Algonquin Provincial Park is located between Georgian Bay and the Ottawa River in Central Ontario. It was established in 1893, and is the oldest provincial park in Canada. Additions since its creation have increased the park to its current size of about 7653 square kilometres which makes it about one and a half times the size of Prince Edward Island or the US state of Delaware and about a quarter the size of Belgium.
Its size, combined with its proximity to the major urban centres of Toronto and Ottawa, make Algonquin one of the most popular provincial parks in the province and the entire country. Highway 60 runs through the south of the park, while the Trans-Canada Highway bypasses it to the north.
Over 2,400 lakes and 1,200 kilometres of streams and rivers are located within the park. Some notable examples include Canoe Lake and the Petawawa, Nipissing, Amable du Fond, Madawaska, and Tim rivers. These were formed by the retreat of the glaciers during the last ice age.
The park is in an area of transition between northern coniferous forest and southern deciduous forest. This unique mixture of forest types, and the wide variety of environments in the park, allows the park to support an uncommon diversity of plant and animal species. It is also an important site for wildlife research.
Algonquin Park was named a National Historic Site of Canada in 1992 in recognition of several heritage values, including: its role in the development of park management; pioneering visitor interpretation programs later adopted by national and provincial parks across the country; its role in inspiring artists, which in turn gave Canadians a greater sense of their country; and historic structures such as lodges, hotels, cottages, camps, entrance gates, a railway station, and administration and museum buildings.
Because of the area's beauty, it became recognized by nature preservationists. It quickly became popular with anglers, though hunting was prohibited. The beauty of Algonquin Park attracted artists such as Tom Thomson along with members of the Group of Seven, who found the landscape inspiring. Thomson served as a guide in the park, often working from Mowat Lodge. He did much of his painting at Canoe Lake, a favourite campsite was behind Hayhurst Point, a peninsula overlooking the central portion of the lake. He died under mysterious circumstances at Canoe Lake in 1917. A plaque recognizing his national historic significance stands at the Visitor Centre dock on Canoe Lake, erected by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. A cairn and totem pole memorial, erected by friends of the painter, stands on Hayhurst Point, near the north end of the lake.
Algonquin is popular for year-round outdoor activities. There are over 1,200 campsites in eight designated campgrounds along Highway 60 in the south end of the park, with almost 100 others in three other campgrounds across the northern and eastern edges. There is also the Whitefish Lake group campground with 18 sites of various sizes to accommodate groups of 20, 30, or 40 people. So called "interior camping" is possible further inside the park at sites accessible only by canoe or on foot.
The visitor centre features exhibits about the natural and cultural history of the park. On entrance to the building a very large and detailed relief map of southern Ontario is on display. By this means a visitor can be oriented to the size and geography of the park. In a flow through style, exhibits continue with many taxidermied species set in their native surroundings, then progress, in a chronological manner, through an extensive collection of artifacts relating to human intervention in the park. The centre also includes a video theater, a gift shop, a panoramic outdoor viewing deck, and an art gallery -"The Algonquin Room"- with changing exhibits of art related to the park.
Other activities include fishing, mountain biking, horseback riding, cross country skiing, and day hiking. The park has nineteen interpretive trails, ranging in length from 0.8 km to 13 km. Each trail comes with a trail guide and is meant to introduce visitors to a different aspect of the park's ecology or history.
Algonquin is home to a Natural Heritage Education program. The most popular aspect of the program are the weekly wolf howls. These are held (weather and wolves permitting) on Thursdays in the month of August, and sometimes in the first week of September if there is a Thursday before Labour Day. Park staff attempt to locate a pack Wednesday evening and, if successful, they announce a public wolf howl the next day.