Canoeing The French River From Top To Bottom: Days 6 & 7 – To Pickerel Bay and Down Fox Creek to Georgian Bay

Previous Post: Day 5 – From E of Cross I.  to Below Recollet Falls (CS522)

Day 6 – The Lower French From CS 601 To Pickerel Bay (CS 634)

  • distance: 12 km
  • time: 9:00 a.m. to 11:40 p.m.
  • portages/rapids: 0/1:  Second Rapids – 2 minutes spent lining
  • weather: sunny all day, light wind from NW?
  • campsite: CS634 – another haul up the hill (~100 m) and totally worth it! the stern paddler’s favourite site of the trip; multiple sites 1 fair, semi-sheltered one at the top suitable for 4-person tent, one at the bottom in a pinch; more possibilities in the open and on rock – your choice; 2 boats the whole evening, 2 sea-doos earlier and after that, it was just us.
  • Natural Resources Canada topos: Delamere 041 I 02; Key Harbour 041 H 15
  • GPS tracks – 2019 French River (3.2Mb Dropbox file)
  • Unlostify: West French River covers the river from a few kilometers east of Highway 69 to Georgian Bay. It has all the official park campsites indicated.  Click on the title for access to a free digital download – or get a hard copy you will be using often! Note: do not set off with this map as your only map. It is not detailed enough.

Lower French River – CS601 (old #522) to Pickerel Bay (CS 634 – old #633)

The sixth day in a row of sunny warm weather!  We slipped our canoe into the water and could feel the noticeable current as we headed down the rest of the Gorge section. There were a number of stretches where the GPS device recorded speeds of 14 and 15 km/hr.

Little Flat Rapids: Then it was through a stretch of fast water our Garmin topo map names “Little Flat Rapids”. Another name may be Second Rapids, the First being just after Recollet Falls.  The Friends of French River map indicates a portage of 25 meters here.  We spent a couple of minutes lining our canoe through one section at the top on river left.

Little Flat Rapids – French River

The June 1793 entry from John Macdonell’s Journal (the quote is immediately below) refers to a Derraud’s Rapids two leagues (that is, six miles) below Recollet Falls. Six miles or ten kilometers is approximately the distance from Recollet Falls to these rapids. He refers to someone breaking a canoe here.  This would certainly qualify as a freak accident!

A pictograph or not? iron oxide stain on the French River rock

the north side of the French River – Gorge Section near Ox Island

From here it is 2.5 kilometers to the railway trestle crossing the French River at the east end of Ox Island.  As we approached we did paddle slowly past various vertical rock faces lining the river.

After his comment about the rapids, Macdonell goes on to discuss the presence of Anishinaabe pictographs (images “painted” with a mixture of iron oxide powder and fish oil) and lichenographs (images carved out of the lichen and moss which cover the rock face):

entry from John Macdonell’s Journal – below Recollet Falls

See here for the entry – pp.84-85. The entire journal makes for interesting reading, as do the others included in Five Fur Traders of the Northwest edited by Charles M. Gates.

Given Macdonell’s observation, Ox Bay would have gotten its name from the animal figure scratched out of the lichen on a prominent rock face nearby. It was more than likely a lichenograph of a moose or woodland caribou rather than an ox!

We rounded the point at the east end of Ox Bay and headed into Pickerel Bay and towards one of our favourite campsites ever, the one numbered 633 on the map above but renumbered 634 in 2021. We had camped there for a night in September 2017 at the end of our one-week ramble up and down and across the French River Delta.

Canoeing Georgian Bay’s French River Delta: Days 6 – To Pickerel Bay (The Elephants)

It was not even noon and we were done for the day – an unusual occurrence for us! Adding the 12 km. we had done this morning to the 30 from the day before helped us rationalize it! Being at 633 clinched it. We had thought that the site may already be taken but given that it was a Thursday in mid-June reduced the chances of anyone being there. In fact, the entire area was pretty much devoid of anyone. Over the next day, we would count a couple of motorboats pass by below us as they made their way to or from Pickerel River.

looking east towards the Pickerel River

Those chairs in the image below is where we spent quite a bit of time until past sunset! Every once in a while we would face them in a different direction as we took in the views on a beautiful clear day on Pickerel Bay.  Just behind the chairs was our kitchen/dining area, complete with our overturned canoe as a tabletop. And a bit further behind the trees was our tent, sitting on a patch of earth that we were able to use tent pegs on.

French River Pickerel Bay CS634 – the hilltop view looking east

looking south to the start of the Fox Creek route to Georgian Bay

The following bit of video gives a 360º panorama of the view from the top of CS634. It starts looking south to the series of bays in the image above and then pans east up the narrow bay you see two images above. Then it is west into the sun – and you’ll notice the image quality degrade in a hurry.

We took quite a few shots of what we were looking at as we sat there sipping on Gatorade, coffee, and later, our single shot each of whisky – here are a few that you can scroll through quickly. The magic was in being there!

Max and his camera facing west as the sun sets

looking west towards Ox Bay

portrait view of the sunset from Pickerel Bay CS634

looking west to Ox Bay French River

sunset view of Pickerel Bay French River

Day 7 – The Fox Creek/Lake/Bay Route to Georgian Bay

  • distance: 12.2 km
  • time: 8:20 a.m. to 1:10 p.m.
  • portages/rapids: 3/0:
    • 150 m – along the lower ridgeline from the take out spot to a long narrow ‘pond’
    • 230 m – more rugged with  multiple and possibly confusing trails
    • 195 m – likely longer in low water
  • weather: overcast most of the day; some intermittent rain; all added to the gloomy atmosphere paddling through the edge of 2018’s burn area.
  • campsite: CS726 (old #920) with “thunderbox”! – very sheltered, 1 x 4-person; possible for 2-3 x 2- person tents; with high water (and likely any heavy rainfall) butts up to a swampy area, bugs were not bad though!
  • Natural Resources Canada 1:50,000 topo sheets: Delamere 041 I 02; Key Harbour 041 H 15
  • GPS tracks – 2019 French River (3.2Mb Dropbox file)

One of the highlights of our French River trip was the half-day we spent going down to Georgian Bay via the Fox Creek route, which starts right across from our favourite Pickerel Bay campsite. While we have paddled up the Pickerel from G’Bay to CS 634, we had never made use of the Fox Bay/Lake/Creek route before.

Note: If this is your first time down the French River you might should instead go down the historical Old Voyageur Channel. Doing so will replace the three portages of the Fox route with one easy 20-meter carry around La Petite Faucille.  You will also zip down some easy swifts – some above the portage and the famous La Dalle below. A return route up the Main Outlet would allow you to experience the most used voyageur route to and from the Bay.  

See the post below for more info and maps on the Main Outlet, the site of  the now-gone French River Village, and the portage around Dalles Rapids:

Canoeing Georgian Bay’s French River Delta: Day 2 – Down The Main Outlet From The Elbow to The Bustards

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

There was an additional pull this year – we wanted to see the impact of Parry Sound 33, the 2018 Henvey Inlet Fire which had blown out of control and spread westward to the Pickerel River and to Fox Creek.

Alternative Routes To Georgian Bay from Ox/Pickerel Bay: 

The Fox Creek route is not the easiest way to get to Georgian Bay.  There are alternatives and all of them are quite scenic. Over time you will probably do them all!

  • the Main Channel via the Dalles Rapids portage
  • the Old Voyageur Channel with a 20-meter portage at La Petite Faucille and some swifts before and after.
  • the Bass Creek Route – arguably the easiest of all with just a lift-over and an easy 100-meter portage
  • the Pickerel River with just one 250-meter carry …

See the Unlostify West French River map for a clear visual image of the options. You can download a digital copy of the map for free.

The Fox route is a bit more work than all of the above but is worth it, getting an A+ for scenic views and enchanting paddling.  The more paddlers who use them, the more clear the portages will become.

Unlostify – the two Fox portages at the top end

My copy of the 2012 Friends of French River Park Map (pink cover) does not have any information on the Fox Creek portages, nor does the more recent 2017 third edition (blue cover). It really should since it is mostly canoe trippers who buy the map.

The overall lack of portage information and on-the-ground signage for paddlers is puzzling, given that FRPP has now existed for thirty years.  The Park needs – but obviously will not be getting – more attention than the commendable volunteer service that the Friends of French River provides in campsite monitoring and maintenance as well as map production.

the take out for the first of the Fox portages on the south side of Pickerel Bay

We paddled across Pickerel Bay to the beginning of the portage that would take us into Fox Creek. The Unlostify map above has the portage indicated as a 140-meter carry. It is an easy one; it could use some trimming and signing.  According to our GPS track, we spent less than twenty minutes dealing with this portage and were soon at the top end of the long narrow lake you see in the image above.

One moment of concern –  Max had slipped on a section of sloped rock in his not-very-grippy L.L. Bean boots and went for a tumble, bags and all.  While they provided a bit of a cushion,  for the next couple of days as we paddled to the west end of the park, his hip was a bit sore.

I’m looking south at the take-out spot for the second of the Fox portages

Fox Creek - the small lake between the two portages at teh top of Fox Creek

the lake between the two portages at the top end of Fox Creek in the French River delta

After paddling south down the lake, we scrambled to a hilltop on the southwest end hoping for another “wow” view or two but could not get to that one vantage point that would deliver. Here is what I came up with!

a view from SW of the lake between the two Fox Creek portages

And then it was on to the second portage; the poorly maintained 230-meter trail would require more effort thanks to an initial uphill and then the scamper across a rocky ridge to the final downhill to the north end of Fox Creek.  All in all, we put in about forty-five minutes to haul everything up and over.  We also added some orange duct tape and did some bush trimming to help make the trail a bit more obvious.

Two Portages – Pickerel Bay To Fox Creek

When we got to the put-in we found a collection of four abandoned boats, seat cushions, and fishing gear belonging to Camp Wanikewin Lodge located on the Pickerel River just east of Highway 69.

the put-in at the end of the second Fox portage from Pickerel Bay

With the two portages done by 10:15 or so, we now had six kilometers (one hour) of easy paddling until the third and last portage at the south end of Fox Lake.

Fire damage on upper Fox Creek – French River delta

It would not be long after setting off from the put-in at the top of Fox Creek that we would see evidence of 2018’s fire (named Parry Sound 33 to the consternation of people living in the town itself!).  It had started on the Henvey Inlet First Nation land below Key River, thanks to the wind turbine construction crew who continued blasting in spite of bone dry earth and windy conditions.

[A few days later we would count fifty wind turbine pillars from our campsite just east of Whitefish Bay some twenty kilometers away. See here for one of the images.]

some burn on the west side of Fox Creek as we paddle down

fire damage on Fox Creek -a view from June 2019

Fox Creek -French River delta – June 2019

signs of new growth after the fire on Fox Creek in June 2019

Fox Creek green and charcoal

heading for the third (and final) Fox portage

The third and last portage on the Fox Creek route to Georgian Bay took us about thirty minutes.  Given the water levels in June 2019 we were able to paddle a middle section of the portage, which may not be possible at other times of the year or in lower water years

Fox Portage – From Fox Lake to Fox Bay

In the image below, I am stuffing the silnylon tarp back into its bag at the top of the portage trail.  As the above images make clear, the weather had changed from sunny to intermittent drizzle this morning and the tarp had covered the bags and duffels. At the start of the portage is a  boat, perhaps left by a fishing lodge for clients.

the south end of Fox Lake and the start of the portage into Fox Bay

At the end of the initial carry, Max is looking at the trickle of Fox Creek and the patch of water we will paddle down to access the final bit of the portage.  The Unlosity map has the entire thing as a 220-meter carry.  With lower water levels you may be walking down that short stretch of water!

the water we paddled across to get to the last bit of the portage into Fox Bay

And that is it for portages on the Fox Creek Route.  Next up – Fox Bay and the hunt for a decent campsite.

heading to Fox Bay after the portage

more dramatic scenery as we head down the narrow channel right after the last of the Fox portages

There are (on paper) quite a few campsite choices.  In reality, some of them are mediocre and will definitely be paddled by. The Unlostify map (see below) provides some info on the condition of some of them. Note: the CS#s are the old ones. In 2021 the Park people decided to renumber them, thus making all existing park maps and reports out of date!

CS#s are the old ones; see this list for the renumbered sites.

Fox Bay area in French River Delta on Georgian Bay

Unlostify – campsite locations in Fox Bay/French River Delta/Georgian Bay

We would find our campsite at CS726 (old #920), a well-sheltered spot inside a stand of pines and behind a rock outcrop that rises up to a nice hilltop sitting area. The shoreline to the south is accessible and we went for a walk after setting up camp.

Note: I did hear that the old CS920 was moved to the small island just above it. I cannot imagine why and would still make use of 920 if ever in the vicinity again and in need of a site. Send me an email if you find the site pictured above and below to have been decommissioned!

our campsite (CS726)

For the second day in a row, we had stopped somewhat early.  Both our Garmin weather app information and an email from back home were telling us that a heavy downpour and a thunderstorm were expected in our area and we were ready!

the  CS726 (old #920) – well sheltered

Next Post: Day 8 – From Fox Bay To W of Whitefish Bay CS723

 

This entry was posted in Anishinaabek World, Georgian Bay, Pictographs of the Canadian Shield, wilderness canoe tripping and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Canoeing The French River From Top To Bottom: Days 6 & 7 – To Pickerel Bay and Down Fox Creek to Georgian Bay

  1. Daniel says:

    Great writeup, although I came to this area from the west, down the main channel, and then eastward.

    Stayed at CS920 in mid-August, and I don’t recall it looking at all like this. On my 2017 map, the spot was CS920, and the latitude/longitude coordinates shown at the site matched my Garmin GPS. However, the number at the site was 726; most other sites that I stayed at in the park had different numbers than those on the map as well. The scenery, though, was terrific, regardless of the numbers.

    Regarding CS921, I paddled up to it and it was intact with no signs of fire, but it was a difficult climb to get to it and not as roomy as 920. I will try this route again next year just to confirm my stops from this year (mid-August). Your write-ups of the park are extremely useful. I have passed the “Elephants” many times, but unfortunately, it has always been occupied. Maybe next time!

    • true_north says:

      Daniel, the Fench is a total delight, especially the delta area. One of these years my bro and I plan to go up and down every channel over a 10 day period. It will be a scenic tour de force dialed up to 11!

      Re: campsite numbers. This year in July the Park managers (in their wisdom) revamped their numbering system and as a result, many campsites have new numbers! It also means that all current Unlostify and Friends of French River maps are out of date and posts like mine will leave some paddlers bewildered as they try to match the location with the #!

      Here is the list that the Visitors’ Center sent me. I am in the process of changing all the campsite #s in my posts!

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