Okay, let’s be real. The worst part about a camping trip in Algonquin Park is the transportation to and from the park. Although the drive from Toronto to Algonquin Park isn’t necessarily a long drive, there can be lots of stop and go traffic. And if you do the drive regularly, it can get pretty repetitive.
So in this post I thought I’d provide some information to make the drive a little more manageable and fun. I’ll go over:
- The basics of driving to Algonquin park
- Tips for avoiding traffic between Toronto and Algonquin Park
- Alternatives to driving
- Best places to stop along the drive
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Driving from Toronto to Algonquin Park
Most people drive north on the 400 to Barrie and then take the exit to Highway 11 (towards Huntsville). From there you’ll drive through Gravenhurst, Bracebridge and Huntsville. At Huntsville, you take the exit to the infamous Highway 60, which goes right through Algonquin Park. Huntsville is the last sizeable town before the park and the best place to stop if you realize you’ve forgotten something.
As I said, that’s how most people do it. Depending on traffic, however, it may be smarter to adjust your route. In the section below (Tips for Avoiding Traffic), I’ve listed a few alternative routes you can consider if Google Maps says to expect delays on the usual route.
Tips for Avoiding Traffic between Toronto and Algonquin Park
Avoid the 400 Highway – I’ve found the most frustrating part of the drive to be getting onto the 400 Highway and the stretch of highway before Barrie (where Highway 11 starts). A lot of this traffic comes from people driving to their cottages in the Muskoka Lakes, not those going to Algonquin. If you’re driving on a Friday afternoon or Sunday, avoid the 400 if possible. Instead, you can take the 404 on the east side of Lake Simcoe.
Enter Algonquin through the East Gate – Highway 60 (the road that goes through Algonquin Park) can be incredibly slow, especially in the West-to-East direction. To avoid driving the 400 AND Highway 60, you can take the 407 eastbound, go by Peterborough and north to Whitney. That way, you can enter Algonquin from the east gate.
Avoid driving on Friday afternoon and Sundays – There will be SO much traffic at these times. If you can take a day off work on either side your trip, you will save a ton of time in traffic.
Don’t plan much distance for your first day – This is especially true if you’ll be driving up on a Friday and going to a paddle-in campsite. Expect that traffic will delay you, so don’t plan on covering a huge amount of distance on your first day.
Alternative Transportation Options
Honestly, there aren’t a lot of options to go from Toronto to Algonquin Park without a car. There are two services that provide public transport to the general area. I’ve used them both, though I only recommend using them if you’re going to Algonquin alone. If you aren’t alone, it’s actually more economical to rent a car.
And also remember that these only get you to one part of the park – if you want to do hiking trails or go to a different lake, you’ll need a car.
ParkBus is a service that drives people from downtown and north Toronto to several stops along Highway 60 in Algonquin Park. I volunteered for ParkBus for one summer, acting as a bus monitor. It’s actually a very convenient service – they drop off at places like Canoe Lake, Lake Opeongo, Lake of Two Rivers and Pog Lake.
For adults, the return trip costs $127. So if you are going with friends, it probably makes more sense to rent a car. However if none of you can drive or you’re going solo, ParkBus is a great option.
Ontario Northland runs public coach buses between Toronto and Ontario’s Near North, and they have a route connecting Toronto to Huntsville. From here, there are a couple of outfitters who can do a shuttle from Huntsville to different Algonquin Park access points.
For example, Algonquin Bound will pick you up from the Huntsville Bus Station and bring you to their store at the West Gate. From there, they can shuttle you to whichever access point or campground you’re going to.
I did this once in university when I didn’t have a car (or any money, for that matter). It was pretty convenient, however it still took way longer than it would take to drive.
Recommended Stops between Toronto and Algonquin Park
Okay, now the good stuff (and the stuff that inspired this blog post in the first place): Here are my recommended places to stop between Toronto and Algonquin Park. Don’t try to stop at all of them on the same trip – most of them are food related and you’d be uncomfortably full afterwards!
This is an awesome ice cream shop in Gravenhurst. During the summers when I was working near Bala, I spent a lot of days off in Gravenhurst and this was my favourite place to grab ice cream.
This is easily the most popular stop on the drive between Toronto and Algonquin / Muskoka. It’s located on Highway 11, a little north of Orillia. It’s so popular, in fact, that there’s now a bridge that goes over the highway so people can safely get to Webers from either side of the highway. They have incredible burgers, onion rings and milkshakes.
Warning: If you’re stopping here after a few days in backcountry Algonquin, be careful. The food is super filling and it’s easy to make yourself sick (speaking from experience).
We stopped at Henrietta’s right before my friends and I hiked the Highland Backpacking Trail last summer. And boy oh boy, is this a great bakery. I got the most delicious butter tart, and the bread looked so good. The only regret I had was that we didn’t buy extra sweets to eat at the campsite (I’m sure we could have found room in our backpacks). There is a location in Huntsville, however the one in Dwight is more convenient if you don’t already need to make a detour into Huntsville.
I can’t go more than an hour in a car without asking to stop for coffee, and I try to avoid stopping at Tim Horton’s and Starbucks unless necessary. Oliver’s Coffee is a great caffeine stop in Bracebridge with drip coffee, espresso and sandwiches.
This is a great place to stop on your drive home from Algonquin. It’s a 15-minute detour off of Highway 11 (at Gravenhurst, go down Highway 169 instead of Highway 11).
Fun fact: This is the first real meal I had after returning from 24 days on the Missinaibi River. My parents drove up to meet me and I devoured a pizza is lightning speed.
This is a store in Huntsville that does all natural home, health and wellness products, and they have a ton of interesting low-waste and no-waste products.
My final recommendation is yet another place in Gravenhurst. The Shipyards is a great place to find nature-inspired jewelry and knick-knacks made by local artists. I’ve found a ton of lovely items here and it’s a great way to support local artists!
Toronto to Algonquin Park: Finals Thoughts & Additional Resources
I hope you’ve found this post helpful and are looking forward to your next trip to Algonquin Park! Here are some additional resources you may find helpful for planning a trip to Algonquin Park.