This is a trip that I have always wanted to do, but could never really find the time. With all that has been going on in the past year, I made the executive decision to just go. I picked an extra long weekend near the end of September when the fall colours would be at their peak and booked a campsite at Mew Lake, right off the Highway 60 corridor so I could remain mobile.
Normally, I would break apart a trip like this into several blog posts and show every single photo, but I just want to highlight my favourite shots from the trip in this one post. For all the photos, head over to my Flickr photo album I set up from the trip. Also, feel free to click on any photo to see the full size version. Don’t get me wrong here… this will still be a very long post containing tons of photos and a write up of day to day activities, so hang in there, and we’ll get through this thing together.
I left home on Thursday morning with 2 digital camera, 3 film cameras, 2 tripods, about half a dozen lenses, filters, and a bunch of other camera gear – I also brought some camping equipment and a bit of food. I got up to the park just past noon and after obtaining a courtesy day pass from the east gate, enjoyed a tailgate lunch before heading out on the first trail – Beaver Pond Trail.
Following the Beaver Pond Trail, I still had some time to spend before I could check into my campsite, so I headed a little ways down the road to the obviously named Lookout Trail, which until now I’ve been avoiding, since the word “Lookout” generally implies that I’ll be climbing some sort of hill.
The climb wasn’t too bad. Gently sloping all the way to the top where I was rewarded with an awesome view. The lighting was so harsh though that none of the photos I took from the lookout came out the way I wanted. Most of the photos I took on that hike were either on the way up to or down from the lookout. Plus, the number of people on the lookout point made it borderline dangerous and it was tough to get a shot without people in it.
Following the Lookout Trail hike, I wanted to get checked into my site and all setup before dinner. I realized that when I’m camping by myself that I don’t pack nearly as much as when I’m with others or family so setting up camp only took a couple minutes. The van was mostly camera gear and my bike. Following dinner as the sun started to go down, I hoped on my bike and went for a ride on the Old Railway Bike Trail which connects with the Mew Lake campground (partly the reason I picked that site). I really need to find a way to attach my camera tripod to my bike and I’m all set. The shots I took below as the light faded were all handheld or I ended up resting the camera on a rock or tree.
After biking for about an hour I headed back to camp and started a campfire. The shot below is something I’ve wanted to try for a while. I’ve started to take more photos where I’m actually in the shot. Some people see this as vain, but from a photographic perspective, I basically just wanted to a human element to the scene to add interest.
Friday morning my alarm went off at 6am and I rolled out of my sleeping bag, grabbed some pieces of fruit and jumped in the van. This is something we did while camping at Killbear Provincial Park in 2012, but we were getting up at 4:30am to beat the sunrise. In the fall, the sun comes up a bit later… but still relatively early by my standards. I was headed to the Booth’s Rock trail to hopefully catch some early morning fog on Rock Lake before climbing to the lookout for some above the fog shots.
After about 45 minutes on the lookout, the fog began to clear and Rock Lake revealed itself below. I spent over 2 hours just on the lookout itself, quietly snapping away and spending time taking it all in. It was dead quiet there and I hadn’t seen another person since the day before. Around 10am when I was walking the trail back to the van, I started to see a large number of people who were starting the hike. Too bad for them, they missed the photogenic fog.
By this time I was starting to get hungry for breakfast, even though lunch was getting close, so I started to make my way back down but got caught up in taking more photos. I was trying to capture some details using my close-up filters – the exact opposite of what I had just finished shooting with the big landscape type shots, but it was still fun.
Just before reaching the van, I passed Rosepond Lake which was dead calm and had some interesting submerged branches I thought would make for some good photos.
As the sun was now high in the sky, the scene had a lot of contrast and made it difficult to shoot. It wasn’t until I got home that I felt this would make for a cool black and white image. I like how the photo shows both what’s below the water and a symmetrical reflection on the surface.
I finally got back to camp and had some breakfast before crawling into my tent for a short nap. I don’t think there’s anything more relaxing than an autumn midday nap while camping.
That afternoon I spent relaxing and biking around the campsite before having an early dinner and heading out for some evening shooting.
I had planned to head down to the Whiskey Rapids trail to shoot some long exposures, but upon arrival there was a gate and sign indicating that the trail was closed due to flooding. Bummer. This was supposed to be a couple hours killing time before heading to the Hardwood Lookout trail to shoot the sunset. Instead, I headed to the Tea Lake Dam and took a couple shots of the raging torrent before packing up and heading somewhere else. I found a 2km trail around Peck Lake and thought I could find some interesting reflections with the sun now at a lower angle in the sky.
The sun was going down quick and I still wanted to get to the lookout. The Hardwood Lookout trail was less than a kilometre in length and after reaching the top – only a hundred metres from the parking lot, I was severely disappointed with the view. It wasn’t a spectacular view with rock cliffs, but rather a sheltered view of Smoke Lake tucked back into the forest. I took a couple quick shots on my way back to the van and experimented with some intentional camera movement shots (above right).
I headed back to camp after stopping at Cache Lake along the way to scout out a spot for Saturday evening shooting. That night, I had another campfire before hitting the sleeping bag… hard.
Saturday morning I woke up just after 6am and was on the Centennial Ridges trail by 6:30am. Again, my van was the only one in the parking lot which was awesome. This trail is a gruelling 10km loop, but having done some research prior to the hike, I had planned to only hike in 2km to the lookout over Whitefish Lake, before returning the way I came. On the way up I came across an unnamed pond with some fog and I thought it might make an interesting panorama.
After reaching the top of this long ridge and scouting out a couple different locations, I setup and started shooting. Something I forgot to do at the lookout on Friday was to take a shot that included myself. I processed the shot below in black and white to give it a more moody look and feel. After taking a couple (hundred) shots, I simply sat back and enjoyed the view for a solid half hour. It was extremely quiet up there, and extremely awesome. It was the perfect spot to sit and reflect on all that has happened over the past several months. I could have stayed there for ever, except I knew crowds of people would be showing up shortly… and I was getting hungry.
On my way back down I snapped a couple different shots including the orange leaves above and could hear the sound of water falling somewhere. The waterfall wasn’t visible from the trail but it sounded impressive enough to wander off the beaten track to have a look. To get to the bottom of the falls required clambering down some wet rocks and crawling under a bunch of fallen trees, but I think it was well worth the effort.
Following a similar routine to Friday, I made my way back to camp, had a late breakfast and put my feet up while catching up on some reading. I packed a lunch and headed to the Track and Tower trail which was packed with people. The parking lot was overflowing with cars and there were vehicles lining both sides of the road in each direction for several hundred metres. I half expected it to be busy, but not like this. The trail is a 7.7km loop so I figured that people would be spaced out enough along the route that it wouldn’t seemed so crammed. I was wrong. For the first 2 km, I was stuck behind a slow moving, single file group. I didn’t even feel like taking any photographs as the sheer number of people made it awkward to stop. After a while the pack started to thin out as the trail started following a river where I was able to get some decent shots.
When I arrived at the lookout, the sheer number of people made me scared for my life. I didn’t want to pull out the camera near the edge and accidentally get bumped as there were so many people, everybody was bumping shoulders and elbows. I ate my lunch in a quiet spot just down the trail and then headed on my way. For the remainder of the hike, it was relatively quiet, so I snapped some more detail type shots.
After the 4 hour hike, I returned back to camp to grab my bike and set off again on the Old Railway Bike Trail, this time heading east towards Pog Lake. I biked the 6km to Pog Lake while stopping to shoot a roll of film along the way, so I can’t post any of those shots right now. About halfway through the roll, it dawned on me that I couldn’t recall if the camera was loaded with colour or black and white film. Even now, I’m not 100% sure what’s in the camera. Seems silly to try and capture the fall colours on black and white film, but hopefully the photos will still hold up in black and white if that’s what it turns out to be.
After an awesome chili dinner, I headed over to the Cache Lake historic site and hiked a short portion of the old railway bed before shooting along the shoreline, boat dock and the rail tracks that remain from the old Highland Inn hotel at the site. The rail platform is still in place and extends well into the trees. There is also remnants of the old hotel from concrete stairs and walls. It’s a very interesting historic spot that I’d never ventured to before.
Sunday morning I slept in until 6:30am and scrambled to get out to the trails before the sunrise… and the crowds. I didn’t have to go as far to the Lookout trail and arrived while it was still dark… and the only one there. I hiked up to the top and was there for about 20 minutes before other people started to arrive. I found this lookout less impressive than the others because there was nothing but trees to look at. There were several rolling hills in the distance in which the fog would sit in the low areas making for interesting contrast in the shots.
On my hike back down to the van, I stopped at another lookout and was taking some photos, when I looked behind me and someone was waiting for me to move so they could take some shots too. I found that to be a bit odd, but I didn’t give it too much thought and moved on. I jumped in the van and headed down the road about a kilometre where I pulled over to photograph a fog covered beaver pond. I set up my tripod and was shooting away, until cars coming over the hill started pulling over to see what I was shooting. One guy even jumped out of his car and started taking photos right over my shoulder. My time in Algonquin Park was done at this point.
I packed up my campsite and headed towards the west gate around 11:00am. I was looking for one more spot that I had scouted earlier that was a winding road that I thought would look best with midday light. Of course when I got there there were about a dozen cars parked on the side of the road, but this time people were taking shots of the lake off to the side, so I took a couple shots of the road below before heading home.
At times this trip seemed busy but it was a relaxing busy. I got to do exactly what I wanted to do with no compromises and it was awesome. I hiked just over 26km in trails and biked roughly 18km in the few days I was there and could have done more, but I put my time in and eventually had to return home. Hopefully, I can get out next year to do a similar trip.
A big thanks to my wife who didn’t make a big fuss about me taking some time to go camping by myself for the weekend. Her only advice was to not do anything stupid… like get eaten by a bear. Done.
If anyone actually read to the end of this blog post, then I am amazed… and thankful. Please feel free to leave a comment below to let me know you made it. Thanks.