Days
3
Motors Allowed?
Yes
Difficulty
Easy / Class A
Distance
40.00 km (24.85 mi)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

While most beginner friendly canoe routes may be a bit dull for experienced paddlers, the French River’s Figure Eight Loop punches way above it’s weight. The narrow waterways that allow for interesting routes weaving between small islands makes an interesting change from open lakes of Algonquin. For beginner paddlers the short distances allow wiggle room for navigation mistakes, but also make it less stressful. 

The Figure Eight Loop is the most popular, running 40 kilometers in a figure eight shape. It takes the southern section of the French River out through numerous small islets on the Georgian Bay. You need not trace this exact route once in the area, but allows you to make the most of the numerous offshoots, and scenic waterways that make up the French River. Coming from the coast, it's surprising to find there is no noticeable current at all on the river (except near the Dalles Rapid for a section of 100 meters). So the direction you paddle doesn’t make a difference to your speed, or whether you follow the loop clockwise, or counter clockwise. 

The biggest consideration on the route is wind. It is generally windy in the afternoons as anabatic winds blow in from the Georgian Bay and are funneled up the waterways making impressive headwinds for those paddling south. A good rule of thumb for fairweather days is to start and finish early when heading south. On the second half of the trip you can take longer days as the winds blowing south to north act as a potent tail wind. 

The launch is located 3 hours north of Toronto near Perry Sound in a small hamlet called Hartley Bay. It is very easy to do the loop over a long weekend, though the park is often a lot busier at this time making camping spots tricker to find. For experienced paddlers this route can be done easily in a weekend, especially if you launch Friday night. 

The Figure Eight Loop begins in Hartley Bay where you make your way westwards into a larger lake like section. This is known as the Main Outlet. Here you can choose to head southwards down the Main Outlet to a junction known as the “Elbow” or Eastward through a narrow channel past channel island, and eventually down to the Elbow via Canoe Chanel. There is no right or wrong way, though most people favor the southern route as there is more campsites available in this direction. 

At the Elbow the Main Outlet veers west, where it abuts the Dalles Rapids. The longest portage is here, about 180 meters. Finding the portage is tricky. Many elect to simply run the rapids instead as they are often not more than Class 1 or 2 rapids at worst for a very short section. From here it's a straight shot out to Georgian Bay. 

Campsites generally aren't great in Georgian Bay. There are two good ones near Damien Island, but they are frequently full. The other options are on bare rocks with little shelter from the wind. If you've got an excellent site at the Elbow it's often worth taking a day trip to explore the bay. 

Return up from the bay involves passing through two portages. The first is a short 40 meter section of uphill with loose talus like rocks that make it tricky to just haul boats up and over. This gets you to a very narrow little stream with serene lilly pads and rushes. It's near impossible not to slow down and quietly pass through this areas. 

Beyond it's back up to the Elbow. From here most folks veer eastwards towards the Whales Mouth and Canal Chanel for a bit of variety. Eventually this pops back into the Main outflow just around the corner from Hartley Bay. 

Gear

Canoes are the most common form of traveling the Figure 8 loop. Sea kayaks are also an option, though there are three short portages that are necessary to cross. The 40 meter portage just North of Obstacle Island, is awkward, it may be necessary to unload the kayak before moving it. 

A map is critical. The Ontario parks maps are best, and Unlostify make some good options as well. These are critical for finding campsites, which can be very hard to find without a map, and navigating the rather complex waterways. With a map this is a simple, but without one, guess work will lead to a lot of frustrations. 

Campsites are located throughout the river with the highest density being near the Elbow, and Georgian Bay. The quality though is variable. Particularly in Georgian Bay only Obstruction and Dorion Islands (Sites 717 and 718). During long weekends and high volume periods it’s not a bad idea to either hang out at the Elbow and do a day trip to Georgia Bay, or venture further out to the Bustard Islands (conditions permitting). 

Most cooking is done on the fire pits at each designated campsite. Campsites have rings for fires, and generally there is not fire bans, thought it’s prudent to always check in advance. Most campsites have grills, but not all. 

If you are paddling by Canoe you can rent from the Outfitters at Hartley Bay, where the friendly staff are brimming with knowledge. They also provide barrel rentals which are a great method of food storage as rodents and ants are pretty adapt at getting into any unsealed food storage options. Bears are known to frequent the area making the barrels even more attractive an option. 

Fishing equipment is a great addition to the trip. Licenses have to be purchased in advance though. Walleye, bass and sturgeon as the most notable species in the waters. 

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Summer
Fall

Congestion

Moderate

Parking Pass

Camping Permit Required

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

Many tiny islands. Interesting paddling.

Cons

Tricky navigation for beginners. Far from city. Few alternatives when campsites are full.

Pets allowed

Allowed with Restrictions

Put-in location (lat, long coordinates)

53.4239° N, 129.2535° W

Take-out location (lat, long coordinates)

53.4239° N, 129.2535° W

Water Temperature

64.40 °F (18.00 °C)

Features

Backcountry camping
Boat ramp(s)
Vault toilet
Native artifacts
Big vistas
Waterfalls
Wildlife
Fishing
Mine
Historically significant
Geologically significant

Trail type

Loop

Access

Vehicle

Typically multi-day

Yes

Shuttle required

No

Site characteristics: Water

Lake

Portage required

Yes

Location

Comments

Have updates, photos, alerts, or just want to leave a comment?
Sign In and share them.

You May Also Enjoy

Half Moon Bay State Park, California
Half Moon Bay State Park, California