Park Geography

Climate: Algonquin's Canoeing Seasons

Break-up of the ice on Algonquin's lakes is usually complete between late April and early May. May can bring very warm weather, but days of rain or even snow with temperatures hovering near the freezing point can also occur. In May the average daytime high is 17 C, and the overnight low 2 C. These cool temperatures limit the population of biting insects, and for those who simply have to escape to the wilderness after a winter of cabin fever, early May can be a good time to travel. For expert whitewater paddlers, the rapids on the eastern Petawawa River offer their highest water levels and greatest excitement at this time of year. Both flatwater and whitewater paddlers must remember that water temperatures are still close to freezing, and an accidental upset that would be harmless in mid-summer can easily result in death from hypothermia. By late May the bright green new leaves of the deciduous trees are visible everywhere, and the days are warming rapidly. However, by this time the population of blackflies is also growing rapidly, and many experienced travellers avoid camping in the park in June. The mosquito population peaks slightly later than the blackflies, typically in late June, but these pests are also present in overwhelming numbers. For those willing to endure the bugs, average daytime highs in June are 23 C, and overnight lows 10 C. Fortunately, by early July the blackfly population is in decline, and by the middle of the month it is usually possible to travel with only occasional resort to insect repellent or other countermeasures. This is the warmest part of the summer, with average daytime highs of 24 C and lows of 12 C. The lakes are now warm enough for swimming. Days of extreme heat (over 30 C) and drenching humidity are common. These days frequently end in evening thunderstorms, which can be intense. By August days are shortening noticeably and evenings can be cool, but the lakes are still warm enough for swimming and few biting insects remain. Average August temperatures are only a degree cooler than in July. Calm mornings frequently bring billowing clouds of fog as water evaporates from the warm lakes and condenses in the cool air above. The lakes often appear at their most beautiful as distant islands and points emerge from the dawn mist. In my opinion, this is the best part of the Algonquin summer, and the peak of canoe season. It is now possible to travel without using insect repellant at all if one is willing to swat an occasional mosquito or horsefly and put up with a few bites. Although there is less usable daylight, the evening sky is now black and starlight correspondingly brilliant. By late August the leaves of the maple trees are showing a reddish tinge, and over the next month the appearance of the park now changes on almost a daily basis. Fall colors are most spectacular in the hardwood hills on the southern side of the park, easily reached from Highway 60. The combination of intense fall colors and the relative lack of crowds can make September an ideal time for canoe travel. However, nights can be very cold at this time of the year, and frost is not uncommon, so proper clothing and a warm sleeping bag are essential. In September the average daytime high is 19 C but the overnight low is only 7 C, and these values fall rapidly as the month progresses. By early October most of the leaves of the deciduous trees have fallen, and the park takes on a barren, stubbly appearance. The weather is now unpredictable, and anyone canoeing in the interior must be prepared for high winds, rain, overnight temperatures far below freezing, and even snow. By early November ice is beginning to close off the lakes, marking the end of canoeing season.


In late spring and early summer the density of blackflies, mosquitoes and other winged pests in Algonquin is staggering. Blackflies are particularly obnoxious since their bites cause little immediate pain, but may lead to a severe reaction and swelling. The first sign of a blackfly bite is often a stream of blood trickling down an arm or face. When travelling between late May and early July, some strategy for protection against insects is essential. Repellants containing 15% or more diethyl toluimide (DEET) work well if applied liberally every two or three hours. Solutions of 15% to 30%DEET in alcohol are available under various trade names. Studies have shown that concentrated DEET is no more effective in repelling insects than the 15% solution, but the more concentrated solutions seem to remain effective longer. To deal with blackflies it is necessary to work the repellant into one's hair and seal off sleeves and pant cuffs, since these insects prefer to crawl into confined spaces before biting. DEET is disgusting stuff, with an oily feel and the smell of a chemical factory. It is also an extremely good solvent, capable of dissolving most plastics and stripping paint. The combination of these problems and growing concerns about the possible health hazards of DEET have led many travellers to seek alternatives. In cool weather it may be possible to avoid bites simply by wearing a full set of clothing. The material has to be tightly woven, since mosquitoes are quite capable of biting through thin fabrics. A slippery surface also helps, since it prevents insects from obtaining a firm grip. Insects prefer dark colors such as black and deep blue, while bright whites and yellows may have a slight repellant effect. Jackets and pants are, however, out of the question when portaging packs or canoes on a hot day. Repellants based on natural ingredients such as citronella may be tolerably effective in these situations. The bugs posing the worst problem in late summer are large biting flies. When travelling under calm conditions in swampy terrain such as oxbow river channels stable flies tend to gather in the bottom of the canoe, darting in for guerilla attacks on legs and feet. Still larger deer flies or horse flies prefer to attack from overhead. All these large flies can usually be dealt with by paddling quickly and seeking windy surroundings wherever possible. Since the number of insects attacking at any one time is usually small, swatting can be an effective countermeasure. Wide-brimmed hats are an effective deterrent for horse flies and deer flies.

Wildlife Watching

One of the attractions of Algonquin is the abundant populations of birds and large mammals which, due to the ban on hunting in most of the park, are often non-chalant regarding the presence of humans. Michael Runtz's The Explorer's Guide to Algonquin Park provides a wealth of information on the best times and places to observe Algonquin's fauna, and is highly recommended for those whose primary interest is wildlife viewing. Only a few notes on the most common species are given here. For many canoeists the highlight of an Algonquin trip is a moose sighting. An adult bull moose is well over 2 m tall and may weigh as much as 500 kg. Any party travelling for a few days in the interior is almost certain to have at least one moose encounter. In our experience the marshy sections of the Crow River and western Petawawa River offer good opportunities, although moose are seen on occasion almost anywhere in the park. Chances of sightings are best in the early morning or evening, and rather obviously improve if one is careful to travel quietly. If current or wind is used to drift by a moose while keeping very still, it is sometimes possible to come to within a few meters of the animal. Although in summer moose are usually placid, care should always be taken in approaching the animals, particularly bulls. Bulls are extremely dangerous and unpredictable during the fall mating season, and moose should not be approached during this time. Moose present relatively little risk to a canoe in deep water, but can charge very effectively on land. If a moose blocks the path on land or in shallow water, there isn't much to do but wait until it decides to move. Compared to moose, most of the other large mammals in Algonquin are timid and seen only rarely. White-tailed deer might sometimes be sighted in a clearing along a portage trail, but will run as soon as they sense humans. River otter may occasionally be seen fishing along lakeshores. Beaver are primarily nocturnal, and are sometimes seen swimming past a campsite in the dusk. Signs of beaver construction activity- dams, lodges and food piles- are seen everywhere in the park, and can pose irritating obstacles on shallow waterways such as McIntosh Creek or Otterslide Creek. Black bear seem to be spotted more frequently along the park roads than on the lakeshores of the interior. On late summer nights wilderness campers might be fortunate enough to hear some of Algonquin's 300 resident timber wolves howling. Howling is used as a location mechanism to allow adult wolves returning from hunting to rendezvous with waiting pups. The wolves are extremely wary of humans, and are almost never sighted. If any species symbolizes Algonquin, it is surely the common loon. These can be seen- and heard- on even the most crowded and urbanized of lakes. Other commonly-sighted birds include Mergenser ducks, great blue heron, osprey and hawks. Herons tend to favour marshy regions along river banks, while the birds of prey prefer areas with high cliffs such as Otterslide Creek or the Barron Canyon.

Back to Virtual Algonquin main page Last revision August 2004
Copyright 2004 Garry Tarr and Jo-Ann Holden