Paddling Around Georgian Bay’s Philip Edward Island – Part One

Related Post: Canoeing Georgian Bay’s French River Delta: Logistics, Maps, & Day 1


Table of Contents:


Route Overview:

We were looking for another great paddle destination,

  • a short drive from southern Ontario.
  • We also wanted a fairly isolated route that had
  • the feel of wilderness
  •  and was not in a park that required pre-booked campsites before we set off.

That eliminated Algonquin and Killarney Provincial Parks, among others,  from the list.

Well, we found it at the north end of Georgian Bay after a five-hour drive from downtown Toronto – and as a bonus, there would be no portages to deal with!  And since the various islands are still Crown Land, there are no camp fees either.

Our only concern was the weather – particularly the NW or SW winds that can make sitting in an open canoe on Georgian Bay a real challenge.  Rain and 35 km/hour SW winds were forecast for the afternoon of our put-in.

Georgian Bay

Where: The Georgian Bay coast SE of Killarney – see the red circle on the map above

To Do What: Paddle around Philip Edward Island at the north end of Georgian Bay, which is sometimes referred to as the sixth Great Lake.

How Long: Three to four days or even longer, depending on side trips taken and pace

How Far: between 55 and 70 kilometers (or more!) depending on those side trips

Why Go: Scenic paddling through the maze of islands on the Georgian Bay side of the island and then a return via Collins Inlet, a protected “inside passage” that includes an Anishinaabe (i.e. Ojibwe)  pictograph site.

The map below shows the route.  Most paddlers choose to do it in a counter-clockwise direction, given the prevailing winds.  So did we.

For  Maps, Suggested Reading, and Planning info, see,,.



Day One: From The Chikanishing River Put-In to Martin’s Island

We drove up Highway 400 from downtown T.O. on a Monday morning.  Our 7:00 a.m. departure meant that we were at the Killarney Provincial Park’s George Lake information desk by noon. While Crown Land camping would be free, the car would be sitting on Park property at the Chikanishing River, just 1.5 kilometers away from the Park Info Center.  It cost us $14.50 a day for four days.

We could have parked our car at the Killarney Outfitters down the road a bit – or even somewhere in Killarney – but those options come with money costs of their own and are much less convenient.

It is, for example,  almost a ten-kilometer paddle over some pretty open water from the village of Killarney to the western tip of Philip Edward Island, oddly named South Point. From the mouth of the Chikanishing (apparently pronounced Chick a nish ing) it is 700 meters!

Much better – and safer – to spend the $60. and reduce potential troubles.

Georgian Bay - Day One

As we were getting ready to head out, another party of two canoes was just returning from a great four-day adventure of their own.  They had paddled out to the Foxes, a small collection of islands off the west end of Philip Edward Island (P.E.I. from now on!), and camped on a couple of them. We were reassured when they said that the wind and waves they met on their return were manageable.

at the Chikaniushing River put-in

at the Chikanishing River put-in

A short paddle down a very tranquil and sheltered stretch of the Chikanishing River to its mouth  – less than a kilometer – and we were looking at the Bay.  So far, so good!


Paddling To Martin’s Island:

Next on tap – dealing with the crossing.  The conditions were nowhere as bad as we had expected, given the weather reports for the day.  Had the waves been rolling, short of turning back, the plan was to paddle east into the Western Entrance and then come back along the south shore to go around South Point. On this day – no need for Plan B.

A 700-meter paddle across the open stretch and we rounded South Point.

the first of many channels in the Bay

the first of many protected  channels in the Bay we paddled through

All along the Georgian Bay side of P.E.I., rocks and islands – some treed and some not – provide protection from the wind and the waves. We made use of them as we paddled towards the day’s destination.  The map above shows the path we took. Another day and different wind conditions, and the path would have been a bit different. What it still would have been, however, is incredibly scenic.

Our goal was Martin’s Island, the largest of the Fox Island group.  It was about a ten-kilometer paddle from the put-in, and by 4:30, our tent was up on the island.

the La Cloche Range in the distance

the La Cloche Range of hills  in the distance


Martin’s Island Views:

From the Georgian Bay side of P.E.I., the La Cloche Range was often visible in the distance, the white quartzite hazy in the afternoons, as in the pic above,  and clear in the mornings. In the foreground would be wave-smoothed rock surfaces and, at least up close, the crystal clear water of Georgian Bay.  Missing were fellow paddlers!  During the four days we spent out there, we saw one solo kayaker and two in a canoe.

sheltered tent spot on Martin's island

sheltered tent spot on Martin’s island

We were amazed to find a “thunderbox”  just behind our campsite on Martin’s Island. “Props” to the folks who took the time to make and haul the box and toilet seat out there and set it up.  Maybe it was members of the Friends of Killarney Park although P.E.I. and the other offshore islands are not actually a part of the Park.  We saw no examples of littering, garbage dumping, or toilet paper strewn about on any of the islands we visited, walked, and camped on.


Update: When I found the info below on the Outer Islands Project, I thought I had found the answer to who set up and takes care of those Crown Land boxes!

However, the accompanying map shows that they have only gone as far north as the McCoys.  Still, a shout-out to White Squall Outdoor Center in Parry Sound for its long-time involvement in making the G’Bay coast an even better kayaking/canoeing destination.


We were also surprised to find that we had cell phone coverage! We always take a satellite communicator along (currently the Garmin inReach Exlorer+) so that the folks at home can see where we are and how it’s going. Well, on this trip, we could phone home at the end of each day.  We’re betting that within our lifetimes (maybe another twenty years!),  we’ll be able to phone home no matter where we go canoeing!

Thunderebox behind our Martin's i. Campsite

Thunderbox behind our Martin’s i. Campsite

From our campsite, we rambled around our end of the island, taking in the views and enjoying the weather. By late afternoon the winds had indeed picked up significantly, and we were glad to have done our paddling when we did.

A few days later, back at the parking lot, we talked to a couple of other paddlers who had arrived at the put-in three hours after we did and who had decided to turn back up the Chikanishing when they saw how rough the water of the Bay was.

a view of the bay on the east side of Martin's Island

a view of the bay on the east side of Martin’s Island

a bay on Martin's Island just below our campsite

along the shore of the bay on Martin’s Island just below our campsite

From a viewpoint on the south side of Martin’s Island, we checked out two other islands of the Fox group – Center Fox and West Fox. The plan for early the next morning was to pay them a visit before continuing east towards Big Rock Bay.

a view of Centre Fox and West Fox islands from Martin's Island

a view of Centre Fox and West Fox islands from Martin’s Island

a view of Sly Fox Island from Martin's Island

a late afternoon view of Sly Fox Island from Martin’s Island

Our Martin’s Island camp coincided with the full moon. The shots below were taken from the island’s east end after dusk. My 2.4-kilogram tripod was up the hill at the campsite, so we had to improvise in order to use a slower shutter speed.  The iso was still upped to 6400. So much for the dynamic range!

full moon east of Martin's Island Georgian Bay

full moon east of Martin’s Island Georgian Bay

Max contemplating the moon to the east of Martin's island

Max contemplating the moon to the east of Martin’s island

full moon looking east from Martin's island Georgian Bay

full moon looking east from Martin’s island Georgian Bay


Day Two: From Martin’s Island To Big Rock Bay Via West Fox Island

Day 2 - Georgian Bay

Day 2 – Georgian Bay

A 9:00 a.m. start – a bit later than we had planned – turned out to be fine since the waves posed no problems as we headed west along the shore of Martin’s Island from our hilltop campsite. The site had been nicely sheltered from the winds the previous afternoon and evening and had provided great views to the north as we relaxed in our Helinox chairs and sipped on our Sortilege.

our Martin's I. tent spot the next morning - sans tent!

our Martin’s I. tent spot the next morning – sans tent!

The pic below – shooting into the morning sun always makes for special effects! – shows the rock we camped on the top of.

Martin's I Campsite on leaving

looking up the rock face at our Martin’s I Campsite on leaving

On our way to West Fox Island, we did take a look at Centre Fox.  The evening before, I had taken a shot of the west end of the island and its gravel beach.  Now we paddled around the island and found out that the beach was the only good landing spot!

gravel beach on Centre Fox and landing spots on West Fox

a view from Martin’s Island of the gravel beach on Centre Fox and landing spots on West Fox

a view from the gravel beach on Center Fox I.

a morning view from the gravel beach on Center Fox I.

We decided to push on to West Fox and, as the map below shows, beached on the east side of the island and spent about 40 minutes on a 1.2-kilometer walk around the perimeter of the island.

See the Unlostify website for hardcopy maps or downloadable digital ones (free!)

What we found were a number of excellent campsite possibilities and a variety of eye-catching views to frame in our viewfinders.  The pix below show a little of what caught our attention, beginning with the wave-like shapes of the water-smoothed rocks at the island’s east end.

our beached canoe on West Fox I

our beached canoe on the shore of West Fox I

West Fox Island - east side

West Fox Island – east side

rock erosion on West Fox i.

rock erosion on West Fox Island

West Fox I. pool in rock

West Fox I. pool in rock

The Foxes - Georgian Bay

looking NE at the bay on the east side of West Fox I

looking NE at the bay on the east side of West Fox I

West Fox's gravel beach on the W side of the island

West Fox’s gravel beach on the W side of the island


Lunch On Used-To-Be (And Still Is!) Island

As we came back to our canoe, we met a fellow paddler, a kayaker who had spent the night on the island.  He was heading to the east end of P.E.I.  just like we were – and later that day, we would see him again.

back to our beached canoe on West Fox

back to our beached canoe on West Fox

Our weather luck held out, and we had fine wind and wave conditions – i.e. none of either! – as we headed north past Martin’s Island and East Fox Island before stopping for lunch in a shady cove on the east side of Used-To-Be Island (which is still an island!).

our shady lunch spot on Used To Be island

our shady lunch spot on Used To Be island

Lunch done, we went for a walk north of where we were sitting in the shade and came to what was obviously a popular large campsite as indicated by a couple of fire circles. Behind us was also a possible path to a hilltop viewpoint from which we could scan eastward towards the Desjardin Bays and beyond.

I’ll admit that given the heat, my first impulse was to say, “Forget it! It’s too hot to be scrambling up there!” but Max persisted, so I figured, “Okay, let’s git ‘er dun then” and up we went, rock climbing in our L.L. Bean boots!

our shady lunch spot on Used To Be island

our shady lunch spot on Used To Be island

Five or ten minutes later – “See, that wasn’t so bad!” said Max – and we had our reward. Below us was a fantastic view of the neighbourhood we’d be paddling through over the next couple of hours.

Used To Be I. viewpoint - looking east

Used To Be I. viewpoint – looking east

Used To Be I. viewpoint - looking north

Used To Be I. viewpoint – looking north


East To An A+ Campsite at Big Rock Bay 

Back to the canoe, it was time to move on, still having no more than moderate winds to deal with on a sunny afternoon in paddlers’ paradise.

back to the canoe on Used To Be I.

back to the canoe on Used To Be Island

Looking Back At Used To Be Island from the east

Looking Back At Used To Be Island from the east

We’d see our kayaker again mid-afternoon, some distance from us as we passed a cottage on P.E.I. During the trip, we did see a few cottages and camps scattered about the big island and on some of the smaller ones but our trip dates – Monday, June 20 to Thursday, June 23 – meant that the prime summer season had not yet started and we also avoided the weekend crowd.

kayaker in one of the Dejardin Bays

kayaker in one of the Desjardin Bays

We found a terrific campsite just south of Big Rock Bay and below the Big Rock itself.  Our front yard was the gently sloping and smooth rock you see in the pic below.  It leads up to a nice flat area tucked on the edge of some tall evergreens that provide wind protection.  As we would find out they also provided the pine tar which dripped onto our tent fly! Cooler evening temperatures did slow down the drips.

afternoon view of Big Rock Bay from our campsite

afternoon view of Big Rock Bay from our campsite

Big Rock Bay Area

Big Rock Bay Area

Big Bay Rock CS (X marks the spot) and Viewpoint behind and above

For the second night in a row, our site would include a thunderbox, this one just a bit north and in the woods from the tent site.  Also behind the tent was the three-minute path to the top of Big Rock.  We went up in the early evening for a look and decided to return in the morning to take some pictures when the sun would be in the east behind our backs as we shot west and north.

the Bros stare into the evening sun at Big Rock Bay campsite

the Bros stare into the evening sun at Big Rock Bay campsite

sunset from our Big Rock Bay campsite

sunset from our Big Rock Bay campsite


Part Two Preview:

The next post covers the second half of the trip with

  • some pix of the fabulous view from the top of Big Rock.
  • It also includes some shots of the lodges of Collins Inlet
  • and an analysis of the Ojibwe pictograph site just west of Ambush Narrows.
  • As well, we’ve included some suggestions on what maps to use
  • and what to read in planning your own trip around Killarney’s Philip Edward Island.

Paddling Around Georgian Bay’s Philip Edward Island – Part Two


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8 Responses to Paddling Around Georgian Bay’s Philip Edward Island – Part One

  1. Ken says:

    Hi there, I’m the solo kayaker in your submission! Really enjoyed your post and plan to use your tips in my next trip there.

    • true_north says:

      Ken, small world! It helps that we are drawn to the same Georgian Bay “eye candy”!

      Just got back this aft from a seven-day kayak trip down the coast to Snug Harbour from Killarney. More great waterscape, interesting history, and a string of excellent campsites…I could easily get into kayaking!

  2. Sandy Wood says:

    What is the road like down to Collins inlet village. They say it is just a logging road and one would need 4 wheel drive. We were thinking of using it as a take out.??

    • true_north says:

      The only road off Highway 637 that we’ve used is the one to the Chikanishing Creek parking lot. That is where we put in. We stopped at the park office on the way in and paid $14.50 a day for the parking permit. We were there four days.

      Some maps do indicate a road that you might be thinking of. From Highway 637 it goes through Crown Land and then the Point Grondine Reserve and Park which is Ojibwe territory.

      trail to Mahzenazing Lodge property on Collins Inlet

      It ends up at the remains of the privately-owned and for-sale derelict Mahzenazing Lodge. However, I recall seeing a real estate posting for the property and it noted that the property was boat-access only.

      I have no idea if a drivable road exits and is open and usable. Not sure where you would park your vehicle either. One choice would be in Park Grondine where you would pay a parking fee similar to the one we paid at the Killarney Park office on 637. Then you’d have to spend a day paddling to Collins Inlet on the Mahzenazing River!

      Even if the road was open and usable you would only end up at the private property of the for-sale Lodge and you’d be staring at all these signs that say – “Private Property/Keep off”!

      Your best bet is the Chikanishing Creek parking lot!

      BTW – there is no village at Collins Inlet Village! There is nothing there except for a half-dozen falling apart cabins of various sizes. We paddled toards it thinking we’d maybe have lunch at the restaurant!

      • Sandy Wood says:

        Thanks so much for the information. We were just looking for a take-out instead of paddling all the way back through the Collins Inlet west to the Chikanishing Creek put-in. The Canoe in our group is going to leave the group and take-off early and I was looking for a take-out for them near Beaverstone bay or Collins Inlet. The rest of the group will be paddling to take out at Keye harbor.

  3. Jay says:

    Great trip report and a route I’ve been wanting to do awhile now. Been avoiding due to worries of big opennwater and wind. How much wind would you say makes the launch impossible or dangerous to cross?

    • true_north says:

      Jay, while concern about the wind and the waves it can kick up is always warranted, it is usually not an issue. If you have a kayak, it would be safer than an open canoe. The nearby outfitters has kayaks for rent.

      You ask – how much wind? If you’ve done some lake paddling in windy conditions, you know just how much you can deal with. A 10 km wind is certainly manageable; a 30 km wind would have us look for alternatives or get off the water completely. Better to take the day off than take an unnecessary risk.

      Early morning paddling usually means less wind. There are enough islands on the Bay side of PEI to provide you with windbreaks if needed.

      • Jay says:

        Thanks so much for the additional info! I’ll definitely going to look into this trip and maybe visit Point Grondine as well.

Your comments and questions are always appreciated, as are any suggestions on how to make this post more useful to future travellers. Just drop me a line or two!

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