Autumn is a special time of the year to visit the forests of Algonquin Park. The season is short, though its brief appearance is usually a stunning one. For people whose time is limited, Algonquin Park offers ‘day-trippers’ the opportunity to experience the forests in all their glory at this-special time of year. The most popular option for a quick day visit is via the highway#60 access. The ever busy and popular highway#60 snakes its way for roughly 58km though the southern section of The Park.
It is along this highway corridor that sixteen interpretive hiking/walking trails can be accessed. A daily vehicle permit is required if you use the trails and they can be obtained at either the east or west gates, at KM56 and KM0 respectively. The highway is marked by 1 km markers throughout its length in Algonquin Park. Starting at the west gate as kilometre “0”. Each trail usually has booklets describing background information of that particular trail and its highlights to look for. The booklets can be obtained at each trailhead, all are equipped with a donation box. Booklets can also be purchased at the visitor centre at KM43.
For viewing of the autumn colours, the best thing to look for is a trail that has a high vantage point, giving the viewer a broad all encompassing view. Two trails come to mind that I have found to offer great views; The “Lookout” and “Centennial Ridges” trails. My personal favourite is the “Lookout” trail located between KM 39 & 40 on the north side of highway#60.
The Lookout Trail is a 1.9km loop that can be traversed to the summit in under half an hour. At the summit, there is a ridge upon which you can take in a view that if the conditions are perfect, is quite stunning. The view covers many tens of square kilometres. The return loop from the summit offers a second lookout view towards the southwest before the trail begins its descent back to the highway. I recommend anyone who does this trail be in good physical condition to ascend to the trail summit. There is a couple of hundreds of meters of ascent before one reaches the summit. Though not overly steep, the climb can be tiresome for those not accustomed to regular exercise. Be sure to take your time and drink in the views along the way – the best will be waiting for you up top.
In case you were wondering – once at the summit one can see a lake beyond in the distance. The lake is known as “Little Rock Lake”. That lake is small with one lonely little campsite on a slope. Quite a silly place to camp (On a slope). The campsite is on a canoe route and can be reached via a portage or two by canoe.
The Centennial Ridges Trail
The Centennial Ridges Trail is more difficult than the Lookout Trail and much longer at 10km in its looping length. There is also a secondary loop that descends to Coon Lake. At the trailhead, park officials have posted warnings with respects to travel times of the trail. If memory serves it is stated that it can take as long as 6 hrs to complete the 10km loop. So it you are a slow walker, be sure to arrive in the morning so as to finish your trek long before the sun sets. One way to see the colours quickly is to forget the loop and walk up the return loop. This backwards approach to the trail will get you to the summit lookout on the west side quickly as you ascend up the trail. It is steep in places, so be prepared for a good workout climbing to the summit. A spectacular view of Whitefish Lake awaits as well as the forests below in all their splendour. The summit itself sits on an outcropping of rock that is forested with pine.
Centennial Ridges Trail is located roughly 2km south off of highway#60 between km 37 & 38. Be sure to leave yourself ample time to complete the whole 10km loop if you choose to do so. I have done this in as little as three hours (I have a fast gait at times) and even ran here and there (not recommended). Besides the colours, I have seen wildlife too; mergansers on Cloud Lake, moose, beaver and pileated woodpeckers. The trail at times seems to be abundant with wildlife. Be sure to pack a lunch and don’t forget your camera!
Two Rivers Trail
For those who don’t have the luxury of time or require a less physically taxing trail, I recommend the “Two Rivers Trail”. The trail is a 2.1km loop that ascends at an easy pace to a ridge that overlooks an area of Algonquin Park that has been set aside for the wildlife research station. You won’t be able to see the station but what you will see is endless forests below, hopefully in their full autumn colours. Two Rivers Trail is located on the north side of highway#60 at KM31 between Pog Lake & Two Rivers Campgrounds.
Hardwood Lookout Trail
“Hardwood Lookout Trail” is a very short trail at just under a kilometre in length. The trail is much easier then the Two Rivers Trail, which I described as being easy as well. The trail is located between km13 &14 along the north side of the highway. The trail has a small summit with view looking down Smoke Lake. I’ve have seen the lake aflame in vibrant reds in late September. A quick, easy treat for those who don’t have a whole lot of time or need one last quick fix before they depart Algonquin Park for the season.
The seasons in Algonquin Park vary year to year and Autumn can be hit and miss. I have found though that the best time to look for ‘peak’ colours along the highway is usually within a small window of roughly five to ten days. This usually occurs the last week of September – as a rule of thumb I try to keep in mind September 25th to October 1st. my “rule of thumb” though is not set in stone! I’v seen peak colours as late as October 11th and earlier then September 25th. Quite the wide variance.
If you have the time, I have found it is best to travel mid-week to the trails, when visitor numbers will be significantly less then the weekend crowds. Start early, travelling the longer more difficult trails in the morning. Save the shorter trails for late afternoon, where the angle of the sun will provide optimal lighting conditions for fall photography. Between 4 & 5pm is usually the ‘good’ hours to shoot.
There are twelve more trails along highway#60 to explore. The possibilities are many, if crowds are too much at one trail, try another that might be less travelled and who knows, maybe you’ll be rewarded with a wildlife encounter too.
Also, check out
- Best places to see Fall colours in Ontario
- Best Ontario Parks to visit in the Fall
- Algonquin: Tips for interior canoe tripping in Autumn
- Algonquin Fall colours in pictures
By Mark Rubino
Mark is an avid Algonquin Park canoeist, photographing and writing about his journeys online at markinthepark.com.