Algonquin Provincial Park: Barron Canyon – Achray Campground to Squirrel Rapids (4 days / 24 km)
Arguably one of the most beautiful areas in Algonquin Provincial Park, the Barron Canyon route offers paddlers a scenic experience away from the larger crowds found in the Southern section of the Park. With picturesque waterfalls and imposing cliffs hundreds of feet high in some places, the Barron Canyon route embodies what makes Algonquin the world-renowned canoeing destination it is.
While the paddling would not be considered difficult by the average canoe tripper, the portaging on the route can be challenging. With a number of portages in quick succession of each other, many will find this route to be physically demanding. Nevertheless, the route is most definitely worth the effort for those willing to put the work in.
Starting Point: Achray Campground
Ending Point: Squirrel Rapid Parking Lot
Total Distance: 24 km
Duration: 4 Days, 3 Nights
This route is located in eastern Algonquin Provincial Park, the nearest town being 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: Top 60 Canoe Routes of Ontario by Kevin Callan
Map: Jeff’s Map – Algonquin for Canoeists (Eastern) // Official Algonquin Park Canoe Routes Map
Campsite Reservations: As the Barron Canyon route is within Algonquin Provincial Park, permits are required for camping. Permits can be reserved through the Ontario Parks Reservation System and should be done so in advance to ensure availability. Permits are not reserved for specific campsites and are instead done by general areas (i.e. lakes, sections of the river, etc).
Outfitters & Shuttles
In order to do the Barron Canyon route, two different options exist:
Depending on your group numbers and the number of boats you have, a self-shuttle can be facilitated by leaving at least one vehicle at the Squirrel Rapid takeout on your way into the Achray Campground put-in. Upon arriving at the Squirrel Rapid takeout at the completion of the route, the car that was left can be used to pick up the other vehicle at the put-in. As the distance between the put-in and takeout is only about a 20-minute drive, this is a reasonable option.
If arranging your own shuttle sounds like too much of a hassle, organizing an outfitter to move your car(s) for you is another option. Algonquin Bound Outfitters will move your car and have it waiting at the takeout for a fee. Although more costly, this option will save you time in the long run.
Day 1: Achray Campground to Eastern Stratton Lake (5.5 km)
After leaving one vehicle at the Squirrel Rapid takeout parking lot, we drove another 20 minutes to the Achray Campground where we unloaded our gear and parked the second car.
Setting out at about 1:30 pm from the Achray Campground, we paddled across Grand Lake and into the narrows that connect Grand and Stratton Lake. In the narrows, we came to the first and only portage of the day – a short 50 m.
With the short portage completed, we continued paddling South-East across Stratton Lake. Stratton Lake has an abundance of campsites, and so finding a good site was not an issue. We stayed at the easternmost site on Stratton as it was adequately large enough for our group of four, secluded from the many other sites on the lake, and in close proximity to the next day’s first portage.
Campsite: Easternmost campsite on Stratton Lake
Day 2: Eastern Stratton Lake to The Cascades (6.5km)
We decided to have an early start as it was going to be a portage heavy day. After a quick breakfast, we packed up camp and headed out to our first portage: a short 80 m just around the corner from our previous night’s campsite.
After completing the portage, we paddled towards the north arm of St. Andrews Lake. Looking at the map, the paddler notice that two route options exist at this point: one that stays North and one that veers off East. While both eventually head in similar directions, and the route can technically be completed with either option, the Eastern route has far more portaging (including a 2,225 m) and so the obvious choice is to continue on North.
Upon completing the approximately 2.5 km paddle north across St. Andrews Lake, we arrived at the first of a series of portages that head towards the Barron Canyon. The first portage is the longest one (550 m) but is fairly flat and, like most portages within Algonquin Park, well maintained. With the longest portage of the trip completed, we paddled 1.3 km across High Falls Lake towards the Cascades.
Once again, looking at the map the paddler will notice that two route options exist in order to get to the Barron Canyon from this point. We decided to use the Western route, as the portages are not as long (although slightly more numerous) and also because the Cascades are said to be a beautiful area with good campsites. As such, we pulled up to the next portage (445 m), completed it, and had a quick lunch before repacking our boats and continuing onto the next portage that could be seen across a small pound.
Finishing the next 60 m portage, we repeated the process of paddling across the short stretches of water between the portages, before completing the remaining two portages themselves (a 210 m and 345 m). With the last of the day’s portages completed, we made camp at the only designated site on the small lake we were on, made dinner, and did some fishing.
Campsite: Northernmost campsite in The Cascades
Day 3: The Cascades to Barron River (7.5 km)
We had a bit of a sleep-in due to the previous day’s early start and the relatively easy day that lay ahead. After eating breakfast and packing up camp, we started the day by lining the boats through the swift that lay beyond our campsite. The water level was low, making the swift too shallow to run fully loaded, but with us out we were able to guide the boats with relative ease through the shallow water. By lining the boats, we were able to avoid doing the 275 m portage that circumvented the swift. We stuck with this method for the next portage (100 m) which was 1.5 km downstream.
The completion of the previous portage brought us just above Brigham Chute – a beautiful waterfall that crashes into a shallow but fast-moving ravine. Care should be taken when paddling above the Chute to the start of the portage, as an untimely tip here would be dangerous. The portage is 440 m and has an opening next to the Chute that is perfect for an early lunch with an incredible view.
After the Brigham Chute portage, the shoreline topography begins to dramatically change. Huge cliff faces – hundreds of feet high in some instances – rise up from the shoreline, creating a canyon on a scale not conventionally seen within Southern Ontario. Paddling through the canyon is without doubt one of the highlights of the trip, and continues on for the next 2 km or so.
As the canyon walls begin to taper off, a more traditional Algonquin shoreline appears. The river widens somewhat, creating a narrow lake where a number of good campsites can be found. We decided to camp on the lake for the night and try our hand at fishing.
Campsite: The last campsite cluster before the Squirrel Rapid takeout
Day 4: Barron River to Squirrel Rapids Takeout (4.5 km)
Wanting to get home at a decent time, we awoke early, had a quick breakfast, and packed up camp. We paddled downstream to the final portage of the trip (345 m) around Cache Rapid. With the Cache Rapid portage completed, we arrived at the Squirrel Rapid takeout around 11:00 am, retrieved the car we had left at the Achray Campground, and began the drive home.
Overall the Barron Canyon route is a magnificent trip for those who enjoy the challenge and satisfaction of portaging. While the amount of portaging found within the trip would not be for everyone, its scenic beauty makes it one of the top Algonquin Park canoe routes that I personally have participated in.
Connor is a wilderness guide based out of Ontario.