Anyone camping in the interior of Algonquin Park must obtain a wilderness camping permit from one of the official access points on the park perimeter. As of 2004 the cost of a permit is $9 per person per night, double the rate when these notes were first written a decade ago. If it's any consolation the level of maintenance of campsites and portages in the park seems to have improved considerably over this period. The maximum number of campers allowed to use any one site is nine, which effectively limits the maximum size of a group travelling together to nine canoeists. This rather strange number results from the tradition of most kid's camp in travelling in groups of three canoes, with three paddlers in each canoe.
When I first began canoeing in Algonquin, not really very long ago,
it was not necessary to follow a planned route or camp on specified
lakes. Occasionally there would be problems finding campsites on
the more crowded lakes, but the system allowed trippers to modify their
schedules depending on the weather. By the mid-1990's the rapidly
growing use of the park lead to a policy in which all campsites within
one day's travel of an access point had to be reserved. Today use
has grown to the point that it is necessary to specify your route and
list the lakes on which you will camp on each night of the trip.
Deviations from this
proposed route should be made only in emergency situations. This
system has removed most of the end-of-the-day uncertainty on whether a
campsite will be available, but it's also removed the feeling of
freedom that came from plunging into the park interior and heading
wherever whim or weather dictated. It's necessary to be much more
conservative in setting distance goals for each day when a particular
lake has to be reached by evening.
Given the high level of use of Algonquin, it's probably best to make
reservations for any interior trip. A few years ago I was amazed
to find all the campsites on Maple lake and Erables Lake, which lie in
the lightly used northwest sector of the park, booked solid
at midweek right at the end of August. For those making a last
minute decision to go canoeing and lacking reservations, the best bet
is to avoid Friday and Saturday nights and head for the north and
eastern sides of the park. Taking the 40 km suspension-destroying
to Brent is usually a good recipe to avoid crowds.
For those who are adverse to crowds, it's best to avoid the park
entirely on long weekends: Victoria Day (the
third Monday in May), Canada Day (July 1), the Simcoe Day Ontario civic
(the first Monday in August),
and Labour Day (the first Monday in September).
Reservations for all Algonquin interior sites are now made through the centralized system which handles car camping reservations in all Ontario Provincial Parks. The telephone number is 888-668-7275. There is a non-refundable charge of $12 for a reservation. A Visa or Mastercard number must be supplied to confirm the reservation. Reservations must be made at least 36 hours in advance of noon of the planned departure date (in plain English, three full days in advance). So far there is no way to reserve or even check the availability of particular sites on line, but I expect this situation will change in the next few years.
It should be noted that a freshwater fishing license is required to fish anywhere in Ontario, including Algonquin Park. Licenses can be purchased at any of the access points to the park.
On a typical mid-summer weekend, Algonquin is home to many hundreds of wilderness campers. This intense use can only be sustained without seriously degrading the park environment if everyone practices absolute no-trace camping. Park regulations permit camping only at designated sites, each of which is marked with a large bright orange poster depicting a tent. Designated sites are also shown on the official Canoe Routes map. Campsites have been built on almost all the usable land along major canoe routes, so this regulation is normally not much of a restriction.
All regularcampsites have pit toilets. If one is not available, human waste and toilet paper should be buried at a depth of approximately 15 cm at least 50 m back from the lakeshore. A small plastic trowel is ideal for this civil engineering work, but the plastic blades of whitewater paddles can be used in a pinch. The same earthmoving equipment is also useful in disposing of leftover food and biodegradable waste such as apple cores, which should be buried well away from the campsite. All washing should be done with biodegradable soap, away from waterways. Dishes should never be cleaned in lakes or streams. Cans and bottles are banned in the Algonquin interior. More importantly, any garbage which is not biodegradable and cannot be burned in a campfire must be packed out. If the ban on cans and bottles is followed this is not much of an inconvenience. Burning plastic may release toxic chlorinated organic compounds and should be avoided if possible. At the end of a multi-day trip the garbage that needs to be packed out usually consists of little more than a handful of plastic bags.
Every sanctioned campsite in Algonquin has a fireplace built on a stone or gravel base. In a dry summer a fire started over soil may smoulder and spread for days, so it is essential that fires only be made in these firepits. Fires must be extinguished after use to the extent that all ashes are cold. Today many campers prefer to cook on lightweight backpacking stoves, lighting open fires only on exceptionally cold or buggy nights.
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