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

Last revised on October 14, 2022.

Canoeing The French River From Top To Bottom:

Table of Contents:


Day-By-Day Reports – Maps, Campsites, Points of Interest, etc.


A Bit of History:

In 1989 the Ontario government created French River Provincial Park to protect and promote a river that was once an integral part of a water highway that stretched from Montreal to the Canadian Rockies. Flowing downstream 110 kilometers from the south side of Lake Nipissing to Georgian Bay, it was a short but crucial section of a transcontinental trade route used by Indigenous Peoples and then, after 1615, by French and Canadien explorers, coureurs de bois, and Roman Catholic missionaries.

Frances Hopkins - shooting the rapids

a painting by Frances Anne Hopkins from 1879, long after the demise of the transcontinental fur trade route

With the British take-over of Canada in 1763 and the establishment of the North West Company in Montreal,  the interior route to the fur riches of the West continued to flourish. Down the French River each spring came the twelve-meter-long canots du Maître with their 4 tonnes of cargo and crew.


The voyageurs were on their way to the NWC warehouses and trading post at Grand Portage (and later at Fort William) at the west end of Lake Superior. There they dropped off the trade goods and collected the furs for the return journey.

the online source of the map: here (link dead May 2023)

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 – La Rivière des Français – was chosen.

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

This June, my brother and I returned to the French River. A few years ago, we spent a memorable week paddling the French River Delta from our put-in at Hartley Bay Marina in mid-September.

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


Mid-1980s Visits to the French River:

In the mid-1980s, I paddled the upper French River a couple of times. On both trips, we started in Restoule Provincial Park and paddled down the Restoule River to where it meets the French.

[See 2020 Ontario Parks Restoule map for detailed  canoe route info.]

Restoule Lake and River to the French below the Portage Channel Dam

Both times we also left the French River just before Highway 69 via  Horseshoe Falls to access Cantin Lake and the  Pickerel River system, which we paddled up to Dollars Lake and an eventual take-out at Port Loring.

from French River to Port Loring via the Pickerel River system


The difference this time?

This time we planned to include the Upper French above the mouth of the Restoule River and see for ourselves the following landmarks –

  • Canoe Pass,
  • Gibraltar Point,
  • the Kennedy Island Pictograph site,
  • the Chaudière and Portage Channel dams,
  • the Keso Point pictograph site.
  • the Gorge stretch from Highway 69 down to Ox Bay.

the French River from the snowmobilers’ bridge behind the Interpretive Center

Every time we’ve crossed the Hwy. 69 bridge on the way up North to another canoe trip, and again on the way back, we’d look down that dramatic corridor and say – “Someday we’re going down that!”

Pierre Sabourin (click on his name to access his website) captures the feel of that stretch just south of the bridge in a “Group of Seven” kind of way:

Pierre Sabourin- Land of the Voyageur

Another Ontario artist – Blake Richardson – takes the same view of the French River looking south from Hwy. 69 and draws you in with an image that is more than initially meets the eye, with elements not so much hidden as embedded in the surface view we all see. The artist explains his process here.

Find the animals! Blake Richardson’s painting on top of the photographed image –

We would see the Richardson photograph/painting when we stopped at the French River Interpretive Center on our way back south after the trip. But first, we walked onto the Snowmobilers’ Bridge and got the shot you see above of the iconic view.


Where To Start?

The original plan was to start at Champlain Park in North Bay. The Park is located on the shore of Lake Nipissing at the mouth of the La Vase River. It is at the end of the portage route which Etienne Brulé in 1610, Champlain in 1615, and everyone who followed made use of to get to the shore of Lake Nipissing from the Mattawa River and Trout Lake. If we were going to retrace the route taken by those voyageurs, this was the place to start!

La Vase Portage Plaque


The plan was this: we would get  Hartley Bay Marina to provide a shuttle driver,  whom we would pick up and then drive over to North Bay. He would drive the vehicle back to Hartley Bay while we set off on our little adventure. Our ten-day trip would end when we unloaded our gear on the marina dock.

However, a closer look at the map had me reconsidering the point of driving to the east end of the lake just to paddle southwest across a very exposed section to get to the Upper French.

Lake Nipissing from Sucker Creek Landing to North Bay

The conversation in my head went something like this –

  • It’s the route those voyageurs took on their epic journeys. That’s the route we’re going to take!”
  • “Aren’t we getting a bit obsessive about all of this? They did it because they had to. We don’t have to!”
  • “It would only take us a day and a half to cover the 40 kilometres from Champlain Park to the top of the French.”
  • “But look how exposed we’d be to winds from the northwest or southwest. That is some pretty open water there. Surely we could find an alternative that would be less stressful!”


Sucker Creek Landing (Shuswap Camp):

At the west end of Lake Nipissing is Sucker Creek Landing. It is a one-hour ride from Hartley Bay Marina to Shuswap Camp just off Highway 64 at the west end of West Bay,  a long narrow bay with a string of islands along its south shore. Compared to the open water from North Bay to the top of the French, it is much more sheltered, and we’d be paddling east,  a more favourable direction given the prevailing winds.

Hartley Bay Marina header

A phone call to James Palmer at Hartley Bay Marina established a $140. shuttle cost, a reasonable expense that eliminated most canoe trips’ #1 logistical problem. Our vehicle would be waiting for us in the Hartley Bay Marina parking lot (a $10. a day fee). Note that the Marina no longer does shuttles or sells Park Backcountry camping permits.

Hartley Bay to Shuswap Camp

I also phoned Shuswap Camp to see if we could put in at their dock. Their response: no problem! I figured we’d have lunch at their restaurant to pay them back.

So – Sucker Creek Landing it was.


Alternative Put-Ins:

There are other possibilities for those canoe trippers not quite so obsessed about entering the French River system from Lake Nipissing or those looking for a somewhat shorter trip length!

  • The Restoule River entry I used on two previous occasions is one of them.

The map below shows three more:

All options require some sort of shuttle arrangement and vehicle parking.

See this Fed Govt map sheet – Noelville  041 I 01 – for a more detailed view.

Shuttle Providers:

A shuttle makes the trip logistics that much easier. Hartley Bay Marina had been our preferred option because a return from G’Bay does not require a paddle back to Hwy 69, especially up the Gorge section of the French itself.


2021 Update: A Hartley Bay Marine is no longer doing shuttles. A possible solution? Ask the Shuswap Camp folks if they can arrange a shuttle of your vehicle down to Harley Bay from their property on the final day of your canoe trip.


We only had one vehicle. With two, you would eliminate the need for a shuttle. Leave one at the endpoint – e.g. Hartley Bay Marina – and the other at the put-in – e.g. Shuswap Camp or Lichty’s Nipissing Marina or one of the Wolseley Bay lodges. You pay to park two vehicles instead of one and spend an hour driving back to the put-in at the end of the canoe trip.

Other possibilities for a shuttle driver and a place to park your car for a week include

Paddling up the Pickerel from Ox Bay is better if your take-out point is back at Hwy 69. it would mean that you would not have to deal with Recollet Falls and the sometimes strong current in the Gorge section of the French.

If you’ve used any of these, a comment at the end of this post on your experience would be appreciated. It may help the next paddler decide which one to choose!



Friends of French River P.P. Map for campsite info 

The official park map to get in 2022 is the 2021 4th. Edition of the 1:50,000 scale  Friends of French River map. It has the new campsite numbers. The waterproof map is not only a good investment,  it also provides the Friends with a bit of money to keep on 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.

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 report and changed many of the campsite #s I mentioned. The new # appears first; the old # follows.

Campsite Re-Numbering Reference

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.



Federal Government Topo Maps:

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,  just click on the following map titles. The links will take you to a tif file at 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 a plastic material (Dupont’s Tyvek?) instead of paper; individual sheets cost $20. CDN or so.

The NRC maps are the most accurate. They lack two essential bits of info: 1. portage and 2. campsite locations.


Crawshay’s Topo Canada iOS App – free.

Thanks to its GPS capability, your smartphone is a helpful thing to bring along.

I also brought along my iPhone 6 with David Crawshay’s Topo Canada app with the topographic sheets above installed. The app is free, as are the NRC topo maps you must download before the trip. On a few occasions, especially as we paddled through a maze of channels and islands, I fired it up to see where we were. The one thing I did not do was leave my iPhone on all day with GPS enabled.

ATLOGIS Canada Topo Maps for Android OS: free/$14.

There is an Android OS app from a German app developer similar to Crawshay’s Topo Canada iOS app. However, it costs $14. U.S.  Given its usefulness, the one-time cost is a worthwhile investment that will 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.



unlostifyAnother useful map is the Unlostify French River map, also available for $20. in a waterproof plastic material here  –  and downloadable for free here. It covers the French River from just east of Highway 69 to Georgian Bay. (Scroll down to the bottom of the legalese and click ACCEPT!)    Just print the parts of the map you need and slide them into a clear ziplock bag – or invest in the hard copy for extended 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 map’s overall style looks familiar, the reason is the involvement of Jeff McMurtie, who used to be Jeff’s Maps! It has dozens of campsites indicated (probably taken from the Friends of French River map) and provides some historical and geological background on notable spots. One caution – the 1:50000 NRC topos give much more accurate mapping of narrow channels and passages between islands. I wouldn’t rely just on the Unlostify map, as informative as it is. Note that the map and the digital download were published/uploaded in 2018, so they do not have the new FRPP campsite #s.


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. –  would also be available.


Planning Our Route:

The French River system - from Lake Nipissing to Georgian Bay

For the most part, a trip down the French River system is pretty straightforward: just stick to the main channel and cover the 110 km. to Georgian Bay in four or five days. It took us a day and a half to paddle along the south shore of Lake Nipissing from Sucker Creek Landing to the top of the French River at Canoe Pass.

Day 1 – Lake Nipissing’s West Bay

Day 2 – From Lafleche Point To Canoe Pass

Then there are four sections where you have some choice of route:

1. At The Top of Okikendawt Island:

You can go down the main channel on the south side of Okikendawt Island after doing the 580-meter Portage Channel portage and the Cradle Rapids portage, or you could go down the Little French River channel on the north side of the island and then rejoin the Main Channel after portaging Five Finger Rapids.

Our Choice:  We went down the main channel on the south side of Okikendawt Island.  This is the route the voyageurs used. I planned to visit the pictograph at Cradle Rapids.

Day 3 – From Canoe Pass To Below The Portage Channel Dam


2. Eighteen Mile island:

You could choose to paddle the North Channel on the north side of Eighteen Mile Island instead of going down the main channel on the south side.

Our Choice: We went down the Main Channel on the south side of Eighteen Mile Island so we could experience the half-dozen sets of rapids in the Five Mile Rapids section.  The Main Channel is the one the fur traders would have used. Also, the North Channel has quite a few more cottages along its shore and when canoe tripping, fewer cottages is always better!

Day 4 – Down the Five Mile Rapids Section of the Upper French River

Day 5 – From CS419 To Below Recollet Falls


3. From Ox Bay At the Top of the Delta To Georgian Bay

  1. Once you paddle down the Gorge section to get to Ox Bay at the top of the Delta section of the river, you have five main channels or outlets to take you down to Georgian Bay. If you choose the Western Channel, you have another three possible options –  a. the Bad River Channel;  b. the Old Voyageur Channel;  and c. the Voyageur Channel. Within these sub-channels, there are yet more possible routes!

The voyageurs used the Main Outlet (#4) and what we now call the Old Voyageur Channel (one of #5’s the Western Channel’s many outlets).

If this is your first time to Georgian Bay, you could take the historic Old Voyageur Channel with its one 10-meter portage at La Petite Faucille and the nice ride through the swifts at La Dalle.


Our Choice: We chose the Fox Creek route to Georgian Bay since it was one we hadn’t done yet. The 2018 Henvey Inlet Fire had apparently reached as far as Fox Creek and we wanted to see how things looked a year later. It was definitely not used by the voyageurs! See below for a map of the Henvey Inlet Fire 2018 and east end of French River Provincial Park.

Days 6 and 7 – To Pickerel Bay and Down Fox Creek to Georgian Bay

Henvey Inlet Fire 2018 – and east end of French River Provincial Park






4. The Return From Georgian Bay:

Return options to Hartley Bay include the Main Channel, the other channel used by the voyageurs. Both are easier to deal with than the Voyageur Channel to the west of the Old Voyageur Channel.

The easiest return route from Georgian Bay to Ox Bay is the Eastern Outlet via Bass Creek and Bass Lake.

Once we got to Georgian Bay and spent a couple of days out on the Bustard Islands, we planned to head back to Hartley Bay and our vehicle via Bass Creek and the Eastern Outlet. We had already checked out the Bass Creek portages in 2017 and figured this would make for an easy return route with one easy portage and one lift-over.

What we did: Bad weather – rain and 30 km/hr winds – had us forego a visit to the Bustards. Instead we made use of the cross channel, an inside passage  across the delta,  to paddle to the westernmost campsite in the park and also paid a visit to a favourite camping spot of the voyageur brigades. We returned to Hartley Bay via a channel just to the west of the Old Voyageur Channel.

Days 8 and 9 – Across The French River Delta From East to West

Days 10 and 11 –  From Georgian Bay to Hartley Bay Marina

a safe inside passage route on a stormy day on Georgian Bay


GPX/KMZ Files of our Route:

A GPX file of our route can be downloaded here: French River June 2019

Click here to access a kmz file of the 220-km route. You can open the file in the Earth app found within the Google Chrome browser.


Historical Context For the Journey

Eric Morse. Fur trade Routes of Canada/Then and Now.

In his classic Fur Trade Routes of Canada/Then and Now (first edition in 1968), Eric Morse devotes a couple of pages to what he noted was a pleasant one-day run down the French River from Lake Nipissing by the Lake Superior-bound voyageurs. (Click on the title to access a  pdf file I created of the pages dealing just with the French River section.)

A free pdf download of the entire book is available from the Government of Canada Publications website.

A hard copy of the book is available at the Amazon site and would be at home on any keen wilderness canoe tripper’s bookshelf! (See for more info.)


Toni Harting. French River: Canoeing The River of the Stick Wavers

Tired of waiting in line for the one copy in the Toronto Library system of Toni Harting’s French River: Canoeing The River of the Stick Wavers (1996), I turned instead to Amazon and found a used copy. $20. (shipping included). A week later, I had my own copy of the single best source of information on the French River.

It has everything from geology to history to topography and canoe-specific information. While a few things have changed in the past quarter-century since it was written, it has aged well. Any time spent on the French can only be enriched by reading this well-researched book; Harting points out things that you’d never know otherwise as you paddle by. (Example: the Voyageur Channel is misnamed.  It was not used by the voyageurs as a way to get to Georgian Bay!)

BTW -The reference to “stick wavers” in the title refers to the Jesuits with their wooden crosses!


Canoeing Ontario’s Rivers has been on my bookshelf for over thirty years and is one I have returned to often. The authors, Ron Reid and Janet Grand, highlight a couple of dozen Ontario river systems, providing insight into natural and human history that adds layers of context and enrichment to a simple canoe trip. The book includes a chapter on the French River  – The French: In The Wake of the Voyageurs.

Unfortunately, a hard copy of the book is difficult to find these days. The Toronto Public Libary system has one copy – and it is for reference only and cannot be signed out.

Luckily, the book is available on the Internet Archive website. A digital copy can be accessed for one hour at a time after a free sign-up. It is easy enough to take screenshots of the pages and then have a copy of the chapter to read at your leisure.


An extract from Alexander Henry:

Alexander Henry’s Travels and Adventures 1760-1776 contains a brief account of his trip down the French River in 1761 when he was 21. First published in 1809, the book was meant by the veteran fur trader and merchant to set the record straight.

As the Dictionary of Canadian Biography explains:

Henry sensed, however, that new men were taking over the fur trade and in 1809 he wrote to Askin, “There is only us four old friends [James McGill*, Isaac Todd*, Joseph Frobisher, and himself] alive, all the new North westards are a parcel of Boys and upstarts, who were not born in our time, and suposes they know much more of the Indian trade than any before them.” To recapture his exciting past, he wrote a memoir of his life which he published in New York in 1809. Travels and adventures in Canada and the Indian territories, between the years 1760 and 1776 has become an adventure classic and is still considered one of the best descriptions of Indian life at the time of Henry’s travels. [See here for the entire Henry biography.]

Access a pdf file of the few pages that record Henry’s French River impressions.

Click here for a pdf file of the entire book, or go to here for yet more formats. You’ll find one great story after another, filled with perceptive details from what appears to be a very reliable narrator.


John Macdonell’s Diary Entries From June 1793:

Macdonell’s Diary is included in Five Fur Traders of the Northwest, a 1933 collection of 18th C diaries edited by Charles M. Gates. In his entries, he recounts his journey from Montreal to Mackinac and then on to his first NorthWest Company job as a clerk at the Qu’Appelle post in Saskatchewan.

Click on the cover image or here to access a pdf extract from Macdonell’s entries dealing with the section from Lake Nipissing to Georgian Bay.

[See here for a 9 Mb pdf file of the text of the entire Macdonell diary.]

The above pdf files will make for some good canoe trip reading if you bring your iPad along!


Daniel Harmon’s Journal  From April 1800 to 1819

Daniel Harmon was a  native of Vermont who, after a year spent in Montreal, joined the Northwest Co. as a clerk at 22 and was assigned to a post in western Canada.  

See Harmon – La Chine to Grand Portage for a pdf file of the first 18 pages of his journal. Covering the period from April 29 to July 14, 1800, he provides perceptive details on voyageur life and the route from Montreal to the west end of Lake Superior. His crew spent a day on The French River section of their journey! See also Chapter V of the Eric Morse book –

for a 1970s account of the voyageurs’ trip to the west end of Lake Superior.

Harmon’s entire journal can be accessed here.  It is a very readable account of the fur trader’s life, his observations of the people and cultures he encountered, and the nature of the trade he was engaged in.


Memorable Campsites:

the view from CS 634 (old 633) on Pickerel Bay

Once in the Park, we camped at eight different official campsites. Some are genuinely memorable; a few, especially in the Upper French section north of Highway 69, are mediocre. Their use by fishing lodge clientele may also explain the beer cans, related mess, and multiple fire pits at some sites. We just kept paddling after a quick look at some sites and wondered who decided to put the campsites there.

For the record, our favourites were the following:

634 (old 633) – on the north side of Pickerel Bay across from the beginning of the Fox Creek route. There are incredible elevated views in all directions and an excellent spot to put our four-person tent.

503 (old 419) – a campsite after the Five Mile Rapids section of the Upper French

726 (old 920) – a sheltered island campsite in Fox Bay where we hunkered down for a storm that never came!

838 (old 822) – the westernmost campsite in the Park, though 832 (old 816) on Eagle Nest Point across the Bay has better views of Georgian Bay and Green Island Bay

There were some nice campsites in the Five Miles Rapids section of the river. Big Pine Rapids was one spot that comes to mind. The campsites are available on a “first come” basis with no need to pre-book as you do with other parks like Killarney. That is always a plus. If you avoid July and August, there should be no worries about finding a spot.

a view of the French River CS 503 (old 419) neighbourhood from the hilltop

sheltered 726 (old 920) campsite in Fox Bay on an overcast afternoon


 Trip Conditions: 

the Kennedy island pictograph site – the entire collection of images

Water Levels:  This June, water levels on Lake Nipissing and the French River were quite high – a meter to 1.5 meters higher than usual. Portage take-out spots like the one at Recollet Falls were underwater; a stronger than usual current made paddling up some channels in the Delta area HIIT work-outs. Without a doubt, a September trip would eliminate some of our issues.

All in all, however, the French is a pretty mild river. There is only a 21-meter drop in water level from Lake Nipissing to Georgian Bay; half of that happens at the first portage, around the Portage Channel hydro-electric dam.

  • 196 m asl – Lake Nipissing
  • 185 m – below the Chaudiere Dam and the Portage Channel Hydro Dam
  • 180 m – below Five Mile Rapids
  • 180 m – Dry Pine Bay
  • 177 m – Ox Bay
  • 175 m – Georgian Bay

Wind:  Our planned paddle out to and back from the Bustard Islands did not happen, thanks to the fairly strong 30 km.+ wind and drizzle coming from the southwest. Instead, we spent a couple of days paddling inland from the Bay across the sheltered Cross Channel and going up and down some of the channels at the west end of the Park below Robinson Bay.  

Bugs: Given that it was June, we were expecting much worse! Our Eureka NoBugZone tent did get put up twice in ten days, mostly so we could refresh our memories on the best way to put it up!

We sat inside the tent just once, and that was to escape a shower which coincided with our first breakfast at Lafleche Point on Lake Nipissing!


Cell Phone Coverage:

Along for the ride was our inReach Explorer+ with its two-way email communication and a once-every-ten-minute track uploaded to the Garmin website so the folks at home could follow along. We’ve come a long way since the unforgettable summer of 1981 when we said we’d be back in six or seven weeks and paddled from Pickle Lake to Attawapiskat without any contact. Now that was off the grid!

However, you don’t really need an inReach for a French River trip. Your cellphone will allow you to connect with the folks back home from most locations.

We should have kept a record of the campsites where we could make phone calls! We were able to make a connection about 2/3rds. of the time. The Bell map below shows a large area – the Point Grondine Ojibwe territory to the west of the French River delta – without coverage. It shows coverage along the French River’s Main Channel right down to Ox Bay/Pickerel Bay.

Calls that we were able to make include:

  • campsite on Lafleche Point on the south shore of Lake Nipissing’s West Bay
  • CS 503 (old# 419): on the Main Channel of the Upper French below the Five Miles Rapids section

Bell Cellphone Coverage – French River Delta

Access Bell’s coverage map here

  • CS634 (old #633): on Pickerel Bay not far from Ox Bay
  • CS726 (old #920) on Finger Island at the bottom of Fox Bay
  • CS804 (old #723) to the east of Whitefish Bay on the Georgian Bay Coast.
  • CS838 (old #822) at the west end of the Park.

An October 2022 comment (see the Comments section below) provided the following info about cell service – and “thunderboxes”:

  • old 706/new 688 – had 1 bar signal and did have a thunderbox
  • old 801/new 830 – no signal and no thunderbox (also saw a bear behind camp as we were paddling away)
  • old 724/new 805 – sketchy one bar of signal and no thunderbox (fresh bear poop by the canoes in the morning)
  • old 617/new 662 – 2 bars signal and did have a tricky to find in the dark thunderbox

If you’ve paddled the river, if you could email me (  where you were able to make calls from – either campsite # or map location – that would be appreciated. Future paddlers will benefit. It is an added safety element in case of emergency, especially for those without off-the-grid devices like our Garmin inReach Explorer+ or the Spot Connect we used before.


The following post will get you started on all the details of a short yet multi-faceted canoe trip we are glad we made!

Next Post: Day 1 – Lake Nipissing (West Bay) From Sucker Creek Landing To Lafleche Point

Lake Nipissing (West Bay) – Day 1 Sucker Creek to Lafleche Point – Day 1

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

  1. lloydwalton says:

    I admire your preparation, planning, attention to detail and situational awareness. I adopted these qualities I learned from being a pilot to being an artist. And finally the book I’ve talked about for years (including pictographs and petroglyphs) is now available first from the Friesen Press Bookstore. CHASING THE MUSE: CANADA, By Lloyd Walton.

    • true_north says:

      Lloyd, while you were flying and making films and painting, I spent my adult life with groups of 20 to 30 students in various Toronto classroms. My subjects were World Religions, Economics, Ancient History, Canadian History, Social Studies, English – really, anything that needed to be covered by someone on staff. Most of my students were keen to be taken on a journey, even to a place they hadn’t heard of yet. A few I had to work at enticing along! I fell into blogging when I retired and find that I use some of the same skills I used to survive at shool.

      Re: Chasing The Muse. I will be looking for it. Thanks for the reminder.

      Re: The French. Not exactly a wilderness river but so imbued with history and with such a variety of scenery that it is always a pleasure to spend time there. Amazing that it is five hours from downtown T.O. to putting your canoe in the water!

  2. Garry says:

    Peter, good to see you are closer to sea level this time, having returned from Kilimanjaro. And,. as always, an enjoyable and informative piece on your return to the French River. Makes me want to dig out my Dad’s Algonquin Black Cherry paddles to wet them again!! In 1976, I last returned to “Big Miss” to relive that first summer of ’67. This missive has rekindled those memories and I thank you for that. “inReach Explorer+” is an interesting rig…will have to check that out…would make a great gift for my #1 son. Best regards, Garry
    P.s. a little thought: I’d like to recommend a book authored by an acquaintance of mine titled “ORIGINAL HIGHWAYS: Travelling the Great Rivers of Canada”. Another, by the same author (Roy MacGregor) is “CANOE COUNTRY: The Making of Canada”. These are both very good reads and I believe you would enjoy both of them…if you ever make time to read!! lol /jgp

    • true_north says:

      Garry, good to hear from you! I hope you’re keeping well and busy. Still not too late to get a buddy and fly into Little Missinaibi Lake for a five-day fishing trip. You’d have a cottage and a boat and kicker and a can of gas – and you could revisit some of those spots from the summer of ’67! (The year the Leafs last won the Stanley Cup – yikes!)

      The inReach is a nifty device for sure. It isn’t cheap though – $500. for the device itself and then you need to be connected to the Garmin satellite. That is another $40. a month. It does lower the level of worry of the ones we leave behind for our continuing adventures! I’ll be taking it along in September when I go to Bhutan for a 24-day trek in the eastern Himalayas. My wife will be following our track as we skirt the Tibetan border.

      Thanks for the great book recommendations! Roy MacGregor is a name I know – excellent writer and journalist on things Canadian…hockey, politics, etc. Wasn’t he a Macleans writer back in the day when we still read actual weekly magazines? I had not heard of either of the books you mention. They sound exactly like what I enjoy reading these days. I am gong to check them out and will probably find another canoe trip or two that way!

      • Garry Paget says:

        Peter, things are well…inspite of myself…and I’m busy. And, yes, I’ve been talking of a trip to “Little Miss” with my #1 son…Kevin…he’s the outdoorsman of my 2 boys. He’s now completed his 1st year as an Engineering Officer with the Canadian Coast Guard based out of Parry Sound, aboard the “CCGS Samuel Risley” and he enjoys hunting and fishing.
        Re the Leafs…and I’m still saying…”Maybe next year”!! lol.
        I did check out the InReach unit before I commented (knew of its $500 cost) and, since I wouldn’t get one for myself, (I wouldn’t use it enough) I figured Kevin would use it and cover the $40/month connection cost, which I’m sure could be gotten on a month by month basis, as needed? I could always borrow it!!
        Yes, I believe Roy did write for Macleans…a few years ago…”A LIFE IN THE BUSH lessons from my father” is probably my favourite and a 3rd recommendation.
        I look forward to your next instalments on your French River trip and your upcoming Himalayas adventure. Oh to be young…eh??!!

      • true_north says:

        My mother-in-law’s bit of wisdom was this – “You’ve got to keep movin’ cuz when you stop you’re in trouble!” She managed to pull it off until almost the very end. When I turned 60 I remember thinking – I have a decade of adventures left. Ten fingers’ worth. Now that I am almost 70 I am revising that end number to 80. Maybe I’ll start counting toes! Stay tuned for further revisions!

        I have ordered the two MacGregor books you mentioned – they are both available in the Toronto Library system…thanks for pointing them out!

  3. Anonymous says:

    I am breathless (but not speechless)! This is such a comprehensive and lush historic narrative and precise trekking itinerary. You must have been one heck of a great teacher (I couldn’t help noting your comments here). I am deeply inspired by your rigour and passion. As you journey this amazing victory lap in your life, thank you for so generously sharing your experience and insights.

    • true_north says:

      The “victory lap” – I like it! In the high school context it describes that self-indulgent extra year that some Grade XII grads put in before they finally go off to university. They come back and take a few courses – often ones they have already passed – with the expectation of improving their marks.

  4. Roger Lichty says:

    I am enjoying your blog – canoeing down the French. A friend of mine from Great Britain has been forwarding to me because, “you live on the French, and this guy might have passed by your place”. We do live on the French, but along the north side of 18mile island. My wife and I retired 5years ago, came home – close to where the two of us ‘grew up’.

    Your trip blog is especially interesting because you leave from almost exactly the place my brother and I and 4 of our childhood friends began a trip 43 years ago. Four of the group finished off at Key River Harbour, two had to leave earlier, so were picked up at Hartley Bay. The difference then was we simply jumped in canoes with our gear and started paddling (no permits, though I do believe we camped responsibly)

    Five of our group are still alive. I’m trying to entice the remaining (old codgers now…65 to 69) to go on an anniversary trip to commemorate the life of a great friend of ours – the one who normally instigated our more interesting adventures as young people.

    Thanks again for publishing this blog.
    Roger Lichty

    • true_north says:

      Roger, thanks. It is always nice to get positive feedback on my canoe tripping posts. I took up blogging after I retired from 35 years in various high school classrooms. It allows me to make use of the still images I spend a lot of time fussing about on my various trips!

      Your trip sounds like an excellent idea. Not only do you celebrate your friend but you get to experience again the sights and feel of the French with your old friends. Like you guys, my brother and I are getting on – he is 65 and I am 68. We hope to be doing this at least until our mid-70s…or maybe longer. And then we can chill and reread the posts!

  5. Barbara Crompton says:

    Hello Peter and thank you for the itinerary on your French River adventure! My partner and I are looking to do the same but we are just in the early stages of research. Having lost this year to COVID and our plans to canoe the Yukon River (next year! – fingers crossed!), we are focusing on Ontario. The French River has been on our bucket list for some time, so we may just consider it for this September. Here is my question. My partner Ian is looking at borrowing my sister’s old Coleman canoe tub that weighs about 75lbs. It is in excellent condition but so friggin’ heavy! I would like us to rent a Kevlar canoe to make any portages easier. We typically rent Kevlar’s for our Temagami trips as they are so easy to carry and manage! Your thoughts?

    • true_north says:

      The French River trip is a fantastic one. I liked how the logistics worked out with the Hartley Bay shuttle and the fact that it was June meant it was fairly quiet going down. You can expect the same in September after Labour Day. You will also not have the record high water we did that June; it should make the rapids somewhat less daunting! There will be little chance that your campsite will not be available. The bugs should be gone!

      Re: the Coleman. My wife and I paddled one down the French on her one and only canoe trip! [I should have introduced her to camping and canoeing with a four-day visit to Algonquin!] The Coleman is not a paddler’s canoe; it is a wide barge meant for cottagers and fishermen! Accept the cost of a canoe rental – about $40. a day – as part of the price of the adventure. If you live in southern Ontario, you could rent one from the Swift Canoe outlet at Waubushene on the way up. [] Or you could rent one from Hartley Bay Marina at the start of your trip. Here is what they’ve got –

      • 16 ft Nova Craft, Kevlar composite canoes weighing approx. 52 lbs.
      • 16 ft ABS composite canoes weighing approx. 58 lbs.

      Book early just to be sure!

      Re: Temagami. My bro and I will be up there after Labour Day. We are paddling the Lady Evelyn from Smoothwater Lake back to the vehicle at Mowat Landing after getting shuttled to a put-in on the East Montreal River via the Beauty Lake Road.

      BTW – I paddled the Yukon back in 1978 from Whitehorse to Dawson. It was my first real canoe trip. It was also such an awesome experience that I have been canoe tripping most summers ever since! There are now so many good guidebooks on the Yukon, as well as all sorts of online trip reports and free map downloads. And only one real set of rapids on a river that flows at about 5 km. an hour! We had 17′ Grummans on that trip as the pic below shows. Yukon crew - the summer of '78

      • Barbara Crompton says:

        Hi Peter. Thank you for getting back to me so quickly. Your information is helpful. Love the retro picture you included! As for your trip to Temagami in September, have a wonderful time! We love that area for canoeing. This year we did a nine-day loop that took us up through Kokoko Bay to Kokoko Lake, up the North Arm of Temagami to Sharp Rock Inlet, Diamond Lake, Wakimika Lake, down through Obabika Lake, Inlet and back to our put in place at the Lake Temagami Access Road. It was very quiet and we only saw a couple of other canoes in our entire 9 days. Temagami Outfitters has been a great resource for us and Erik (owner) is extremely helpful. Enjoy!

      • true_north says:

        So – rental it is? Sounds like that is what you usually do. Only a half-dozen easy portages – with the first one around Portage Dam at the top being the longest at 600m. Enjoy your trip!

  6. sarah says:

    After you spent a day and a half getting to the mouth… how many days did you take to get down the french (to the bustards)?

    I can’t seem to open your map… And I’m planning a similar trip myself, and curious about timing. There’s the distances, but also the portages… Thoughts on timing welcome!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Hey TrueN , we met about 6-7 years ago at your home before you’re Sri Lanka hike talking Wabakimi…I’m doing the French in late June this year from Sucker to 69. Now in retrospect would you repeat start put in or start with Dokis ? Also looking for partners for September Bowron trip.
    ( I live in BC now). Permits have only been issued to BC residents.

    • true_north says:

      GB – if that is who I think it is – nice to hear from you! Your B.C. address tells me it is! haven’t seen any comments from you on the myccr site for a while – they were always good to read.

      Re: put-in spot for the French. As my into post mentions, there are a mumber of options depending on time constraints and personal obsessions. Mine include pictograph sites and doing the entirity of a river system “from top to bottom”! I wanted to see Canoe Pass, Gibraltar Point, and the Kennedy Island rock paintings so that meant coming in from Lake Nipissing. You may not share these obsessions!

      Sucker Landing was already a compromise since the original plan had been to start at Champlain Park in North Bay. We had a very easy 1 1/2 day paddle from the Landing to just south of Canoe Pass on Lake Nipissing’s West Bay. Dokis would also make a good start point. You could spend a half-day/day checkng out the dams and honing in on the cultural aspect with a visit to the Dokis Museum and chats with the First Nation community members. We just paddled past and I feel somewhat guilty for being so obsessed with covering distance on the river.

      Remember that the voyageurs often did the run from Nipissing to the bottom in a day. It is only about 110 km.

      The 1 1/2 days you save on starting from Dokis – an easy shuttle from Harltey Bay – you could spend instead on going down that dramatic gorge stretch (Recollet Falls included) from Hwy 69 down toward Ox Bay before turning back to your vehicle at Hartley Bay. To stop at Hwy 69 means you would miss that amazing section of the river.

      Pierre Sabourin’s “Land of the Voyageur”

      Whatever you do, make sure you go down the classic voyageurs’ route on the south side of 18-Mile Island – i.e. the Five Miles Rapids stretch. The name is more intimidating than the reality but it is definitely a beautiful stretch of river and – If you are not in a big hurry – has some nice campsites.

      Recently I watched an excellent – even if a bit overly dramatic – Youtube documentary North To South about a trip down the French River starting from Sucker Creek Landing that I can see would make anyone watching it want to do the trip too. Nicely researched with poetic commentary and beautifully edited footage …

      North To South – a Youtube documentary

      Feel free to get in touch if you need any more specific info.

      BTW – when I retired B.C. was originally where my wife and I were headed to – but here we are a decade later in Base Camp T.O.!

  8. Rob Beechey says:

    Hi Peter,
    Just wanted to write a note to thank you for taking the time to put up this incredibly detailed resource – it formed the backbone of the planning for the ten day trip we’ve just finished. We took largely the same route as you, with some minor alterations. Fox Creek & Pickerel Bay were particular highlights for us – Fox Creek is starting to green over a bit following the fire, and is absolutely stunning.

    Thanks again,

    • true_north says:

      Rob, thanks for the positive review of my trip report! “Incredibly detailed” is a pretty apt description! Knowing that fellow paddlers like you are using it to plan their own trips is a bonus!

      You are absolutely right about Pickerel Bay and the Fox Creek route; my brother and I feel the same way about that section of the delta. The campsite on Pickerel Bay is my favourite FRPP site; the Fox Creek route is an under-used half-day scenic wonder to G’Bay. With more use, the Fox portages will become even more obvious.

  9. Jonathan Wolstenholme says:

    The best trip log I’ve ever read…instructive and entertaining with terrific historical narrative!

    You mention that you have traveled to the Pickerel from the French at Horseshoe Falls…would you kindly tell me more about this portage? Thanks!

    • true_north says:

      Thanks for the positive review of my French River posts!

      It’s been 35 years + since I did that French to Pickerel Horseshoe portage so I am a bit fuzzy on the details! In fact, I do not remember anything about it at all!

      Download a digital copy of the Unlostify map – scroll down to the bottom of the page and press ACCEPT to access it at

      Here is a snippet of the map with the two portages from the French to the Pickerel – or vice versa.

      You have two choices: 1. the Deer Bay to Trestle Gully portage around the Little French Rapids or 2. the possible double carry around Horseshoe Falls. Here is what the Horseshoe Falls area looks like in a satellite image –

      And here is a close-up of Horseshoe Falls itself. The portage looks to be quite straightforward and short.

  10. Alex Desha says:

    I’m planning a trip on the river with family the first week of July. I am also thinking about a scouting trip in late May with a couple of friends. Curious if anyone came comment about water temps and conditions during either of those time periods. Thanks!

    • true_north says:

      Alex, late May should be fine in terms of water levels. Our trip was in mid-June in a very high water year and it presented few issues. In fact, the higher water level covered over a couple of rapids! Besides, the few rapids in the Six Mile Rapids section can be easily portaged. Our one tense moment came in dealing with Recollect Falls and a challenging put-in on the side of the falls.

      To get across the overall mild nature of the river, my report had the following stats –

      Water Levels: This June, water levels on Lake Nipissing and the French River were quite high – a meter to 1.5 meters higher than usual. Portage take-out spots like the one at Recollet Falls were underwater; a stronger than usual current made paddling up some channels in the Delta area HIIT work-outs. Without a doubt, a September trip would eliminate some of our issues.

      All in all, however, the French is a pretty mild river. There is only a 21-meter drop in water level from Lake Nipissing to Georgian Bay; half of that happens at the first portage, around the Portage Channel hydro-electric dam.

      196 m asl – Lake Nipissing
      185 m – below the Chaudiere Dam and the Portage Channel Hydro Dam
      180 m – below Five Mile Rapids
      180 m – Dry Pine Bay
      177 m – Ox Bay
      175 m – Georgian Bay

      That is not a lot of drop over the 100-km length of the river.

      Great idea to do a reconnaissance run in May! It will prepare you nicely for your family trip in July. The water level may be a bit lower when you go with them, and you will probably meet more groups of paddlers. In a way, nearby paddlers represent an additional safety element should you need some help. Your cellphone GPS and the new Park map will be all you need as you go down.

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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