Last summer, I travelled up to Ouimet Canyon and fell in love with the views. The hike was short and the drive in steep, but the views made it all worth it.
What I loved about Ouimet was both the history of the cliffs and how they towered against an expanse of nature that spread as far as the eye could see, with no buildings or distant landmarks to interrupt the view.
Since seeing this canyon might be a once-in-a-lifetime roadtrip experience, I’ve been searching for something closer to home with a similar feel. Enter: Barron Canyon.
This 100-foot canyon is located inside the Eastern Gate of Algonquin Park.
The hiking trail there is short (it’s only 1.5 kilometres in length), but the views make it more than worthwhile. It’s also marked as a moderate difficulty, as there are some steep climbs to get from the parking lot to the stunning view.
The question, though, is not whether it’s worth it, but rather if it’s worth the long drive from Toronto. To that I would say: yes. But only if you plan it right.
In my opinion, Barron Canyon is best experienced as the culmination of a two-to-three-day road trip. So here’s what we did.
Leaving Toronto and heading east towards Belleville or Peterborough are the best routes to the Eastern Gate of Algonquin. The drive takes about 4 hours, but is totally doable with a few stops. Here are a few suggestions on things to check out along the way.
As we headed through Belleville, we stopped downtown to get groceries and visit L’Auberge de France for lunch.
Their adorable patio was perfect for people-watching and enjoying fresh baked goods. The grilled chicken sandwich was the perfect choice, and we picked up a few croissants for breakfast the next day.
If you head through Peterborough instead, I recommend Dreams of Beans for a quick caffeine rush or small snack.
If you want a longer break, the Publican House has delicious food, plus a pizza oven serving up a range of delicious options. Consider grabbing a growler to go for the rest of your trip.
From Belleville, we headed north. If you’re up for an adventure, make sure to stop at Bon Echo for a hike. The Abes & Essen trail is a personal favourite, though the 3-4 hours it takes to hike might not be in your plans unless you intend to stay the night.
This trail is rocky and filled with pond views (and a few mosquitos).
Since I always keep an inflatable paddleboard in my car, I paddled over to the Clifftop Trail to enjoy the views from above via a steep 1.6 kilometre trail. If you don’t have your own, you can rent a watercraft in the summer to take you across.
The 1.5-kilometre-trail leads to some of the most spectacular views I’ve seen in Ontario, all surrounded by lush trees (if you visit in the fall, you’ll be treated to impressive colours).
Parking here is $5 for the day. I recommend taking the trail clockwise, so you can take the rocky path down, instead of up. Due to its rocky terrain, it’s marked as hard, but I felt it was quite easy.
Where to stay
Depending on your budget, there are many places to stay in and around Calabogie. Just a short drive from Eagle’s Nest, Calabogie Lodge is a great option, with rooms for 4-to-8 people ranging upwards from $195 a night.
Their property offers a sauna, indoor pool, firepits, a beach, and so much more, making it a great place to unwind after a day of driving. They also offer watercolour classes on Wednesdays and Sundays.
For a more budget-friendly option, I’d recommend an Airbnb. For this trip, we booked two nights in a lakeside RV near Barry’s Bay that made it easy to get to and from our hikes while giving us a place to unwind each night.
This location was the perfect choice for us as I’d read Meet Me at the Lake by Toronto-based author Carley Fortune ahead of this trip (in case you haven’t read it, the romantic comedy takes place in Barry’s Bay).
Where to eat
Located an 8-minute drive from Eagle’s Nest Lookout, Calabogie Brewing Co. offers a range of local beers, sandwiches, apps, pizzas and salads.
They always have a fun selection of drinks on tap and this year, the spring collection Berry Radler was my favourite — especially because of its graffiti-covered can.
It would be really easy to stay in the Calabogie area and explore the range of hikes and adventures nearby, but instead, we headed north to Algonquin Park.
It’s just over an hour’s drive from Barry’s Bay or Calabogie to the Sand Lake Gate of Algonquin, dubbed by the park staff as the ‘real Algonquin.’ This quiet entrance has a long and dusty 30-kilometre-long dirt road that lead to some spectacular vistas.
We started with the Barron Canyon Trail to get the lay of the land, then blew up our paddleboards to explore the canyon.
The route, which started at the Squirrel Rapids parking lot, begins a few kilometres into the park and from there, it’s about 6 kilometres (about 2 hours) of paddling, followed by a 450 m portage to get to the cliffs.
If you’re adventurous, you can add more portages and distances to the paddle, but we opted to pack snacks and water and make a day of it instead.
The current was subtle and the paddling was some of the smoothest I have experienced in Ontario. If you don’t own a watercraft, Algonquin Outfitters offers rentals of kayaks, paddleboards, and canoes starting at $40 with the option of delivery to the starting point.
If you want to extend your trip even further, take a look at Algonquin and Beyond. They have a detailed map of all of Algonquin’s hidden gems, plus useful insights to help you make the most of your trip.
Where to stay
If you’re a camper, there are plenty of gorgeous campsites along the canyon. I highly recommend taking this route if you have the gear! Rates start at $11 per night, and there are car camping options available as well.
Otherwise, local Airbnbs in Pembroke, Barry’s Bay, or Calabogie work well.
When heading back to the city, stopping at Kawartha Dairy is a must. Located in Bancroft, it’s an easy roadside stop and home to some of Ontario’s best ice cream flavours. I’m personally partial to the very child-friendly Moon Mist, but classics like Moose Tracks are available, too.
In summary, I have to say that everyone who messaged me to say that the canyon is too far from Toronto (or, on the flip side commented on how epic the views from the canyon are), you are absolutely right.
It is far and it is epic. If you’re looking for a less busy alternative to Algonquin’s West Gate (and have three days or more to spare), I highly recommend this adventure.