- Number of Days: 3-4
- Route Difficulty: Moderate
- Total Distance: About 35km
- Portages: 18
- Total Portage Distance: 5495m
- Longest Portage: 750m
- Access Point: Achray Campground/Grand Lake
- Key Features: The Barron Canyon, High Falls, Natural Waterslide (near High Falls), and a few other sets of waterfalls and rapids along the way!
Never having explored the East side of Algonquin Park, and hearing so many great things about the Barron Canyon, I was eager to check this area out.
Bags were packed and we set out late on the Friday of the long weekend in September. We drove to the Sand Lake Gate access point fully knowing that the office would be closed. It was the 6-hour drive from Toronto that we were happy to get out of the way on Friday, so we could have an early start on Saturday. We slept in the car at the Sand Lake office as opposed to driving all the way in to Achray Campground, only having to drive back for the permit in the morning.
Day 1: Grand Lake to Lower Barron River
After picking up our permits we made our way to the launch, making a quick pit stop at the Barron Canyon Trail which overlooks the river we would be paddling later that day. The trail is only about 1km or so which makes for a quick hike. For the view, it is definitely worth the stop.
Arriving at the launch we packed our canoe and got ready to set off for the long day ahead of us. The first 2 portages are very short and well maintained. The first was a 50m over a man made dam and the second was a short 75m into St. Andrews Lake. Shortly after that was our 550m portage into High Falls lake which featured a few extra hills and rocky sections compared to the short ones.
I was eager to get into High Falls Lake because there had recently been a forest fire that had gone through the area. You could actually see signs of the fire right from the lake while you paddled across. I have been through areas that have had forest fires years before that have now grown back but this was the first time that I was seeing one fresh. The fire had gone through the area only about a month before we arrived. Apparently the cause of the fire was due to humans and it at one point was 30 hectars in size. Goes to show the importance of being responsible with your fires and ensure proper extinguishing. I was able to pull an image from the Algonquin Park website and have included it below. As we were camping on this lake the following night we opted to wait to explore the burnt forest.
At this point we had only finished 3 of the 8 portages we had to do that day. This is what happens when you book a trip late for a long weekend. The next 3 portages we put our heads down to complete, in hopes of getting them done quickly. All of the portages on this route are well maintained. While there are definitely some rocky and hilly areas along the way, it is a frequently travelled route that is well kept. None of the portages on this trip seemed to stick out as being very difficult. Unless of course you decide to do 9 in a day in which case they seem to add up fairly quickly..
Finally arriving at Brigham Lake, we only had 2 portages left to go, and we could not have been happier about that. It was a long day and we were looking forward to some dinner.
After completing the last of the portages we were treated with a beautiful paddle down the Barron River right through the Canyon that we had stood atop earlier that day. I’m not sure if I enjoyed the view more from the top or the bottom, they were both amazing. There were a few other boats paddling in our direction but they were just day tripping and were not anyone we had to be concerned about “beating” us to get first choice at a site.
After passing through the Canyon, many of the first sites had already been occupied. We finally came across one just a few sites up from the 420m portage.
The site did not have a great spot to swim but after a long day in the sun, that wasn’t going to stop me from taking a quick dip.
Day 2: Lower Barron River to High Falls Lake
I was up early with the crack of dawn. We had a beautiful sunrise and I was doing everything I could to enjoy it before we had to get back on our feet and working towards our next destination.
Unfortunately my morning fishing trip turned up with nothing to talk about, but I did manage to get some great photos!
After making some pancakes to give us the energy we needed for the day, we packed our canoe and set off towards High Falls. Today we decided we were going to go a different way, over the Cascades section as opposed to going back through to Opalescent Lake. It was a total of 7 portages to get back to High Falls but it meant that our last day was going to be an easier trip.
The Cascades were a beautiful section of the paddle. Often you hear more about the water falls before you hear anything about rapids and other areas with lower volumes of moving water. Some of these hidden areas with small flows of water can be the nicest places to sit. Not to mention the fact that they are also usually a lot less busy than the main attractions. We took our time through this area having some lunch and ensuring to take lots of photos along our way.
Finally we arrived at High Falls Lake and it was just around 5pm. We quickly unpacked our gear at our selected campsite before paddling over to the 550m portage to head over to High Falls.
We paddled over near the 550m portage where the trail continued over towards High Falls. From what I remember it was about a 20 minute hike through some interesting terrain (unless we lost the path for a while) to get to the water slide and High Falls area.
The water slide itself is located on the upper part of the Barron River that flows from Stratton Lake into High Falls Lake. The waterfall is lower than the water slide (which you pass first when coming from our direction) but is located on the same channel and flows into a pond that feeds into High Falls Lake.
Seeing as it was the long weekend, there were a few other groups enjoying the area with us. Even a dog decided to take a slide down, although if I were a critic, I would say it was more of a run. We went for a swim and hung out in the area for a while, ensuring to take some time to enjoy the waterfall as well.
The sun quickly vanishing behind the tree line, we made our way back to our site. We had a campfire while setting up camp and hit the tent after a long day of activities.
Day 3: High Falls Lake back to Grand Lake
We woke up early and had a quick breakfast before paddling over to check out the area that the forest fire had gone through. It was incredible to see the damage that was done. It almost felt like we were aunts walking through a fire pit. All the trees that were still standing resembled the burnt logs you find in your fire pit the morning after a good fire. It was pretty eerie to walk through.
We completed the 550m portage getting it out of the way, and only leaving us with 2 short portages before being back at the launch.
This route has so much to offer. The Barron Canyon, High Falls, water slide, forest fire, the Cascades, and all the other smaller attractions along the way will definitely keep you occupied. If you haven’t had a chance to check this route out, I highly recommend you add it to your list!