Hartley Bay to Hen Island, Georgian Bay

CanadaOntarioGeorgian Bay coast
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Additional Route Information
100 km
4 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
240 m
Longest Portage: 
240 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Lake Travel: 
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Technical Guide: 

Hartley Bay to any campsite on the Western Channel - 20km.
Down the Old Voyageur Channel (this section has four rapids, CI - CII, and is described in other routes descriptions on this site)
On exiting the Old Voyageur Channel go west along the cross channel (marked as the Voyageur Channel on the French River map).
The westernmost section of the cross channel is overgrown with reeds and becomes impassable where the river turns south-west - too shallow. Turn south to Batt Bay when you get to the reeds.
Batt Bay west to Moose Bay, across Chaughis Bay to Point Grondine and west to Hen Island - 25 km.
Return to Moose Bay and paddle across the outer islands of the delta to any campsite - 20 km.
Paddle to The Finger Boards, past Sand Bay and across the French River Main Outlet to the Bass Lake portage (a 240m boardwalk with a wheelbarrow).
After the portage paddle north through Bass Lake, the Elbow and back to Harley Bay - 35 km.

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

This was a solo trip in mid-August 2003, from Friday to Tuesday evening. Sunny and hot all five days.

Average paddling speed - 4km/hr

Day 1
Departed Toronto at 9am and launched at Hartley Bay by 1pm. $5/day parking and $5 to put in and $5 to take out.

The last campsite (Echo Beach) on the right before the Old Voyageur Channel is not quite accurate on my French River map. By my estimate it is about 200 metres upriver from where it is indicated on the map. It is a flat clearing facing up river with some name painted on the rocks. It is a rather unintersting site.

Day 2
Starting close to the entrance of the Old Voyageur Channel gave me a good early headstart - I had the Old Voyageur Channel all to myself on a Saturday and didn't see anyone until I was out on Georgian Bay.

The place where the Old Voyageur Channel branches to a small waterfall on the left had plentiful ripe blueberries. I was eating them by the handful. But the fauna here is very fragile, as it is on most of Georgian Bay. I try to step on bare rock instead of on the plants and mosses (some of the latter are easily uprooted). Heavy aggressive soled hiking boots or shoes should be avoided.

The Old Voyageur Channel ends at an east-west cross channel. I paddled west and explored through the reeds/swamp grass at the far western end. It is possible to paddle through the reeds but the westernmost end of the channel is too shallow to pass through. I explored through the reeds until I couldn't go any further and doubled back to the first channel (where the reeds begin) going down to Batt Bay.

I had no wind to speak of so I paddled straight across the mouth of Chaughis Bay to Point Grondine. Coming around the Point I had a light headwind until reaching Hen Island.

Hen Island has a long shallow protected bay with a sandy bottom and sandy beach making it a great swimming hole and popular destination for the locals. When I arrived there was a family of four on the beach. They said they were just having a picnic and didn't intend to camp so I landed and chatted with them for an hour or so. They offered me a slice of melon and a cold gingerale. As they were leaving I noticed one of the kids sandals in the sand. They picked it up and were on their way.

The island has numerous tent pads up on the flat rocks but I set my tent up on the sand beach. On my topographic map Hen Island appears as two islands but with the drop in Geogian Bay water levels it is now one island.

From Hen Island I could see the La Cloche mountains in the distance and the sun setting behind them.

Day 3
Hen Island was so pretty I decided to stay for another night. I just lazed around on the rocks all morning - much like you see snapping turtles basking in the sun. Later five American kayakers arrived for a lunch break. They hung around for a couple of hours and then headed off to find a campsite in the French River delta.

I enjoyed another sunset but was soon interupted by two jetskis. A couple disembarked and went to the other end of the island to ... watch the rising red full moon. I retired about 10pm and heard them leave at midnight. Hen Island is the nicest in the general vicinity but certainly not the only one.

Day 4
I was up early, had breakfast, packed and on the water before 9am. I decided I would explore SugarJohn Bay for the morning and then head back to the delta in the afternoon. This seemed to make sense as the previous morning the wind was coming from the east and before noon it reversed direction completely. I hoped this pattern would repeat itslef, giving me a tailwind back to the delta. Sure enough, the wind was coming from the north-east in the morning. Unfortunately, it stayed that way all day, only increasing in force.

I took my time meandering through The Chickens and as I turned up SugarJohn Bay the wind increased. I stayed on an island for a long lunch and monitored the wind. By noon the wind hadn't changed direction and only grew stronger. Instead of crossing bays, I would spend the day hugging the shore and meandering through islands. Actually, the section from Popharp Point at SugarJohn Bay to just north of Hen Island was a scenic and wonderful little maze with many dead ends worth exploring. I recommend paddling these inner islands even if you are blessed with favourable winds on both your in and out journeys. I couldn't help thinking about those poor American kayakers who were staying to the open water and missing all these beautiful little islands and bays. Many of these islands would be fine for camping and certainly more private than Hen Island which is one of the few accessable by power boats with its own protected harbour.

The headwind coming around Point Grondine was so strong that paddling forward was like standing still. It was almost as bad in Chaughis Bay and I considered camping on an island here but decided to press on, always staying close to shore and islands to minimise the effect of the wind. I came to a long shallow channel and had to step out and walk the canoe through. It was here that I realised I had forgotten my sandals at Hen Island. I went barefoot and it wasn't too bad but I was was kicking myself for leaving behind my favourite sandals (if anyone finds them I would certainly like them back - see the classified forum or e-mail me).

Standing atop Indian Bight I saw a huge deer. Once past Indian Bight and Moose Bay I had some relief from the wind as it was now coming at a slight angle.

It was around 7:30pm when I got to Eagle Nest Point. There was a cairn on the point but I couldn't find any campsite. One hundred metres to the east I found a place to camp, no firepit, a poor landing, and a flat section of rock big enough for only one tent. Every time I come here I find the French River Provincial Park campsites on Georgian Bay to be poorly marked and difficult to find.

Day 5
I woke up and headed out without breakfast. I wanted to get to Hartley Bay before the marina closed so I knew I had a long paddle ahead of me. And again it was mostly in a headwind or slight cross wind. Just my luck that I have a headwind on my way in and a headwind on my way out!

I stopped on the outer edge of the Finger Boards for lunch. I pulled up to a flat rock just inches above and surround by water. From a distance it must have looked like I was sitting on the water!

Approaching the channel that leads to the Bass Lake portage can be tricky. I used my map and compass bearings and that got me there without a hitch.

After not seeing anyone all day I arrived at the portage to find a 25 foot Voyageur canoe, a group of 4 canoes and two canoes attached like a catamaran with a complicated sailing rig that needed to be disassmebled. But with the boardwalk and the wheelbarrow this is one of the easiest portages around.

Paddling north up the French River Main Channel was not as windy as I expected it would be. Besides, it was getting late and the wind tends to die down in the evening.

I arrived at Hartley Bay by 8pm and was on the road by 8:30.

I took 5 days to do this trip but one day was a layover day on Hen Island. The days paddling I made many side trips exploring islands and bays. The weather couldn't be better - almost too much sun! Barring bad weather, especially strong winds and waves, this route can be done in 4 days. On the way back the wind was strong enough to make me want to paddle through the islands close to shore. If I had all calm days I may have been tempted to paddle out closer to the open water and missed these most beautiful parts of the trip. I was pleasantly suprised to see few other paddlers or boaters on the Georgian Bay section - except at Hen Island and the single easy portage.

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:50,000): 
Collins Inlet 41 H/14
Other Maps: 
French River Provincial Park, Ontario Parks
Special Comments: 

While paddling in amongst the islands of Georgian Bay I frequently ran aground on rocks just below the surface. If you don't want to scratch the bottom of your canoe, then this is probably not the route for you.

On the way back I camped at Eagle Nest Point and had difficulty finding the actual campsite. There was a cairn on the point but no campsite. What I found a little further east was a poor site, one tent pad, no firepit. There are other sites in Batt Bay which may be worth checking out instead.

The mainland of Point Grondine is a First Nations reserve so you should ask permission to camp there. No need really because the islands are crownland.