Why you should care
Because standing with 1,000 or so strangers in total silence and hearing nature howling back from the darkness — that changes you.
Imagine this: a thousand or so strangers standing alongside a highway in total darkness. Sky impossibly full of stars. The quietest quiet you’ve ever experienced. Anticipation heavy in the air. The call goes out and then it happens: the most magical of sounds.
Wild wolves howling into the night.
The eerie experience lasts just a few moments but can elicit both a physical and emotional response. “I was almost crying,” says Peter Wilson, who, after waiting decades to make the trip north to participate in the howl, attended last year’s event with his adult son, Steve, both from Fergus, Ontario, Canada. Steve says it sent shivers down his spine.
Conditions need to be right for wolves to make their grand auditory appearance.
Welcome to the Public Wolf Howl in Canada’s Algonquin Provincial Park, about a 3.5-hour drive north of Toronto. Started in 1963, it has just celebrated its 50th anniversary. Lupine lovers from all over the world are drawn to the event, which happens just a few times each year, during August and early September, with public howls taking place only on Thursdays when weather — and available wolves — permit.
Because wolves are a fickle bunch. Conditions need to be right for them to make their grand auditory appearance. And August is the time of year when the pups — who are the first to reply — are extremely vocal and will respond back to human mimicry of an adult wolf’s howls. In the days leading up to a scheduled howl, park naturalists first do a “sound check” — listening for signs of the five packs of Eastern wolves, a species unique to the region, living along the highway. (The park is home to around two dozen packs — about 200 wolves total). If the searchers are successful and the weather looks favorable, the howl goes ahead. But there is no guarantee that even a yip will be heard in response to the human calls on the big night. Which only adds to the anticipation.
Once green-lighted, there is plenty of howl hoopla leading up to the main event. At the beginning of the four-hour evening, the crowd learns the howl house rules. No. 1: No noise whatsoever. Next comes the challenge of closing down the 40-kilometer stretch of main highway (nearly 25 miles), where volunteers line each side with 400-plus cars. Once parked, everyone stands outside of their vehicles and waits.
“It is dark. Believe me, it is dark,” Peter recounts. “You just can’t visualize the stars. … There’s no sound. There’s no noise.”
Then the calling begins. For the Wilsons’ howl, it took three attempts to elicit a response. The result was powerful, and Peter wells up just remembering the overwhelming experience of this bucket-list event. “It sounded so close. It was right there,” Steve remembers.
And how much does this once-in-a-lifetime, get-up-close-with-nature experience cost? Nothing. It’s free with the admission to the park — around $15 for a carload. The park alone is worth the price of admission, even if the wolves keep quiet. The huge, 2,955-square-mile provincial park is known for its sprawling beauty, beaches, canoeing, hiking and more.
For those lucky enough to hear the wolves, it’s an overwhelming and present moment. “It’s a picture you can’t paint when you hear it on an iPhone,” Peter says.