French River - Hartley Bay to the Delta

Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Trip Date : 
Route Author: 
Additional Route Information
51 km
3 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
180 m
Longest Portage: 
180 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Lake Travel: 
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Technical Guide: 

Start at Hartley Bay Marina - off Hwy 69 at Bigwood
West through Hartley Bay into Wanapitei Bay
South through Wanapitei Bay
West on the Western Channel of the French
Camp night one at any of four locations:
Site at UTM 061950 Crombie Bay Point (very nice)
Site at UTM 062945 (so-so)
Site at UTM 035917 (sand beach, uneven tent area above on grass)
Site at UTM 024907 Echo Beach (sandy beach, pretty nice)
South on Western Channel of French to the Delta
Through Old Voyageur`s Channel, including

The Rock Circus CBR high water or line
Petite Faucille CBR carefully in high water / or P 20 m south side across point / or line
Palmer Rocks CBR high water or line
La Dalle - long, narrow trough - run at any water level
East on West Cross Channel
Cross Channel Rapids (going upstream) line either side or paddle up in low water
East on High Cross Channel
Devil`s Door (large hydraulic in high water - Difficult P 100 m north of rapid, but easier to paddle south around the peninsula. In low water, CBR.
East in East Cross Channel (wide in first section / narrow creek in second with possible liftovers / wading)
East through Georgian Bay (island-hop to stay out of the wind if water is rough)
North on French River Main Channel
Camp night two at either of two sites

Sabine Island (very nice)
Bluff Point (nice, but limited tent space)
North on Main Channel of French
P 180 m R around Dalles Rapids (in low water, can be lined either side)
North on main channel at The Elbow
North through Wanapitei Bay
East through Hartley Bay to finish at Marina

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

As the French River finishes winding its twisting route from Lake Nipissing to Georgian Bay, the final section runs between sculpted rock walls and shorelines of sparse pine and stunted spruce. At a point called "The Junction" (just north of the delta), the river splits into four main paths which in turn divide into smaller channels, tumbling over small rapids as they flow southward. These narrow channels follow fault lines between glacier-scoured islands. Ultimately, eight separate channels flow out into Georgian Bay, offering a spectacular opportunity for exploration by canoe.
On two trips, one in September of 1992 and another in August of 1997, we paddled down to the delta to follow these narrow, rocky channels into Georgian Bay. Both routes were loop trips, beginning and ending at Hartley Bay Marina. The marina is at the end of the Bigwood Road on the west side of Highway 69, a journey of approximately 13 km from the highway. Paid parking and launching facilities are available there.
The route goes west through Hartley Bay, then south through Wanapitei Bay to the intersection of the Main Channel and the Western Channel. At this "crossroads" the route heads due west along the Western Channel and eventually south towards Georgian Bay. It is advisable to get an early start from Hartley Bay, since the prevailing southwesterly winds off Georgian Bay can cause strong headwinds.
September 1992
Our 1992 trip saw us leaving Hartley Bay Marina in the hardest downpour I have ever paddled in. The rain bouncing off Hartley Bay made the water surface turn white, as if we were paddling through a snowfield. We were forced to stop several times to bail the canoes before we reached Wanapitei Bay. A sudden violent thunderstorm sent us scurrying for shore, and we sat dripping in our rain suits waiting for some relief from the foul weather. The rain finally let up and we continued south on Wanapitei Bay into a strong headwind. We fought our way south stroke by stroke, not daring to stop lest we blow backwards and lose our hard-won progress. Hopping from island to island and resting in the lee sides, we finally made it to the Western Channel. I will forever have fond memories of the owners of Atwood Island Lodge, who welcomed in six bedraggled looking paddlers for coffee and muffins, even though they were in the process of closing the lodge for the year.
Rejuvenated by the hot coffee, we continued west for another five kilometres to Crombie Bay Point. A combination of our waterlogged state and the high quality of the campsite prompted us to stop for the night. We quickly put up our rain tarp and set about cooking our traditional first-night steak dinner. Mother nature obviously knew that our patience was wearing thin, since she blew aside the clouds after supper and we were treated to a spectacular sunset and a dazzling display of stars that night.
We awoke to clear skies and warm temperatures on day two, and began the short paddle to the delta. We had chosen to take the simplest route through the area which leads through Lily Chute. After a few sections of swift water, we were down at the chute. With the high water conditions and the relative inexperience of some of our paddlers, we decided that the chute was not runnable. We walked the canoes down a narrow channel in the island to the west of the chute, then portaged the short distance (Farley Portage) to put us below the rapid.
We paddled over to inspect our "exit" from this area - the Devil`s Door. It was a 6 ft. drop with an ugly-looking hydraulic at the base, so we paused to examine any other alternatives. There was supposed to be a short but rough portage which ran parallel to Devil`s Door on the north side, but it seemed to be more mountain-climbing than portaging. Our only other option was to paddle south through the Jamieson Rapids to the end of the point then double back to the foot of Devil`s Door. The Little Jamieson`s were nothing more than a bouncing downhill ride through some waves, so we ran them. A short 1.5 km paddle south, around the point and back up again put us at the far side of the Devil`s Door close to the mouth of the East Cross Channel.
East Cross Channel begins as a fairly wide body of water which is often used as a powerboat anchorage, but quickly narrows down to a shallow, weedy creek. A few pullovers and some wading were required to negotiate the last section. My cousin had paddled this section before, and always referred to it as "Root Beer Creek". The reason became quickly apparent - the water, stained by organic content, was a deep brown colour.
The channel empties into Georgian Bay behind a maze of small islands. Our plan was to gain some shelter from the rollers on the bay by skirting behind these islands, then head north up the Main Channel of the French. We paddled west in strong winds and high rolling waves, counting bays to locate the entrance into the Main Channel. Unfortunately our navigation skills were lacking that day, and as we headed out across the final bay towards the point, we realized that we were "one bay too far" and were heading out into a 1.5 km crossing of a large bay towards Cantin Point, pushed along by strong winds and 3 ft. swells. The rough conditions made it impossible to turn around, so fighting to stay quartered to the following waves, and taking on water over the stern, we bounced along until we arrived at the point.
A change of plans was obviously in order. With the strong westerly winds, we were not going to be able to backtrack west to the Main Channel, so we decided to alter our route and paddle the more easterly through Bass Lake, after which we would return via the Eastern Outlet of the French. We pulled the gear ashore and ate a hearty supper as we waited for the winds to die. The strong winds gave us an opportunity to dry out some of our wet clothes, and soon a line was rigged with pants and shirts flying horizontally like windsocks. By 7:00 pm the water looked much more manageable, so we paddled over to Obstacle Island, just south of the Eastern Outlet. The campsite on the island was not ideal, but in the early darkness of mid-September we were already going to be setting up camp by lantern-light, so it seemed prudent to stay put.
Day three involved an easy 240 m portage over the "boardwalk" into Bass Lake. The wood structure, which was built to provide easy passage between the bay and Bass Lake passes an Rainbow Lodge, and abandoned fishing camp. An hour`s paddling took us north through the Eastern Outlet to the Elbow, where we retraced our route back to Hartley Bay Marina.
August 1997
A sunny, 25º C day with light winds was a welcome change from our previous introduction to Hartley and Wanapitei Bays. Our group covered in three easy hours what had been a gruelling five-hour paddle on our previous trip and we arrived at Crombie Bay. Our rapid progress meant that it was only lunchtime, so we decided to have a quick meal and continue south towards the delta. Of course, after lunch the winds began to pick up and we found ourselves paddling into a brisk headwind.
We began checking campsites as we headed down the river. There were only two sites between our location and the delta. The first had a sand beach and a weedy waterfront; and the tent area was small and uneven. We paddled on to the next area, a sandy beach just downstream of a cottage. Camping on a beach sites isn`t our favourite since the sand always seems to find its way into food, equipment and sleeping bags, but the steadily increasing wind and threatening whitecaps convinced us to stay. We spent a glorious afternoon relaxing in the afternoon sunshine at the shoreline, cooled by the winds from Georgian Bay.
Although we were up at 6:30 am, the time required to admire the sunrise and drink countless pots of coffee meant that it was at 9:00 by the time we were on the water. A short paddle brought us to the Junction. We had decided to paddle through the delta in the Old Voyageur`s Channel. After much discussion and map study we entered what we hoped was the correct outlet. Original topo maps for the delta area showed the Voyageur Channel as the most westerly outlet of the French. Eric Morse, in his book "Freshwater Saga" tells how he felt this was in error, since that channel was not navigable under certain water conditions, and did not match the descriptions of the channel from early journals. The correct channel - the one used by the Voyageurs - is now marked on the maps as "Old Voyageur`s Channel". As we paddled into the narrow outlet, we began to recognize landmarks. We paddled through the Rock Garden, Palmer Rocks, Petite Faucille and la Dalle (the trough). Water levels were very low on this trip, so none of the rapids were actually rapids - they were simply winding paths through rock gardens. The one exception was Petite Faucille, a small ledge at a corner in the channel. We lined the loaded canoes down that drop.
Both the incredible beauty of this section and the historical significance of the area gave us pause to reflect as we paddled. It was not difficult to imagine the voyageurs as they worked their birch bark canoes down through these narrow channels.
We paddled west through the Cross Channels and as we passed between the base of Lily Chutes and the head of the Jamiesons, we noticed that the low water levels had made them almost flatwater. We paddled straight through Devil`s Door, which had simply disappeared in the low water conditions. We had expected our voyage through East Cross Channel to be a little more strenuous because of the dry conditions, and this was indeed the case. There were many short liftovers and muddy sections to wade through as we made our way along the channel. We finally emerged from the creek and stopped for lunch on the small islands clustered around the outlet into Georgian Bay.
Georgian Bay was in a much better mood on this trip, with small rollers and a moderate west wind. We paddled along the rugged coastline, then headed north towards the main channel of the French. We were hoping to stay at the site on Sabine Island, but it was occupied by a group of young paddlers from Philadelphia, so we paddled across to Bluff Point. The campsite there has a rather small tent area, but it was the closest stop for us. We spent the afternoon lounging in the warm sun and watched a magnificent sunset that evening.
Day three brought with it the threat of rain and a very strong wind from the southwest. We did not complain about this wind, since it would be at our backs as we paddled north up the Main Channel. We tied the canoes together, hoisted a tarp as a spinnaker and literally flew up the river. As we lay back and watched the scenery go past, we saw the small lighthouse and concrete foundations which mark the location of French River Village, a lumbering community abandoned in the 1930`s.
The channel eventually turned east towards Dalles Rapids, so we lowered our makeshift sail and paddled towards the rapid. It was very low, with only a narrow centre channel flowing down towards us. We lined the canoes up the fast water, holding our breath to avoid the odour of a moose carcass which lay rotting on the rocks beside the channel.
A short paddle east brought us to Wanapitei Bay. We once again hoisted the sail and relaxed as the wind blew us up to the entrance to Hartley Bay, our take-out for the trip.
Richard Munn
September 1997

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:50,000): 
41 H/15 Key Harbour 41 I/2 Delamere
Other Maps: 
1:20,000 Ontario Base Maps (Delta Area) 20 17 4900 50800 20 17 5000 50800 Other Maps French River Provincial Park map - shows most campsites, portages, and other information.
Special Comments: 

As the name implies, the Old Voyageur`s Channel is the route used most of the time by the Voyageurs as they paddled through the Delta. It is a spectacular channel - very narrow, quiet and beautiful to paddle.
It is worth getting an early start on the first day - Wanapitei Bay and the Western Channel funnel the prevailing winds off Georgian Bay into a terrible headwind sometimes.

A good source of information on the confusing delta area is "French River - Canoeing the River of the Stick Wavers" by Toni Harting. The topo maps don`t really give enough detail to get through the delta.


Post date: Sat, 01/01/2000 - 07:00


Loop From Hartley Bay to Batt Bay, via the Old Voyageur and Voyageur Channels, in 4 days.

For details, map, and photos, see these webpages:

Post date: Sat, 01/01/2000 - 07:00


Did a variation of this trip in spring 2002. Only I paddled down the little Jamison Rapid and out to Georgian Bay. "The Finger Boads" were very beautiful however many ridges just below the water. So use caution in windy conditions. ALSO NOTE: The "French River Povincial Park" map has the Little Jamison rapids followed by the Big Jamison rapids. This is not the case. If you get a good top map the Little Jamison and Big Jamison are side by side divided by a long thin piece of land that can be seen on the Povincial map.

Post date: Sat, 01/01/2000 - 07:00


JUNE 22-26 2002

We just paddled (a variant) of this trip at very high water levels. We started at the village of French River (right on Highway 69 and the French River, canoe rental at French River Supply Post) and went through to the river delta at Georgian Bay. It was a fantastic trip with very enjoyable ‘Group of 7’ scenery (as is described above and in many other sources). Definitely recommended.

HOWEVER, the high water levels we encountered caused some of the swifts and currents to become impassable, and some others to appear where none were indicated on our map (the standard red map from Ontario Parks) nor mentioned in our book - or worse (Further up the Creek by Kevin Callan/Stodart Publishing ISBN 1-55046-275-X).

Since we started out at French River (and not at Hartley Bay) we had to go past Recollet Falls. These were definitely impassable (I guess that would be true at most water levels) and you should take the portage (boardwalk) to the left (south). I suggest not waiting for the boardwalk to get out, but get out some 10m before that, as there are some currents right at the boardwalk and in no case do you want to miss the boardwalk. The portage is short and easy. However, leaving the portage can be very imposing. We had to steer the canoe to the center of the river into the strong currents of the falls in order to get away from the falls. The ‘eddying power’ from the falls were very strong and put us right back at the foot of the portage during our first attempt.

The rapids downstream from Flowerpot Bay (I believe they are referred to as the flat rapids) could probably be run by experienced white water canoeists but for the rest of us the portage to the left (south) is highly recommended at these water levels. I believe that normally these rapids are run regularly by boats.

From here it was straight forward to our first camping spot just across from Crombie Bay.

The following day we went through the Old Voyageur Channel onto Georgian Bay. The map shows no rapids on this channel, and our book had some very deceptive descriptions of the currents.

The first rapids we encountered were just north of Morse Bay (which apparently is the ‘big’ water on the south/east of the Old Voyageur Channel, not named on the map…). These were not described in our book nor are they indicated on the map. They were easy to handle, but you may want to get on shore just before them to check them out as there are many possible routes (and they definitely were rapids). Alternatively, you could portage over an island somewhat to the left in the Channel, thereby bypassing the rapids altogether.

The next rapids were right after Morse Bay (Petite Faucill, again not on the map but in our book). They were really short, but in a curve and powerful. They could probably be run, but there is a really short, easy portage just to the left (south) of them.

The Palmer Rapids (not on the map, but in our book) came up quickly after, but did not amount to much. As a matter of fact, I do not remember much of them.

After Palmer Rapids the La Dalle swifts appear. They were described in our book as ‘no problem at any water level’. This is wrong. It is true that apparently for most of the year it does not amount to much. But the swifts are known by some locals as the ‘woman’s washing machine’ – check them out at these water levels and you will know why – and people have drowned here. Some brave people might want to attempt them, but anyone should first climb on shore and check them out right until the end (the start does not look that menacing). For most of us, there is some sort of a portage to the left of the swifts. The entrance of this portage is relatively easy to find, following the portage itself is harder but it does exist. After the portage you still need to navigate some light white water, but this was straight forward (and fun).

Next, we turned east into the West Cross Channel (which was upstream). However, the Cross Channel Rapids were impossible to do upstream, and we could not find a way through on land (nor did we want to, since by now we were not looking forward to go through the area of the Bad River rapids and the Devils Door). So we turned around (going west now) and went down the Fort Channel into Georgian Bay.

From here we stayed behind the shield of numerous small islands and rock formations to our second camping spot just west of Sand Bay. Even though Georgian Bay was somewhat rough, we were paddling on perfectly flat water all the way through to Sand Bay. Navigation through these islands/rocks is not made easier by the low water levels in Georgian Bay itself (thereby exposing more rocks than are indicated on the map), but the additional rocks do create more flat water.

On the next day we went up through Bass Creek, the Elbow, Whale’s Mouth, Eastern Outlet, Ox Bay, Wanapitei Bay and spent two nights in the area (the area is well described elsewhere, so attempting to improve on that would be arrogant). Water levels were not causing any significantly different circumstances here.

To get back to the village of French River (on Hwy 69) we took the Pickerel River, as the French River itself would have been made impossible by the currents caused by Recollet Falls. The Pickerel was easy going. Apparently there can be some very minor rapids/swifts where the river goes slightly North/South just west of Little Canoe Channel. In our case these were hardly detectible (we would not have noticed them if we did not know that they should be there – water was actually back flowing from the French into the Pickerel).

The final obstacle to our car was passing Little French Rapids. Apparently there is something of a portage to the left (north), which we could not get to (strong currents out of the rapids) or could simply not find. Nor could we find an ‘alternative’ portage; hence we turned back to Smith Marine/White Cross to arrange for a pick up.

All-in-all the trip was fantastic. What I described here are just the obstacles created by the unusually high water levels we encountered. The high water levels are not normal for this time of year. The water levels can change quickly (they are a by product of water level management of Lake Nipissing through dams in the French River), potentially removing these obstacles in a whim.

Post date: Sat, 01/01/2000 - 07:00


Loop From Hartley Bay to Batt Bay and return, via the Old Voyageur and Voyageur Channels, in 4 days. For details, map, and photos, see these webpages:

Post date: Fri, 09/04/2009 - 09:51


Western channel of French

Post date: Fri, 08/21/2009 - 13:33


The hydraulics or vertical drop at the Devil's Door and on the Jamiesons are diminished by: (1)lower water flow in the River, and (2)higher water levels in the Bay.