Algonquin – Grand Lake to Squirrel Rapids

Number of days: 4
Portages: 9
Access Point: #22 – Grand Lake
Visited: July 2023

Algonquin is considered the crown jewel of Ontario’s provincial park system. It is one of the largest parks in the province and contains hundreds of interconnecting lakes, ponds and rivers, creating endless opportunities to explore the backcountry by canoe. Every summer we plan a different route into the interior. This year we decided to explore the eastern section of the park through Barron Canyon, which is reputed to offer the most scenic paddling in Algonquin.

Day 1: Grand Lake to St Andrews Lake

Every year we go to Algonquin with the same group of people. Except this time someone new would be joining us, someone who isn’t able to paddle yet as they’re still developing those bones and muscles inside my womb. That’s right, our family of Wandering Canadians will be growing. And today marked the half-way point of my pregnancy. This added an extra element of planning as I couldn’t carry as much weight as I normally do, or rather in my backpack as the extra weight in my belly would be making up the difference.

We drove to Pembroke the day before and stayed overnight in a hotel. After eating breakfast, we picked up our paddles and life jackets from Algonquin Bound Outfitters and dropped one car off at Squirrel Rapids. We then all piled into the other vehicle and drove towards Sand Lake Gate to reach the starting point of our canoe route. Along the way we stopped to hike the Barron Canyon Trail (1.5km loop, rated moderate) to get a glimpse of the scenery from up above.

The trail starts off through the forest and involves a steady ascent to reach the top of the canyon. Given all the recent rain, including a torrential downpour the day before, there were lots of mushrooms growing along the side of the trail. This provided a good excuse to catch my breath and stop and take some pictures.

The trail then follows the rim of the canyon, providing a number of overlooks and viewpoints into the river below. The canyon was created thousands of years ago when the glaciers retreated, carving their way through the Canadian Shield. In a few days we’d be paddling along this river to get back to Squirrel Rapids.

By the time we reached our access point on Grand Lake, located in the Achray Campground, it was just after 11am. We found our canoes, loaded them up with our gear, and were ready to hit the water. It was overcast and significantly cooler than the week before (around 20°C), which was perfect for paddling.

From Grand Lake there are a few different routes to choose from. We headed towards Stratton Lake. The water was calm and it was a relatively smooth paddle to reach the first portage (50m) to bypass the dam into Stratton Lake. While the portage is marked with a yellow sign, there was also a huge warning sign with several blockades in the water so you clearly couldn’t miss it. There’s a small landing that could easily accommodate all three of our canoes. The portage itself was pretty flat.

We were back on the water in no time. Shortly after passing underneath the bridge, P and M realized that they left a bag behind at the last portage, a bag that had their dinner for the evening. So M and K paddled back to the portage while the rest of us enjoyed a short break.

There are several sites clustered along the northern shore of Stratton Lake, some of which are only reservable for those hiking the Eastern Pines backpacking trail. We were initially planning on staying here as it’s close to High Falls (more on this later), but we opted for the nearby St Andrews Lake as it’s smaller and has significantly fewer sites. This required another short portage (45m) to avoid the rapids. The shoreline was a bit rocky, but it was easy to dock our canoes and unload our stuff.

Once we got back into the water, we then had to find a free site for the night. At this point the wind started to pick up, but thankfully we didn’t have much further to go. The first site that we passed was available, which looked pretty decent with a large seating area around the fire. A couple of us kept paddling to see what the other options were. The next three sites were taken, and the fourth one was on a slope with only one good spot for a tent. And so we turned around and headed back to the first site. We ate a late lunch and lounged around for a bit before setting up our tents.

We headed back out on the water later in the afternoon to check out High Falls. By this time the clouds had cleared and we got to enjoy some blue skies and sunshine. We paddled back to Stratton Lake and traveled in the opposite direction of the portage. It was easy to see where we needed to get out as there were at least a dozen canoes along the rocky shoreline. From there we found a path that leads to High Falls where there’s a natural rock water slide. We saw a few people take turns going down before P and M decided to give it a whirl. The rest of us watched from a rocky outcrop.

We returned to our campsite to eat a late dinner. On the portage into St Andrews Lake, we scavenged for firewood since there wasn’t much on our site. We then spent the rest of the evening by the fire. This summer has been awful for mosquitos, so it should come as no surprise to hear that as soon as the sun set, it became a blood bath. Not even bug spray was effective. We had no choice but to retreat to our tents shortly after 9pm, which was fine by me as I was exhausted.

Day 2: St Andrews Lake to Opalescent Lake

I was the first one up the next morning and enjoyed watching the sunrise over the trees. The lake was calm and there was a bit of fog swirling off the water, which slowly disappeared with the rising sun.

We took our time to eat breakfast and pack up. Our plan was to head to Opalescent Lake, which involved less paddling than yesterday, but more portaging. By the time we left our site it was just after 11am. There was a slight breeze on the water, which provided some relief from the heat of the sun. We paddled to the other side of St Andrews Lake to reach the first of three portages into High Falls Lake (550m).

The portage was mostly downhill with a few wet and muddy patches along the rocks that were unavoidable. Towards the end of the portage there’s a short detour that leads to a waterfall. After lugging the rest of our gear over, we decided to check it out. The boys changed into their bathing suits and went for a shower under the falls to cool down.

From High Falls Lake it’s a short paddle to reach the next portage. Except there’s actually two portages here. One that leads to the Cascades and the other to Ooze Lake, which is located a bit further down the shoreline. We needed to go to Ooze Lake (300m). It seems like a lot of people make the same mistake we did as there’s a short connector path along the shore to get to the second portage. In some ways it worked out for the best as it looked easier to unload our gear at the first portage sign.

Ooze Lake seemed aptly named as it was oozing with bugs along the trail and shoreline. It’s a short paddle through the lily pads and marshy area to reach our final portage into Opalescent Lake (640m). This area is reputed to be tough to navigate through when the water levels are low, but thankfully that was not the case this summer.

The portage on the other hand was a bit trickier with all the rocks and roots. The path was also a bit overgrown in places. Once we finished hauling our canoes and gear to the other side, we could see that most sites along Opalescent Lake were already taken. But the one closest to the portage into Ooze Lake was free, along with the site across the lake from it, which was next to the other portage into Brigham Lake. We first checked out the one closest to us, but it was awful. However the other one was pretty decent. It had a small seating area, but a nice view of the lake. Plus it was spacious. It was a bit tricky finding a flat spot with minimal roots for both our tents, but we managed.

We sat around the fire pit to eat a late lunch and take a break. Some darker clouds rolled in and it started to lightly rain, but it was short-lived. We could see darker clouds were on the horizon and the wind was picking up. So we got the fire started for dinner and put up our tents, along with some tarps. Just as we were finishing up, we heard some thunder. Then it started to rain. Thankfully it didn’t last too long, maybe about 15 minutes or so. But it did get darker earlier on account of it being overcast, which meant the mosquitoes would be having an early dinner. Similar to the night before, we didn’t stay up too late.

Day 3: Opalescent Lake to Lower Barron Canyon

It was a bit cloudy when we first woke up, but the sun came out and helped dry everything off. We took our time to enjoy the morning and made sure our tents were sufficiently dry before packing everything away. The nice thing about our site, besides the nice view, was that we could simply walk to the portage for Brigham Lake (750m). This was our longest portage of the day, so it was nice to get it over and done with. The path was relatively straightforward and had a gradual decline to the shore of the lake. There was a small campsite here which served as a nice spot to take a break.

It was a short paddle to reach the next portage (100m) into Barron River. Even though the portage wasn’t very long, there were lots of roots along the path, creating a few tripping hazards. Once we finished hauling all our stuff over (it typically takes us two trips back and forth), we took a break to eat a snack and drink some water.

We weren’t on the water for long before having to tackle our third and final portage of the day (440m) to bypass the rapids. It was easy enough to pull onto the shore and the path was relatively flat, except for at the very end where there’s a steep and rocky section to reach the landing into lower Barron Canyon. The water was flowing pretty quickly here, but there’s a calm spot at the very end of the landing which is where we planned to put our canoes back in the water. There were a couple of other groups that had pulled in moments before we arrived, so it was a bit of a traffic jam. We hustled back to the other side to clear away our gear for the other groups who were heading in the opposite direction. During the second trip we took our time to admire the overlook of the rapids.

Just as we made it back with the remainder of our bags, it started to lightly rain. We used this as another excuse to take a break and wait for the rain to subside. We could see some blue skies heading our way behind the rain clouds. And we wanted the nicer weather as the next section along the Barron River is reputed to be the highlight of the trip.

We caught a glimpse of the Barron Canyon on our first day when we hiked the Barron Canyon Trail, but it was a completely different experience to see it from along the river. There were towering cliffs on either side and the lighting from the sun was perfect. We took our time to paddle through the canyon and admire the scenery.

There are seven campsites just past the Barron Canyon, all along the northern shore. The first four that we passed were all empty, but not the greatest given that there were six of us. But the fifth one was an obvious winner. The views of the lake were mostly obstructed, but it had a decent seating area and some flat spots for our tents. The only downside was that the thunder box was somewhat visible from the seating area.

We had a few light sprinkles on and off throughout the rest of the afternoon, but nothing major. We took our time to set up our tents and then relaxed around the fire pit. We learned our lesson from the night before and decided to eat dinner earlier before the mosquitoes came out in full force. The setting sun was our cue to head to bed.

Day 4: Lower Barron Canyon to Squirrel Rapids

It was a bit chilly overnight, which was great for sleeping, but it made it hard to get up from our warm sleeping bags the next morning. Thankfully the sun was coming up and it looked like it was going to be a nice day. We didn’t have much paddling to reach our end point at Squirrel Rapids and there was only one portage, so we really took our time to get ready in the morning. By the time we had packed up and loaded up our canoes, it was after 12pm. We passed the other two sites on the lake, both of which were now empty. The general consensus was that ours was the best given that there were six of us (or seven if we’re counting little nugget).

We didn’t have far to paddle to reach the portage (420m) to bypass the falls. Relative to the other portages along the route, it did have a fair bit of ups and downs, but the path was in good condition.

Once we loaded our canoes and were back on the water, it was a short stretch to reach the parking lot, located just before the bridge. Overall it took us just under an hour and a half from when we initially left our site.

There’s a picnic table located near the shoreline, which we hung out at to eat a late lunch. K and P then drove to the access point at Achray Campground to pick up the other vehicle while the rest of us stayed behind with our gear. Once both cars were back, we threw our bags in and hit the road, stopping at Algonquin Bound Outfitters to drop off our paddles and life jackets. We then made another stop at the Wilno Tavern Restaurant to grab dinner. It was surprisingly busy considering it was a Tuesday evening, but the food was delicious and we had the biggest perogies I’ve ever seen.

With our bellies full of food and heads full of memories, we continued the rest of the drive back home. It was another successful trip to Algonquin for the books.


76 thoughts on “Algonquin – Grand Lake to Squirrel Rapids

  1. Darlene says:

    I am delighted with the news of another little wanderer along the way! Congratulations!! I have been to Algonquin Park and it is spectacular. .

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words. We’re pretty thrilled to have a new paddler join our family. I’m glad we were still able to make it to Algonquin this year as it’s one of my favourite provincial parks. We’ve been coming here for years and we have yet to repeat the same canoe route.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks!! We planned this trip before I knew I was pregnant and I’m glad we still managed to make it happen. This was our first time exploring the eastern part of Algonquin. It was incredibly scenic, especially through Barron Canyon, and is up there with being one of my all-time favourite canoe routes.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks!! We’re looking forward to having another adventurer join our family!! We’ve been taking a bit of a break from camping this summer, but decided to make an exception for Algonquin. I found it a bit tougher to paddle while being pregnant, but overall it went much better than I thought it would. And it helps that we had fabulous weather and a scenic paddling route.

  2. Diana says:

    Wow, I’m exhausted just reading about all those portages. I’ve never canoed or portaged so maybe they’re not as bad as they sound, but I’m picturing hauling lots of heavy gear.

    Ooze Lake is perhaps one of the more unappealing names I’ve heard recently ha! Then again if it was oozing with mosquitoes maybe it’s accurate. As you know from my recent posts, I feel your pain with the mosquitoes.

    Lastly, congratulations!!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks!! We’re pretty excited to have a new adventurer join our family. Believe it or not, but this was actually one one of the easier canoe routes that we’ve done in Algonquin. For the portages, we typically take two trips back and forth as we take way too much stuff to be able to do it in one haul. No regrets as it means we can be more comfortable at camp and we can bring better food with us.

      And yes, you know firsthand about how this year has been absolutely awful for mosquitoes! We leave for our big trip on Friday and I’m hoping now that the weather is starting to cool down that the bugs won’t be as aggressive. Fingers crossed.

  3. kagould17 says:

    What a gorgeous canoe trip Linda. Well worth meeting every year for this expedition. Congrats on the new tour member. You will soon have another paddler aboard. Have a great Friday. Allan

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      There’s a lot more planning and work involved when backcountry camping, but it’s a great way to avoid the crowds and the noise, and just enjoy nature. One of the great things about Algonquin is that because we’re canoeing for most of the distance, we can take more stuff (and more food) with us. I’m glad we were still able to make this paddling trip happen this year as this was one of the most scenic routes we’ve taken. Plus it was a good way to try to get the little one introduced to the outdoors as soon as we can! Hope you had a wonderful weekend. Linda

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words. We’re pretty excited to share our love for the outdoors with someone new. I’m glad we were still able to make our annual trip to Algonquin happen. It was a bit of a drive to get to the eastern part of the park, but it was one of the most scenic paddling routes we’ve taken. The section through Barron Canyon is simply stunning. Plus there are so many waterfalls to enjoy along the way.

  4. Lynette d'Arty-Cross says:

    Congratulations, Linda! How wonderful! A new wandering paddler. 🙂
    What a fantastic canoe trip you had. I haven’t done a long canoe trip like that for a number of years now (and probably wouldn’t be able to deal with portages all that well any more!), so thanks for sharing yours. I always found that being out in the country like that was such a relaxing and mind-calming experience (except for the mosquitoes).

    Ooze Lake. What an unattractive name! Reminds me of something you might wind up in the hospital for. Yikes. “Oozing with mosquitoes” is a very vivid image and I can exactly picture your experience!

    Great post, Linda. Cheers. 🙂

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment. We’re pretty excited to have another hiker join our family!

      Camping has lost a lot of its enjoyment for us over the past few years given all the crowds, noise and garbage. But it’s nice to be able to escape from all that in the backcountry. It’s a lot more work, but it’s always worth it. I’m glad we were still able to make this trip happen this summer despite being pregnant.

      Out of all the years we’ve been coming to Algonquin, this summer was by far the worst for the mosquitoes. It wasn’t too bad during the day (if you wore bug spray), but as soon as the sun set, they came out in swarms. And even if you reapplied the bug spray, they still seemed determined. It was a good excuse to go to bed early, which I was okay with since I was pretty tired anyway!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      There’s a good reason we keep returning to Algonquin every summer to explore a different section of the park. Even though it’s a lot of work, it’s a great way to unplug from the world around us and just spend time enjoying nature.

  5. Ab says:

    OMG!!!! I only got to the part about your baby news and haven’t read the rest of the post yet. Congrats to you and K! This is such wonderful happy news. You look glowing in your photo. This kid is gonna be one lucky and well travelled kid. Best wishes to you both with this exciting new chapter.

    Algonquin is a beautiful park. It is so vast and there is always something new to explore. I’m gonna go enjoy the rest of your post now. 😊

    Congrats again!!!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment!! I’m glad I was still able to go on our annual trip to Algonquin despite being pregnant. It took a bit more prep work, but it actually went much better than I thought it would. And hey, I figured it was a great way to introduce our little nugget to the great outdoors as early as possible. I’m sure our pace of travelling will change, but I’m looking forward to the adventures of being a parent!

      • Ab says:

        Enjoy every moment! And yes, your life and pace for sure will change with a newborn. But I suspect you and K will find new ways to enjoy adventures as an expanded family. And I can’t wait to follow along!

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        What I’ve learned from our eleven (!) nieces and nephews is how quickly they grow up. So your advice to enjoy every moment, including the good and bad parts, is definitely worth mentioning and being mindful of. We’re hoping to still do some light/nearby travelling next year when I’m on maternity leave. Maybe rent a cottage in PEI or Nova Scotia for a couple of weeks. But we should probably wait to see what the baby is like first!

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        Thanks! We fell in love with the Maritimes last year and have been thinking about returning for awhile now. We would probably drive though. But now that you mention how flights are free for children under 2, this is giving me some other ideas!!

  6. elvira797mx says:

    Wow! Amazing place, so relaxing and beautiful. Congratulations for the baby, Linda!
    It’s going to be a very healthy and lovely baby, so sweet! I’m happy for both!
    After those romantic places, cozy cabins so next with nature, love brings you a big bless.
    Keep well and happy.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks!! Being pregnant added an extra element of challenge for our canoe trip to Algonquin, but I’m glad we made it work. The scenery was spectacular and we really lucked out with the weather.

  7. Little Old World says:

    Many congratulations, what wonderful news!! Algonquin is absolutely spectacular, I can see why it’s considered the crown jewel of Ontario’s parks. Barron Canyon, in particular, looks breathtakingly beautiful and a wonderful place to go canoeing.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words. As you can tell, we’re trying to get an early start to introducing our little nugget to the great outdoors. And what better to do that than by visiting one of my all-time favourite parks in Ontario. The Barron Canyon was one of the most scenic routes that we’ve ever paddled in Algonquin. And I’m glad we had nice weather to appreciate the views.

  8. leightontravels says:

    What a beautiful canoe trip, your photos ooze tranquility. It’s a wonderful tradition to meet up in this place every summer, same people, different routes. Congratulations from both of us, what wonderful news!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks! We’ve been coming to Algonquin with the same group for nearly a decade now. Good thing we’ll have another paddler join our ranks as we continue to explore more of the park.

  9. Bernie says:

    Ah, how wonderful to be taking your little nugget canoeing! The first of many trips, I am sure. Your trip looks absolutely amazing. I’ve always wanted to do a canoe trip like that.

  10. Bama says:

    So excited for the pregnancy! Congrats! It’s incredible that you’re still doing all those outdoor activities. I can see why Algonquin is considered the crown jewel of Ontario’s park system — the calm water and the green forests would definitely soothe any weary soul! But the mosquitoes sound awful.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks! We had actually planned this trip before we knew I was pregnant. It turned out to be an easier canoe route compared to some of our previous trips, which worked out well, and we had fabulous weather. Heading into the backcountry is a great way to avoid the crowds and just enjoy the scenery. We just had to deal with the mosquitoes! Thankfully they were only really bad at dusk.

  11. grandmisadventures says:

    Congratulations!!! What a thrill to think that the next time you visit here it will be as a family of 3 with so many adventures together to come 🙂 It is easy to see why this is called the crown jewel- there seems no end to beautiful areas to enjoy by foot or by boat.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment! We’re pretty excited to have another paddler join our family in a few months. I was a bit nervous to head into the backcountry while pregnant, especially since we don’t get cell reception out there, but the trip went much better than expected. It also helped that the weather was fantastic and the temperatures were quite comfortable. It was nice to just unplug from everything and appreciate nature.

  12. Thattamma C.G Menon says:

    Such a wonderful nature photography 🌷🙏👍 The beauty of the sky, awesome waterfall, the cool lake and you dear standing ,so lovely moments this seems !! Very calm places and earth
    Wonders 👏🏼🌝 have a Blessed weekend and grace wishes dear friend 🌷🙏💝🌷

  13. travelling_han says:

    WOW it’s absolutely beautiful – this is one of my favourite of your posts. Every direction is stunning and I love the photos of the water with the mist rising. And huge congrats on your pregnancy, I hope it’s a happy and healthy one 🙂

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words. There’s a good reason we keep returning to Algonquin every summer. Even though it’s a lot of work to plan our route and try to stuff all our camping supplies and food in our bags for four days, it’s always worth it. It’s also a great way to avoid the crowds and all the noise. We’re looking forward to sharing our love of the outdoors with our little one. Take care. Linda

  14. wetanddustyroads says:

    Congratulations on your pregnancy Linda – that’s such good news! Just think how you will go about packing for camping once the little one is there 😉. Oh, and what a wonderful time on your canoes – it’s incredibly beautiful! Camping next to the lake every night sounds like a great adventure (except for those hungry mosquitoes)! Lovely photos – especially those at sunrise and sunset. Enjoy your last few months of pregnancy and take care 🌸.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks!! As you can tell, we’re trying to introduce our little one to camping as early as we can! The nice thing about backcountry camping in Algonquin is that we’re able to take a bit more stuff with us since most of the distance we cover is by canoe. We’ll definitely need to rethink the packing situation once the baby comes though! I found the paddling a bit tougher while pregnant, but overall the trip went much better than I thought, even with the swarms of mosquitoes in the evening.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Algonquin is one of our favourite provincial parks in Ontario. We’ve been coming here for nearly a decade and there are still so many lakes and rivers we have yet to explore. This was by far one of our most scenic paddling routes we’ve taken.

  15. Mike and Kellye Hefner says:

    Congratulations on your new little paddler! What a fun trip this must be. The scenery is gorgeous, and your photos are fantastic. We would love to visit this park – anything “water” just makes being in nature so much more fun. Thanks for sharing.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We’re trying to introduce our baby to our love of the great outdoors as early as we can!! It was a bit harder to paddle while being pregnant as the swaying sensation made me feel nauseous. But it was a good excuse to slow down and just admire our surroundings. This was one of the most scenic paddling routes we’ve explored through Algonquin. Thanks for reading and for your warm wishes. Linda

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks so much for your kind words. We haven’t done much camping this summer, but I’m glad we decided to return to Algonquin for our annual trip into the backcountry. This was one of the most scenic paddling routes we’ve taken. It was nice to explore some of the smaller lakes and rivers, especially through the canyon. I’m a huge fan of all the lily pads too. The mosquitoes on the other hand, not so much!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words. We’re excited to have another adventurer join our family. I’m sure our pace of travel will slow down and change, but that may not be a bad thing. We’re hoping to still go some adventures, but we may just stick closer to home over the next couple of years. We’ll have to wait and see.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words. We’re looking forward to this new adventure in life. I’m sure our pace of travelling (and hiking) will change, but we’re excited to share our love of the outdoors with someone new!

  16. Wetravelhappy says:

    Your post seems to have a calming effect on me, especially looking at those pictures of you paddling through the lilies. Okay except for the oozing with bugs part hehehe. Anyway, congratulations on the good news, Linda! Take care. 🙂

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words and warm wishes. While it’s a lot of work to backcountry camp in Algonquin, it’s so worth it to avoid the crowds and enjoy some peace and quiet. The bugs have been especially feisty this year, but thankfully more so in the evening when the sun was setting. This was a great excuse to head to bed as I was pretty tired anyway!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      For sure. There’s a good reason we return every summer and plan a different canoe route each time. You could spend a lifetime trying to explore every lake and river within the park. It’s a great spot to leave the crowds behind and just enjoy nature.

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