This past week, we had a chance to spend a few nights at Achray, a destination we'd been longing to do for a while. If you are looking for a car camping experience, with nice camp sites, good beaches, and lots of quiet, you should consider Achray. It's a bit of a drive (well for us anyway) but well worth it and here's why.
Maybe you've camped at Algonquin before, and while you enjoyed it, found it to be a bit busy. Maybe you had a few bad experiences with noisy, inconsiderate campers. Maybe you are looking for a bit more solitude but aren't quite ready to try an interior trip. Achray, to me, felt like a stepping stone to back country. You still have neighbours, you still have flush toilets, but you are deeper into the wilderness, a crowd is having 2 out of the six campsites around yours in use, and you just feel like you are experiencing more true wilderness than you do at a highway 60 campground. In fact, when we were sitting around talking, we'd say, "It's not like in Algonquin where..." then realize, yes we are in Algonquin, it's just not the same as being at Pog or Mew Lake.
The campground itself is divided into three sections, with relatively few sites in each area. The whole place is radio free, and there is a dog free area that is actually a bit separate from the area where pets are allowed (compared to Mew Lake where it seems like an arbitrary line was drawn on the map and someone decided the sites on one side would be dog free.) I'm sure, if you've camped at any Ontario Provincial Parks, you've noticed the campground maps can be pretty misleading. In most cases, the sites are a lot closer together than what you'd expect looking at the spacing on the map. In Achray's case, it's the opposite.
One of the cool things is the picnic areas. When we booked our site, the one I wanted ended up not being available, and so I went with the one next to it. I was worried because it was next to a picnic symbol on the map, and pictured a big clearing with a shelter and loads of picnic tables, busy with day trippers. That's not what they are. These small areas have a picnic table and allow campers who don't have sites on the water, to take their meal to a table with a view, or just go sit and enjoy a lake breeze when the bigs are bad. It was a nice touch.
The sites we saw were all of a good size (no tiny sites that we could see) and nestled among tall pines. Though there wasn't always a lot of under brush to give you privacy (I'd rate them a 2 or 3), the fact that there are only 45 sites ensures you won't have a lot of neighbours. In fact, almost all the sites were deserted during the day, as people were out canoeing or hiking, or at one of the 2 beautiful sand beaches.
There are three hiking trails close by, Jack Pine, Barron Canyon, and Berm Lake. There is also High Falls with it's natural water slide, and lots of paddling opportunities (including a day trip down Barron Canyon with it's tall cliffs.)
Why it might not appeal to you? Getting there is a bit of a trial. It's 52km down a gravel road that was very wash-boardy. You get your permit at Sand Lake gate, part way in, and though there is a park office/store, it really doesn't have much. Ice, firewood, a cooler with ice cream treats, some chocolate bars, a Tassimo (or something similar) and a few other little trinkets. Ice was a bit more expensive than at other places, which shouldn't be surprising. Also, there are no electrical sites and no showers. There were flush toilets (in stalls that look like outhouses) with sinks, but no comfort stations or laundry facilities.
Achray feels more isolated than any of the highway 60 campgrounds, and for good reason, but for such a small place, it offers enough options for campers who prefer peace and quiet pursuits instead of attending nightly demonstrations or touring educational displays. Admittedly, this won't appeal to everyone, and that's okay. If it did, it would be even harder to get a site there.
If you've stayed at Achray, let me know how you enjoyed it.