturday Farmers Market, outside City Hall and ate local made patties and cakes with coffee. This market has been operated since 1846. It moves inside City Hall during every winter --from November to April. Besides seasonal products, yummy baked goods, prepared food and many crafts were there for sell. Though the environment was joyous and attractive we left the place soon thinking of reaching Algonquin before the sun set. Barrie is 105 km north of Toronto --spreads out along the shore of the beautiful lake -- Simaco, so the lake could be strolled everywhere, even in the heart of the city.   In Berry, among many things to visit and enjoy, there is a small but worthwhile art museum; Maclaren Art Centre which exhibits Canadian and regional art pieces.   But, Berry was not our destination; so we proceeded to Algonquin with the second break in Muskoka.For many Ontarians, Muskoka -- with countless lakes, is a Cottage country; an ideal vacation place to escape from the city where spending holidays means sitting on the porch of the owned or rented cottage, dot on the lake.  If one needs more; of course one could go for hiking, site seeing cruises, fishing and canoeing. For tourists, there are Bed & Breakfasts and hotels. The northwest extension of Muskoka Cottage country is the beautiful Georgian Bay with numerous islands and dense forests of Bruce Peninsula. The northeast of Muskoka Cottage Country is extended to Algonquin Provincial Park. We took a lunch-halt just on the lake-front to enjoy the spectacular scene of the lake, collected an extra tent from Mountain Equipment Co- Op ( M.E.C. -- a Canadian chain that sells and rents camping equipment, clothing and other supplies) for three of us; my elder daughter possessed full set of camping equipment (including a tent of their own) which she loaded in the car on the previous day of our trip. 

When we reached and entered the west gate (0 km spot) of the Provincial Park, from Highway 60, the sun was just set and it was getting dark. Our spot was at one of the two lakes of the Two Rivers Lake camping ground at km 31 -- more or less in the middle of the Provincial Park.  Jhumri and Misha booked the spot at least three months ago; so we reached the designated spot reporting at the gate ( showing our permit and booking information).  There we received the brochure with all rules-regulations, information and maps. The park’s main sites are listed from West to east; that means 20 km spot is 20 km east from the westernmost gate, 0 km spot; East gate is at 55.8 km from West gate.  However, we could see the beautiful lake in front of us and the line of tents, lantern- light and wood-fires opposite side of the lake. Hurriedly my daughter Jhumri and her husband Misha set the tents and light the fire woods (we bought at the entry gate). There were 2 picnic tables. We lighted one lantern and spread our dinner on the table keeping all other food in the wooden box. Algonquin is a black bear country; so we took extra caution about food while eating and dumping the inedible parts in the designated huge lidded can. Our dinner was very humble; sandwich, banana, apple, cake and wine. There were street lamps in between two rows of camping grounds facing one lake, occupied by tents of different colors, shapes and sizes -- while searching for the nearest toilet, we found them. There were too many lakes to count and circling those lakes, like ours, there were designated camping spots. We crawled inside our tents with torch lights extinguishing the fire. That time, we didn’t have any idea how vast and spectacular the entire provincial park was!  It is immense -- 1.9 million acres area stretched along a wide swath of Northeastern Ontario, covered with hard-wood, coniferous forests and lakes and there are more than 1,300 camp sites. 

Next morning, we wandered the area surrounding our lake and camp site to get acquainted with the close vicinity. We walked through the camping grounds and rode our car along accessible paths. The lakes like Tea, Canisbay, Mew, Two rivers, Pog, Kearney, Coon, and Rock etc. have different facilities like their locations, showers, flash toilets, laundry and swimming beaches. Mobile phones did work within about 3 km from of highway 60, but there were dead spots too! Within the park, three stores sell camping supplies including basic first aids, rain ponchos and mosquito repellent.  For groceries and small selection foods, we found the Portage Store at Km 14 ( near West Gate), Two Rivers Store at km 31.4 ( centrally located) and Opengo store to the east near km 46.3.   After the traverse and ride to get acquainted with the close part of the lake; we lighted our stoves and prepared tea. The place was full of campers, still unnaturally quiet with sound of the waves, winds through the leaves and whistles of birds. Few children and toddlers passed by giggling and chatting followed by their dads or moms.  Opposite side of the lake seemed to be busy too with the start of the day preparing breakfast and tea.  

We read the map and planned our schedules and went to the Visitors Centre first. There are too many spots for hiking, biking, skiing, and canoeing to cover in three days. Actually fifteen days camping is good to know and enjoy most of the Provincial Park.  We decided to start from the closest and cover as much as possible. So, Art Centre at 20 km, ache lake at 23.5, Lake of two rivers at 31, Visitors Centre at 43 km and Logging museum at 54.5 were included in our ‘must see’ list. Among the Hiking trails, we chose the easy board walk path though there were all day long strenuous excursions and more experienced hiker can stomp along more than 140 km of backpacking trails through the park’s interior.  From 0 km, consecutive trails from west to east  are: Whiskery rapids, Hardwood lookout, Mizzy lake, Peck lake, Track and Tower, Hemlock bluff, Bat lake, Two rivers, Centennial ridges, Look out, Big pines, Booth’s Rock, Spruce Bog Boardwalk and Beaver pond. There are three areas that offer trails for cross country skiing: Fen Lake Ski trail, Leaf Lake Trail and Minnecing Trail.

Within our stay period, ultimately we managed to hike Beaver pond ( 2 km hike), Spruce Bog Boardwalk ( 1.5 km walk) Two rivers (2.1 km walk and hike)Hemlock Bluff ( 3.5 km hike) and Hardwood lookout ( 0.8 km hike) besides checking in all of our must see list. Our everyday routine was: tea, breakfast, use of nearest toilet (without shower facility), hiking through one selected trail as I mentioned above; shower from the central building that includes many shower rooms, preparation of Khichri (rice, pulse, green vegetables; all boiled in water  with salt, black pepper and green chili) and potato chips or wedges; having food, rest for a while, visiting Art Centre or Logging Museum, then walking or hiking through a new trail or boardwalk around a lake.   Besides making tea/ coffee and sandwiches, we did not cook anything in the evening. Returning to our camp, we used to wash our hands, legs and mouths in the adjacent washroom, eat our humble dinner and entered within the tents at the soonest. Jhumri got mosquito bites everyday while walking in the tree trails and she got red swollen rashes all over the exposed parts of her body. Not only she, all of us used to apply the repellent before we went for a hike. We usually tried to spend the sun set hours in the public beach of the Two Rivers Lake. One day Jhumri, Jhelum and Misha managed to bathe in the lake which was quite a fun to them while Dilip and I went to the store of Two Rivers Lake to fill our car with fuel.  

The Art Centre exhibits works of artists who had/ have an Algonquin connection. The Centre also allows drop- in art activities for both children and adults. In the Visitors Centre, we watched a twelve minutes film about the park’s history and natural features. There is a museum that exhibits life style and paintings of Aboriginals, history of Algonquin and the Aboriginals in more detail, birds, fish and animals of the area. From Brook Trout to Bass, Algonquin has unique fish communities. Moose, Black bear, Wolves, Dear, Beaver are the common animals of this region. There were a big shopping center and a cafeteria inside the Visitor’s Centre.  Two hours long Logging Museum walk was quite interesting and fascinating. We could explore the changes in lifestyle and technology in Algonquin’s logging industry from the 1830s to the present… ..from Camboose Shanty to sawlog camps and from alligators to skidders.

For the second time when we came to Algonquin as a conducted tour by a Chinese Travel Company, it was a halt from Sudbury- Aguya Canyon trip on our way back home to Toronto. First time we went for camping in summer, might be in May-June. That time the entire Park was luxuriant with green trees.  Next time the purpose of our trip was to see the overwhelming fall color of the foliage in autumn; so we took the conducted trip on September –October. Algonquin Provincial Park was immensely colorful at that time with shades of yellow, orange and red! That time we had lunch in the cafeteria of the Visitors Centre, watched the museum again and made some shopping. The attraction was the deck out back, which overlooks a wide range of the park.  We went to the short Fire Tower Trail, a boardwalk that leaded to a reconstructed Cupola – the lookout at the top of a fire tower.  The spectacular color-floods made us overwhelmed. There are so many attractions and historical information to say about Algonquin Provincial Park; I could not cover everything here; may be talked later in another reference.


[MITRA G. CHATTOPADHYAY]

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