There's a lot of Park out there. Let's see what we can find.
Hemlock Bluff Trail
This is a nice little trail just off highway 60. It’s not very long, 3.5 KM according to the Friends of Algonquin website, but it feels more like a … I dunno, 3.7 KM trail? Regardless, it’s a good afternoon’s hike.
Where is it? The parking lot is just past kilometer 27 on the south side of the highway. This is the first of a number of tricks and challenges this trail throws at you (that number being two) as the trailhead is actually on the north side of the highway. Tricky tricky Hemlock Bluff Trail, but I’m on to you. Anyways, it’s right on highway 60 and it’s super easy to find. So go find it.
How long is it going to take me? Slightly longer than you think it will maybe? This took me just over an hour and, frankly, I thought it would be a bit shorter. That being said, I stopped quite a bit to admire the views along Jack Lake and take random pictures of mushrooms. You can’t pass up random pictures of mushrooms.
Somewhere along the trail.
Somewhere else along the trail. LOOK A ROCK!
What’s it like? This is a pretty easy trail. There’s some up and down, but nothing too challenging. The path is wide and clear and travels through some very lovely forest before climbing towards a pretty nice view over Jack Lake. The terrain is mostly hard packed earth but there are intermittent muddy patches and some fun little rock fields to practice mountain goating over. There are also the occasional boardwalks and staircases to get you through the really mucky/steep bits.
Leaving the southeast corner of Jack Lake
Am I going to get lost? Short answer, no. Longer answer, sigh. Look, this is a really, really easy trail to follow. There are sign posts along the way, lots of little blue markers to follow, the trail is wide and well defined … basically, it’s right up there in the Easy To Follow Trails Hall of Fame. Except for one, tricksy little part, just past the Jack Lake lookout, where the trail goes left and I went right. The good news is that I realized my mistake almost immediately. The better news is that if you’re paying any kind of attention you won’t make the same mistake I did. The path I followed does look a bit like it’s the actual trail, for like three steps, then it doesn’t. The real trail, on the other hand looks like the real trail for many, many steps. All of them, in fact. Basically, if at any point it seems like you’re not on a real trail, then you probably aren’t and you should go back three steps and look left.
Looking out at the unnamed lake/magic pond
A famed Algonquin Spider Tree
Am I going to learn anything? There are nine stopping points along the trail where the (free) trail guide you picked up at the start of the path provides a ton of interesting background information on various research projects that have happened in the Park.
Highlights? There are highlights, right? There sure are! The view over Jack Lake from what I assume is Hemlock Bluff is quite nice. There’s a bench up there in the shade where you can take a load off and relax. There’s also a small ledge just below the bench that’s a great spot to almost drop your camera down the cliff. I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting it to drop off so dramatically from that ledge. Hemlock Bluff isn’t bluffing about being a bluff.
Once you’ve finished enjoying the view, you make your way eastward along the … bluff? (How do bluffs end? Do they become cliffs? Ridges? At what point are you just walking along random high ground?), descending gradually to the shore. There are a couple of really nice views along the shoreline, including a great spot in the southwest corner with a perfectly placed log for relaxing, drinking it all in, enjoying the sights and taking clearly posed pictures.
Oh, look, a very posed selfie – part 1
And part 2
Once you turn south from Jack Lake the trail follows along beside … I don’t know. Is it still Jack Lake? A separate, unnamed body of water? One of the pools from The Magician’s Nephew? Regardless, there are a couple of nice spots to stop and enjoy the view here as well.
Maybe Jack Lake?
Should I do it? Definitely. Like I said at the top. This is a nice little trail. It’s challenging enough without being actually challenging (if that makes sense … it doesn’t make sense). The views and scenery are quite good, and you’re going to learn a little bit about the Park’s research contributions along the way to top it all off. It’s a great way to spend an hour or two if you’re staying at one of the campgrounds along 60 and looking for a way to tire the kids out for an afternoon. It’s also short enough to be a good leg stretcher if you’re just passing through the Park on a longer driving trip. So, yeah, check it out.