I think most paddlers would agree that the stretch of shoreline from Killarney Provincial Park to the historic French River is the best paddle in Georgian Bay and certainly one of the best in the Great Lakes. The scenery is wonderful, with its worn islands of shield granite and their windswept white pines. The area is an island-hoppers paradise with excellent camping. The northern shore of Georgian Bay has less road access and fewer cottages than the southern shores, and it's easy to find a quiet spot to call your own for a day or a week.
Trip Highlights: Excellent scenery, classic Georgian Bay trip.
Beginner: 8-mile round-trip from Killarney (Chickanishing River launch) to Fox Islands and back.
Intermediate/Advanced: 45-plus mile one-way trip from Killarney to Key River (round-trip distance of 100 miles).
Trip Duration: Day trip to overnight for beginner; five to seven days for intermediate/advanced.
Navigation Aids: CHS charts 2245 and 2244, Canadian topographic maps 41 H/14 and 41 H/15 at 1:50,000, or CHS small-craft chart 2204 (a set of four strip charts showing the shoreline from Byng Inlet to Killarney in great detail).
Cautions: Intermittent exposure to southerly winds, shoals with steep or breaking waves, some boat traffic in channels.
Trip Planning: The distances given earlier should be regarded as minimums. With so many islands it is difficult to travel in a straight line, and there are many possible routes from point A to B. It is probably best to plan on a somewhat leisurely pace, partly for this reason and partly because this is not a landscape-seascape that rewards high-speed touring. Take the time to explore the byways and backwaters and don't just stick to the outer islands. Along the northern shore of Georgian Bay, most of the inlets and bays open to the south or southwest, and strong wind from these directions can bring big waves in through the deep channels. Wait for good weather before crossing these channels or going around the more exposed points.
All of the various outlets of the French River and the Bustard Islands are within the boundaries of the French River Provincial Park, and you should use the established campsites when staying there. There is a good park map showing the location of these sites. Call (705) 857-3228 for more information. Non-Canadian residents will need Crown land camping permits for staying on government land (see p. 20).
Launch site: For the Killarney launch point, take Highway 69 from Sudbury or Parry Sound to Highway 637. Drive west on 637 to the Killarney Provincial Park Office. You will need to purchase your vehicle permits here. From the park entrance, continue 0.9 mile west on 637 to Chickanishing River Road, turn east and drive 1.0 mile to the canoe and kayak launch; the parking area is just beyond. The launch point is within the park boundaries, and you will need to purchase a $7.00/day permit for your vehicle. Alternatively you can buy a $50 annual permit, or you can get a shuttle from Killarney Outfitters. They are located very close to the Chickanishing River and provide shuttles and parking at very reasonable rates. For groups with several vehicles, this may be the cheapest way to go. For more information, contact Killarney Outfitters at (800) 287-2828.
If you are setting up your own car shuttle for a one-way trip, be warned that it will involve driving over 200 kilometers from Killarney Park to Key River and back again. It will, however, cut your paddling distance in half if you plan on doing the whole route; it may be worth doing if you are limited in time.
This route can be done in the other direction as well. There is access and parking at the Key Marine Resort (705-383-2308), located on Highway 69 just north of the bridge over the Key River. There is a daily parking fee.
start: Paddle southeast down the Chickanishing River toward Georgian Bay.
mile 0.5: At the river mouth you will see a few islands between you and the bay, but this area is somewhat exposed to southwesterly winds. Directly east of the river mouth is Philip Edward Island, and the channel north of the island is Collins Inlet. If the weather is truly awful out on the bay, you can take the extremely sheltered inlet route east to Beaverstone Bay. It is not recommended, however, because the walls of this channel are fairly steep, cottages have been built on most of the good landing places, and there is a fair amount of boat traffic. Moreover you will miss the better scenery on the outside. Unless you're in a real hurry, you may want to wait out bad weather. Camping is possible on the islands along the outer park shore, and no permit is needed for island sites. Continuing on, paddle southeast to South Point.
mile 1.0: Pass by South Point and paddle east toward Winakaching Bay. The islands near South Point seem to be heavily used by campers.
mile 2.5: The channel leading to Winakaching Bay (N 45° 58.618', W 81° 23.055') is fairly sheltered by the outside islands. This pretty spot is certainly worth a visit, with its near vertical granite walls diving into the water. You may see a sailboat or two anchored here. After you leave the islands clustered around the entrance to the bay, paddle east across a wider bay toward the Fox Islands.
miles 3.5-4.0: Paddle by Solomon Island and continue east toward East Fox Island (N 45° 57.517', W81° 20.734'). Apart from the La Cloche Mountains in Killarney Park, the Fox Islands are some of the highest land along this section of shoreline. The islands closest to shore have cottages on them, but the outer islands (West Fox and Martins) make for good exploring if the weather is calm. As the land around is flatter, climbing to the top gives one a good view.
Caution: The Fox Islands extend farther south than the islands on either side and are exposed to winds from every direction but north. In addition, many of the islands have shores of steep sloping rock, which is difficult to land on and prone to clapotis. If it is rough, better to keep some of the inner islands between you and the bay. Those whose destination is the Fox Islands can paddle back to the Chickanishing River by the same general route. Others should continue east.
miles 5.0-6.5: Pass by West and then by East Desjardins Bays; both have plenty of islands for shelter or stopping.
Caution: The point between East Desjardins and Solomon Bay is somewhat exposed to southerly winds; use caution before proceeding.
mile 7.0: Duck behind the islands of Big Rock Bay and explore the channel.
mile 8.0: The next point east of the bay is also exposed to wind and waves off the lake.
mile 9.0: Pass Bateman Island (actually another point and not an island) and turn north into entrance of Bear Bay.
Sidetrip: Follow Bear Bay north. See if you can find the very narrow channel that runs through Moose Bay and behind Deer Island and exits in Deer Island Bay. If it is rough out on the bay, this detour will provide you with some shelter.
miles 11.0-12.5: Continue past Deer, Hincks, and Toad Islands into the entrance to Beaverstone Bay, a large body of water at the east end of Philip Edward Island.
Caution: This is the other entrance to the Collins Inlet; beware of boats passing through the convoluted channel east of Toad Island (N 45° 56.584', W 81° 12.917').
mile 14.0: Paddle into Sugar John Bay, then southwest to exit the bay and round the next big point.
Caution: Sugar John Bay is open to southwesterly wind and waves. Beware an especially nasty set of shoals on the west side of the bay's entrance.
mile 14.5: Paddle into the shelter of The Chickens, a group of numerous small islands and shoals that should shield you from all but the worst weather. It may take time to find your way around and through the maze of tiny islands. After passing Hen Island at the east end of
The Chickens, you will need to cross another bay exposed to southerly winds.
miles 17.0-20.0: Caution: Use care when rounding Point Grondine and the shoals extending to the southeast. The stretch of water from Point Grondine to the entrance of the Voyageur Channel can be a minefield in rough weather. Paddling deep into the islands of Chaughis Bay will give you only temporary relief because you will have to paddle out again to gain the Voyageur Channel. Sidetrip: Batt Bay and the Voyageur Channel (N 45° 56.337', W 81° 04.940') are extremely pretty, with their parallel lines of humpbacked islands and windblown pines. Once you are in the Voyageur Channel, you are entering the French River System and French River Provincial Park. Paddling northeast through the shallow grassy area and up the Voyageur Channel will take you across the Fort Channel and eventually to the Old Voyageur Channel. At this point the current will probably prevent you from going any farther upstream.
There are several small rapids just upstream where the river is constricted within a narrow rock channel. Return to the lake via the Fort Channel. Total distance for this sidetrip is about 3.5 miles.
Caution: There is a fair amount of boat traffic in the French River System, and motorboats even go up and down the rapids. Be sure to stay out of their way.
mile 20.0: If you are taking the outside route, continue paddling east. You are now within the boundaries of French River Provincial Park.
mile 21.0: To avoid going around the outside of Eagle Nest Point, paddle northwest into Batt Bay and pick a way through the islands until you reach Green Island. If you can, find the channel at the south end of Green Island or paddle around the outside.
Caution: Another set of extensive shoals lies just off the southern end of Green Island.
mile 23.0: Caution: The Fort Channel is also extremely exposed to southerly wind and waves, and should be avoided in rough weather: Take the Voyageur Channel if conditions are bad. Once across the channel you can duck behind islands and zigzag through channels if you want quieter water.
mile 25.5: The Lodge Channel is another outlet of the French River, part of a larger branch called the Bad River Channel (N 45° 54.816', W80° 59.029'). This time there are plenty of islands in the channel. There is a marina about 1.0 mile upstream-this is one of the major
routes for sailboats and motorboats, so keep an eye out for traffic when crossing the Lodge and Bad River Channels. If you want to paddle upstream (don't try this in high water), you should portage around the rapids upstream of the channel entrance. The rapids and portages are marked on the park map.
mile 27.0: About 1.0 mile east of the Bad River Channel, you will run out of islands and round a point. You are now in the Fingerboards, another set of shoals. Caution: Avoid the Fingerboards in heavy seas.
miles 27.0-29.0: Once around the point you will have the choice of paddling on the outside or winding your way through a series of islands until you reach the Main Outlet.
mile 29.0: Caution: The entrance to the Main Outlet is open to wind and waves from the southwest, and there will be some boat traffic as well. Use caution when crossing the entrance.
Sidetrip: The Bustard Islands (see Rte. 4) are less than 1.0 mile from the islands around Cantin Point. Although the crossing is a short one, it is better to leave from the deeper water of the Main Outlet than the islands and shoals around Cantin Point. The water is only a few feet deep and will be tricky to negotiate in rough weather.
miles 30.5-33.5: Once across the Main Outlet, you have a choice of continuing east on the outside of the islands or taking the small craft channel. The inside channel is very pretty and sheltered, but it may have a fair amount of motor traffic. If it's rough on the outside, this is an easy choice, but otherwise it's your call. Either way you will end up at the Outer Fox Islands, another little archipelago. Just north of the islands is Fox Bay, which has the last set of campsites within the French River Park boundaries. As you leave the park and approach Key Harbour, it will become more difficult to find good places to camp as the number of cottages and the amount of boat traffic increase. Continue paddling east toward Dead Island.
mile 37.0: There is a picnic site on the northeast side of Dead Island. The island was a native burial ground. After you leave Dead Island, you will pass the Pickerel River, which marks the eastern boundary of French River Provincial Park.
mile 38.5: Continue paddling east toward the entrance to Key Harbour. There are a number of cottages visible near the mouth of the Key River.
miles 40.0-45.0: Paddle up the river to Highway 69. The river had very little current when we were there, but it may be a different matter at high water (if you are paddling early in the year, you may want to do the trip in the opposite direction). The river is pretty, with gray granite walls and grassy bays, but there will be motorboat traffic on it. Please stay clear of the channel marked by buoys. The south shore is part of the Henvey Inlet Indian Reserve, and there is no landing or camping without permission. The north shore is mostly Crown land, but good landing places are not plentiful. At Mile 45.0 The Key Marine Resort is just east of Highway 69 on the north side of the river. There are boat ramps, showers, a small store, and lodging available.
At the Key River end of the route, the Key Marine Resort has a restaurant. Call (705) 383-2308 for more information.
On the Killarney side, try the Sportsman's Inn (705-287-2411) in the main part of town. There are also a couple of small take-out food booths at the marinas, including a fish and chips shop at the town docks at the end of Highway 637.
In Killarney there are three main options: the Sportsman's Inn (see "Restaurants"), the Killarney Bay Inn (705-287-2011), or the Killarney Mountain Lodge (800-461-1117). This tiny town is overwhelmed with visitors in the summer, and reservations are highly recommended. The Key Marine Resort has cottages available for rental (see "Restaurants").
Killarney Provincial Park has a large campground located just off Highway 637 at George Lake. This park is extremely popular and reservations are essential. Call (705) 287-2800 for reservations, or (705) 287-2900 for general information about the park. The Rogue's Marina in Killarney has tent camping available; call (705) 287-9900 for more information. The Key Marine Resort also has camping available. Grundy Lake Provincial Park is located off Highway 69 not far from the Key River. Call (705) 383-2369 for more information
Excerpted from Guide to Sea Kayaking on Lakes Superior & Michigan: The Best Day Trips and Tours by William Newman et. al. with permission from Falcon Publishing.