As part of the limestone arc that includes Manitoulin Island and the Bruce Peninsula, the Cheneaux (Channel) Islands have the white cobblestone beaches typical of the region, very different from the Canadian Shield country just an hour's drive north (see Rte. 1: St. Mary's River). The tightly clustered islands provide shelter from southeasterly winds. Many routes are possible through the islands, but Government Island makes a good place from which to launch day trips, or just to visit for itself. The island is covered with northern white cedar forest and is a pleasant place to camp and walk.
Sheltered island group with many possible day trips and/or good camping on Government Island.
Beginner: 3-mile round-trip from Lakeside Drive boat launch to Government Island and back, with an additional 3-mile circumnavigation of Government Island possible, weather permitting.
Intermediate: Add an 8-mile sidetrip to the beginner trip, from Government Island to Les Cheneaux Channel, a total round-trip distance of 11 miles.
Trip Duration: Part day to two days.
NOAA chart 14885, USGS: Cedarville at 1:24,000. There is a map of the islands for fishermen, but it also has depths marked on it and is useful for paddlers. Maps are available for a few dollars at the outfitter in Cedarville.
Boat traffic, exposure to southeasterly winds around the outside (southern end) of the island group.
With so little exposure to wind and waves off the open lake, this makes a good trip almost any time the water isn't "hard," but if you go early in the season be sure to wear a wet suit or dry suit. Use caution, however, when planning to paddle the southern end of the island group. With a fetch of more than 150 miles to the southeast and the extensive shoals around the islands, this is an uncomfortable and even dangerous place to be in rough weather. If the weather deteriorates, better to stay on the inside of the island group. Camping on Government Island is free; no permits are required, and campsites are available on a first-come first-served basis. If an established site is taken, you may have to do without such amenities as a picnic table and trashcan, but the relatively open woods provide extra room for tents if necessary.
The Lakeshore Drive boat launch is only 1.5 miles from Government Island. From the intersection of Highways M 134 and M 129, drive east on M 134 for 3.0 miles. Turn south onto Lakeshore Drive (marked by a small green street sign), then follow the road through several twists and turns until it does a U-turn and ends at the boat launch. This ramp is mainly used by those going out to island cottages, but there are no parking or launching fees. There is also boat ramp in downtown Cedarville, but it can be quite busy in the summer, and there is no overnight parking. It may be useful, however, if the channel by the Lakeshore Drive launch is uncomfortably choppy. From the intersection of M 134 and M 129 in Cedarville, drive 0.3 mile south on M 129 to the boat ramp on the east side of the road. There is a $2.00 launch fee but no fee for parking.
start: Paddle west past the southern end of Hill Island and toward the northwest tip of Coryell Island.
0.5: Once you round the tip of Coryell Island, paddle to the southeast tip of Island No. 8.
mile 1.0: Once past Island No. 8, cross straight to Government Island. Turn and paddle northwest along the shore of the island.
mile 1.5: There is a campsite with picnic tables and trash cans at the north tip of the island. If you are not paddling any farther, return by the same route. If you are paddling around the island, head southeast along the shore.
mile 2.5: There is a second camping area on the point, with a cobblestone beach. Though this is a nice spot, it is somewhat less sheltered than the one at the north end of the island. Continue paddling to the southeast.
Caution: After leaving the campsite, you will be exposed to southerly and southeasterly winds. Wait for good weather before paddling this section.
miles 3.0-4.0: Penny Island is actually joined to Government Island by a long, thin gravel spit. Although landing is possible in calm weather, the numerous boulders and shoals are difficult to negotiate in rough weather. After you round Penny Island, turn and paddle northwest along the shore.
Caution: Once around the point you will also be exposed to southwesterly winds. This shoreline is very poor for landing a kayak except in calm weather.
mile 4.5: At the end of the bay formed by Government Island and La Salle Islands, there is a pleasant sand beach with a campsite set back in the woods. Though maps show a very narrow channel between the islands, when we visited, it was not passable without a portage because of the low water level. Higher water may allow paddlers to slip through, and if it is so, you can reach the north island by this route.
miles 4.5-9.0: If the channel is not deep enough, return to the north side of the island and then back to the launch site by the same route.
Sidetrip: If you are camping on Government Island and have time for more paddling, try a sidetrip to Les Cheneaux Channel. There are some older boathouses and cottages from the days when this area could only be accessed by boat. (This can also be done as a day trip from the Lakeshore Drive boat launch.) There are several possible ways to get there, but if you paddle to the north end of La Salle Island from the north end of Government Island, then to Connors Point and the Cheneaux Channel and back by the same route, the round-trip distance is 10-12 miles.
Restaurants & Lodging:
The Islands Inn (906-484-2293) is located near the junction of M 134 and M 129 in Cedarville. There are a few other motels in the area, but most of the lodging seems to be rental cottages. Call Les Cheneaux Chamber of Commerce for a list at (906) 484-3935. camping If you are looking for camping on the mainland, try Loons Point Campground on Cedarville Bay. Call (906) 484-2881 for information.