Big Pines Trail
in Algonquin Park

An account of a late fall hike around the Big Pines Trail in Algonquin Park. The trail starts from Highway 60 and leads to the remains of an 19th century sawlog camp on Sunday Creek. The trail is characterized by many large white pines that are about 200 years old.

2009 November 18

Largest white pine along he Big Pines Trail in Algonquin Park

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With a diameter at chest height of 45 inches, this is the largest white pine along the Big Pines Trail in Algonquin Park.

The weather during the middle two weeks of November this year has been gorgeous, but unfortunately various domestic commitments have kept us at home. However, we managed to steal a day and sneak away to explore the Big Pines Trail along Highway 60 in Algonquin Park. When we left Point Alexander around 8:00 a.m., the temperature was about -5C with thick mist. By he time we reached the trailhead, the temperature was close to 0C with bright sun. By the end of our hike the temperature was around 10C.

The Big Pines Trail is north of Highway 60 and east of Sunday Creek. At the start, the trail runs parallel to a tributary of Sunday Creek. On the dry (uphill) side of the trail, the trees are mainly birch, spruce and white pine. In late fall, once the leaves have fallen, the bush is very open and one can see things that would be invisible in the summer.

The Big Pines Trail in Algonquin Park

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The forest interior near the start of the trail.

A larghe white pine along the Big Pines Trail in Algonquin Park

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A large white pine along the trail, too bowed to have been of any interest to the loggers. According to the trail guide, all of the large pines along the trail are about 200 years old, so even the straight ones would probably have been too small to be of interest during the square timber era.

The Big Pines Trail in Algonquin Park

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Near the beginning the trail parallels a tributary of Sunday Creek, and the ground on the downhill (right) side of the trail is wet -- too wet for pines. In places it gives rise to a lush green carpet of sphagnum moss and wood ferns. Other than the evergreens, this was about the only green to be seen at this time of year.

The Big Pines Trail in Algonquin Park

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The Sunday Creek Dogsled Trail cross the Big Pines Trail close to the start.

The largest white pine along the Big Pines Trail in Algonquin Park

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Bob stands at the foot of the largest tree visited on the trail.

The Big Pines Trail in Algonquin Park

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Beyond the largest pine, the trail returns to the Sunday Creek tributary and a forest of tangled spruce.

The Big Pines Trail in Algonquin Park

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As the trail climbs away from the creek, we again encounter more large pines, some living, some dead.

The Big Pines Trail in Algonquin Park

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At the top of the climb away from the creek ...

Sugar maple bush along the Big Pines Trail in Algonquin Park

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... a beautiful open sugar maple bush ...

Hemlock along the Big Pines Trail in Algonquin Park

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... with a scattering of hemlocks.

One of the disappointments of the trail were the fences around the nurse log (post 5) and the remains of the sawlog camp (post 6). We understand why they are necessary, but it really detracts from the feel of the place.

meadow along Sunday creek off of the Big Pines Trail in Algonquin Park

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A picturesque meadow along Sunday Creek. (A side trip from the trail.)

meadow along Sunday creek off of the Big Pines Trail in Algonquin Park

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Sunday Creek

meadow along Sunday creek off of the Big Pines Trail in Algonquin Park

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It felt warm in the sun, but there was frost in the shadows.

meadow along Sunday creek off of the Big Pines Trail in Algonquin Park

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meadow along Sunday creek off of the Big Pines Trail in Algonquin Park

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The mound in the background would appear to be the remnants of a very old beaver dam.

old sawlog camp from the 1880s along the Big Pines Trail in Algonquin Park

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On the shores of Sunday Creek are the remains of an old sawlog camp from the 1880s. This is the foundation mound of the bunkhouse.

old sawlog camp from the 1880s along the Big Pines Trail in Algonquin Park

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This pile of stones on the north wall of the cookery is believed to be the collapsed remnant of an outdoor oven.

old sawlog camp from the 1880s along the Big Pines Trail in Algonquin Park

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Parts of an iron stove -- a Rosedale, not a Forest Beauty. Note the protective fence.

Sunday Creek along the Big Pines Trail in Algonquin Park

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Sunday creek looking north towards Sunday lake. The logs were hauled by sleigh in this direction, to be deposited on the ice of Lake Opeongo.

Sunday Creek meadow along the Big Pines Trail in Algonquin Park

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Trees are beginning to invade the edges of the Sunday Creek Meadow.

The Big Pines Trail in Algonquin Park

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Young balsams along the trail.

The Big Pines Trail in Algonquin Park

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Spiral lightning scar on a large white pine.

It was a beautiful late fall day and we had the place to ourselves. Indeed, all day, we didn't see evidence of anyone else "recreating" in the park; no parked cars and only occasional traffic along Highway 60. According to the trail log book, the previous visitors along the Big Pines Trail had been three days earlier.

Notes

The largest tree on the trail has a diameter at chest height of 45 inches. As such, it is comparable to Deep River's largest pine (see Some Large White Pines in the Deep River / Chalk River Area), but much smaller than the pines of Dividing Lake and Crow Lake.

In the initial draft of this page, we referred to the Sunday Creek Meadow as a beaver meadow, but we are not sure. Further, we are curious as to what was the configuration of Sunday Creek and adjacent land when the sawlog camp was operating. Was it a beaver pond, a bog, a meadow (as now), or a stream meandering through a mature (~100 year old) forest? The illustration in the trail guide shows a tanker sleigh in the camp. It is hard to imagine being able to reliably fill a tanker at this location in the modern configuration of the creek.

Sources

Dan Strickland (2001), Big Pines Trail, Ecology and History of White Pines in Algonquin, The Friends of Algonquin Park.