A very intimate howling

29 Oct

Booking a yurt in Algonquin Provincial Park is a tricky business. There are only eight of them, serving a 7,653 square kilometre area crawling with lakes, streams and bear-inhabited forests.

And, unless you fancy sleeping in sub-zero temperatures in a tent or have an RV (British translation: House-sized campervan), the yurts are your only option for winter camping. So they get booked up incredibly quickly.

This meant that, even though the weekend weather forecast was dire, there was no way we were going to cancel our overnight stay in the park, at Mew Lake campground.

It’s fair to say that Algonquin yurts, with their bunk beds, plastic chairs and lino flooring, aren’t quite the luxury glamping experience you get elsewhere.

But, on arrival, there were no regrets as our nostrils filled with the nostalgic waft of smoky, burning logs mingled with musty pine.

Algonquin Yurt Toronto

Our yurt in Algonquin Park

Even without fur throws or a wood-burning oven, the electric heating was enough to keep us toasty, and there were hot showers nearby. Comforting to know, when you’re cooking dinner outside with snow falling around you.

Algonquin Toronto yurt

You weren’t allowed to cook inside the yurt

What we hadn’t realised was, as well as enjoying the classic Canadian Shield scenery, we’d be getting the full Canadian Halloween experience. Brits don’t really “do” Halloween in a big way – it’s mainly just an excuse to drink beer while wearing a bit more make-up than normal – but our fellow campers had gone to great lengths to decorate their pitches with carved-out pumpkins, skeletons, cobwebs and in one case, a headless canoeist.

So many trick-or-treaters knocked on our yurt that we had to make a quick dash to buy some emergency extra “candy”. Annoyingly, having stocked up on treats, the only other person who called in was an adult who wanted us to touch his “moose brains” (some kind of oily spaghetti in a bucket).

Meanwhile, a masked man was lolloping through the campsite, scaring groups of small children by menacingly revving a chainsaw. Halloween is weird.

We also discovered our trip coincided with Algonquin’s first ever “Halloween Howl” – a night-time stroll aimed at hearing wolves replying to our guide’s imitation howl. This, captured below, made us giggle (requires sound):

Algonquin wolf howl

Algonquin’s 300 wolves weren’t playing ball that night, but, hey, it was worth a shot. And, as there were only around 40 of us mad enough to brave the cold, we were fortunate to experience a “very intimate howling” as our guide put it; similar sessions in the summer attract up to 2,000 people.

Crazy Halloween fever had obviously got to us by the next day, as we decided to embark on a “challenging” six hour hike with rain and wet snow forecast. Surprisingly enough, we didn’t see another human soul the entire time (though, worryingly, heard gunshots). But we did spy a cute beaver:

Algonquin beaver Toronto

Beaver spotted on the Mizzy Lake trail

And, just as we were starting to despair of ever seeing a moose, we saw TWO! They were gobbling grass in the distance and seemed quite unfazed by our presence.

Algonquin moose Toronto

One of the moose we saw

That just leaves the elusive Algonquin bear to spot, although we may now have to wait until they come out of hibernation next year (we opted against the “leaving a bit of bacon outside the yurt” tactic).

Tips/Facts:

*Driving to Algonquin from downtown Toronto took 3.5 hours on the way there and 3 hours on the return journey

*You have to return the yurt keys by 12pm the next day at either the East or West Gate, which is a bit of a pain if you plan to hike that day as it involves backtracking.

*Remember to keep food in the boot/trunk of the car to avoid attracting bears!

*Our “six hour” hike was the Mizzy Lake trail. It actually took us around four hours at a brisk pace, stopping for lunch and wildlife viewing.

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