Imagine packing your camping gear into your backpack, throwing your bag over your shoulders and stepping onto the train in Ottawa, bound for Algonquin Park. As the city lights begin to slip away, the anticipation grows as each beautiful vista flashes by. You notice the trees slowly begin to change, it feels more dense and wild now; you’re almost there. You step off the train into the unknown. What adventures await you? What canvases to be painted? What new challenges are calling you? Maybe it is a desire for fire range solitude? Perhaps a more profitable lumber endeavour? Or have you come to behold the untamed wilderness of Algonquin Park? Every adventure in Algonquin Park is a walk-through history and Achray certainly holds a very enchanting feeling from the past.
These are the kind of thoughts that raced through my head when we were at Achray Campgrounds the first 2 nights of our trip.
Originally we planned to be at Achray one night and Stratton Lake for 3 nights, but a hole in our canoe plus weather conditions set us back a day. But with Berm Lake Trail and Jack Pine Trail at Achray, there are plenty of activities to keep you busy!
As beginners, we kept our portages and canoeing distances to a minimum. To get to our campsite on Stratton Lake we only did a 50 m portage and canoed a distance of approximately 7.5 km. After 2 nights at Stratton Lake and exploring the High Falls, we made our way back to the Achray Campground parking lot through Johnston Lake. On the last day, we canoed a total of 7 km and did 2 portages: 255 m and 750 m. We finished up our trip with a quick visit to the bookstore in the Visitor’s Centre.
Trip Completed: September 2020
Starting Point: Achray Campground
Ending Point: Achray Campground
Total Distance: 16 km
Duration: 3 days (+2 rest days)
This route takes place in the northeast corner of Algonquin Provincial Park, starting and ending at Achray Campground. The nearest town is Petawawa.
Traditional Territory: This route in Algonquin Provincial Park is located on the traditional territory of the Omàmìwininìwag (Algonquin) and Anishinabewaki (source).
Maps & Resources
Guidebook: Barron Canyon Trail Guide and Berm Lake Trail Guide
Campsite Reservations: We booked through the Ontario Parks website for their backcountry sites. We also reserved a jump-off site at Achray for the first day. Stratton Lake has many backcountry site options spaced out along the length of the whole lake. Although we did explore the option of staying at St. Andrews Lake which has 10 campsites and was a short 45 m portage from Stratton Lake. Also, nearby Johnston Lake and Berm Lake have only one private backcountry site with the rest reserved for hikers on the Eastern Pines Backpacking Trail.
Outfitters & Shuttles
Shuttle: No shuttle is needed as the route starts and ends at the same place.
Outfitter: We rented a canoe from Algonquin Bound and chose the option of having it delivered to the Achray Campground.
To our major disappointment, we walked up to our canoe rental on the beach and noticed there was a hole in the bottom. After huddling near the closed camp office building searching for the little cell service we could get, we were able to talk to someone. Algonquin Bound customer service told us to wait for another drop-off between that night and tomorrow morning since the store was also closed for the day. The next day we kept our eyes peeled all morning until they arrived with another drop-off. We ran to the beach to explain our situation to them and after showing them the hole in our canoe they replaced it. Not the way you want to start your trip off but honestly for beginners it was a great learning lesson. Always be prepared for change. And there are pros to picking up your own canoe rental!
Day 1: Arrived at Achray Campground, Barron Canyon Trail and Jack Pine Trail (2.5 km)
When we were booking our reservation, we discovered they have these jump-off sites at Achray Campground which are priced the same as backcountry sites. The jump-off sites are just for one night and are only a few metres from the parking lot. Since we had until 2 PM to get to Achray, we took advantage of Algonquin‘s great hiking trails. Barron Canyon Trail is right off the road to Achray and is an absolute must-see!! The trail is a 1.5 km loop from the parking lot that takes you along the high ridges of the canyon. Stunning views of a glorious canyon filled with geological wonder!
After Barron Canyon, we went to the campgrounds to find a jump-off site and get settled. What a beautiful campground to drive into! The first thing you see is the old stone Park Office at the end of the road with Grand Lake in the background. As you get close you can see the path where Canadian National Railway used to lay. There are awesome historic plaques all around the main area of Achray that detail the timeline of the train.
We went to find a campsite, then we checked our canoe rental which is when problem-solving mode kicked in. After we dealt with the canoe issue we went for a walk on the Jack Pine Trail to see the spot where Tom Thompson painted the famous Canadian painting The Jack Pine. The 1.6 km trail leads you to an amazing view of Grand Lake, the sunset on the lake of glass was so gorgeous! Another place that just transports you in time!
Campsite: The thunderbox for the jump sites was more like a small hut that seemed somewhat neglected so we used the campground’s washrooms instead. There are two jump site areas. One is a cluster of sites in woods beside the parking lot, but our site was the only one that seemed more open and actually had a laneway where we parked that led to the road into Achray. The other spot for jump-off sites was quite nice and directly off the old Canadian National Railway path. These sites were all taken the first night, but when we had to stay a second night we moved to one of these spots which were closer to the bathroom.
Day 2: Berm Lake Trail (4.5 km)
We woke up early to keep a lookout for Algonquin Bound to drop off more canoes. Luckily our site was close to the road so around 10 AM we saw them driving by. We ran over to the beach to explain our rental had a hole in the bottom and they gave us another canoe to use. Now that the canoe situation was sorted, we went back to the site to have lunch and pack.
By the time we got down to the beach at 2 PM, it was clear we had another problem in front of us. Grand Lake was absolutely roaring with waves and the wind was just insane! We noticed other canoeists were also standing next to their gear hesitant to go out on these waters.
Since we were beginners we knew this clearly was not a smart decision to leave in those conditions. We waited on the beach for two hours, hoping the weather would change. With the park office closing at 6 PM, our decision time was running out. The staff at Ontario Parks are always amazing people! After we filled them in, they kindly offered us another stay at a jump-off site. We tried a different jump-off site right off the old railway which had good tree coverage that ended up being helpful for the rain at night.
We still had two hours until sunset, so to make up for our delayed departure to the backcountry, we hiked the awesome Berm Lake Trail. The trail guides produced by The Friends of Algonquin Park are a must-have in my opinion! This diverse loop trail takes you through 4.5 km of great pine trees and past sturdy beaver dams! Learning about the white pine, red pine and my favourite, the jack pine was so interesting! I’ll never look at trees the same way again. After such a refreshing hike, we were starving, so we ate dinner by the fire and slept.
Campground: Jump Off Site at Achray Campground
Day 3: Grand Lake to Stratton Lake (7.5 km)
Yes! We finally got to head into the backcountry! We weren’t messing around this time. We made sure we got out there early in the day because we were not going to get stuck by those winds again!
We packed up, headed over to the beach and it was perfect! Screams of joy! The feeling of loading up your canoe is great nervous excitement! It felt great to be out on the water, patches of warm vibrant fall colours popping up through the green treetops.
Our first portage came up after 1.1 km of canoeing and it was an easy 50 m walk to Stratton Lake. We then came upon a cool site, the abandoned Canadian National Railway bridge. As we glided under the bridge to the opening of Stratton Lake, we waved to a man walking the old railway path (Note: Walking on the bridge is considered trespassing, and there are signs that warn you at Achray campgrounds).
We canoed 6.4 km until we found a gorgeous site on a point of land that stuck out with a view of Stratton Lake on both sides. It was pretty cool because we could see people canoeing to High Falls on one side and others on their way to St. Andrews Lake right in front of us!
Campsite: Stratton Lake. The site was near the end of Stratton Lake on a point of land right on the corner of where the lake turns to head towards High Falls. Windy spot at points but great views and had nice tree coverage in
the back of the site. Will be back to this area for sure!
Day 4: Rest Day on Stratton Lake (Day Trip to High Falls)
After a delicious bacon breakfast sandwich, we cleaned up and got ready for an adventure to High Falls. My spouse, Kyle, had been there as a kid and told me of the exciting natural waterside at High Falls. Even though it was the second weekend in September, I was determined to try and go swimming at the falls.
It was a short canoe trip from our campsite. It is important to approach cautiously since there are no signs that warn of the falls up ahead. Definitely bring your map with you! We came up to the land and on the opposite side of the rocks is the natural water slide and exciting views of the falls cascading down different levels of water pools.
When we got closer to the falls I chickened out and didn’t go in. Totally regret it! We later saw a couple that said they’ve been coming here for years and they always swim at the falls. Next time I won’t be making that mistake. After a nice picnic by the falls, we made our way back to the campsite. We made a nice warm fire, I put my toque on then went for a quick dip in the lake! Shallow waters go out pretty far at this site. Most of the trip was fairly cloudy with some rain but the sun did come out from time to time.
Campsite: Stratton Lake
Day 5: Stratton Lake to Johnston Lake (6 km)
The last day is always bittersweet. I was really looking forward to today since this was going to be a more real portage experience for me since our first one had only been a short 50 m. We got up at a decent time to pack our things and get on that beautiful water! We said thank you and farewell to this amazing campsite and headed down Stratton Lake towards Johnston Lake.
After 4 km we saw the yellow portage sign on a tree ahead and cautiously approached through a maze of logs in the water. Even though I was looking forward to portaging, I wasn’t feeling confident enough with the rental canoe. So Kyle carried the canoe and I followed with the first load. The 255 m portage led to a beautiful opening to Johnson Lake. We went back to get the last of the gear then took a nice slow canoe through Johnston Lake. Wow, what a gorgeous little oasis! Would certainly be interested in booking at this lake in the future. There are these little clusters of rock islands we went by which I thought would make a fun swimming spot.
We then had a 750 m portage to the Achray parking lot. There are two ways you can get back to Achray from here. At this point, we could have taken a 100 m portage to Berm Lake which has a small river that takes you to Grand Lake. But to avoid Grand Lake (which might’ve been windy again and required re-loading/unloading the canoe), we took the Berm Lake Trail to the parking lot instead. The trail intersects the portage pathway.
After we returned a second time with the last of our things, we had worked up quite a sweat! So I threw my bathing suit on and ran into the water. A family having a nice lunch at the picnic table in their fall fleeces stared at me in shock. But man, was it exactly what I needed!
We each left a fresh pair of clothes in the car (a great idea), was super nice to get out of those dirty clothes. I love visiting the bookstores because they always seem to have an amazing collection of books, many written by local writers. They also have the 18 trail book guides for purchase at both stores! I believe I paid around $15 for all 18 guides! Highly recommend visiting some of these trails when you have the opportunity along your journey!
Beaver: We first heard something moving in the bushes by the water and sounds of a small animal eating the first night at our Stratton lake campsite and then the second night was when we saw close up the beaver swimming by our campsite.
Loon Family: Both nights at the Stratton Lake campsite, it was really cool to see the Loons teaching their baby how to fish.
Owl Pellet: When exploring around the back of the campsite for firewood I came across some clumps of fur and at closer inspection, I could see there was a bunch of bones and vertebrae mixed in with the fur. We got to dissect owl pellets in high school and this looked just like them!
This is an amazing spot in Algonquin, with so many amazing trails to hike and beautiful lakes to canoe. We would love to come back someday to canoe down the Barron Canyon; the view was so breathtaking from above, I can only imagine how glorious it must seem from below too. Our canoe rental experience and a weather delay were our biggest takeaways from this trip. In the future, we will pick our canoe up from the rental shop so we can inspect it beforehand.
Sometimes there’s nothing you can do but wait out the weather, but this trip also showed us the importance of getting out on the water early.
We were very pleased with all of our campsites during this trip and highly recommend the site at Stratton Lake if you want to visit the High Falls.
Just an Ottawa girl eager to learn more about the great outdoors and all its history! I spend my days painting and eating everything! Beverage fiend, coffee, latte, iced tea, chai tea, bubble tea, kombucha, smoothies, all of them! Fighting for the environment and human rights are two values I constantly work to uphold. I finally started my small online art business last year and I’m really excited to continue this adventure! Happy trails! ✌️