That time we desperately searched for a moose encounter, despite everybody else’s better judgement.
Where? Ontario, Canada
When? April 2018
With whom? Martin
We spent three weeks in Canada exploring Ontario and Quebec in a motorhome or RV. When researching the trip before we went, the internet said that April is a wonderful time of year to visit as the sun is starting to come up and things were starting to get going for the tourist season in the summer, but it isn’t usually rammed with tourists. Furthermore, there are lots of moose about, and we really wanted to see one of those.
We arrived in Toronto entering the longest winter Canada has had in 20 years. Anyone we told about our RV thought we were crazy, including the professionals at the rental company. We had no idea what we were doing other than living out a fantasy of driving our home around and having the freedom to do whatever we wanted and search for moose. When we went through the checks of the vehicle we discovered it has no water because it was too cold and would freeze in the pipes. We also found out it had limited heating because it was still in winter mode.
We were complete novices at this, and noticeably too, but we were committed. Luckily, we’re both light packers so any extra room we had in our bags were filled with blankets! This meant that sleeping wasn’t too bad but getting out of bed was horrific. Every morning when we woke up we knew that getting out of bed was going to suck because we could see our breath as it condensed in front of us, but the speed at which we dressed was impressive. We washed with a small saucepan of heated water and there was generally a lot of swearing.
We drove immediately North towards Algonquin national park and spent the night in a car park in Huntsville. We had heard that Algonquin was probably the most likely place that we’d see a moose so we were feeling good about it. It was a long drive so we stopped off where we saw road signs to things like waterfalls or fancy hotels, just to admire the natural wonder or building. One of these road signs was for a brewery and we were definitely keen.
I found a different brewery on Google, called Muskoka brewery, which was just off the highway. We went in and tried every kind of beer they had available. These weren’t the stingy shot glasses you see in duty free at the airport, these were about a quarter of a pint each. Then we had a pint of our favourite beer each. As we went to pay for our pints, we were waved away and told it was on the house. Amazing. They were ready for visitors as they had board games at the ready and the bar staff wanted to chat away. The vibe was laid back and you could tell the people there enjoyed their jobs. You’re nobody’s enemy when your job is to give people free beer. We met a couple of Dutch Canadians, who told us that moose are really aggressive and under no circumstances should we approach them. Apparently they’d rather meet a bear in the woods than a moose! Did this put us off? No.
Next stop was the waterfall in Bracebridge, the last town before Huntsville. It was cordoned off to pedestrians as the weather made it unsafe, so we chose our favourite place to jump over the fence and went in. We followed the boardwalk round until there was another opportunity to jump over the fence and get up close and personal with the waterfall. We clambered over some slippery rocks so that we were completely surrounded by the crashing water. It was a pretty and quiet spot, timed well in the day because we didn’t see anyone, and as far as we were aware nobody saw us either.
Huntsville had fairy lights decorating its big lake. We found a car park at the back of the library and decided to park up for the night. Dinner was fresh filled pasta with curry sauce, thanks Walmart.
The next morning, we began our journey and I spotted a sign on a lamp post about a maple tour. With a quick google search we were able to ascertain that we could get a map of all things maple from the diner up the road. Perfect. We had breakfast here which came with American-sized portions. We could barely move afterwards.
This is where the maple fun began. Everyone knows that maple syrup is in a Canadian’s blood. Maple is Canada and Canada is maple and we weren’t about to miss out on a chance to get our fix. Making the most of the day we hopped in our mobile castle and headed to the closest maple farm on the map, which turned out to be a person’s house. I sent Martin off ahead to assess the maple sitch (there was no way I was leaving the precious warmth of the RV for a false maple shout) and he came back all thumbs up. You may not realise this but RVs are actually pretty big and cumbersome to reverse or turn on small icy country roads so we made the executive decision to abandon it on the side of the road and we headed up the drive.
Maple Bluff Farm was fantastic. A superb beginner level farm into the world of maple and Michele, the owner and our tour guide, couldn’t have been more accommodating or friendly. Maple Bluff Farm is a small family owned business stuck on the side of the family home which has to turn down custom every year due to its popularity, whilst somehow finding new weird and wonderful ways to recycle or reuse as much of the production materials as possible. We were shown the tubing that transports the sap from the trees into the vat, and we listened to stories about bear, squirrel and moose attacks. Our eyes widened at the mention of the M word. We saw the boiling chambers and Michel couldn’t wait to get us into the little shop in her garage and hand us free samples of everything from original maple syrup to maple butter and maple BBQ sauce (pretty much anything you could add maple to was here). Needless to say, we left with a few bottles and were all the sweeter for it. After a great recommendation for some stunning secluded waterfalls en route to Algonquin Provincial Park called Ragged Falls, we were once again off in search of the ever-allusive moose.
Algonquin Provincial Park is a little to the North East of Toronto and we heard that in the Spring, Summer or Autumn seasons it’s astonishingly beautiful and a must for all nature lovers. We both think it was one of the highlights of our trip in the winter. We felt like we had walked into a winter wonderland; something that only exists in big budget Hollywood movies or fairy-tales. It was beautiful. We headed out along a 3.5-hour trail which meandered through forests of tall evergreen trees standing in direct contrast to the white of the snow heavy on their branches. We dared each other to walk further across frozen lakes that came out of nowhere, knowing full well the risk that it bore. Our favourite part of the walk was when we rounded a corner to be faced with a huge frozen waterfall; it was unlike anything we had seen before as it was completely frozen through yet was giant in height and girth. We poked and prodded at the spectacle in complete awe, distracted only to laugh at Martin falling on the ice.
We crossed snowy marshlands and climbed to viewpoints that overlooked breath taking vistas of the park, where we pulled our rucksack open to drink our victory beer (It’s always good to plan in advance for these types of occasions by having a beer on you at all times). It was made even more special by the fact that snow covered the footpath and we were completely alone. This was amazing for us but meant that quite often we were hiking through snow that came up our shins. Little blue markers on tree trunks were our only indication that we were headed in the right direction, and sometimes they weren’t entirely obvious.
It made for a great adventure and it was quite simply mesmerising. As we stood at the highest point in the walk looking out over the forest beneath us it started to snow. The gentle falling of the snowflakes added to the completely surreal experience. So as far as we are concerned, yes Algonquin Provincial Park may be stunning in the spring summer and autumn, but it’s bloody magical in the winter. For those of you wondering if we managed to find our moose – we didn’t. Unfortunately, the closest we came were some pretty fresh tracks (the hooves are as big as a small child!) though the animal escaped us, and after learning about how aggressive they can be I think secretly we were both a little relieved.
Info: Flights to Canada at this time of year were super cheap, and when we arrived we understood why. Canada was closed – the winter activities had closed down but the weather wasn’t good enough for the summer/tourist season to open yet so we were in this kind of purgatory with everything closed and all the people we met saying that we should have come in September. Helpful. Travelling round in an RV, despite the cold, was awesome. We had a vague route in mind but we had the freedom to alter it as and when we saw fit, inspired by a sign on the road or a local recommendation.
Tip of the week: Moose are scary and dangerous, and you should not endeavour to find one. Since getting back to the UK we have read up on them and found out that they are so massive and strong that they can completely total a car without a scratch on them. My tip to you is the same as the Dutch Canadians’ tip to us. Do not under any circumstances approach a moose.
Product of the week: Maple Bluff Farm’s Maple BBQ Sauce was our favourite souvenir. We have been eating it with everything because it’s so delicious. We marinated some chicken in it for some super yummy and easy-to-cook dinners. She doesn’t have a website, because she doesn’t need one! But here is her Facebook page with more information about her business.