Paddling the Georgian Bay Basin by Coast

By Leigh McAdam September 9, 2015

Georgian Bay is a BIG body of water covering 15,000 square km. As such, it’s been called by some the “sixth Great Lake.” Capable of generating its own waves, currents, and even weather, it is a first-class kayaking destination – especially eastern Georgian Bay where the Canadian Shield is exposed to reveal a landscape consisting of 30,000 rugged yet beautiful, windswept islands. These islands are a great destination for kayakers.

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There are three main areas from where to launch a kayak north of the French River. Choose from Hartley Bay Marina, accessed west off of Highway 69 just north of the French River Trading Post; the launch site at Chikanishing Creek inside Killarney Provincial Park; or from the town docks in Killarney. Launch costs vary from no cost up to $10 should you launch your own kayak at Hartley Bay Marina. (Their rental kayaks are free.) However, there is a parking fee at Chikanishing Creek of $14/day. Arrange a shuttle – for a reasonable price with Killarney Outfitters – if you’re going to be out for longer.

The hard decision is choosing which part of Georgian Bay to explore. Talk to the people at Killarney Outfitters as they have a wealth of knowledge and are happy to share their expertise of the area.

Here are some trips to consider:

1-5 Day Circumnavigation of Philip Edward Island

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Leave from Chikanishing Creek and head for Philip Edward Island, just a kilometre away from the mainland. You can do it as an out-and-back trip in a day, but ideally do a multi-day, 50-km circumnavigation of the island. Wind will likely dictate what direction you’ll travel. It is recommended that you plan to be in Collins Inlet if possible, a busy boating channel, on the windiest part of the trip. You’ll need to get a long range forecast or carry a marine radio. Most of the island is Crown land so you can camp for free – providing you are a Canadian resident. (If you’re not a Canadian resident you need to get a permit from the Ontario Government to comply with the Crown land law.) The south end of Philip Edward Island is the most beautiful for camping. Over the course of the trip enjoy fantastic swimming and memorable sunsets.

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Optional Side Trips from Philip Edward Island

According to Rachel Sorochan, an employee of Killarney Outfitters, if at all possible visit the Chicken Islands – a pile of shoal islands that are very beautiful and much photographed. She tells me you can visit them as a day trip from Philip Edward but you can also camp on them.

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Hartley Bay Marina to the Bustard Islands

The Bustard Islands offer a stunning landscape of roughly 600 islands, some of which are shoals just breaking the surface. This is an area that’s worthy of a kayaker’s bucket list but it’s not great for beginners because of nasty winds that can blow up quickly. One of the best ways to access the islands is via a 20-km paddle down the French River from Hartley Bay Marina followed by a 4-km crossing.

Photo credit to Margaret Plamer at Hartley Bay Marina

Photo courtesy of Hartley Bay Marina

Margaret Palmer, the host at the marina, says this way you get the best of both worlds – the historic nature of the French River and the scenic beauty of the Georgian Bay. Pick up a camping permit as this area is all part of French River Provincial Park. They can be purchased at the marina for $10.20/day/adult with campsites available on a first come, first served basis. Once on the Bustard Islands you can enjoy the beauty and seclusion of the islands as well as the sight of two unmanned lighthouses. Allow 3-4 days in total.

Philip Edward Island to the Bustard Islands

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A popular trip for experienced kayakers is one between Philip Edward and the Bustard Islands. Allow 5 – 7 days and be prepared to wait out the wind if need be.

On all trips expect to see wildlife including eagles, deer, moose, and black bears. Be bear aware. Hang your food; keep it in bear-proof containers or, as a last resort, in your kayak, some distance away from your tents. This is rattlesnake country too, although on the islands sightings are rare. Give any snakes you see some space!

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If you’re not comfortable arranging and navigating a trip on your own, you can sign up on a tour with one of the following: Voyageur Quest, Black Feather, Wild Woman Expeditions, White Squall, or Wilderness Adventures.

Always go prepared with the right clothes, extra food, safety gear, and a weather radio – tune into Environment Canada for the most reliable forecast.

Kayaking in and around the islands in the Georgian Bay Basin is magical and the perfect destination for a dose of rugged wilderness.

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