French River Provincial Park
From: Victoria Day To: Thanksgiving (visitor centre)
Year Round: YES
Hours: July-Aug: daily 9:15 am-4:15 pm; spring & fall: weekends
Beautiful, unspoiled – yet accessible, the French River Provincial Waterway Park is best described as a 105-km. long series of island dotted lakes, connected by falls and rapids. Look over your shoulder as you portage around a rapid – you may sense the spirits of past French Canadian voyageurs traversing this first water highway to the west. Such a place is Recollet Falls, which may be reached by a 1.5-km. trail from the Park Visitor Centre at Hwy 69. The falls has a nice picnic spot with an impressive view on the edge of the thunderous cataract. Other rapids like Devil’s Door and Sturgeon Chutes are infamous.
Boaters will find the French River to be a navigable paradise. The upper stretch (east of Hwy 69) has north and main channels that also connect with the Pickerel River. Powerboats can negotiate the upper main channel for 30 km. without having to portage. Major falls or rapids have convenient ramps built around them to facilitate easy portaging. Wolseley Bay, located at the end of Hwy 528, is the gateway to the endless paradise of islands and channels that comprise the upper French River. The region has a singular geology where numerous fault lines intersect to form crisscross patterns that define the waterways and create a “pool and drop” configuration that is fascinating to explore.
Anglers will find Ontario’s most sought after game fish in the French River. Walleye, Musky, Northern pike, Largemouth and Smallmouth bass are plentiful. Channel catfish can be caught there too. Best access to the Upper French is via Wolseley Bay; the Main Channel via French River Station; and the Western Channel and delta via Hartley Bay. Summer is an ideal time to combine a family vacation with fishing, while spring and fall brings more active fishing. The hospitality industry has much to offer: Services range from campgrounds and cozy cottages to boat rentals, golf, restaurants, motels or lodges with full meal plans.
The lower river divides into a maze of channels that lead to Georgian Bay’s fantastic archipelago of islands. The delta has a series of glacier-sculpted ridges named the Fingerboards that taper into the bay and reemerge on the Bustard Islands. Smooth slopes of multi-coloured granite are pocketed with thick blueberries and gnarled, dwarf trees. Rare wildlife such as elk, Blandings Turtle and Massasauga Rattlesnake can be seen. Ghost towns and abandoned camp relics can be explored. The French River Visitor Centre is located south of the bridge on Hwy 69 as the centre for the Provincial Waterway Park. Exhibits of the ecology, history and artifacts of the fur trade and lumber booms tell the story of this legendary region. A 100-metre suspension bridge spans the gorge, providing a spectacular view high above the river. Rugged cliffs rise from both sides of the river. Tall pines sigh in the breeze and provide shade and a restful ambience in the picnic area. Park Bus service to the park from Toronto is available by calling 1-800-928-7101.