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An Unparalleled Canoe Route

Aerial view of the French River
French River main channel.

The French River formed a vital link in the historic canoe route to the west from settlements on the St Lawrence, via the Ottawa and Mattawa Rivers and Lake Nipissing, to the upper Great Lakes.

The French River became so named by the Ojibwa Indians as it brought the French, or the ‘stick-wavers’ as they were called, to their native lands.

Most of the famous Canadian explorers, missionaries and fur traders of the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries followed this waterway.

These intrepid individuals included Brule, discoverer of Lake Huron; Champlain, “Father of New France”; the missionary, Recollet; the Jesuit martyrs, Brebeuf and Lalemant; the colourful coureurs de bois, Radisson and Groseilliers, whose ideas and actions resulted in the founding of the Hudson’s Bay Company; La Verendrye, pioneer explorer of the prairies; Mackenzie, the first European to reach the Pacific by land north of Mexico; Thompson, the great explorer and cartographer.

After 250 years of the fur trade, there was a brief period of logging in the late 19th and early 20th century.

A Paddler’s Dream Come True

These days the French River is an area of recreation, with exceptional fishing supporting a number of fishing lodges. The area also offers great opportunities for canoeing and backcountry camping.

Kevin Callan in his guidebook to the area, describes the French River as “a paddler’s dream come true”.

Glorious scenery on the French River
The French River is a paddler’s dream. Photo: Ray Goodwin.

The French River Voyageur Itinerary

The French River Voyageur is split into two phases – phase 1: an orientation and warm-up phase, and phase 2: the expedition phase.

Birch bark canoes at the Canadian Canoe Museum

Phase 1: We will begin phase 1 by heading straight to Peterborough, Ontario, the source of the eponymous Peterborough Canoe and now home of the excellent Canadian Canoe Museum. This world-class museum is filled with an incredible collection of human-powered water craft. In the context of our French River trip, of particular interest are the numerous examples of birch bark canoes, along with much information on the history of the exploration of Canada and the fur trade.

From Peterborough we will head north-west towards the French River, eventually on roads of decreasing size, until we come to the end of the road. Here we find our accommodation for the next couple of days, a comfortable lodge that has been converted from an old fishing camp. You will be staying in rustic cabins amongst the pines and will no doubt be greeted by chattering chipmunks.

French River cabin and canoe

From the lodge we can pretty much canoe from the front door. And we will! For two days we will conduct the remainder of the warm-up phase with paddling and expedition skills sessions as well as evening lectures. These two days of preparation will be essential in making sure everyone is ‘firing on all cylinders’ for the expedition phase.

Phase 2: After breakfast on the third morning at the lodge we will depart for 9 days of paddling and wilderness camping. On the way, we will introduce or refresh relevant wilderness bushcraft and expedition canoeing skills, allowing you to apply them for yourself in context.

Canoe at shore on French River

During this time we will also rendez-vous with the members of the Dokis First Nation, who will introduce you to their view of the land and their bushcraft. The First Nation lands are composed of two large islands (totalling about 39,000 acres) which are nestled within the flows of the French River. Some of the route that we will paddle is the same route that the Dokis would paddle to patrol and protect their borders.

The nature of the landscape and the topography of the river system will allow us to paddle a circular route with no need for a lengthy road transfer. We will paddle out of the lodge on the first day and back to the lodge at the end of our trip. On our return to the lodge you will be able to shower, re-pack and relax a little before a celebration meal. After a good night’s sleep in the cabins we will make our way back to Toronto and home.


Double Rainbow Over the French RiverThe weather can be warm (20+ centigrade) by day and a little chilly at night. It can be misty and cool in the mornings until the sun breaks through, when it becomes a lot warmer. So don’t forget your sunscreen. It can be cloudy and cooler during the day and there can also be heavy rains. You should therefore come prepared for – and expecting – a range of weather conditions. Please see the kit-list for more details of appropriate clothing and equipment.


We run this trip at times when populations of insects are unlikely to be a problem. However, you should still bring insect repellent with you.

Equipment & Clothing

A full kit-list is available on request.

Lunch stop on the portage trail above Cedar Rapids. Photo: Paul Kirtley

What Our Clients Say


French River Expedition 2012 participants.
French River Voyageur participants, 2012.



The French River: What’s Included

  • All instruction and guiding;
  • All meals between meeting you at Toronto (Pearson airport) on day 1 and dropping you back in Toronto (Pearson airport) on day 13;
  • Ground transport (Toronto to Peterborough; Peterborough to French River; French River to Toronto);
  • Accommodation in Peterborough;
  • Canadian Canoe Museum – entry and guided tour;
  • Accommodation at the French River lodge;
  • Canoe hire (typically Nova Craft Prospector type);
  • Paddles and other boat equipment;
  • Buoyancy aids (a.k.a PFDs);
  • Canoe packs/barrel packs;
  • Provincial Park camping permits and fees.

What’s not Included

  • International flights (an economy flight with Air Canada from London Heathrow to Toronto Pearson has been between £500 and £650 in our experience in recent years);
  • Travel Insurance;
  • Personal clothing and equipment (see kit-list for more details);
  • Alcoholic drinks or other extras at the French River lodge;
  • Fishing permit (These can be bought online – not everyone wants to fish so we’ve made it optional);
  • Souvenirs.


Cabins on French RiverIn Peterborough (1 night) we will stay in a hotel. We will stay at the French River lodge for 3 nights (2 nights during warm-up phase, and one night on returning from the river expedition) and this will be in shared cabins. The rest of the time, we will be camping and you will need to bring a tent (see kit-list for more details).


All food during the trip is provided. This will range from restaurant-standard meals at the lodge to provisions for you to cook over a fire while we are camping. While we are on our wilderness journey the preparation and cooking will be done by you and your fellow participants.

If you have any allergies, food intolerances or other dietary requirements, please make sure you include this information when you book. There is an opportunity during the booking process to tell us about this.

Experience required

The experience required to undertake this trip is relatively limited. At each stage of this trip we will make sure you have the skills and knowledge you need at your disposal. You will gain valuable real-world experience in applying relevant techniques and your judgement of their use in remote country. This will put you in good stead for more remote wilderness canoeing expeditions – either with us or independently.

    Paddling on the French River

    Paddling pre-requisites…

    You should have paddled before and be able to use stern rudder, J-stroke, bow draws and cross draws. It would be helpful if you have paddled some whitewater before but it is not essential. The training phase of the trip will look at preparing your technique for the river trip.

    If you have attended the Frontier Bushcraft Expedition Canoeing Skills course then you are certainly well placed to undertake this trip. That course and the French River Voyageur are designed to dovetail together.

    If you would like to undertake further training, we’d recommend gaining a BCU 2-star or equivalent or booking a couple of days of 1-1 canoe training with Ray Goodwin.

    If you are currently a novice paddler keen to learn how to paddle an open canoe and attend the French River trip, then your best options are to attend our Expedition Canoeing Skills course or train in the fundamentals of paddling an open boat one-to-one with Ray Goodwin. Both would be a good opportunity to meet and get to know Ray as he will be one of your guides on the French River trip.

    For more details private coaching and to contact Ray, please see www.raygoodwin.com

    Camping by the French River

    Bushcraft & camping pre-requisites: As long as you are keen, open-minded and enjoy being outdoors, then we will be happy to have your company on this trip. You do not need to have attended any bushcraft courses but any skills you do have will likely come in handy. You will be taught environment-specific bushcraft skills on the trip.

Available dates and booking details…