Stratton Lake is accessible through the Achray – Grand Lake access point (#22) on the Park’s east side. Coming from Ottawa, this is a very reasonable 2-2.5 hour drive. Coming from Toronto, it’s also a reasonable 2 – 2.5 hour drive, but then you need to add another, less reasonable, 3 hours to the trip (in other words, Toronto is about 5.5 -6 hours away). But it’s worth the drive! The part of the Park that’s accessible through Achray, Stratton Lake included, is one of the prettiest and coolest parts to visit.
Centered around the Barron River, which winds its way east through Grand, Stratton and, eventually, into the Barron Canyon, the scenery in the area is different from what you’ll find further west. It’s rockier, and seemingly more exposed in places. The trees grow tall and skinny in the thin soil, and in many places you can find deadfalls where the weight of the tree got to be too much for the root system, and the entire thing has just fallen over (I once stayed on an otherwise awesome site on Cork Lake where it seemed like there was a tree giving up every five minutes. We must have heard three or four trees fall over that night).
Stratton Lake is easily accessible from your starting point on Grand Lake. It’s the next lake to the east of Grand, and requires a short (1.5 – 2 KM) paddle and even shorter (50 meter) portage to get there. Once you’re over the portage, you start with a couple hundred meters of river (watch out for rockbergs! there are a few opportunities to add some scratches to the bottom of your boat along this stretch) before you pass under an old rail bridge and Stratton opens up in front of you.
Stratton is a long and narrow lake. Really, it’s just a widening of the Barron River, and it’s easy to see that as you’re paddling along. The shoreline is relatively straight on either side, and not that far away no matter where you are on the lake. Stratton’s somewhere in the neighbourhood of 400 meters at its widest, and the distance doesn’t fluctuate all that much.
However, what Stratton lacks in width it makes up for in length. It’s about 4.5-5 KM to get from the Grand Lake portage to the next portage east, the 45 meter blip over to St. Andrew’s Lake. This is a nice paddle on a calm day, it can be a bit of a challenge if the wind is coming from the west and you’re trying to get back to the parking lot at the end of the weekend.
The vast majority of Stratton’s canoeing campsites are on the north shore, and there are quite a few towards the eastern end. You’ll note I mentioned canoeing campsites, Stratton is also home to a few backpacking campsites clustered near the middle of the lake and close to the High Falls swimming area. The backpacking sites aren’t marked from the water, so it’s unlikely that you’d end up on one by mistake, but if somehow you find yourself on a campsite that doesn’t have an obvious canoe landing and where the site sign is up in the woods, maybe keep moving.
The highlight of Stratton is its proximity to the High Falls natural waterslide and swimming area. There’s a reason most of the campsites are towards Stratton’s east end: that’s also the end that’s closest to the waterslides. While Stratton is predominately an east west lake, it does dogleg north for about a kilometer at the eastern end. The top of this dogleg is where you can access the High Falls swimming area. This is a series of small waterfalls and pools in between Stratton Lake and High Falls Lake that have been put on this earth for people to swim in. There’s a natural bum slide that’s about 8-10 feet long between a couple of the pools, and some awesome jumping ledges scattered here and there. This is a fantastic spot to bring the kids (in their lifejackets) or just to hang out. On a sunny day the smooth rock surrounding the area is an awesome spot to set up for an afternoon of swimming and relaxing (just keep an eye out for snakes, turns out they don’t mind oven warm rocks either).
If you’ve had your fill of swimming holes and waterslides, Stratton is also a great spot from which to start a day trip. There’s a lot to see in the area, including The Cascades (a series of short waterfalls and rapids further along the Barron River), Brigham Chute (a much larger waterfall leading down from Brigham Lake into the Barron Canyon) and the Barron Canyon itself. The Canyon in particular is an awesome destination. Here the Barron River cuts between massive rock walls on either side, a simultaneously awe inspiring and slightly terrifying sight (every time I paddle through here the thought “I wonder if today is the day all those rocks decide to take a swim” crosses my mind). It feels a bit like you’re paddling into Argonath, but with fewer Orcs. You can cover all of these spots in a day trip that takes you from Stratton, through High Falls Lake, over to the Cascades and down into the Canyon before coming back by way of Opalescent and Ooze Lake. This is a long day though, so I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re travelling with kids or people looking for a low impact day. Along with the distance (it’s about an 18 KM round trip), the portages in the area can be a bit technical thanks to the number of rocks poking up out of the ground along the trail. It’s well worth it if you’re feeling up for it though. There’s a spot about a kilometer into the canyon on the top of a massive erratic that’s perfect for a lunch break and a swim.
Coming back to Stratton, you’re going to want to have a good campsite. The good news is that there are a number of decent sites on Stratton. The bad news is that Stratton is one of the more popular lakes in the Park, let alone this area, so grabbing one of those sites mid-summer might be a challenge. My favourite site on Stratton is probably the lone eastern shore site just before the portage over to St. Andrew’s. This is a smaller spot, but there’s room for a couple of tents, a nice little beach and an absolutely stunning view west along Stratton. If that site is taken, the point site across from it where Stratton doglegs north is a pretty good option as well. I’ve managed to snag this site once and I really liked it for its size, exposures and access to both the High Falls swimming area and the portage over to St. Andrew’s. To be honest, these two sites are probably 1 and 1A on most people’s lists, meaning they might be tougher to get if you’re there in July or August (and especially if you’re there on a weekend). A sneaky good consolation prize site is Site 1, the last site before the entry to the High Falls area. This site isn’t all that spectacular. It’s near some wetlands so the bugs might be bad earlier in the season, but it’s big enough for a large group, a decent distance from its nearest neighbour and gives you great access to the waterfall area. And, every time I’ve been through here it’s been empty (probably because it’s literally the last option you can get to on Stratton).
Finally, if you’re not looking to portage but you wouldn’t mind stretching your legs, the Eastern Pines Backpacking Trail runs through the forest behind Stratton. You can access it with a short bushwhack from some of the campsites, and it also comes out at the High Falls swimming area if you want to join up there.
All in all, there’s a lot to do using Stratton Lake as your starting point. You can stick close to home and enjoy an afternoon swimming with the snakes at the waterslides, or you can range further afield and check out the Canyon or nearby lakes like Opalescent, Cork or St. Francis. If you’re feeling really ambitious you can try out a segment of the Eastern Pines hiking trail or hike south to Tarn Lake from St. Andrew’s (this portage is not for the faint of heart. It’s 4 KM and the first KM on both sides is very steep). Whatever you choose to do, Stratton is a great base of operations. And, as a bonus, when your trip is over the paddle out is relatively tame and offers a few neat spots to stop and sightsee along the way.
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