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

Related Posts:   Kayaking The Georgian Bay Coast: Maps, Logistics + Days 1 and 2 – Chikanishing Creek To Solomon I. To Point Grondine

Canoeing The French River From Top To Bottom: Intro., Logistics, Planning, and Maps


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 which was once an integral part of a water highway that stretched from Montreal to the Canadian Rockies via the Ottawa River, the Mattawa River, Lake Nipissing, the French River itself, and the Great Lakes to the west.

Samuel de Champlain Map from 1618 – Lake Nipissing is at the top left

[Note that on Champlain’s map, he names the entire river stretch from Montréal to Lake Nipissing La Rivière des Algoumequins. The river would only be associated with the Odawa in the late 1600s after the Algonquian-Iroquois War and its devastating impact on the Algonquin.]

Stretching 110 kilometres 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 when the newly formed federal government program, The Canadian Heritage Rivers System named its first river in 1986 the French River was chosen.

Canadian Heritage Rivers plaque – French River Visitors’ Center off Highway 69

I had already paddled the upper French River a couple of times in the mid-1980s – once with my wife Laila and another with my friend Cyril.  We started off in Restoule Provincial Park on both occasions and paddled down the Restoule River to where it meets the French.  We also headed south at Highway 69 and headed back up the Pickerel River system to a take-out at Port Loring.

Restoule Lake and River

Restoule Lake and River


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 history and the natural beauty of the area.  Toni Harting’s French River: Canoeing The River of the Stick Wavers (1996) was one great find. So too was the map put out by the Friends of French River

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 had gone through the book in preparation for our kayak trip down the coast from Killarney to Snug Harbour near Parry Sound. See chapter 6 – “The French River Delta And The Bustards.”


See here for a live interactive Google map of the area

Where To Start:

Well, at least the put-in spot was established!  Hartley Bay Marina is at the end of a 14-kilometre gravel road from Highway 69.  It is a 2 1/4 hour drive from downtown Toronto to Parry Sound and then another 1 1/4 hours to get to the marina.

Hartley Bay Marina header

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!

The Hartley Bay Marina put-in/take-out is the best choice if the French River delta is your goal; another option is the Key Marina Resort off Highway 69.  However, it involves a 13-kilometre 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 a Key River without 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 kilometres brings you to The Elbow, the heart of the various French River channels to the Bay.  There are at least a half dozen other channels and route options on your return to Hartley Bay.

Getting A French River Provincial Park Camping Permit:

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”!

Screen Shot 2017-10-05 at 1.08.38 PM

We only stayed at designated campsites on this trip; we did note some spots where we would definitely 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!

The Route:

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

2nd edition

By the time we got to the Marina, our route was somehow fleshed out. The 110-kilometre 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 pink second edition from 2012 pictured here.

2017 – 3rd edition

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 provides the Friends with a bit of money to keep on 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 very favourable wind and wave conditions.  The paddle out to and back from the Bustards, for example, 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!


2021 Campsite Update: It is time for a new Friends of FRPP Map!

In 2021 the FRPP managers decided to retire a few campsites and renumber others.  Existing maps like Unlostify and the Friends of FRP and trip reports like mine will need to be updated. Meanwhile, some paddlers will be confused and wonder if they are lost as they stare at a CS# that does not match the one on their map.

Here is a list of the campsite #s – old and new – provided by the Park Visitors’ Center to help you make sense of the changes –


Other Maps:

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.  There are times when the paper map just does not provide enough topo detail, and the Etrex helped.

I also 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!

Natural Resources Canada

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.

unlostifyAnother 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 multiple use!  Here is a sliver of the map to give you an idea of the look –

French River - G'Bay Coast

a slice of the Unlostify Map of West French River

If the overall style of the map 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.

Cell Phone Coverage:

Bell Cell Phone Coverage - French River Delta

See here for the Bell network coverage map

Given the map above, making a cell phone connection in the French River delta seems unlikely.  However, we could phone home from most of our campsites, especially those on Georgian Bay.

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.

Hartley Bay Marina – satellite view

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.

the Hartley Bay Marina dock – loading the canoe

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.

French River - The Elbow campsites

Note: the CS #s are the old ones. See this list for the new 2021 ones which replaced them.

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.

paddlers near CS 672  as we approach

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 were we 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!

Campsite 672 near the Elbow on the Main Outlet

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 and cedars and spruces take over completely.

looking out at the Main Outlet of the French River at The Elbow CS 672 (old CS#624)

dusk view from CS#672 near the Main Outlet’s Elbow

Day 1 – with its 4 p.m. start – had been a bit of a rush. Still, we had managed to put in 13 kilometres.  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.

Day 2 - from The Elbow (Main Channel French River) To The Bustards

Day 2 - Cantin Point To the Bustards

Next Post: Day 2 – From The Main Channel’s The Elbow To The Bustard Islands


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8 Responses to Canoeing Georgian Bay’s French River Delta: Logistics, Maps, & Day 1

  1. Garry Paget says:

    Ramblin’ Boy, you are entrapping me again!…beautiful photos and a compelling narrative. I want to visit “the French” so I’ll be more attentive. Garry

    • true_north says:

      Garry, you’ve got a gorgeous cedar strip that needs to be put in some water. “The French” is that water! Close to the big city and yet a world away. What an incredible treasure!

      • Garry Paget says:

        I agree! Canoe is ca 1976 and very well maintained by my Paget cousin…Jim.

      • true_north says:

        Very little portaging to do in the French River delta with a bit of route planning. That classic canoe would be ideal!

  2. Allison says:

    I’m wondering,
    Can you canoe from the Hartley Bay Marina to the CS 735? Is that too much of a stretch? Is there a faster way for a 1 day and 1 nights trip?

    • true_north says:

      Allison, that is not really enough time! You’d need a full day to get from the marina to that great campsite on the east side of the Bustards – and there is no guarantee that it will be available when you arrive. (It is 26 km. from the marina to CS735. You also need to factor in weather conditions, especially wind.) The first time we paddled by someone was already there and we went south a bit and camped at the next designated CS.

      You could get taxied there – but that is not going to be cheap! I know the marina at Hartley Bay does taxi service (including your canoe); I have heard of a similar service offered by the Key Marina Resort by Hwy. 69. You’d get there in a couple of hours and have the day to explore the Bustards; you could paddle back the next day or arrange to get picked up by the taxi.

      Let me know what you decide to do! It sure is a beautiful place to be – even for a couple of days! Maybe go during the week when it should be less busy?

  3. Scott Heywood says:

    I worked at the Bad River Lodge (hence Lodge Channel) as a fishing guide in the mid-80s for Larry and Angie Henderson and my father had a camp in Ox Bay, just east of French River Lodge where the Pickerel and French Rivers converge, so your trip brought back many good memories. The lodge buildings remain but are now private camps I understand. Your photos really capture the terrain and vista well.

    One insider note for your readers is that there’s a wind-protected way to get from Batt Bay to Green Bay through a narrow channel visible on your trip overview map on the extreme left between the No.3 and where it says French River Provincial Park. The channel is adjacent to the white and it saves the trip around the point if Georgian Bay gets rough. I’ve seen 3M rollers with 1M waves breaking on the top out there. I’ve often seen painters on top of the rocks at the south entrance.
    Anyway, thanks for the tour 🙂

  4. Pingback: French River Delta Kayak Trip Report – Tangram

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