Algonquin National Park in Ontario, Canada, is one of the most beautiful, extravagant national parks you could ever visit. World famous wildlife and waterways draw visitors from around the globe, whether for a day trip or a serious wilderness stay. You might want to 'dip your toe in the water', or go for a longer stint, but either way, Lake Opeongo is a good place to start.
Starting out at Opeongo Lake, Algonquin
If you can manage it, even a night out in the wilderness is a worthwhile experience, taking you off the 'beaten track' and into quiet, stunning solitude. Staying at a designated camping spot (as you must) means that you'll have a fire pit and thunder box. Convention is that visitors leave firewood for the next people to arrive, and if you're lucky there will be stacks of different sized wood, from kindling to logs.
The thunder box in the wood
One of Algonquin's greatest draws is the fabulous wildlife. Snapping turtles frequent the lakes. They are dangerous, but it you don't antagonise them, are also wonderful creatures to watch in the water.
Obviously beware the bears. It's vital that you 'bear-bag' anything which might attract them, and pay close attention to all advice about keeping safe, including avoiding known hotspots and maintaining strict hygiene rules. Less dangerous are the loons, an aquatic bird found in North America and Eurasia, whose distinctive call is one of the abiding memories you will take away from a visit.
Loons in Algonquin
Moose roam the park, and if you're quiet enough in the early morning, you might get to see one. It's a great motivation for practicing your silent Indian stroke, to make sure you don't disturb them. In winter the park changes character completely. Gone is the paddling season, but with thick snow falling, it's prime time for tracking animals, particularly the special Algonquin wolf. At this point you will want to stay in a lodge rather than a tent though!
The lakes are full of fish too. You can buy a special fishing license which allows you to fish in the waters, for personal use. There's nothing quite like eating a fish you've just caught, thrown straight on an open camp fire.
Fishing in Algonquin
Cooking in general is a challenge and a joy. Pot cooking, bannock bread, inventive meals on the go, high energy 'GORP', anything to keep you going which you can still carry with you.
At the end of the day, when you're ready to sleep, if it's warm enough then a hammock is definitely the best way to relax. Tents are limited, but hammocks can be easily strung at approved sites. You might be blown gently by the breeze, or awake to a squirrel throwing pine cones at you (get out of their tree!), but it's a great experience.
Hammocks on Little Crow, so comfortable
There are lakes to cross, and waterways to navigate. You might come across beaver dams (protected), or wend your way carefully through reed beds. Then, between lakes, you'll need to carry your stuff. Handy yellow portage signs mark the way, but might make you groan as it's HARD WORK!
You might just want to go for a quick paddle, or you might fancy an extended wilderness stay. Whatever your interests, if you appreciate being surrounded by nature, and love being in or on the water, Algonquin really should not be missed.
This article is just to whet your appetite. Planning a visit has to be done carefully, given the safety issues to consider. The website is a great place to start, and a little searching online will offer multiple groups willing to help you on your way to somewhere quite awesome. I've only scratched the surface of the history, geography and biology of the area. It's now for you to explore.