Algonquin Backpacking
Credit: Kevin Callan

The moment we headed off the trail, the real learning began.

My college group had been hiking Algonquin Provincial Park's Western Uplands Backpacking Trail for four days. Day five was a scheduled day off for them, however. They chose to spend it bushwhacking around the lake we were camped on. There reason was simple enough. It was too darn cold to just sit around camp all day.

Hiking off-trail can be a dangerous thing to do. I love it though. You always end up seeing more wildlife, more landscape, more of everything. It’s a great way to connect to your surroundings and feel comfortable in the woods.

On our trip, we spotted a moose that had been eaten by a pack of wolves, rare red spruce rooted on top a massive granite ridge, the back-end of a black bear and some of the most stunning scenery Algonquin has to offer. It ended up being the highlight of the trip for us.

Here are a few key points to keep in mind before you try bushwhacking:

  • Learn map and compass skills and pack a GPS (and extra batteries).
  • Avoid sensitive ecological areas.
  • "Pick your line in the distance and then choose the path of least resistance."
  • Keep together as a group at all times.
  • Locate what’s called a “handrail"—an easy-to-see natural structure (lake edge, stream, ridge-top, cliff, field). Use it to help navigate and keep aware of your location.
  • Keep to contour lines rather than hiking up and down slopes—what’s called roller-coaster hiking—as it can be exhausting.
  • Keep your gear safely packed away, especially when drudging through thick brush. You’ll lose it if it’s simply tied on.
  • Stay well back from the person ahead of you to avoid a sapling snapping back and injuring you. It’s best to wear eye protection. A stick in the eye is the most common injury.
  • Bring enough gear in your day-pack to spend an unintended night out in the woods.
  • Pack communication devices such as a SPOT Personal Locator Beacon, InReach SE or a satellite phone.

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