If you’ve ever been to Algonquin Park in Ontario, you know it’s one of the largest parks in Canada, if not the world. It’s about 7,600 square kilometres in size — that’s about one-quarter the size of Belgium — and it has about 2,400 lakes and 1,200 kilometres of rivers. Most people who go to Algonquin camp or canoe on the west side, or just off Highway 60, which runs right through the park. But there is a jewel on the far eastern side of the park that is worth visiting, and that is Barron Canyon.
Barron Canyon is a massive, narrow canyon with walls that are about 300 feet high in spots — almost twice as high as Niagara Falls. According to geologists, the fault associated with Barron Canyon was probably first formed during the breakup of the supercontinent known as Rodina about 570 million years ago, and then enlarged during the breakup of Pangea some 150 million years ago. At one point, the Barron River carried the entire outflow from Lake Aggasiz (the precursor of today’s Great Lakes). Although it is very high, the canyon is less than 50 feet wide in spots, which makes the massive granite walls seem even more impressive. There’s a great hiking trail along the top of the canyon that is definitely worth it, but it’s a great day paddle as well.
I’ve been to Barron Canyon several times now, and my preferred way in is to drive to the Sand Gate entrance, just west of Petawawa, and put in at Squirrel Rapids. After about 15 minutes of paddling you reach the portage, which is about 420 metres. It’s a bit of a goat rodeo, as a friend of mine used to call them — a lot of up and down, with huge rock outcroppings and roots everywhere. A real ankle-twister. Once you get to the end, there’s an easy entry into the marsh at the East end of the canyon, and then about an hour of wasy paddling before you get to the canyon proper. There are several campsites along the north side if you feel like doing that.
Once you are in the canyon, there’s about two kilometres worth of incredible rock faces, and then you are at the west end where you can portage into Brigham Lake (lots of people come from there for a day paddle into Barron Canyon, or you can rent canoes from Algonquin Portage and they will drop you at Brigham Lake and then you deposit the canoes at Squirrel Rapids when you’re done. A one-way trip is probably about three hours, or at least that’s what it took me, but I was not in a big hurry. I stopped to look around, and I chatted with people and stopped for lunch and a snack here and there.
There’s something about the rock faces of the canyon that is just incredibly fascinating to me — so many different patterns of cracks, the huge sedimentary layers, so many different colours of rock all the way from black to red to light brown, and all the tiny bits of vegetation and trees clinging to the cracks. I could sit and stare at the walls for hours — and in some cases, I have done exactly that! I find it so peaceful and relaxing. Those rocks have been there for millenia, and they will be there long after we are gone I’m sure.