August 4-7, 2012 - Algonquin - Barron Canyon

  • Photos (posted to SmugMug)
  • Location: Algonquin Provincial Park, east side
  • Access Point: 22: Grand Lake - Achray Campground, off Barron Canyon Road
  • Trip Duration: Four days (three nights)
  • Trip Length: ~48.3 km with 20 portages totalling 6780 metres
  • Trip Type: All over the place!
  • Route: Grand Lake, Stratton Lake, St. Andrews Lake, High Falls Lake (night one), The Cascades, Barron River, Brigham Lake, Opalescent Lake (night two), Brigham Lake, Barron River (night three), Brigham Lake, Opalescent Lake, Ooze Lake, High Falls Lake, St. Andrews Lake, Stratton Lake, Grand Lake
 Map courtesy of  Jeff McMurtrie

Map courtesy of Jeff McMurtrie

I had been waiting for this trip for years.  Finally, I was going to canoe through the Barron Canyon! I have hiked the Barron Canyon Trail and stayed at the Achray Campground so I was well aware of the awesomeness of Algonquin’s east side.  This trip gave me the chance to experience the Barron Canyon from where it was meant to be experienced - on the water!

This trip was also a first for me for several reasons:

  • It was my first trip with another person.  My longtime good friend Dave accompanied me.
  • It was my first trip in a canoe.  Prior to this trip, I had always gone in my kayak.  On this trip, we borrowed a canoe from Dave’s brother-in-law.  (Thanks Noel!)
  • It was my first trip for which I made reservations.  We were lucky to get the lakes we did, even though they were not our first choice.  Our preferred route was Cork Lake (night one), Marie Lake (night two), and Barron River (night three), but when I first called to reserve those spots, none were available.  The entire eastern part of the park had been closed due to forest fires and we went on a long weekend, so every accessible lake was booked.  I called back the next day and, thankfully, there must have been cancellations because some sites had become available.  (As it turns out, there were lots of empty campsites.  Was everyone scared off by a little rain?)

Day 1: Grand Lake to High Falls Lake - 10.9km with 3 portages totalling 680m

I got to Dave’s mom’s house just before 7:00 AM, we sorted out what to bring, picked up the canoe from Dave’s sister’s house and we were on our way to Algonquin.  We got to the Sand Lake gate about 1:00 and were launched into Grand Lake by 2:00.  Dave and I knew we had an easy paddle so we took it easy and got through the first two very short portages - the first into Stratton Lake and the next into St. Andrews Lake.  It was a longer portage into High Falls Lake but it was a beauty!  There was a gorgeous field of Cardinal Flower along the portage and I spotted a Ruffed Grouse in the brush.

 Ruffed Grouse on portage from Stratton Lake to High Falls Lake

Ruffed Grouse on portage from Stratton Lake to High Falls Lake

The put-in to High Falls Lake is quite steep but we got through it without incident.  We checked out the waterfall immediately east after launching into High Falls Lake and it was great.  There was more Cardinal Flower and the water was cold and refreshing!

 Cardinal Flower in front of falls at end of portage from Stratton Lake to High Falls Lake

Cardinal Flower in front of falls at end of portage from Stratton Lake to High Falls Lake

There are only two campsites on High Falls Lake and the south one was occupied so we took the north one.  Even though our neighbours were extremely quiet, the two sites are disappointingly close together.  For example, you can see the tents of the south site from the privy on the north site.  The view from our site was okay, but not quite what I expected given the descriptions on the canoe routes map.

Day 2: High Falls Lake to Opalescent Lake via Barron River -  7.3km with 6 portages totalling 1900m

We were packed up and on our way by 10:30.  We could have taken a very short route to Opalescent Lake but we opted to go a longer route via The Cascades and the Barron River.  Despite a brief rain shower, it was still an easy day with several short portages.  We got to Opalescent Lake around 3:30 and were surprised to see that none of the seven sites were occupied.  We were greeted at the most southerly site by two northern birds - a Gray Jay and a Black-backed Woodpecker… a nice way to start the evening!

 Black-backed Woodpecker in campsite on Opalescent Lake

Black-backed Woodpecker in campsite on Opalescent Lake

We chose to stay on the site and it was awesome… absolutely huge with great views of the lake.  The site was so big that we were worried that it was actually two sites and that we would get a group staying on the other half.  As it turned out, only one of the other sites was occupied that night but we’re still not sure whether our site was a single or a double.  There were two campsite signs and two fire pits but we could only find one thunder box.  The maps indicate that there’s only one site in that location but what do you think… one site or two?

Day 3: Opalescent Lake To lower Barron River - 8.2km with 3 portages totalling 1290m

This was the day… we were going to paddle through the Barron Canyon!  We were on the water by 10:40 and breezed through the portage to Brigham Lake.  After lifting over a beaver dam and another short portage, we were headed down the Barron River.  It’s hard to explain how big the cliffs are.  You can see people hiking the Barron Canyon trail but they look so tiny.  The whole experience makes you feel a little insignificant.  Damn nature, you amazing.

 Barron Canyon… What an amazing sight!

Barron Canyon… What an amazing sight!

We got to our campsite by 2:00, got set up and then explored south of our campsite before dinner.  There was a surprisingly photogenic turtle, lots of frogs, a Great Blue Heron, but no large mammals.

 Painted Turtle on Barron River

Painted Turtle on Barron River

After dinner, we explored the river north of our campsite.  There were several empty campsites, which was surprising given that I was told that everything was booked when I called earlier in the week… weird.

Day 4: Barron River to Grand Lake - 21.9km with 8 portages totalling 2910m

We launched by 10:00 and were headed home, ready for a long day with lots of short portages.  We saw one group from Windsor that was headed in the opposite direction on the Barron River, presumably exiting at Squirrel Rapids, and wished them well.  That’s a long drive home!

We decided to check out the High Falls area in the northeast end of Stratton Lake on our way back and I am ever glad we did.  It’s such a strange place!  There are steep cliffs, rock slides, water falls, and wildlife.

 High Falls area… Dave’s in the lower right corner

High Falls area… Dave’s in the lower right corner

Dave spotted this water snake trying to eat a frog.  I was too far away to get a picture of that encounter, but Dave kept his eye on the snake until I got close enough.

 Northern Water Snake in High Falls area

Northern Water Snake in High Falls area

While at High Falls, it started to rain.  The area definitely needed rain so I was glad to see it, but I wish it could have held off for a few more hours until we were back in our car.  I put on my rain jacket and we left High Falls when the rain let up a bit.  We quickly got through Stratton Lake and got to see a float plan flying very low over the lake… maybe checking for illegal campfires?  The plane made a couple of passes before landing at the Grand Lake dock.

Just before our final portage into Grand Lake, I put on my dumb hat.  After hauling the canoe over a beaver dam, I was excited that out trip was coming to a successful conclusion, so I decided to leap into the canoe in celebration.  Bad idea.  My leap ended up causing the canoe to flip over and dump our gear into the channel.  Thankfully, we had our cameras in Pelican cases and the water was only waist deep, so it only cost us about 10 minutes to get everything on shore, dump the water from the canoe, and reload.  However, I’ll never live that one down and I don’t deserve to… my actions were pretty darn stupid!

At the end of the portage, we started to hear thunder in the distance but we were so close that we decided to head across Grand Lake and get back to Dave’s car.  We really poured it on through the home stretch and landed around 7:20.  What a trip!  We still had a long ride home, but we were both happy to be out of danger from lightning.

 Grand Lake after our safe return… check out those dark skies!

Grand Lake after our safe return… check out those dark skies!

Thanks for a great trip Dave!