Canoeing The French River From Top To Bottom: Day 4 – Down The Five Mile Rapids Section of the Upper French River

Last revised: August 10, 2022.

Previous Post:  Day 3 – From Canoe Pass To below Portage Dam

Day 4 – Along Eighteen Mile Island From CS304 To CS 503 (old #419)

  • distance: 21 km
  • time: 8:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.
  • portages/rapids: 2/7 
  • weather: sunny all day, light wind from N.W.
  • campsite: CS 503;  1 decent fair-weather spot for a 4-person tent; possible multiple 2- 2-person tents; longish sloped outcrop to water, cottage across from the site, views are good, especially at sunset
  • NRC topo sheet: Noelville 041 I 01
  • GPS tracks – 2019 French River (3.2Mb Dropbox file)

Day 4 – Upper French River From CS304 to CS419

After we had retired to the tent the night before, we were treated to what sounded like a rain shower – it was just the sound of bugs hitting the outside of our tent wall and ceiling. We expected more blackfly and mosquito action when we crawled out the next morning – but all was good. In fact, bugs were not a problem for most of our 11 days on the river.

nobugzone – CT13

We usually bring along two 10′ x 14′ MEC silnylon tarps – one to put over the tent fly for the ultimate peace of mind and the other over our dining and sitting area. We left one tarp behind on this trip and brought our Eureka No Bug Zone shelter. We bought it two years ago just for June canoe tripping in Missinaibi country near Chapleau.   However, on this trip, it only got put up twice and never for its intended purpose. At the start of  Day 2, we used it for breakfast during a brief rain shower. [See Eureka’s Canadian or U.S. websites.]

As we paddled downriver, we stopped at CS306, just 1.5 kilometers from where we had stopped the night before. We found a better campsite with more shelter for the tent and better water drainage. The photo below is a shot of the site from the water. As with other sites on the Upper French, it looks like it has been co-opted as a lunchtime spot by fishermen from the nearby fishing lodges of Wolseley Bay. We looked around for a “thunderbox” but did not see one.

CS306 – a view as we paddled by

The Five Mile Rapids on the Upper French:

Hooligan nylon pack

Hooligan nylon pack

We were coming up to the Five Mile Rapids section of the river by ten o’clock. It is an eight-kilometer stretch of the river running along the south side of Eighteen Mile Island that has a few rapids, some of which require scouting, a bit of caution, and perhaps a portage around.

Note: The total drop from above Little Pine Rapids (the first set) to the bottom of Crooked Rapids (the last set) is only three meters – from 186 m to 183 m a.s.l. In the grand scheme of things, this is not a wild river run! It is still fun to do!

Given that we travel alone and since we still have all our gear in two old-fashioned Duluth-style packs (115-liter volume) and two duffel bags, as opposed to those nifty 60-liter plastic blue barrels, we lean towards the caution side in our approach!

We would spend two hours on this section before stopping for lunch on the island just above the last set of rapids,  Crooked Rapids, which we dealt with after our almost two-hour break. Mid-June 2019, water levels were about 1.5 meters higher than usual. Our GPS device recorded speeds of up to 17 km/hr at a few points along the way!

  1. Little Pine Rapids –  paddled down
  2. Big Pine Rapids – 20-minute portage
  3. Double Rapids – floated through
  4. The Ladder –  lined – 5-minute line and run
  5. Big Parisien Rapids – a 20-minute lift-over/line
  6. Little Parisien Rapids – paddled down –
  7. Crooked Rapids –  we spent 30 minutes here

Little Pine Rapids: easy swifts with high water

The Friends of French River map indicates a 40-m portage on river right. High water made it into swifts. We paddled down.

Little Pine Rapids – gone in high water

Big Pine Rapids: P 100m on River Right

After zipping down Little Pine Rapids, the first of the rapids in the Five Mile Rapids section, we came to Big Pine Rapids. Later in the season, we may have run it, but given the unusually high early season water levels,  we figured a carry was a better option.

Big Pine Rapids – French River

The easy 100-meter trail on river right uses the rock outcrop running alongside the rapids. Twenty minutes later, we pushed off at the bottom of the rapids, having stopped to take a few photos of this very scenic spot on the French. And who knows – maybe that lone tall pine in the image below is the one which prompted the name of the rapids?

looking up the French River from the top of Big Pine Rapids

sitting by the side of the French River at Big Pine Rapids

Here are a few seconds of video which capture a bit of sitting there and taking in the energy of the spot –

max’s flower of the day

Double Rapids: just swifts with high water 

The Friends of French River map indicates a 30-meter portage here. Higher water levels covered up whatever rapids were there. We enjoyed the 5-second zip down.

Double Rapids – French River

The Ladder – lined the top and ran the rest.

When we came to the Ladder, we lined the top section on river right thanks to the decent footing provided by the rock outcrop and then rode the rest down to the bottom.

The Ladder – the Rapids just after Double Rapids

Big Parisien Rapids: 

If “Big’ implies more turbulence and a more significant drop than “Little,” then having the rapid’s correct name does matter!   Unfortunately, there is some confusion here. Our Garmin topo map, for example, labels the rapids we now came to as Little Parisien Rapids!

The French River’s Parisien Rapids – N.B. Big is upriver from Little!

So too does the archived Federal Government’s Natural Resources Canada topo sheet from 1994 [Noelville 041 I 01] –

On the other hand, the Friends of French River map has it labelled correctly – it calls it Big Parisien. So too does the more recent one at the Natural Resources Canada Toporama site.  It has Big Parisien upriver from Little Parisien.

French River – Big and Little Parisien Rapids

the French River just above Big Parisien Rapids

Max checking out the top of the Big Parisien Rapids on the French River

the top of Big Parisien Rapids on the French River – June 2019

We spent about twenty minutes on the portage around Big Parisien Rapids. The red line on the satellite image shows what we came up with as a solution – a mini-carry and line combination.   There may be an actual portage trail that we did not see – probably on river right!

Big Parisian Rapids – lift-over and line on river left

Little Parisien Rapids: 

Max, going by what he was seeing on his Garmin eTrex – i.e. Big Parisien – later mentioned that he was expecting a step up in intensity as we approached what he thought was Big Parisien. As it was,  we stuck with the right shore and zipped down the ripples of Little Parisien in 10 seconds!

Without a doubt, Big Parisien comes before Little Parisien!

Little Parisian Rapids – French River

We stopped soon after at a shady spot on an island just above Crooked Rapids. It was time for lunch. This one was an uncharacteristically long one, from 12:15 to 2:00! Mostly we wanted to sit out the heat of the day instead of being out on the water in full sun. It was that hot!

Crooked Rapids:  

Then it was on to the last of the rapids in the Five Mile Rapids section of the French River’s Main Channel. The GPS track from Max’s eTrex 20 shows our roundabout route:

First, we paddled over to check out the vertical rock face on the off chance that four hundred years of paddlers had somehow missed the rock paintings there! Then we turned back to deal with Crooked Rapids, avoiding the main channel and opting for the narrow side channel on the left side of the small island. A partial carry and a line job here, and we were done with The Five Mile Rapid stretch of the French! In retrospect, floating down the main channel would have made more sense!

Crooked Rapids – The French River

Day 4 CS 503 (old #419) –  An Elevated View!

From all the images which follow it is fair to say we enjoyed the half-day we spent there. Admittedly, the initial impression was not positive. Below is what we paddled towards. We wondered where we’d find a flat spot for our four-person tent as we approached.

the view of CS419 from upriver – not too promising!

We paddled around the left side of the island to find something much more to our liking – a gently sloping rock face that went up to a flat spot sheltered from the north wind by more vertical rock and capped with a great hilltop patio. While we prefer our sites more sheltered and with more tree cover, this fair-weather site would do thanks to our weather.

our Day 4 C.S. on the French River – CS503

CS503 on the French – an excellent fair weather site

Dusk on our hilltop patio – and you can see our Helinox Chairs and our whisky glasses – repurposed 35mm film canisters that conveniently hold over an ounce. We’re not big drinkers, but every once in a while – and sometimes as a reward after an especially rough day – we’ll have an ounce or two as we watch the sun go down and point our cameras in different directions.

looking over French River CS503 from the hilltop patio

a view of the French River CS503 neighbourhood from the hilltop

a spider web that caught Max’s eye

sunset on the upper French River – CS503

sunset on the French River – CS503 – take 2

Next Post: Day 5 – From CS419 To Below Recollet Falls West of Highway 69

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