Commanda Island Loop

Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Trip Date : 
Route Author: 
Additional Route Information
20 km
2 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
220 m
Longest Portage: 
150 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Lake Travel: 
Not applicable
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Access to Put-In Information: 

The route could be accessed providing assistance was available to help move a wheelchair over the portage trails. The put-in at the bottom of Big Pine rapids could be difficult in low water - very bouldery at shoreline.

Technical Guide: 

Access is from Highway 69, approximately one hour south of the City of Sudbury

East on Hwy 64 through the town of Alban

Continue east on Hwy 528 to Wolsley Bay Marina
Start at Wolsley Bay Marina
East through Wolsley Bay
Southeast between Commanda Island and Dokis Reserve
Loop around Commanda Island including portages of:

P 30 m R around First Rainy Rapid

Wade or run Flat Rainy Rapid

P 40 m L or run Third Rainy Rapid (high water only)

Around the tip of Command Island and begin to head east
West on Main Channel of French, including portages of:

P 125 m L around Big Pine Rapids
(shown as 25 m on park map - wrong!)

P 25 m L around Little Pine Rapids

North then west through Wolsley Bay to finish at Wolsley Bay Marina

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

This journal describes a trip taken in mid-September, 1997. My fifteen-year old daughter Carly and I left for three days to paddle through Wolsley Bay and around Commanda Island. I used my solo canoe and she paddled a rented 17 ft. sea kayak. Water levels were quite low on the whole French River system.

Thurs Sept 11, 1997 - Day 1

After picking Carly up from her school at 3:00 pm, we made a few stops, headed south from Sudbury and were at Wolsley Bay Lodge at 5:00 pm. Unloaded the truck, paid for parking ($3.00/day) and were on the water by 5:30 pm.

We paddled east through Wolsley Bay. Because it was mid-week in September, traffic was not heavy, but there were still a surprising number of fishing boats out on the water. The shoreline along this first four km was dotted with lodges and cottages. Skies were very dark, but the forecast rain was continuing to hold off. I got a quick lesson in the efficiency of kayak travel as compared to canoe travel. Even though it was Carly`s first time using a sea kayak, I struggled to keep up. Mind you, I was carrying most of the gear (that`s my story, and I`m sticking to it!). Finally by changing to a bent-shaft paddle and paddling "sit-and-switch" I managed to somewhat match the pace of the kayak.

We had decided to paddle the "loop" around the island in the opposite direction than the route description, so when we arrived at the mouth of Wolsley Bay (by Rainy Island) we turned south towards the entrance to the Main Channel of the French. At about 7:30 pm we arrived at Little Pine Rapids. The rapid looked the same as the last time I was there, a small flow over a small drop with a good downstream vee, a section of flow over flat rock, then a ledge, and finally a shallow boulder garden on the left. Regardless, with myself in my wood cedar strip canoe and my daughter in a sea kayak, we were not entertaining any whitewater running, so we paddled into the small bay on the right of the rapid. The 25m length seemed accurate, and we carried the gear and boats over the flat stone point and put them back in below the rapid.

We checked out the campsite just past Little Pine Rapids on the south side, but it looked quite "brushy" and the mosquitoes were bad, so we paddled on. Within ten minutes, we were down at the top of Big Pine Rapids. There are two campsites marked along the portage on the north side of the rapid, so we decided to check them out. By this time it was beginning to get dark and we were becoming decidedly less fussy. Rather than two distinct campsites, there were really a number of fire pits and tent sites scattered along the portage. We chose a reasonably flat spot and set up the tent as quickly as possible.

It was now about 8:30 pm, quite dark, looking like rain and the mosquitoes were out with a vengeance. Where did all these mosquitoes come from in mid-September? Did we feel like setting up the stove and cooking a meal in the dark and rain while swatting bugs? No thanks! We grabbed cheese, crackers, pepperettes and pudding cups from the food pack and dived into the tent. After eating this gourmet supper, we cleaned up the leftovers and garbage, read for an hour and crashed.

Noticed a few stars out during the night ... did it mean a clearing trend?

Fri Sept 12, 1997 - Day 2

Woke up at 7:00 am to the sound of rain drops hitting the tent. Obviously no clearing trend. We weren`t in a rush to get going, so we decided to have a sleep-in day and see what would happen with the weather. The joys of a 25 km canoe trip - one doesn`t have to be very ambitious! I got back up at 9:30 - still raining! Set up the tarp next to our site and put on a pot of coffee. We decided to give it until noon to stop, then get going regardless of the weather. Lazed around and read in the tent until noon but still no break in the rain.

Resigned to the foul weather, we put on our rainsuits, packed up the wet gear and began portaging our boats and gear to the end of the portage we were camped on. The map shows the portage length as 25 m, but this isn`t even close. It`s more like 125 m from the distance we paced off, although it follows a good trail. The sloping rocks were a bit slippery in the rain.

We paddled around the tip of Commanda Island and began to head east up the channel. The south side of the island had very thick stands of bright red Cardinal flowers, and a mature male bald eagle flew over us in the misty rain. In all of my years of paddling, I had never seen a bald eagle. Now, two weekends in a row I had seen one. They are a magnificent bird.

We were immediately greeted by the sound of falling water and arrived at the first of the Rainy Rapids. We were intending to portage up this set of three rapids to get around Commanda Island. The low water level meant that the portages were not as easily accessible as they would normally have been. Getting out of the river and to the shoreline meant clambering over a bed of round, algae and moss-covered boulders. In the rainy conditions they felt as if they had been greased. We hopped and slipped our way along the shoreline, scouting for the easiest portage and came to the conclusion that the easiest way would be to backtrack out the same way we had come in.

Paddling back and repeating the portages through Big Pine and Little Pine Rapids took us about an hour. The rain continued to fall steadily. At the Little Pine Rapid portage, we met a school group heading in the opposite direction. There were about 28 people paddling in thirteen identical red canoes. We chatted for a few minutes and wished them luck finding a site (sites?) big enough to hold their group.

We had decided to spend our second night at one of the many sites on Wolsley Bay, so we began to paddle east towards a promising-looking grouping of red triangles on the map. The new French River Provincial Park map has the UTM grid printed on it, so it is easy to describe site locations. Unfortunately the old maps do not have this grid, thus the convoluted campsite description below for those who may wish to follow it.

We paddled past the lodge (marked with a number 43 on the map) then paddled eastward along the shoreline of the Dokis Reserve (the orange-coloured section). The first site we looked at was on the small island past the point where "No Camping" is marked on the map. It is a small island about 200m across, and the campsite is at the east end. This site is huge, but quite "developed", with a large food preparation table, a chest of drawers, and a permanent latrine behind the site. We carried on to check out the two sites on the island directly north of this island. It is about 800m long, with two bays on the south side (one cuts halfway through the island). There are actually three sites on the island, not the two that are indicated on the map. The site at the very east end is not great - very small. There are two sites on the south shore, one on each side of the deep bay. Both are clearly visible from the water and well used. The most easterly one had a lot of flat rock out at the shoreline, but did not have a good area for erecting a rain tarp. We paddled across the bay and set up at the one on the west side of the bay. It had large areas of flat bedrock at the shoreline, and a grouping of red pines around the firepit which were perfect for hanging the tarp.

The rain had tapered off by this time, but the sky was still full of threatening grey clouds. We put up the tent, organized our camp and started supper. Searched far and wide for suitable firewood, and finally got a fire going in one of the two firepits at the site. Carly took the solo canoe and went off exploring the opposite side of the bay on the island. She spent some time watching a Pileated Woodpecker tap it`s way around the dead trees over there (is that the one with the red "Mohawk" haircut? I`m no ornithologist!) A relaxing evening reading and playing cards, then we hit the sack. An hour later, the moon appeared in the sky, making us cautiously optimistic about some decent weather for the next day.

Sat Sept 13, 1997 - Day 3

Woke at 7:30 am to the glorious sight of sunlight streaming through the screen on the front of the tent. Went down to get a photo of the warm light hitting the boats at the waterfront, then crawled back into bed for half an hour. Got up and made the coffee, and sat basking in the warm sunshine and watching the birds flitting around in the trees and the squirrels running around for a couple of hours before Carly finally poked her head out of the tent.

Again, a less-than-ambitious day planned (only a 9 km paddle out to Wolsley Bay), so we spread the wet clothes and packs out on the warm rocks and let them dry. Nothing worse than having to unpack and dry out wet gear at home. By noon everything was dry and packed and we paddled west on glass-calm water towards Wolsley Bay. Saturday morning, so a few more fishing boats out on the water, but still not too busy. Just over two hours of leisurely paddling and we were back at the lodge to get our vehicle.

Richard Munn
September 1997

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:50,000): 
41 I/1 Noelville
Other Maps: 
French River Provincial Park map - shows most portages and campsites along the route.
Special Comments: 

A simple. novice-rated route. All rapids are easily portaged. The area tends to be quite busy in peak summer months and into the early fall season