History of the French River
Formed around 800 BC, the French River emerged from the depths of Georgian Bay (Lake Huron) when pressures exerted by the ice sheet during the last ice age caused the land to tilt in a southwesterly direction. Over its 105-kilometre length, the river drops a mere 19 metres. In the summer, the water is warm; in the winter it is covered by a thick coating of ice.
In French River: Canoeing the River of the Stick-Waivers, author Toni Harting gives readers an entertaining account of the waterway's rich history. Harting traces the French River's story through geological times, describes its use as an important Aboriginal trade route, and charts the movements of the French and British fur traders who plied its waters.
More lake than river, the French is a collection of channels and inlets, bays and marshes, rapids and falls. Unlike many rivers in Ontario, its water levels remain relatively stable over the season. These features, when combined with its sparse human population, and abundant fish and wildlife make it one of Canada's best wilderness rivers — perfect for canoeing and kayaking. It strategically links the Ottawa River watershed to the Great Lakes and beyond, which contributed to its important place in Canada's history, and its designation as the country's first Canadian Heritage River.
A large island, Doctor's Island is a popular spot for blueberry picking in July and August; exploring among the rocks and mixed oak, poplar, pine and spruce forest; diving from rocky outcrops or simply slipping off warm granite into clear warm water. There's plenty of sunshine and shade on Doctor's Island. (If you intend to jump or dive from cliffs, please be sure to check water depths first.)
It is a short 10-minute trip to Doctor's Island on the Lodge at Pine Cove's Water Taxi. To paddle there by canoe or kayak takes between 45 minutes and 2 hours (each way) depending on your skill level, wind conditions and whether or not you poke your boat's bow into the small bays along the way. It is a wonderful spot for families.
Little Pine Rapids
The Little Pine rapids are the gateway to the Main Channel of the French River, Five Mile Rapids, Big Pine Rapids, Blue Chute and Georgian Bay. A fun three-to-four-hour trip is to circumnavigate Commanda Island starting from Little Pine Rapids. Paddle past the large fishing lodge, down a beautiful channel to the Rainy Rapids, a set of three rapids that you should be able to run. You will have to line your canoe or kayak up the Big Pine and the Little Pine rapids or portage over a short granite trail used for centuries by voyageurs to complete your loop. This is the heart of voyageur country and there are lots of great swimming and picnicking spots along the way.
Experienced whitewater paddlers can also try their skill by running the Big Pine and Little Pine rapids. They vary in difficulty depending on water levels.
Little Pine is also a great fishing spot, has incredible wild blueberries, some fabulous swimming holes and picnic spots galore. It is a wonderful place for families.
It is a short 10-minute trip to Little Pine Rapids on the Lodge at Pine Cove's Water Taxi. To paddle there by canoe or kayak takes between 45 minutes and 2 hours (each way) depending on your skill level, wind conditions and whether or not you poke your boat's bow into the small bays along the way.
Five Finger Rapids
Situated on land owned by the Dokis First Nation (Make sure you buy a permit from French River Adventures or the Lodge at Pine Cove before you set out.), Five Finger Rapids is the most popular destination for people visiting the Middle French River. There are spectacular rapids, a deeply cut channel with granite cliffs and wonderful hiking trails, so it's easy to spend a full day at this location.
You can jump off cliffs into deep water (always check the water depth before diving from a cliff), play downstream from the rapids or walk upstream and swim in one of several small lakes. There are many spots to set out your picnic lunch or pick blueberries and winterberries. You can hike upstream for a kilometre or more or follow the portage route to the Little French River. In June, keep an eye out for pink Lady's Slippers.
There's a good chance that you'll also see beavers, otters, great blue herons and other waterfowl.
It is a 20-minute trip to Five Finger Rapids on the Lodge at Pine Cove's Water Taxi. To paddle there by canoe or kayak takes between 90 minutes and 2 hours (each way) depending on your skill level, wind conditions and whether or not you poke your boat's bow into the small bays along the way. Five Finger Rapids is a must-do when visiting the Lodge at Pine Cove and the Middle French River.