Four hours' drive from Toronto, Algonquin Provincial Park is a vast outdoor playground, a land of mountain tracks and kayak routes, of dark, unfathomable lakes and the promise of wild encounters. We set off full of enthusiasm for sightings of moose, beaver and more.
The park's interior is accessible only to the serious trekker or canoeist but the Parkway Corridor, a 35-mile road running through the south of the park, is far more family-friendly, with ample campsites and other accommodation. One of these, Arowhon Pines, is next to Little Joe Lake, with 20 or so log cabins dotted among the trees. A dinner gong sounds at 6pm, calling you to a nightly feast served in a log dining room built around a huge central fireplace. There's a family room with ping pong, and there are tennis courts, walking trails, a swimming jetty and canoes. It wasn't long before we'd strapped on lifejackets, and set off across the lake, scanning the banks for moose.
We saw an osprey swoop to pluck a fish from the water, and heard the haunting call of a loon. And then the wind got up. We dug in, frantically paddling against the wind and a strong current. Just as we began to tire, a launch came alongside and the skipper suggested we head back. We didn't argue. That night a tornado hit Algonquin and hundreds of trees came down.
The park was established by enlightened loggers in 1893 as a wildlife sanctuary and it claims to be unequalled in Ontario for its moose sightings. There are a dozen or so established hiking tracks which start from the Parkway Corridor, one of which, the Mizzy Lake Trail, is designed to "maximise your chances of seeing wildlife". I set off alone at 5.30am full of hope.
The seven-mile loop took me through dense forest, skirted around great lakes and crossed boggy marshes. Five hours later I returned, with tales of grizzly bears, otters and moose. "Really?" said three-year-old Hannah, wide-eyed. "No way," countered Lauren, her cynical elder sister. "OK, I saw a squirrel," I confessed. It was time to move on.
Forillon national park on Quebec's Gaspé Peninsula is almost 1,000 miles east of Algonquin. Although much smaller than Algonquin, Forillon is home to a greater concentration of wildlife. As we entered, a black bear lolloped across the road in front of us.
The park takes in pine-clad mountains and pebble-strewn beaches which are washed by Gaspé Bay. Among a number of good hiking trails is La Chute, offering an easy half-mile walk to a magical waterfall. With the light fading we headed on to Le Castor, or beaver pond. Sure enough, after a bit of a wait, a large brown head appeared from the water, an inquisitive nose twitched and then with a slap of its flat tail a beaver swam off back to its lodge.
Driving back from Forillon we did eventually see a moose, although unfortunately it was lying on its back, legs in the air. The dazed occupants of the wrecked MPV that had hit it stood nearby. Suddenly Canada's wildlife seemed far less elusive.
THE COMPACT GUIDE
HOW TO GET THERE
Return flights with Zoom (0870-240 0055; flyzoom.com) from London Gatwick to Toronto start at around £260. Arowhon Pines (001 416 483 4393; arowhonpines.ca) is open from June to October: two adults sharing a cabin on a full-board basis starts at C$189 (£83) per adult per night, with a 50 per cent discount for children under 12. A chalet with a kitchenette at the Pic de L'Aurore (001 866 992 2151; percechalet.com) starts from C$65 (£28) per night.
Visit Canada (0870-380 0070, canada.travel).Reuse content