For Toronto-based professional photographer Henry Liu, kayaking Georgian Bay offers a refreshing escape from his hectic schedule of teaching landscape photography workshops in the city. The sculpted islands and quiet passages of the North Channel offer a diversity that few stretches of water can rival.

The North Channel is a geological marvel

At the top of Lake Huron, nestled behind Manitoulin Island, the 150-kilometer-long Channel showcases geology from three distinct landforms: the glacier-smoothed whalesback of the Canadian Shield, the startling white quartzite of the La Cloche Mountains, and the fossil-filled terraces of an ancient limestone seabed.

Combined with the northern edge of Georgian Bay, this is some of the best kayak touring the Great Lakes has to offer. “The coastal area from Killarney to French River, with its thousands of small islands, is like a playground for me as a photographer and paddler,” says Liu.

[ Plan your next Georgian Bay adventure with the Paddling Trip Guide ]

Sunrise on the French River, near Georgian Bay
Sunrise on the French River. | Photo: Henry Liu
Wildlife

Black bear, fox, beaver, otter, bald eagle, sandhill crane, snapping turtle.

Exposure

Prevailing fair-weather westerlies aid eastbound paddlers; expect crossings of up to five kilometers to reach more remote islands.

Diversion

Hike up The Crack in Killarney Provincial Park; learn voyageur history at the French River Visitor Centre; or experience the Sagamok Traditional Pow Wow, held every July near Massey.

Outfitters

Caribou Expeditions‘ six-day North Channel kayak tour; Black Feather‘s five-day kayak camping in the North Channel; Ontario Sea Kayak Centre‘s multi-day skills courses and kayak yoga trips out of Killarney.

Must-have

Kayaking Georgian Bay requires jedi tarpology skills (for shade, and rain); star charts.

Take a trip back through time

Just before Huron’s shoreline turns abruptly south, the braided passages at the mouth of the French River mark the historic highways of the intrepid voyageurs. More recently, the polished pink granite campsites and windswept pine points of Killarney Provincial Park welcome kayakers in greater numbers every year. Still, many coves and islands remain unfrequented, their quiet shores offering adventurous paddlers the chance to savor a sublime sunset or discover a 445-million-year-old cephalopod fossil just above the waves.

Dark skies overhead

“My most memorable nights kayaking Georgian Bay have been spent on the tiny islets near West Fox Island,” says Liu, “where I could stargaze the Milky Way hanging over my head without worrying about light pollution. The midnight aurora shows were a totally unexpected bonus.”

Kayaking Georgian Bay and the North Channel

If you have a half day

Launch from the end of Weegwas Road near the community of Cutler and explore the pretty islands of Whalesback Channel.

If you have a day

Paddle out Killarney’s Chikanishing Creek and aim for lunch on West Fox Island, where the lofty views south over the bay and north to the La Cloche will take your breath away.

If you have a weekend

Put-in at McBean Harbour near Massey and tour out to the popular Fox and Benjamin islands. Head east to Matheson Island to score solitude and spectacular stargazing.

If you have a week

Tour east from Chikanishing along the south shore of Philip Edward Island and onwards to the mouth of the French. Take time to explore the lonely range lights and sheltered channels of the Bustard Islands, and the tigertail rocks of the Outer Fox Islands. Paddle up the Key River to take out.

This article was first published in the Fall 2016 issue of Adventure Kayak Magazine. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.


 

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1 COMMENT

  1. Hi Virginia Marshall,

    After seeing your byline on a “Paddling Magazine” article ( a critique of Swift’s 16-8 solo), I began reviewing some of your other efforts, eventually landing on this one describing the appeal of paddling Georgian Bay and the North Channel.

    Many years ago, after exiting The French River through “Voyageurs’ Channel”, I headed west, traversing Georgian Bay and the North Channel on my way to Sault St. Marie. Although my focus was on getting as much water under my keel as possible (launching “above” the Lachine Rapids, it was injuries on The Methye Portage that eventually did-me-in.), it was, nonetheless, like so many sections of the Voyageur’s “Highway of the North”, a spectacular and memorable run.

    Thanks for reminding me.

    Best wishes for your continued success.
    Michael

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