Table of Contents:
- Official FRPP map – 2021 Edition
- Garmin Topo Canada
- David Crawshay’s Topo Canada for iOS devices
- ATLOGIS Canada Topo Maps for Android OS
- Federal Government 1:50,000 Topos
- The Unlostify West French River Map
- Google Earth
- Ontario Parks Online Backcountry Permit
- Our Route – One of Many Possible
- Favourite Campsites
- Cellphone Coverage
has detailed maps and basic info
Setting The Scene – A Bit of History:
The French River Delta and the nearby off-shore islands of Georgian Bay are a part – the most scenic part – of Ontario’s French River Provincial Park. The Park was created in 1989 to protect and promote a river that was once integral to a transcontinental water highway. It stretched from Montreal to the Canadian Rockies via the Ottawa River, the Mattawa River, Lake Nipissing, the French River, and the Great Lakes.
[Note that on Champlain’s map, he names the entire river stretch from Montréal to Lake Nipissing La Rivière des Algoumequins. After the Algonquian-Iroquois War and its devastating impact on the Algonquins, by the late 1600s the river would be associated with the Odawa.
Stretching 110 kilometers from the south side of Lake Nipissing to Georgian Bay, it was used as part of a transcontinental trade route by both Indigenous Peoples and, after 1615, by French and Canadien and (after 1763) British fur traders and missionaries. The river system’s integral connection with Canada’s early history meant that the French River was chosen when the newly formed federal government program, The Canadian Heritage Rivers System, named its first river in 1986.
I had already paddled the upper French River twice in the mid-1980s – once with my wife Laila and another with my friend Cyril. We started in Restoule Provincial Park on both occasions and paddled down the Restoule River to where it meets the French. At Highway 69, we headed back up the Pickerel River system to a take-out at Port Loring.
Print Sources Worth Checking Out:
This September, I finally got to see the river below Highway 69. The intervening years also meant that there was much more information to add to my understanding of any challenges presented by the rive and an appreciation of the area’s history and natural beauty. Toni Harting’s French River: Canoeing The River of the Stick Wavers (1996) was one great find.
Friends of French River PP Map for campsite info
The official park map to get in 2022 is the 2021 4th. Edition of the 1:55,000 scale Friends of French River map. It has the new campsite numbers. The waterproof map is a good investment and gives the Friends some money to keep doing their work.
The map needs more canoe paddler information on the relatively few portages in the Park. The one thing it is helpful for is indicating campsite locations.
Kas Stone’s Paddling And Hiking The Georgian Bay Coast (2008) is an essential guidebook for anyone spending time on the G’Bay Coast. It is a well-researched combination of history and practical paddling advice and has numerous detailed maps and some great colour photos. Earlier this summer, I read the book before our kayak trip down the coast from Killarney to Snug Harbour near Parry Sound. See chapter 6 – “The French River Delta And The Bustards.”
Where To Start:
Our preferred starting point is Hartley Bay Marina. It is at the end of a 14-kilometer gravel road from Highway 69. After a 2 1/4 hour drive from downtown Toronto to Parry Sound, it takes another 1 1/4 hours to get to the Marina.
We were going up on a Wednesday in late September, so we knew it would be pretty quiet in the Park.
The plan: leave our car at the Marina for a week. The cost: $10. a day for parking + $10. for a canoe launch from their dock. Valet parking – no extra charge!
Another Option – Key Marina Resort
The Hartley Bay Marina put-in/take-out is the best choice if the French River delta is your destination. Another option is the Key Marina Resort off Highway 69. However, it involves a 13-kilometer paddle down the Key River to get to Georgian Bay (and one you’ll have to redo on your return).
Given the usual motorboat traffic on Key River and no way to escape, it can become tedious in a hurry! Once you pass Key Harbour, you are at the far east end of the delta!
Better to leave from Hartley Bay Marina – 13 kilometers brings you to The Elbow, the hub of the various French River channels to the Bay. On the way back, there are at least a half dozen other channels and route options, so you will not have to repeat the entry route.
The 2021 French River PP Map for campsite info
Out-of-date older maps:
In 2021 the FRPP managers decided to retire a few campsites and renumber many others. The result is that pre-2021 Unlostify and the Friends of FRPP maps and trip reports with specific numbered
campsites are now outdated. Some campers will be confused as they try to match the number on their pre-2021 map to the one nailed to a tree. Here is a list of the campsites with their old and new numbers.
I’ve reviewed my trip report posts and changed most of the campsite #s I mentioned. The new # appears first; the old # follows.
Getting a copy of the new park map at the Park Visitors’ Center along with your backcountry permit might be the easiest thing to do.
Garmin Topo Canada – nice to have but not needed
Along with our copy of the above map, we also had Max’s Garmin Etrex 20 GPS device with the Garmin Topo Canada 4.0 map set. The paper map occasionally does not provide enough topo detail, and the Etrex helped. However, a dedicated GPS device is not necessary these days. A smartphone will do the job just as well.
Crawshay’s Topo Canada iOS App
I brought along my iPhone 6 with David Crawshay’s Topo Canada app and the required Topos installed. On a few occasions, as we paddled through a maze of channels and islands, I fired it up to see where we were. I did not, however, leave it on all day; it would eat up battery like crazy compared to the Garmin device! There is an equivalent app available for Android OS devices.
ATLOGIS Canada Topo Maps for Android OS: free/$14.
The Android OS app from a German app developer is similar to Crawshay’s Topo Canada iOS app. However, it costs $14. U.S. Given its usefulness, the one-time cost is easy to justify and may save you time and aggravation.
Click here to access the Google App Store page –
Note: The free version of the app may be enough for your purpose.
Federal Government Topos
If you want to download and make your own paper copies of the relevant bits from the Natural Resources Canada 1:50,000 topos check out these links from the Government of Canada’s geogratis site –
Note: the Federal Government provides the maps for “free” but is no longer in the map printing business. Some entrepreneurs have stepped in and set up businesses to print the maps. Most use plastic material (Dupont’s Tyvek?) instead of paper, and individual sheets cost $20. CDN or so.
Unlostify West French River
Another useful map is the Unlostify French River map, also available for $20. in a waterproof plastic material here – and downloadable for free here. (Scroll down to the bottom of the legalese and click ACCEPT!) Just print the map parts you need and slide them into a clear ziplock bag – or invest in the hard copy for repeat use! Here is a sliver of the map to give you an idea of the look –
If the map’s overall style looks familiar, the reason is the involvement of Jeff McMurtie, who used to be with Jeff’s Maps! It has dozens of campsites indicated (probably taken from the Friends of French River map) and also provides historical and geological background on notable spots. One caution – the 1:50000 NRC maps provide more accurate mapping of narrow channels and passages between islands. I wouldn’t rely just on the Unlostify map, as helpful as it is.
Getting a satellite view of the terrain gives you a different perspective. Click here to access the view at the start of this one-week French delta adventure at Harley Bay Marina.
Ontario Parks Online Backcountry Permit:
Backcountry camping permits can be purchased online at the Ontario Parks website. Click on the Reservations option in the header and then the “Backcountry Registration” prompt on the right-hand side of the page.
The 2022 French River fee structure looks like this:
Another option is to stop at the French River Park Visitor Center and get your camping permits there. Maps and up-to-date info on matters relating to the park – fires, bear sightings, water levels, campsite closures, etc. – will also be available.
Hartley Bay Marina also handles the park camping permits. I got the senior rate for six nights of “backcountry camping”; Max got to pay “regular”!
When we left Toronto for Hartley Bay, we were still unclear about how to let the following seven days unfold. In doing some pre-trip reading, I created a list of spots to include in our one-week ramble. They were –
- the remains of French River Village
- Dalles Rapids
- the Bustard Lighthouses
- The Elephants in Pickerel Bay
- Eagle Nest Point
- the Pickerel River
- the Bass Creek portages
- the Old Voyageur Channel
- Devil’s Door Rapids
- the Cross Channel From west to east
By the time we got to the Marina, our route was somehow fleshed out. The 110-kilometer track indicated on the overview map above is what we came up with to hit all those spots listed above.
The numbers 1 to 6 show where we camped at the end of each day. They were all designated French River Provincial Park campsites, as shown on the map first published in 2006 by The Friends of French River volunteer group. My copy was the blue third edition from 2017 pictured here.
The campsites are available on a “first come” basis with no need to pre-book as you do with other parks like Killarney. The waterproof map is not only a good investment; it also provides the Friends with a bit of money to keep doing their work. I still remember when we had a Provincial Government department taking care of parks and maintaining portages!
We made the route happen, thanks to favourable wind and wave conditions. For example, the paddle out to and back from the Bustards could not have been on calmer water. We also had a string of seven sunny days and occasionally complained about the lethargy induced by the stifling heat. It was July weather in late September!
We only stayed at designated campsites on this trip; we did note some spots where we would have pitched our tent had it been later in the day. Our three favourite sites?
- CS 900 (old 735) on the east side of the Bustards
- CS 832 (old 816) at Eagle Nest Point – west end of the Park
- CS 634 (old 633) on Pickerel Bay (The Elephants)
Even the worst one – CS 672 (old 624)on our first night – would be pretty good anywhere else!
Cell Phone Coverage:
Given the map above, making a cell phone connection in the French River delta seems unlikely. However, we could phone home from most campsites, especially those on Georgian Bay.
Day 1 – From Hartley Bay Marina to “The Elbow” On The French River’s Main Outlet
- distance: 12.7 km
- time: 4:15 p.m.; finish 6:50 p.m..
- portages/rapids: 0
- weather: sunny/cloudy periods;
- campsite: room for multiple 2-person tents, 1 x 4-person spot
We loaded the two Hooligan canoe packs and the two duffels and pushed off from the Hartley Bay Marina dock shortly after 4:00 p.m. While an earlier start would have been nice, we did have enough time before the 7 p.m. sunset to get closer to Georgian Bay. Our target was a designated tent site in The Elbow area.
A Wednesday afternoon in late September would explain the lack of motorboat traffic. We saw maybe two during the 2 1/2 hours it took us to get to The Elbow junction. Given the poor review of CS 670 (old #622) – too many poorly placed “thunderboxes” (box toilets)! According to the marina front desk person,- we left it off our list of possible tent spots.
With its southern exposure, CS 672 (old # 624) was where we ended up. We saw another canoe on the far shore as we reached the site. They were nearby campers out for an evening paddle.
The daylight was already fading as we put up the tent. We also put up the über tarp. (Some rain was forecast overnight, and we wanted to ensure a dry tent and easy take-down if it was still raining the next morning.)
Out came the headlamps as we prepared our supper. We had cut it a bit close!
We took very few pix this first afternoon, so intent on living up to the Albinger Bros. motto of gittin’ ‘er dun! We would up the chill level and the photo count in days to come!
The pix here would be among the few with the colour of deciduous tree leaves in them. The closer you get to the Bay, the fewer maples and birches there are; the pines, cedars, and spruces take over completely.
Day 1 – with its 4 p.m. start – had been a bit of a rush. Still, we had managed to put in 13 kilometers. As we sat on the rock patio on the side of our tent spot and sipped on our post-supper whisky in the dark, we were already easing into that canoe trip groove. Day 2, with its great weather and eye-popping scenery, would complete the transition.