In Search of Algonquin’s Elusive Moose

08 Jul 2016

Deep in the heart of Ontario lies Algonquin Provincial Park, the oldest and largest provincial park in the state. This quintessentially Canadian landscape is made up of a mixture of maple, beech and pine trees interspersed with over 1,500 lakes, connected via a network of canals and woodland walkways, known as portages. Bird life especially is in abundance, with the black and white speckled loon a fairly common sight, while beavers, bears and deer all roam the forests.

But there was one creature in particular that my five travelling companions and I had come to see: the moose.

A hungry moose in Algonquin Provincial Park

To moose or not to moose?

Before we even touched down in Canada we knew that there was the possibility, however remote, of seeing a moose. But it wasn’t until we left Toronto’s skyscrapers far behind us, bound for the forested Muskoka region, that the idea of seeing the world’s largest deer began to stick in our minds.

“I’d like to see a moose,” announced one of the group as we discussed what we hoped to get out of the trip. We all nodded in agreement.

About to taste the cranberry wine (image: Angela Griffin)

Tasting cranberry wine

Our first stop in Muskoka was at Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh, a delightful little fruit farm where we happily sipped on sweet cranberry wine and tasted our way through chocolate-coated cranberries and cranberry cheese. “If we see a moose in the cranberry marshes we shoo it away,” the owners told us, much to our astonishment. Although, as their aim was to grow non-moose-munched cranberries rather than offer moose-spotting tours, this was entirely understandable.

Muskoka's tree-lined roads

Listening to Moose FM

As we drove Muskoka’s tree-lined roads, we tuned the radio to Moose FM, a lively station playing both Canadian and international hits. Accompanied by the less-than-melodic vocals of Justin Bieber and Nickelback, it wasn’t long before the roadside Moose Café whizzed by, which of course prompted a lively debate firstly about whether or not you can eat moose (yes, you can), and secondly whether or not we would dare to try it (I would).

Port Carling

Searching for moose in Port Carling

A lunchtime stop in the delightful lakeside town of Port Carling presented us with a smattering of shops to browse, and there we found a vast collection of moose memorabilia. Moose postcards, moose T-shirts, a cuddly toy moose. All evidence pointed to moose in the area, but where?

We clearly weren’t going to see one in Port Carling, no matter how peaceful it was, so continued on to Lake Rousseau, our stop for the night.

View of Lake Rousseau from the JW Marriott Rosseau Muskoka Resort & Spa (image: Angela Griffin)

Wildlife watching around Lake Rousseau

Discussing our moose frustrations with the hotel staff at the JW Marriott Rosseau Muskoka Resort & Spa, we were told to “look out by the side of the road”. Of course, we had been doing that already, scanning the roadsides in earnest for any tell-tale moose signs. We hadn’t been entirely unsuccessful: a groundhog, a startled deer and even a red squirrel (not so rare here) had all been sighted; but so far, no moose.

Arowhon Pines, Algonquin Provincial Park (image: Angela Griffin)

So near, and yet so far

The next day the odds of hitting the moose jackpot were increasing. We left Muskoka for Algonquin Provincial Park, a moose hotspot. After checking out the sightings board at the park gate, where we were encouraged by nine moose sightings over the previous five days, we checked in to the delightful Arowhon Pines. This collection of cosy log cabins lines the side of Little Joe Lake and is surrounded entirely by forest – prime moose-spotting territory. As we signed in, Arowhon’s friendly receptionist asked if we’d seen any moose on our way in. We all shook our heads glumly as he gleefully reported that he “saw two yesterday”, tantalising us with the evidence. So near and yet so far! He helpfully advised us that our best bet for moose spotting was to go out in the early morning and the late afternoon, so we promptly rescheduled our boat excursion.

Algonquin’s moose-heavy wildlife sightings board (image: Angela Griffin)

Mission: Moose

At 4.30pm, we gathered on the jetty, armed with fully-charged cameras and plenty of spare memory. Phase two of ‘Mission: Moose’ had begun.

Me wrapped up on the boat searching for moose (image: Angela Griffin)

Our captain, who informed us he hadn’t left Algonquin for over three years, told us almost as soon as we boarded the small boat that the day before’s group had been ‘exceptionally lucky’ seeing not only two moose but a variety of birds and a couple of beavers too. Encouraged, we all kept our eyes focused on the lake’s edges where the moose were most likely to be loitering. The captain took us to a spot favoured by the moose, but alas, today it was quiet. We saw a number of loons, a couple of beavers, an otter a deer, and even a hummingbird for goodness sake; but still no moose.

Loons in Algonquin Provincial Park (image: Angela Griffin)

Moose reach up to 2.1m tall to the shoulder, not counting the antlers, which can reach a span of 1.5m on the larger bulls. There are over 3,000 moose in Algonquin – can it really be that hard to spot one?

Well yes actually. The forest was thick and green, and any moose would be well camouflaged against the trees. Instead we scanned the water’s edge for splashes and ripples.

Moose and calf

Moose at last

And then, just as everyone’s eyes were drawn to the falling rain and grey sky, there was a commotion on the boat. Standing up suddenly, a passenger pointed excitedly towards the trees, exclaiming “Moose!” in a muffled half-shout-half-whisper.

Female moose in the lake

Giving no thought to the stability of the boat, the rain, or indeed our own elbows and feet, we all turned to the shoreline, shuffling each other out of the way to get a better view. And there, against the darkness of the damp fir trees, stood a mother moose with her calf, the baby’s shiny light brown coat catching the light, making it more visible than its darker mother. The female walked slowly along the water’s edge, followed dutifully by her calf. She paused for a couple of seconds, turned her head and looked quizzically at us, as if to ask, “What are you all looking at?” And then, less than half a minute after we first glimpsed her, she was gone.

Beaver in Algonquin Provincial Park

Later that evening, while sat round our log fire with the others enjoying a generous glass of Frisky Beaver wine, I looked through my photos, all slightly dark and blurry due to the rain. But that doesn’t matter; there are hundreds of moose pictures out there. How many people actually get to see a wild moose, especially after so long a wait? How lucky we are.

Algonquin Provincial Park is home to over 1,000 miles of canoe routes. Explore the lakes and forests with one of Flight Centre's Canada Journeys; give our Experts a call today for information and to book.

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Angela Griffin

Born with a severe case of itchy feet, I’ve tried to appease my perpetual wanderlust by selling high-end safaris, dabbling in guidebook writing and more recently travel writing and blogging, but to no avail. A life-long lover of the great outdoors, I’m at my happiest when hiking up a mountain, or skiing down one.