Paddling in Algonquin Park: Barron Canyon

Paddling in Algonquin Park: Barron Canyon

If you're an adventure seeker looking for an unforgettable paddling experience, you're going to love Barron Canyon in Algonquin Park! Nestled just two hours west of Ottawa, this hidden gem offers an incredible journey that combines serene waterways, challenging portages, and breathtaking natural beauty.

Where to Park:
To embark on this unforgettable adventure, start by parking your vehicle near Squirrel Depot. As you cross the bridge over Squirrel Rapids, you'll find a parking lot on the left of the road. The launch point is conveniently situated next to the parking area, providing access to shallow waters with scattered rocks. While barefoot can work, wearing water shoes will help you navigate launching your boat more comfortably.

The Portage:
The initial leg of your paddling journey covers a swift 1-kilometre route to Cache Rapids. It took Scott and I about 20 minutes to paddle. Here, you'll face your portage hike, nothing like a little challenge! The portage point is located to the right of the falls and requires careful footing as you maneuver across rocky terrain. Once you have safely removed your boats from the water, it is a good idea to change into proper footwear. We suggest running shoes as the trail is not flat and there are lots of rocks and tree roots to watch out for. There are logs that you can sit on while you change your shoes.  

The Oru Kayaks shine during a portage. At only 25lbs, their lightweight design makes portaging a breeze compared to traditional, heavier canoes and kayaks. Scott and I were able to walk both kayaks through the woods at the same time.


During your portage, be sure to take breaks and appreciate the scenic beauty around you. Rolling waterfalls to your left and vast forest to your right add an extra layer of tranquility to the journey. As you continue, you'll encounter two portage options. The first one, just before a narrow bridge, offers a slightly challenging entry into the water due to the faster-moving currents. If you aren't comfortable with this launch point, I suggest going to the next one, it is only another 2 minute walk ahead. It is the official launch point, marked by a yellow sign. It is much more user-friendly and provides a smoother launch.

Go Slow & Enjoy the Scenery:
With your kayaks back in the water, you'll paddle approximately 5 kilometres upstream until you reach the captivating Barron Canyon. Along this stretch, wildlife becomes your companions, as turtles, Canadian geese, blue herons, and beavers grace your path. We passed a ton of beaver lodges - did you know that their homes are called a lodge?

The marshy areas were full of vibrant lilypads and lily flowers, which added to the peaceful scenery. While paddling, watch for the deadhead stumps lurking just beneath the water's surface to prevent any unexpected collisions.

We passed many campsites along the way and tons of other paddlers! It's a strange feeling to be in the middle of nowhere and yet come across so many other kayaks and canoes! This paddle is great for families, solo travelers, and furry friends. I swear, every boat we passed had a dog on board!

An Unexpected Surprise:
Along our paddle, we could hear something off in the distance that sounded a bit like a helicopter. We knew that the Petawawa Military Base was close by, so we wondered if it was an army helicopter. We heard it off and on for the next 10 minutes or so, until it finally came into sight. We saw it heading towards the Canyon (what an amazing view they would have!) and then they saw us, and turned around and started coming straight for us! The helicopter came so low, we could see the guys inside. It couldn't have been more than 20ft above us when they flew over and waved as they did their fly by. We have never encountered anything like that before, it was quite the surprise!!


A Majestic Sight to Behold:
As Barron Canyon comes into view, the magnificent limestone cliffs rise above the forested landscape, taking your breath away. These geological wonders were sculpted by glaciers during the last Ice Age, around 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. As the massive glaciers advanced and then retreated, they carved out the landscape, leaving behind deep valleys, lakes, and distinctive geological features like Barron Canyon. The erosion caused by the movement of ice, water, and rock over millennia gradually shaped the canyon into its current form. The layers of limestone and shale embedded in the canyon walls offer glimpses into the region's geological history, a true testament to the Earth's intricate processes.

While at Barron Canyon, its great to take your time and fully immerse yourself in the untouched beauty that surrounds you. Bask in the sunlight dancing across the rocks as you savour a well-deserved lunch on the water. We rafted off of one another and got our lunch out of the Perception Splash Seatback Cooler. It provides a handy storage solution for your well-deserved snack. While you indulge, the current gently pulls you along, offering a unique dining experience under the canyon's towering cliffs - the perfect date day for couples! 

While we were eating our lunch, we saw a very strange sight - a bat flew overhead. We certainly didn't expect to see one of these night dwelling creatures in the afternoon sun! It looked pretty confused and kept flying back and forth until it settled back into a small cave in the rocks.

The Paddle Back:
Once we finished up our lunch and took some pictures, it was time to make our way back to the portage point. We could have continued our paddle another kilometre or so to the Brigham Chute portage, but it was getting late and we figured it was time to head back. It was hard to leave this majestic place. We look forward to returning someday!

The journey was much quicker on the way back. Paddling with the current makes all the difference. The once challenging paddle now becomes a more leisurely return trip, allowing you to relish the serene atmosphere of the park. You may even have a chance to encounter deer, moose, or even black bears as they are quite populous in the area. It took us about 45 minutes to get back to the portage point. We picked up our boats and walked them through the woods once again. It was a bit more challenging this time around as we had been paddling all day and our muscles were a bit tired. 

Our Honest Review:
This was a truly unique paddling tour with unparalleled scenery. This was our first experience with portaging, and to our pleasant surprise, it was much smoother than expected! Portaging opens doors to extraordinary and exclusive locations, providing access to stunning landscapes that not everyone has the privilege to witness. The adventure was thoroughly enjoyable, and we eagerly anticipate reliving it in the future with our daughter, once she's a bit older.

Given more time, we would love to hike to the viewpoint on the Barron Canyon Trail. We've heard raving reviews about the breathtaking scenery from the vantage point, and we're eagerly looking forward to experiencing it ourselves, perhaps during the fall season when the leaves are vibrant with colour. It is a nice short hike and there is a parking lot at the trailhead.

Paddling the Barron River to Barron Canyon is the perfect way to take in the natural wonders of Algonquin Park. The scenery is breathtaking, the history is rich, and the wildlife is aplenty. As you pack up your kayaks and head home, you'll carry with you the cherished memories of an unforgettable experience that showcases the raw, untouched beauty of Canada's extensive wilderness.

Important Points to Keep in Mind:

  1. Algonquin Day Pass: Prior to entering the park, you will need to purchase a day pass for your vehicle. Just as you enter, a dedicated building allows you to acquire your pass for $21, granting unrestricted park access until 10pm. Additionally, you'll find a well-maintained restroom with running water at the permit office, which can be a preferable option if venturing into the woods for a bathroom break isn't your cup of tea 🙋‍♀️

  1. Cell Service Limitations: Bear 🐻 in mind that cellular service becomes unavailable beyond the permit office. Be sure to inform someone about your plans before embarking on your adventure. Exercise caution while navigating both the trails and waterways to ensure a safe and enjoyable journey.

  2. Pack a Delicious Lunch: Our experience was elevated by simply enjoying a waterside lunch. Packing a meal to enjoy on the water enhances the overall experience and adds an extra layer of fun to your paddling adventure! Never leave any garbage or food behind. 

  1. Respect Wildlife and Nature: Just like any paddling excursion, it's imperative to maintain a respectful distance from the local wildlife and plant life. Admire and appreciate these natural wonders from a distance, preserving the integrity of the native species and their habitat. Remember, appreciating from afar ensures a harmonious coexistence and protects the delicate balance of the ecosystem.

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