French River: Wolseley Bay to Hwy 69 (3 days / 38 km)

Unique experience of boating in French River Wolseley Bay to Hwy

While I was visiting Ontario, my dad and I planned a short canoe trip with a little whitewater. We chose the French River because it was easy to do a self-shuttle, not too far from where we live and had easy enough whitewater that I felt comfortable doing it with just one boat.

We started on Wolseley Bay and paddled the section “Five Mile Rapids”, tackling two CII rapids and a handful of swifts. Water levels were low so we had to line one rapid and portage another. Since it was September, we saw very few other people – only one other canoe and a dozen or so fishing boats.

This is a great route for beginner whitewater paddlers.

Trip Completed: September 2022


Trip Summary

Starting Point: Lodge at Pine Cove

Ending Point: French River Supply Post

Total Distance: 38 km

Duration: 3 days

Difficulty: Intermediate

Location

This route takes place in French River Provincial Park, starting at Wolseley Bay to Hwy 69.

Traditional Territory: This route occurs on the territory of the Mississauga and Anishinabewaki (source).

Maps & Resources

Maps: We carried a copy of the Ontario Parks’ French River Map, purchased from Chrismar Adventure Maps. It had all of the access points, campsites, portages and rapids labeled.

Campsite Reservations: We had to do a Backcountry Registration through the Ontario Parks reservation portal. We had to select which ‘Zone’ we would camp in each night. For this route, we did Zone 4 on night one and Zone 5 on night two. For two nights and two people, the permits came to $44.

Note: The new campsite numbers correspond to the zone number. Campsites starting with a 4 are in Zone 4, campsites starting with a 5 are in Zone 5, and so one.

Outfitters & Shuttles

Outfitters: We rented a canoe from Swift Canoe & Kayak along the 400 Highway. In addition to the canoe, they provided a bailer, tow rope and tie down kit so we could attach the canoe to the car (our cars didn’t have roof racks).

Shuttles: We weren’t able to find anyone able to provide a shuttle, so we had to do a self shuttle. We drove two cars to the French River Supply Post and left one there. It costs $12 per calendar day plus $10 per canoe (with tax, it came to $56). Then we drove one car to the Lodge at Pine Cove and paid $10 per calendar day to leave the other car here ($36 with tax).

We used the boat launch at the lodge to start the trip. On the last day, we used the boat launch at the French River Supply Post as the take out, picked up the one car and drove back to the lodge to pick up the other. Doing the self-shuttle added an hour of driving on the last day.

Know Before You Go

Season: You can paddle the French River from ice-out (normally late May) until the end of October. The river is busiest between late June and August. Only paddle in May / early June if you’re experienced with ice-out paddling and high water levels. September and October are also pleasant times to paddle but it’ll be cold and the water levels will likely be low. See more about this belo!

Cell Reception: There was no cell service from the put-in until we reached Haystack Islands. Once we were around the power lines and near Dry Pine Bay, we had enough cell service to get emails and make phone calls. We also brought a Garmin in Reach.

Water: Tons of water – all of which you can drink after purifying.

Wildlife: Boat traffic keeps there from being tons of wildlife on this specific route, but in general, it’s not uncommon to see eagles, turtles, beavers and the occasional black bear or moose. Be mindful of food and trash at your campsite and appropriately store it overnight.

Waste: Ensure you pack out all of your trash. Some campsites have thunderboxes but bring a trowel and practice Leave No Trace pooping in case yours doesn’t.

Drones: There are no drones allowed in French River Provincial Park.

Trip Report

Day 1: Lodge at Pine Cove to Big Pine Rapids (5 km)

After three of so kilometers of paddling, we arrived at Little Pine Rapids, which kicks off the section of the river called Five Mile Rapids. There are about a dozen rapids/swifts in this section.

The water levels at Little Pine Rapids were too low to paddle, so we did a carry over instead. Then we paddled less than a kilometre to Big Pine Rapids, but decided to camp upstream to the rapid as it was almost 5:30 pm.

We cooked steaks and vegetables on the fire. After a full day of blue skies, the cloud started to come in, robbing us any sunset opportunity.

Campsite: #400 was a great site. There was a good take out and swim spot. The fire pit was great and there was even a little wooden table. The tent spots were away 30 m from the fire pit, nestled among some pine trees, and the ground was flat. We didn’t see a thunder box.

Day 2: Big Pine Rapids to Four Mile Island (28 km)

It rained on and off throughout the night and I was relieved we’d set up a tarp the evening before. Thankfully, by the time we were ready to cook breakfast and take down the tent, the rain had stopped. We had eggs, bacon and carrots muffins for breakfast. After we were packed up, we grabbed some gear and walked the portage trail to scout the rapid (I’d investigated the night before and was pretty confident we wouldn’t be able to run it).

Sure enough, Big Pine Rapids had low water and it was too boney to paddle. Since the rapid has three parts, it would have been a lot of work to try to line. We opted to portage from Campsite #400. The portage was 170 m and well maintained. It was a little rocky in one section, but overall very straightforward. We did two trips and it took about 25 minutes and we got our boat in the water at 9:15 am.

There was about 2 km of flatwater paddling, with a small swift in the middle, before the next feature. We arrived at The Ladder and were surprised to hear no running water. Water levels were so low the rapid didn’t have water coming over it! I thought we could carry over the first rung of the ladder, paddle 20 m and then carry over the second rung of the ladder. Then my dad had the (better) idea to paddle around to Blue Chute and do the 50 m portage instead.

We paddled around Double Rapids Island to Blue Chute. To our surprise, the lower water levels meant the chute was totally paddle-able. We scouted the rapid and found it was a straightforward CII with an obvious V, lots of water and no obstacles. We hopped in the boat and had an exciting ride down.

After a few hundred metres of paddling, we came to Big Parisien Rapids. I don’t know what this rapid looks like in regular water levels, but for us it had a short CII drop at the top, then a second CII drop followed by a longer CI tail at the bottom. After scouting, we paddled down, sticking to the centre for the first drop, centre-left for the second drop and centre for the tail. Alternatively, there is a 160 m portage trail on the right side.

The next feature we came to was an island with Devil Chute on one side and flat water on the other side. We opted for Devil Chute which, at these water levels, was just a long and voluminous CI. Next up was an island with Little Parisian Rapids on one side and a swift on the other. We took the swift, as I didn’t want to risk low water forcing us to portage 100 m around Little Parisian.

After another short stint of flatwater, we came to the final rapid in the Five Mile Rapids section, but there was nothing at Crooked Chute! Consistent with this trip report, at low water levels Crooked Chute just current. We continued paddling, feeling cheated out of our last whitewater feature. We took a break at campsite #502 for trail mix and to stretch our legs.

Next we paddled about 6 km down the river, going around a few islands, including Cross Island. Once we reached Parisian Island, we stopped at its campsite (#511) for lunch. We had cream cheese and smoked salmon on bagels.

After 1:30 pm we were back in the boat. Neither my dad nor I liked the section after Parisian Island. Despite having a great tailwind, this section felt long and slow moving. The river widens, there’s no features to look forward to or interesting islands to see, and there are more fishing boats. Shortly after Haystack Islands, we could see the power lines and it seemed they were not getting closer despite all the paddling. This obviously wasn’t the case, but it sure felt like it.

Knowing we had a long drive back, we opted to push an additional 5 km behind my initial plan, all the way to Lost Child’s Bend. The first site we checked out was #536. It was a beautiful site with an amazing view, but didn’t have any good tent spots. Next we went to #537 which looked amazing, with a big sandy beach. Unfortunately there was already another group there.

Finally we made it to #524 on Four Mile Island at 4:30 pm. The tailwind definitely added at least 1 km/h to our paddling speed. I’d budget for more time in this section just in case you get a head wind. After an hour of relaxing and drying wet gear, we made pasta for dinner.

Campsite: #524 was a decent campsite. It had a great view of the river. It was quite exposed with few trees, so there was always a slight breeze (enough to keep the mosquitos mostly away). The fire pit was okay and there was only one decent tent spot (and it still had a slight tilt to it). There was very, very little firewood. We couldn’t find a thunderbox but we did find a rope which can be used to get onto a ledge with a nice view.

Day 3: Four Mile Island to French River Supply Post (5 km)

The last day was uneventful. After a quick breakfast of oatmeal, we went south around Four Mile Island until we reached Dry Pine Bay. Wind levels were low so it was easy crossing the bay (it’s only about 500 m across I think). There were 4 or 5 fishing boats, all of which gave us space when passing.

After crossing the bay, we paddled on the French River for another kilometre, sticking to River Right. French River Supply Post was easy to spot. There’s a rocky boat canoe launch and a dock behind the fishing boat docks. We chose the dock, unloaded and grabbed the car from the parking lot, which was about 200 m away from the dock. After packing the car we drove back to the Lodge at Pine Cove to grab the other car and headed home.

Reflections

Go in the late spring / early summer when water levels are higher. By the end of summer and early autumn, water levels have dropped enough to make some of the rapids un-paddle-able. We weren’t able to run Big Pine or Little Pine rapids for lack of water, but I’ve heard from others that earlier in the summer you’re able to run both of them.

Parking Fees are so High! I’d read online that parking was $10 per day at the French River Supply Post and $7 per day at the lodge. Our trip was less than 48 hours long, so I’d mistakenly calculated 2 x ($10 + $7) and expected to pay $34 for parking. I hadn’t realized it was per calendar day and that rates had increased or that there was an additional boat launch fee.

If I were to do the trip again, I would probably start at Otter Bay and end at the intersection of Settler’s Road and the Little French River, both of which are free access points. This would add on a day and a half of paddling. There wouldn’t be anyone monitoring the vehicles, but it would avoid having to spend $90 just to park the two cars.


About the Author

I’m Mikaela and I’m the voice behind Voyageur Tripper, an outdoor adventure blog. I used to work as a wilderness guide, leading canoeing and hiking trips in Ontario, Quebec and Nunavut. Now I develop resources (like this site!) to help other people get outside.

Instagram: @voyageurtripper

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