There is something special about visiting Algonquin Park – whether it’s the abundance of wildlife, the stunning scenery or that feeling that you are somewhere quite remote. Whatever it is, the park has me hooked and I hope to get back there again soon. One challenging thing about birding Algonquin Park is knowing where to go for the best chances of seeing birds and other wildlife. The park is HUGE and I have definitely felt overwhelmed and frustrated trying to figure out where to go.
I put together this Guide to Birding Algonquin Park based on my experiences in the park as well as my research and advice I’ve been given of where to go and what to see!
What Wildlife Can You Expect?
Birding Algonquin Park: Northern Specialties
In terms of birds, what makes the park special is that you have a mixture of southern hardwood forests and northern deciduous ones. This means you get resident northern specialties such as the Boreal Chickadee, Gray Jay and Spruce Grouse that you don’t often get in southern Ontario. These 3 species are what I call the birding “trifecta” of Algonquin. Every birder and nature photographer you run into will mention one of these species and regale you with stories of the amazing views they had. The Black-backed Woodpecker is another sought-after northern species in the park.
Springtime and Summer
During springtime and early summer, the park is a hotspot for both migrating and breeding warblers such as Cape May, Tennessee, Northern Parula and Canada Warblers. It’s also good for flycatchers like the Alder, Least, Olive-sided and Yellow-bellied.
Moose are much easier to see in the springtime as they are often found just on the side of Highway 60 (look for groups of parked cars on the side of the road).
One warning about visiting the park at this time of year is that the bugs are insane! I would highly recommend bug netting and good bug spray as you will be instantly swarmed by black flies and mosquitoes the minute you get out of your car.
The fall colours in Algonquin Park are absolutely stunning! However, the amazing colours attract crowds of tourists. I visited on Thanksgiving weekend this year which is undoubtedly one of, if not the busiest time in the park. 90% of the tourists are along highway 60, at the Visitor Centre and on any hiking trail that involves a viewpoint (particularly the Hardwood Lookout, Track & Tower and Centennial Ridges). If you avoid these areas, then you can still get good wildlife viewing with the amazing leaves as your backdrop.
I would recommend avoiding Thanksgiving weekend if you can though and visiting the park mid-week during the fall colour season.
Moose are harder to see in the fall, but it’s a nice time of year to see the northern specialties as well as late migrants. Plus there are hardly any bugs!
The wintertime is good for the northern specialties, as well as for finches such as the Evening Grosbeak, Red and White-winged Crossbills, Pine Grosbeak, Pine Siskin and Common Redpolls.
Plus you can get gorgeous photos with the snow as your backdrop!
For more details about winter, check out my article: Birding Algonquin Park in Winter.
Where to Go?
Unless you want to do a back country camping trip into the interior of the park (also awesome, but not as good for a pure birding trip), the easiest places for birds are along the highway 6o corridor. Highway 60 runs east/west along the southern area of the park. You enter the park either from the East or West Gate, buy your park permit, get a park map and then all along highway 60 are numerous hikes and trails that you can do.
Choosing which trail is the biggest challenge and no matter which trail you pick, you will always worry that you should have chosen a different one! Trails range from short 1 km walks to 10.8 km full day hikes. Whenever I’ve gone to the park I’ve chosen to do a few of the smaller hikes, rather than focusing on one long one. I always check eBird the night before to verify what’s been seen at different trails and then make my final decision of which ones to visit.
Here are my favourite stops (click the red markers for the names of locations):
This is a road that heads north from the 60 up to Lake Opeongo, not far from the East Gate. There isn’t a walking trail here, you just drive down the road and can stop at the various small pull-ins. I found the stop just past the second bridge is good for birds, or just look for others with long lenses and binoculars and stop where they are!
Check the water for moose and waterfowl and the trees for songbirds. You may get raptors flying overhead. Gray Jays and Spruce Grouse are regulars along this road.
This road is often plowed in winter, but check at the entrance gate what’s accessible if you arrive in winter.
Algonquin Visitor Centre
This is an excellent place to get your bearings and they have a board you can check for recent wildlife sightings. The deck at the back has gorgeous views over Algonquin Park. In the winter they put up feeders that can attract the winter finches and there are often reports of 40+ Evening Grosbeaks on the feeders!
The Visitor Centre also has facilities and a cafeteria so it’s a good place for a pit-stop.
Spruce Bog Boardwalk
Just past the Visitor Centre is a short (1.5km) boardwalk through a bog. It’s a great spot to see Spruce Grouse, Boreal Chickadees and migrants in the spring and fall. Plus it’s a nice quick stop if you want to be able to do more than one hike in a day.
Mizzy Lake Trail
This is an amazingly beautiful trail that really gives you that remote wilderness feeling (that you sometimes can’t get if you stay too close to highway 60). The entire trail is 10.8 km and makes for a longer day hike. Otherwise, I recommend taking Arowhon road to the back part of the trail and walking for as much or as little as you want to.
If you take Arowhon road, you will also pass by an active fox den which is great for photography. Due to the large numbers of visitors, the foxes are quite tame.
Ontario Field Ornithologists has an excellent article on their website that describes exactly how to get to this area and tips on how to see birds.
I haven’t done this trail myself, but I’ve been recommended it as a quiet spot to see migrating warblers in the spring. The trail is 2.1 km along the Oxtongue River and is near the West Gate. One thing you have to be careful of is flooding in this area in the spring so check with the entrance gate before stopping here.
Other Algonquin Park Tips
As The Afternoon Birder I hate to give this advice, but early mornings are better for wildlife viewing. I think this is partially because the park can get busier with visitors later in the day so the wildlife can retreat further into the park. The light is also much better in the morning and you can get amazing views of mist rising up from the lakes and marshes. Saying that, I’ve also seen wildlife in the afternoon – in the springtime moose can be seen at any time of the day along Highway 60. Gray Jays are active all day long pestering you for peanuts. I saw my lifer Boreal Chickadees at 12pm.
In terms of accommodation, there are some cheap motels near the East Gate that provide easy access into the park. There are numerous camping sites along highway 60 (book in advance) as well as lodge style accommodation. You can also stay in Huntsville which is west of the park and has a bigger choice of accommodation, but you’ll have a longer drive each morning to get into the park.
Do you have a great spot at Algonquin Park for wildlife viewing that I haven’t mentioned? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. ↓