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Thursday, September 12, 2019

Algonquin Provincial Park's fall spectacular "secret" is out; less busy parks available for leaf peepers

Ontario Parks photo

 Algonquin Provincial Park’s fall colours are beautiful, but the secret is out – it’s one of our busiest parks in the fall.  Fall weekends get extremely crowded, especially at the West Gate. Sometimes, it completely fills up and visitors are unable to enter.
However, Algonquin is far from the only park in Ontario where visitors can experience incredible fall colours. They can follow the fall colour progression using our Fall Colour Report (already the earliest signs of fall colours are coming in). Many have extended fall seasons. Fall colours appear first in the north and then move south as the weather changes.

These parks are awe-inspiring in the Autumn, and help visitors escape the traffic and crowds of our busiest locations:
 Lake Superior Provincial Park (Northwest zone)

Amber reds, warm yellows, and oranges as brilliant as a nighttime campfire – there are few places with fall colours as memorable as Lake Superior Provincial Park.

Lake Superior Provincial Park has unparalleled hiking trails at any time of the year. The fall colours make them just that much better! And as a bonus: the dropping temperatures mean a comfortable hike with fewer insects.
Ontario Parks photo

The vibrant reds and oranges are found in the south of the park, and the yellows and greens in the north. The Awausee Trail should be on everyone’s list during the peak colour period. This demanding but rewarding trail takes visitors past a series of lookouts for a bird’s-eye view of the Agawa Valley and Lake Superior.
In 2018, Lake Superior Provincial Park was officially designated as a Dark Sky Preserve by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. That means the park is essentially free from light pollution, giving unhindered views of the night sky.

What better time to experience this than in the fall when the nights get longer? Gaze upwards and you’ll see a dome of stars above and, if you’re lucky, the dancing of the Northern Lights. The fall has plenty of cool, clear nights on which nature’s greatest light show might make an appearance.

 Fall campers can try their luck fishing for Chinook, Coho, or Pink Salmon in rivers flowing into Lake Superior, or for Brook Trout in its inland lakes. Park Superintendent Bob Elliott recommends taking Orphan Lake Trail to fish at the Baldhead River.

Along its soaring cliffs and long beaches, Lake Superior Provincial Park is the staging ground for another awe-inspiring spectacle each fall. The lake winds produce large, powerful waves that crash into the rocky shoreline with force.

Fall camping along the shore in the Agawa Campground, or a trek to Old Woman Bay, provides you a front row seat. For photographers and nature-enthusiasts alike, it’s a display of the natural world that can’t be missed.

However, when the waters are calmer, the Lake Superior coast is great for experienced paddlers to explore for a different look at the fall colours.

Camping and day-use are available until October 15, and backcountry camping until October 27.

Restoule Provincial Park 

Restoule Provincial Park is just west of Algonquin. While Algonquin covers the rugged Algonquin Highlands, Restoule lies next door within the Almaguin Highlands.  Almost as rugged as Algonquin, but not as high in elevation, the Almaguin Highlands lie south of Lake Nipissing and north of the Muskoka Lakes.

The forest there is very similar to Algonquin. Red and Sugar Maples dominate, with their deep reds and brilliant gold and orange hues. Towering, gnarled Yellow Birch add to the warmth of the canopy, while Red Oak add a deep reddish burgundy to the mix. Pine and hemlock add green to the forest palette.
Bon Echo fall (Ontario Parks photo)
 A huge forest fire in the early 1900’s put an end to the early logging industry in the area, giving the park a very old and diverse forest.

Experiencing the autumn landscape at Restoule can be as a simple as following your feet. The park contains several trails that will immerse you in all the goodness of a fall forest. Did you know trees give off beneficial bio-chemicals into the air that make us feel better?

River Trail follows a section of the Restoule River that flows between Restoule Lake and Stormy Lake. Red, orange and gold reflects in the river’s rapids viewed from this 2 km trail.

Ranger’s Point Trail loops around Rangers Point for a kilometre, with scenic views across Stormy Lake to “the Bluff,” a 100-m-high cliff that dominates the lake. Fall foliage rings the lake and highlights the towering cliffs in the distance. The trail is double track with some steeper climbs, making it best for walking and biking.

The Fire Tower Trail’s name is a bit misleading; this trail does peak at a standing fire tower — one of the few remaining in Ontario — but there’s so much more to see!

We say that the 7 km trail should take you about two hours (moderate with some steep, rocky terrain), but there’s plenty to explore along the way so you can easily spend a half-day hiking, bird-watching, photographing, picnicking.

This trail also boasts one of the best lookouts in Ontario Parks.

For easy backcountry camping, Stormy and Clear Lakes have eight backcountry sites accessible by water (and no portaging!).

For a longer backcountry trip, Stormy flows out into the Restoule River and then into the French River. This creates a four to six-day canoe trip that loops back into Clear and Stormy Lakes from Lake Nipissing to the north. Explore Magazine called it one of Ontario’s 25 incredible routes.

Restoule’s campground is at the end of the road — literally. Highway 534 leaves four-lane Highway 11 at Powassan, passes through the hamlet of Restoule, and ends at the park.

Restoule is far from major highways, railways and big city lights. It’s quiet with dark night skies that are absolutely filled with stars. A star party around the campfire, after a day of hiking through the forest, seems like a perfect fall day.

Camping is available until October 15, and day-use until November 24. 

 Mikisew Provincial Park (Northeast zone)

Mikisew Provincial Park is the perfect compliment to Restoule Provincial Park – if you see one, you have to see them both. And even better: Mikisew has an extended fall camping season this year, until October 15. 

Sleep in a campground surrounded by mature maple trees in all their fall beauty, or tuck yourself away in a lovely red pine forest with that fresh pine smell.

Mikisew means “eagle” in Anishinaabe, and the park lies on the shores of scenic Eagle Lake. A popular fishing destination for people and birds alike, Mikisew has a little bit of everything for everyone to enjoy!

The park’s 18-hole disc golf course was designed to offer a beginner/intermediate disc golf experience. Whether you are brand new to disc golf or an expert, the course will be lots of fun.

Rondeau's colours (Ontario Parks photo)

Mikisew has several hiking options to choose from. This includes the 2km Beaver Meadow Trail, which is a refreshingly beautiful trail that loops around an open beaver wetland. Keep an eye out for otters, muskrats, or beavers. There are many opportunities for bird watching on the trail as it travels through wetland areas to lowland and upland forests. You may be able to spot a Bald Eagle or an Osprey.

Eagle Lake offers some great paddling opportunities. Whether by canoe, kayak, or paddleboard, the loop around the small islands makes for a nice leisurely paddle.

 Bonnechere Provincial Park (Algonquin Zone)

Bonnechere Provincial Park has incredible fall colours. These can be best seen on its hiking trails, including the McNaugton Trail. It’s an easy stroll along the meandering Bonnechere River where you can learn about its rich natural and cultural history by exploring our Foot Prints in Time (FIT). FIT is based on the traditional local First Nations way of teaching and explaining our history. The trail takes you in stride with 13 giant foot prints, marked by posts with interpretive and educational text designed to be informative and engage you and your family along the hike.
Algonquin fall lookout (Jim Fox photo)
 Another way to see the fall colours is by paddling the Bonnechere River from the park to Jack’s Chute (~3km). Highlights include exploring the oxbows which are habitat for a variety of creatures big and small like turtles, fish, ducks and deer.

The park is also open this year until October 15. One of the things that keeps campers coming back here year after year are the beautiful private campsites in the park’s quiet campgrounds. Bonnechere features three campgrounds, each with a different feel.

The River Loop Campground features many scenic sites along the river which are non-electrical. Those bringing their own canoes or kayaks will love being able to launch right from their campsite.  The Tall Pines Campground features electrical and non-electrical sites amongst huge White Pines. River Loop and Tall Pines are both located within a few minutes walk to the beach, store and Visitor Centre. Sandy Flats Campground is a radio-free area offering non-electrical sites in a slightly more secluded area of the park for those seeking solitude.

For those hoping to avoid the cold fall nights, Bonnechere also has several roofed accommodation options. There is a cottage, and four rustic cabins available for rent. 

Bon Echo Provincial Park (Southeast zone)

Bon Echo Provincial Park offers some great fall hiking. One option is the fairly rugged overnight Abes & Essens Trail. It consists of three loops:

  • Clutes Loop: 3.5 km / 1.5 hours
  • Essens Loop: 9.6 km / 4 hours
  • Abes Loop: 17 km / 7 hours

A kaleidoscope of colours. (Barbara Fox photo)
These loops provide some spectacular views of various lakes and forested areas as well as the chance to view some wildlife.

If you feel like a relaxing ride in a canoe or would like to go fishing, head to Joeperry Lake to enjoy the scenery and colours. Joeperry Lake is only a short distance from Hardwood Hill Campground. After parking your vehicle, a short 500 m walk / portage will take you to this picturesque lake.

Bon Echo has some interesting history, and it’s easier to experience it in the fall when the summer crowds have left. 

Bon Echo was a major centre for the arts in the summertime and nearly all members of the Group of Seven painted and sketched there. They were drawn to the magnificent landscape and artistic values of the Bon Echo Inn, which was owned by a Toronto feminist Flora MacDonald Denison. She was so inspired by American poet Walt Whitman she created the inn as an avant-garde, artistic retreat. 

There is a viewfinder positioned just outside of the Visitor Centre with a clear view of Mazinaw Rock, a 100m tall cliff that is part of the Canadian Shield and over a billion years old. The viewfinder replaces an old telescope that visitors previously used to see the Old Walt inscription that was carved into the face of the cliff in 1920 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Walt Whitman’s birth in 1819. This year is the 200th anniversary of his birth. 

Mazinaw Rock is 100 metres high and features over 260 Aboriginal pictographs – one of the largest visible collections in Canada. The symbols were painted using red ochre and range from 1000 to 300 years old, for which Mazinaw Rock was named a National Historic Site in 1982. A boat tour to see the cliffs operates on weekends in the fall. 

There are many roofed accommodations for those looking for a more luxurious fall stay: 12 camp cabins, one rustic cabin, two soft-sided shelters, and six yurts. The park is open until October 20. They even have a campsite decoration contest on October 12-13!

Sandbanks Provincial Park (Southeast zone)

One of the best times to visit Sandbanks is during the spring and fall shoulder seasons. Beat the crowds by visiting after Labour Day.

Couldn’t get in during the summer? Now’s your chance! Sandbanks is extending its fall season this year until October 21.

Stay and explore the campground or step out and discover Prince Edward County, from apple and pumpkin picking, to beer and wine tasting, and hunting for treasures while antiquing. Just remember to come on back to catch the incredible fall sunsets!

Did you know Sandbanks has two roofed accommodations available that are often underbooked during the spring and fall seasons?

Rondeau Provincial Park (Southwest zone)
You don’t need to leave southern Ontario to have a great fall experience. Rondeau Provincial Park, an oasis of nature nestled in between Windsor and London, has given visitors just that for over 125 years. 
Ontario’s second oldest provincial park has it all: spectacular colours, vibrant wildlife, and activities for the whole family. 
The first thing to note is that it stays warm sometimes right up to late October – being at the same latitude as northern California, people from the north might be interested. Rondeau also gets later sunrises, which allows people to sleep in and still enjoy watching a beautiful sunrise over Lake Erie.
Rondeau has events for the whole fall season. Join park staff on Saturday, October 12 for a Halloween celebration. There will be a costume contest, a pumpkin carving contest, games and activities, and much more! 
Another popular event is the annual Chili Cookoff, held this year on October 19. Contestants from around the province will show off their award-winning chili recipes, with prizes to be won.  
Discovery Programs, including hikes, evening programs, slide shows, and children’s programs, will also be on until late fall. Keep an eye on the events page for more details. 
Want world-class birdwatching? Rondeau’s fall season is for you. The park is located in an area of overlap for the Mississippi and Atlantic Flyways, making it a popular stop-over for birds migrating south. Over 360 species of birds have been identified in the Rondeau area, including over 130 that breed in the park.

But birds aren’t the only creatures flying south for the winter. Rondeau hosts a migration festival for the Monarch Butterfly every September to celebrate their journey south as well. It’s an incredible display of nature unlike any other. 
There’s hardly a better spot in southern Ontario to see the colours of fall than on Rondeau’s hiking trails. The Spice Bush Trail is particularly beautiful. It winds through a southern hardwood forest of old-growth Tulip Tree, American Beech, and Maple. You can explore the transition between Carolinian forest and marsh – one of the best spots in the park for bird watching. 
Fall colours are everywhere in Rondeau’s forests, including on the forest floor. The yellow bloom of the Goldenrod produces seeds eaten by Rondeau’s migrating birds. The Azure and Fringe Blue Aster flowers add shades of blue to a predominantly red and orange forest, while the New England Aster adds purple. 
Even Poison Ivy comes alive with yellow and red flowers, and bright white berries that provide food for wintering animals (but don’t touch!). These fall plants are a draw for Monarch Butterflies and bumblebees alike. 
The beauty of southern Ontario awaits your arrival. Overnight camping and day use are available until October 27, so there’s still plenty of time to book a fall visit.
More information: ontarioparks.com

1-800-ONTARIO; 1-800-668-2746 (toll-free)

 Submitted by Connor Oke and Jeff Brown for Ontario Parks

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