Restoule-Upper French Route
|Route description submitted By: Dirk Dixon |
|Distance: 72 km|
Duration : 5 days
Loop Trip : yes
|River Travel : intermediate|
Lake Travel : intermediate
Portaging : Easy
Remoteness : novice
|No. of Portages : 14|
Total Length: 4375 m
Average Length: 313 m
Longest Portage : 900 m
|Topo Maps (1:50,000)|
31 L/4 Nipissing
41 I/1 Noelville
French River Provincial Park map - shows all campsites and portages
GPX Data for this Route
|Suitability : unknown||no gpx data found|
|Restoule Prov. Park 75 km southwest on North Bay (reached via Hwy 534)
West through Restoule Lake
P 35 m (optional - can paddle around the point instead)
North on Restoule River
P 90 m around Grawbarger Rapids (or CBR)
West on Patterson (Stormy) Lake
West on Restoule River
P 270 m around Scott`s Dam
West through Lennon Lake
P 270 m around McArthur`s Rapids
West on French River
P 730 m around scenic waterfall & gorge
West through Restoule Bay
Northeast along French River
P 55 m across Keso Point
(optional - if current is strong between Boom Island and mainland)
Northeast on French River
P 900 m around east channel contol dam of Chaudiere Falls
East through Frank`s Bay
South through Bass Creek (marshy, flooded area)
P 90 m L
P 55 m L
P 45 m L
South through Shoal Lake
South on Bass Creek
P 810 m R around Bass Lake Dam
South through Bass Lake
P 900 m from Bass Lake to West (Clear) Lake
Southeast through Watt Lake
South through Stormy Lake
P 90 m around Grawbarger Rapids
P 35 m (optional - can paddle around point instead)
Finish at Restoule Provincial Park
Trip Log / Diary
|Sunday, 27 Jul 97
Restoule Provincial Park, about 40km west of Trout Creek, Ont. serves as the traditional start for this loop, although it could be accessed in mid route at Dokis. Cameron, my 15 year old nephew and I checked into the park office and filed a trip plan. They have a simple form you can fill out with your intended route, time of departure and expected return date. This is a well traveled route during the peak season, but it`s by no means crowded. We met only six other parties during the entire trip and felt pretty much on our own most of the time. Filing a plan is always a good idea and having the convenience of doing it at the put-in made it nice. At that time of the year I don`t think you could sit for longer than a day without someone passing by, but in the off season I imagine the lower reaches of the Restoule River and Shoal Creek could get mighty lonely. It`s nice to know someone will come looking for you if you don`t show up after a while.
The traditional route descriptions call for a put-in on Restoule Lake, immediately followed by two short portages over to Stormy Lake. These can be avoided by simply backing out of the park office parking lot and taking the short dirt road down to the Stormy Lake boat launch area. It has a large parking area, toilet facilities and a nice dock from which final equipment arrangements and boat loading can easily be made.
Leaving the sheltered cove, we headed west, but not without admiring the cliffs on the right that are topped by Restoule Park`s trademark lookout tower. No doubt the tower could have been put to good use during the week of our trip. The weather had been dry for quite some time and a fire ban was in affect over the entire area. Temperatures ran in the high 20`s during the entire trip with the night time temps staying in the upper teens for the first couple days, but dropping down to as low as 5 one night later in the week.
With the heat and humidity came the bugs. The mosquitoes were exceptionally bad in the late evening and what I call pine flies bothered us all day. I had warned Cameron to bring bright colored clothes. He heeded my advice with the exception of his baseball cap. It was black. The flies loved that hat! Every time I looked he had 3 or 4 flies sitting on top with a couple more buzzing around. He finally found some relief when I pinned a white linen sun skirt around the back of his hat. The flies still sat on top, but he took some delight in thinking we had out-foxed them.
Traveling west on Stormy Lake we reached the narrow passage that forms the Restoule River. There is no current in this portion of the river that continues on for about 5km. It`s merely an extension of the lake formed by Scott`s Dam, where we found our first portage. I`ll refer to this as portage #3 so as not to confuse anyone correlating this report with the traditional route description originally published by the Ministry of Natural Resources. Portage #3 is 270m long with a boat dock at the east end and good footing along its length. Cameron`s main interest on this trip was the hope of catching some fish, so we made a few casts and caught a couple of small bass. It looked like a nice place to spend some more time, especially the pockets in the rapids below the dam, but we had to get moving. Part way through the first of our two trips we met a party of four coming from the opposite direction. They introduced Cameron to some of the famous Canadian hospitality I had been telling him about. When we turned around to go back for our second load, we found them carrying it to us on their return trip. These guys were doing the same loop we were, but in reverse. The Restoule/Upper French River route is usually traveled in a clockwise direction to avoid the common westerly winds on the French River. They had made out OK on the French, but informed us we were in for a workout on Shoal Creek because of the low water levels.
Below the dam we were on Lennon Lake. Lennon is a narrow lake about 7km in length. Two good camp sites can be found at about the midpoint on the south side. Two more sites are at the west end with the one on the south side the better of the two. Most sites don`t show signs of heavy use and are large enough for two tents. With the exception of the lower Restoule and Shoal Creek, we found sites to be plentiful, but there are few sites large enough to hold more than three tents. Some larger sites may be found on the French and one or two on Bass and Shoal Lakes, but a large scout troop may find this loop a little lacking in elbow room.
We spent our first evening at the west end of Lennon Lake trying to scare up some fish. I took a 20 inch pike right from shore at our site and a 20+ inch bass at the top of MacArthur`s Rapids on a surface popper. Biggest smallmouth I ever caught! Unfortunately, try as I did, I wasn`t any more successful at helping Cameron catch anything except rock bass and small smallmouths for the rest of the trip. The weather was great for people, with crystal clear dark blue skies, but bad for fishing. The fish were hiding deep to get out of the sun. Or maybe we just didn`t know what we were doing, because we did see one fishing boat that evening with two huge pike on their stringer and the guides at Dokis were having good luck.
Monday, 28 Jul 97
Portage #4 is another easy 270m walk. It skirted MacArthur`s Rapids and put us on the lower Restoule River. Whereas Lennon Lake is tree lined with rock ledges and camp sites that beckon you to stay awhile, the 7km length of the lower Restoule did not appear to present much opportunity to spend the night. With the exception of one marginal site about 1km upstream from portage #5 we didn`t see any decent sites on its entire length. The flow was extremely slow with lots of marshy areas where we had to work a little harder to keep the boat moving over thick duckweed. We saw no complete beaver dams on this stretch, but did see several bank lodges. At one point we were greeted by a curious doe that left the bank when she first saw us, but came back down to check us out as we got closer. If an abundance frogs is any indication of the health of a waterway, that was one fit stream. They were everywhere, in every imaginable size and shade of green.
Portage #5 takes you from the end of the Restoule River to Restoule Bay on the French River. Contrary to some of the maps I`ve seen, the portage is on river right (north side). It used to be on the left, but I was told a dispute with a land owner put an end to the left side portage. #5 is 730m long and bypasses an impressive gorge. If you walk around upstream of the gorge to observe it, even at the low water levels we experienced, care should be taken not to slip and fall in. These are rapids you don`t want to take a ride through. The last 100m of this portage also require extreme care because of how steep and rocky it is.
We took pictures of the gorge and a couple of garter snakes that greeted us at the top of the portage. A large party of girls (5 canoes) from a camp in Huntsville followed us down the trail. We headed west out of portage #5 and hugged the right shore of Restoule bay. This took us around a point where we paddled northeast through a group of small islands and on to portage #6 (an easy 55m walk). At the end of #6 we stopped for lunch at met two guys on their way to Mattawa by way of a 30km+ crossing of Lake Nipissing. We later got a short glimpse of Nipissing from the end of the French River at Frank`s Bay, but it was enough for me to wonder how they made out. It`s a BIG lake! Our lunch was also accompanied by the begging of a great blue heron. He never got closer than 20m, but he wouldn`t fly away and he immediately checked out our lunch spot as soon as we left.
A short paddle to the east brought us to portage # 7 . This is also known as the "Champlain Trail" since it is the same trail used by Samuel de Champlain in 1615 and for countless centuries before him by the local natives. It`s a 900m walk over mostly solid granite. It starts just to the right of some impressive rapids, climbs a shallow hill and puts you back on the French at what is essentially an extension of Lake Nipissing.
The degree of remoteness changes when you reach the French. There are quite a few commercial lodges and private cabins. The topography changes dramatically also. The granite bedrock of the great Canadian Shield is evident everywhere along the French. With the exception of our first campsite, we were unable to use our tent stakes at any of the remaining sites. Self supporting tents with good tiedowns are important on this trip.
The wind kicked up as soon as we started out from #7. Contrary to its normal condition for this area and true to my paddling luck, it was coming directly down the French and making headway for us extremely difficult. We opted to take a break and visit the village of Dokis about 1km to the north. Even getting there became a real trial in the late afternoon wind that was rolling whitecaps at us as we sneaked from one island to the next. Dokis is home to the Dokis First Nation Indians. Their reservation lands encompass a large portion of the route we were traveling. We pulled into the first readily obvious place of business, Migisi Marina. They`re hard to miss with their big "Migisi Fries" sign on the front porch. We went straight for the ice cream. St. Clair Dokis runs the business with his sons. He`s a wealth of information on the area and related many things to us as we sat on the deck of his houseboat. Dokis is accessible by road and would also make a good base for a canoe trip. Several loops can be worked without ever leaving the French River, if you like. Guide services, boat and cabin rentals are all available here. The wind was still fierce later in the day, so St. Clair told us where to find a good campsite close by.
Tuesday, 29 Jul 97
The morning was met with wind still blowing down the French so we decided to partake of another service available at Dokis. The tow. I know this is cheating for some paddling purists, but we knew Shoal Creek was going to be a chore and we reasoned we didn`t want to wear ourselves out just trying to get there. Migisi Marina and the Dokis Marina both give tows. The price to Frank`s Bay ranges from $35 to $50 dollars depending on who you talk to and what their plans are for the day. It`s a good deal considering it only took 50 minutes to make the 20km trip. We would have spent all day paddling into that wind. If you want to prearrange anything the marinas may be reached by calling:
Migisi Marina (St. Clair Dokis) 705-763-2200
Dokis Marina (Yuan Restoule) 705-763-2491
Both operations typically run from 1st May till end of September.
While we waited for the tow we walked into town and had chocolate milkshakes at what I recall was "The Fox`s Den" (hope I got that right). It`s a general store with a good lunch counter. On the way back to Migisi Marina we got a ride from Patrick Restoule, the Dokis Reserve Band Administrator. He was happy to hear we were enjoying ourselves on a canoe trip through their area. He is heavily involved with promoting tourism for the area, but assured us the tribe is very much concerned with conserving the lands they hold. Anyone interested in contacting him in regards to their efforts involving ecotourism is encouraged to call him at 705-763-2200.
There are plenty of great campsites along the French and with the numerous islands you can get away from the large open water of the main channel with relative ease. Frank`s Bay is another story. Some local land owners have it heavily posted and the only choice for paddlers going up Shoal Creek is to make their way to the first portage (#8) where there is a nice site. This is also the only site we saw along the length of the creek.
Wednesday, 30 Jul 97
The #8 portage (90m) is needed to get around a large rock ledge that is worn smooth with a narrow groove through which the water passes. We were concerned about our trip up Shoal Creek when we saw that its entire flow was limited to a about two inches of water coming down the two foot wide groove. The going was a little slow, but not as bad as we expected. The beaver dams gave us navigable water most of the way. We went over seven active dams, all of them low and easy to pull over. However, we did see evidence of one that a friend of mine told me about from his trip two years ago. It was easily 5 feet high and would have required unloading the boat to get over. There were a few spots we had to drag, but for the most part the path was clear and there were very few spots that were choked with duck weed. Not far above #8 there was an old deteriorating logging bridge that we were barely able to slide the boat under. Higher water and more degradation will mean a carry. A new logging bridge was under construction at portage #9 (55m). It was a nice place to stop for lunch and clean out my sand filled socks. 30 minutes further up the creek brought us to portage #10 (45m) and the grass beds of Shoal Lake.
Shoal Creek is a real opportunity to see wildlife. We didn`t see any moose, but did see lots of tracks. The beaver were out, even though it was mid day. There were plenty of birds and reptiles. Take the MNR literature warning about planning plenty of time for the Shoal Creek trip seriously. It`s beautiful territory, but not a very hospitable place to spend the night. We left portage #8 at 9:30 AM and made it to Bass Lake by 4:30 PM. Not bad considering the group behind us started the next day at 10:30 AM and came staggering into Bass Lake just as the sun set around 8:30 PM.
Shoal Lake is more remote than Bass Lake and has some nice campsites on it, but we opted to do put the big portage to Bass Lake (#11, 810m) out of the way. It`s really not a bad portage, but after a long day on Shoal Creek it seemed endless.
The effort was rewarded with a day of rest on Bass Lake. This was my second visit to Bass Lake and I consider it a real gem. It`s a beautiful lake, with at least three nice campsites. All three are located on islands in the central portion of the lake. The eastern most island has an excellent large site on its northern tip with a sheltered fire ring and nice trees for hanging tarps if needed. The island just to the west of it has a beautiful site on the west side that is perfect for watching sunsets. A little further west (in the middle of the lake`s north arm) is another island, on which we set up camp for two nights on the east side. It`s a high site with a great swimming hole adjacent to it.
That evening the air was clear, still and cold. The sky was as clear and black as I`ve ever seen it for a summer night. The Milky Way glowed brightly and the stars could be seen rising through the trees on the horizon. We were even treated to a 20 minute display of the Northern Lights waving across the sky. Hollywood doesn`t have a better show.
Thursday, 31 Jul 97
We spent the next day fishing. We caught a few smallmouths and some rockbass (not as productive as my last trip). At one point I did hook something big, but I had to settle for it being the one that got away.
Friday, 1 Aug 97
The weather was starting to change when we headed for Portage #12. Clouds were rolling in and the wind was lifting. The portage is directly across the lake from the north arm by which we entered. There is a small boat dock there, but don`t be fooled into taking the road that leads away from it. It will get you to the other end of the portage, but not without taking you out of your way on a horribly rutted tractor path with several intersections that are disconcerting when you are carrying a heavy pack. The real trail is a pleasant walk, although 900m long, that begins about 80m to the east of the dock. Along the way, we met a grouse that gave us no more notice than your common farm chicken.
The downwind run on Clear Lake was uneventful. The fact that the lake is punctuated with cabins reminded us that we were fast approaching our return to the real world. The timing was almost perfect. Stormy Lake lived up to its name as we crossed it and aimed for the boat launch while rain blew on us from the west.
A great trip with beautiful scenery. The topography changes were refreshing and knowing we had portaged one of the very same trails that Champlain and the Voyageurs had once walked was a thrill. There is plenty of wildlife to be seen. The fishing is known to be good, but like many locations I suspect the quantity of fish that can be caught is directly proportional to how much suffering you are willing to endure. There may be more fish in early spring, but also more bugs. The traffic was a little more than I anticipated or like to see, but considering we were there in the height of the summer season there was still plenty of room to enjoy a true wilderness experience.
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Just got back from paddling this route, very nice indeed! :) Only problem we had was after portage #5 into Restoule Bay it gets a little confusing with the islands there. You are supposed to go northeast through Keso Point and towards the Upper Chaudiere Rapids and Dokis. We arrived in Restoule Bay late in the day and during high winds, so we made camp on a large island across from Keso. Somehow in the morning we got turned around and ended up paddling southwest THE WRONG WAY down the French River. Eight hours of paddling later we ended up in Ash Bay near Noelville. Luckily we befriended some cottagers there who were able to give us a lift back over to Dokis, otherwise we would have had a lot of extra paddling to do. Peace.