It all started on a Friday morning in October, 4 years ago. A Friends of Algonquin Park Facebook alert came into my feed saying the colours were going to be at peak. I’d not been to Algonquin Park in nearly 25 years.
Feeling inspired and dreaming of the potential photos, I decided to book a car. I rolled out of bed, got my coffee-to-go, and was on the road from Toronto at 5:30am the next morning. Adventure!
Visiting Algonquin Park in the fall is absolutely stunning. It’s actually hard to believe when you first experience it. My first fall drive through the park is burned into mind; one of my most proud Canadian moments.
Having now ventured up multiple times during this season, I’ve come to appreciate that the beauty of the park’s fall colours is not a big secret. Thousands of people visit in a given day! Fall is an extremely busy time to go, but it is worth it!
Here are five tips that have improved my experiences and limited disappointment.
1. Grab a coffee and arrive early.
If you’re planning to go the weekend the colours are peaking, try to arrive by 9:00am. It’s the greatest gift you can give yourself. I can’t stress how important this is!
Doing so generally ensures you’ll have a smooth and faster drive to the park. You won’t have to wait long to get your park permit and you’ll be able to get a number of trails in before the crowds take over.
You may also be fortunate to catch wildlife enjoying their breakfast!
2. Decide your trails in advance.
There are numerous recreational trails to choose from. I usually try to get 1-3 trails in over the day. I’ve done this stress-free because I’ve arrived early. Anything more than that and you’ll be dodging the crowds to get parking, photos and ahead on the trail.
My favourites are Booth’s Rock, Lookout and Centennial Ridges. All have sections with fantastic views and are manageable for anyone who has at least an average level of fitness. Centennial Ridges is much longer and far more challenging, but the ridge views are gorgeous. Shorter trails like Lookout, I would say, are okay for children. But do keep in mind the cliff edges for obvious safety reasons.
3. Drive Safe.
Arriving early ensures a leisurely drive into the park. Once the crowds arrive it’s a different story. Some trails are so popular the road turns into a parking lot.
Every time I’ve gone there’s been a “close call” of some sort. Be it someone running across the road, someone pulling onto the highway without looking, someone driving way too fast or passing on a hill, weekends can be a bit nutty. I’ve always been told it’s less yourself you have to worry about and more the other drivers and that’s rung true for me on fall trips to Algonquin.
With such stunning views to see and so many around enjoying them, ensure you’re being cautious! Take your time, expect afternoon crowds and keep your eyes open!
4. Head out when it gets too busy
My trips to Algonquin have typically lasted from 9am until about 2pm. I tend to find the crowds and roads get really busy by the early afternoon. On my first trip, traffic on Highway 60 was lined up 7km from the West Gate – just to get a permit! So busy!
Leaving the trails when things get crowded offers the opportunity to take in other activities the park has available. Check out the Algonquin Visitor’s Centre (it always has lots going on), get inspired by talented artists exhibiting at the Algonquin Art Centre, take in some history at the Algonquin Logging Museum, or pick up some new gear for winter at Algonquin Outfitters. Huntsville has fun stores in their downtown, as well as fantastic Group of Seven Murals for visitors to enjoy. So much to do!
If you’re a coffee fan and heading back south on Highway 11, you could also visit the Muskoka Roastery Coffee Company. I personally enjoy the Loon Call Breakfast Blend, or the Dark Bear when I need an extra kick start to my day.
5. Consider going mid week.
The last time I went to see the fall colours I told myself I really should plan to come throughout the week and make a mini-vacation out of it.
Algonquin Park’s website has a valuable Fall Colour Report you can track online. Pay attention to it and plan to visit on the shoulders of the “peak”. You’ll still be able to take in gorgeous colours, but minus the crowds, traffic and busy-ness. There are lots of accommodation options in the area to choose from, both inside and outside the park.
Algonquin Park is truly an outdoor jewel of Ontario! Visiting during the fall colour season is something every person in Canada should do. Plan your trip! You’ll be happy you did!
Wild and Found