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A Kayaking Trip on the Georgian Bay, Ontario

The magnificent Georgian Bay wilderness in Ontario is home to 30,000 windswept, granite islands, making it an amazing kayaking destination. Rugged beauty is the backdrop for the duration of any paddling trip.

"Quintessential Georgian Bay scenery"

Quintessential Georgian Bay scenery – and the view from Franklin Island

The Georgian Bay, sometimes called the “sixth Great Lake”, covers close to 15,000 square kilometers so it’s about 80% of the size of Lake Ontario. As such, it’s capable of generating its own weather, waves and currents. It’s famous for its winds that blow up out of nowhere – making calm water gnarly and dangerous in a matter of minutes.

Where to go kayaking on the Georgian Bay

The hardest decision you’ll have to make is what part of the Georgian Bay to explore. Time and your paddling ability figure prominently in the equation as does any forecast with wind warnings. You can launch anywhere between Snug Harbour and Killarney to access the myriad of islands and islets but always have a fall back plan in place; there are islands, particularly the distant out islands, where you can get wind bound for days.

"We lucked out with super calm water for our paddle around Franklin Island"

We lucked out with super calm water for our paddle around Franklin Island

"kayakingthe Georgian Bay in mid-September"

This is what the Georgian Bay can look like in mid-September

If you’re a novice to intermediate paddler then one of the easier three day kayaking trips is a circumnavigation of Franklin Island.  The island, accessible with a launch from Snug Harbour, offers quintessential Georgian Bay scenery; twisted, folded and cooked metamorphic rocks, wind twisted and gnarled white pines, flat slabs of crystalline rock perfect for sunbathing, beaches for swimming and fresh blueberries to pick in season. There are loads of camping sites and privacy should never be an issue. The actual circumnavigation of Franklin Island should take no more than four or five hours at a relaxed place.

"Pulled up on the smooth rocks on Franklin Island in the Georgian Bay"

Pulled up on the smooth rocks on Franklin Island

Experienced paddlers might want to use Franklin Island as a stopping point on the way to or from the Mink Islands. These islands see fewer paddlers but offer plenty of opportunity for exploration. In particular, look for the wreckage of the steamship Seattle that sank in 1903, 300 meters off Green Island. Adventurous paddlers can continue further and explore the McCoy Group.

"Early morning fire to warm up"

Early morning fire to warm up

"Mist rising off the Georgian Bay"

Mist rising off the Georgian Bay

Useful Information for Planning a Kayaking Trip on the Georgian Bay

  • Bring your own kayak or rent from White Squall or Killarney Outfitters.
  • Its 13 kilometers to circumnavigate Franklin Island. The Mink Group is 5 kilometers from the Franklins with an open water crossing. From there you can access the McCoy Islands.
  • Launch for the Franklin Islands from Snug Harbour, located approximately 275 kilometers north of Toronto via Highway 400, Highway 559 and Snug Harbour Road.
  • Island camping on crown land is free.
  • Don’t forget: Marine charts, a weather radio and extra food. Winds can blow up out of nowhere and the paddling conditions can change in minutes. Watch out for rattlesnakes.
  • Options: There are lots of route possibilities. You could start in Killarney and head for Phillip Edward Island as well as the Fox and Chicken Islands; launch from the Key River Marina and head for the Bustard Islands. Or leave from Britt and head to the Churchill Islands.
  • Plenty of companies offer tours. Although a tour is actually easy to do on your own, if time or logistics are an issue consider Wolf Den Expeditions (who I went with) or Voyageur Quest.
"Enjoying a campfire and a sunset - in September on the Georgian Bay"

Enjoying a campfire and a sunset – in September

"Beautiful Georgian Bay sunset"

Beautiful Georgian Bay sunset

Have you ever been kayaking or canoeing on the Georgian Bay? Where would you recommend exploring?

Leigh McAdam

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Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure - & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project - a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

More posts by Leigh

Join the discussion 46 Comments

  • Jody Robbins says:

    This makes me want summer to get here now! Was the water really jewel-toned? I hear it is, but can’t believe it. Is it freezing?

  • As much fun as the kayaking would be, I’d just like to sit by the fire and enjoy the sunset in that beautiful area. Georgian Bay seems very deserving of its “6th Great Lake” nickname.

  • Mike says:

    That last picture with the campfire totally sealed the deal for me, Leigh. I was able to canoe and kayak in Minnesota’s boundary waters when I was a kid then camp and it was an absolutely amazing experience. The calm waters look soooo inviting…and wow, clear too I can see in that one picture! :)

    • @Mike I would like to canoe the Boundary Waters one day – and I figure I need at least a week for a trip like that.

      We were very lucky to have super calm waters on the day we paddled around the island. On the day we left we got out within an hour of a storm and some big waves. The Georgian Bay – as you can tell by the wind blown trees can really dish it out weather wise.

  • I had never heard of Georgian Bay and I agree with Cathy that it very much deserves its nickname. What a gorgeous place to spend some time. I can feel that sense of calmness from your photos. Those sunset photos are just beautiful and unique. My favorite photo is that mist rising.

    • @Mary The Georgian Bay is actually a fantastic place for families in the summer. There are lots of lodges, the swimming is great and the scenery lovely. It’s about 2 – 21/2 hours north of Toronto.

  • Muza-chan says:

    I love your photos :)

  • Bob R says:

    Thanks for another excellent intro to another corner of Canada I knew in name only.

  • I have never done this before but it looks amazing!! One with nature and you serenely glide over the waters and pray that one of those nasty weather conditions doesn’t rear its ugly head. ; )

  • Johanna says:

    The Georgian Bay sunset is a stunning photo – love the colours. But I think it was the blues of the water around Franklin Island and the bright red of the kayak which piqued my attention the most. What a wonderful trip – I can just feel the cold and then the direct heat from that early morning fire too.

  • budget jan says:

    Whoah, those colors are really jumping off the page. I wish I had been there, the paddling around Franklin Island would have been superb. How lucky you are to experience such beauty.

    • @Jan I hadn’t been to Georgian Bay in decades – and never to this area. It’s very special with so many islands and you’re right that the colours jump out – easier to see in bad weather.

  • Nancie says:

    I love the gorgeous hues in all of your shots, Leigh. That last shot really pulls me in! I had no idea that Georgian Bay was so huge.

  • @NullNFull I was very fortunate.

  • Beautiful photos, Leigh – Georgian Bay is one of the loveliest spots in Ontario! I have never kayaked on the bay but it sounds like great fun!

  • noel says:

    Lovely, i love doing tours like this and ending with a nice fire by the beach..what a wonderful day, thanks for sharing it Leigh

  • Rachel M says:

    Kayaking is something I would love to do.
    … those sunset campfire pics are magical!

  • I did not know Canada had rattlesnakes. I just googled it and found it to be the eastern massasauga. By rattlesnake standards, they are shy and non-aggressive, but if stepped on they will bite and their bite can be dangerous. Thanks for increasing my serpentine knowledge.

    I am not a big fan of big lakes and kayaking in windy situations, but this place looks gorgeous. One strategy we sometimes use when canoeing windy areas is to canoe at night. Sometimes there is enough light to navigate by. I would only do this in a wind bound situation where you needed to move and the days were to severe.

    • @Ted There are also rattlesnakes in the hot, dry BC interior. The other thing the Georgian Bay has that always freaks me out a bit is water snakes. I know they’re harmless but they creep me out.
      The Georgian Bay is truly a special place fr kayaking but one look at the stunted, wind blown trees and you know that wind is a common occurrence. Your advice about paddling in the evening is excellent.

  • Marcia says:

    I didn’t realize there were so many islands in the Georgian Bay, Leigh. That must be a pretty large one that it can take about 4 hours to circumnavigate. Love the colors in the last two photos.

    • @Marcia Some of the islands are the size of a tree while others are large. The beauty of the one we circumnavigated was that there were so many places to camp – and all were very private.

  • Marc Charron says:

    i would recommend starting out from Killarney, along outer edge of Franklin Island (not circumnavigation) and out to Fox Islands.

  • ben says:

    I’ll be at Boracay – Philippines by the end of April and I will try KAYAKING! :D This would be my first if ever.

  • Sophie says:

    Such gorgeous, deep, rich colours!

  • Lauren says:

    I love Georgian Bay! For some reason, I’d never thought of kayaking there! Will have to do this soon…maybe this summer! I love your photos!

    • @Lauren Choose your day to kayak as you already would know about the winde – and just how quickly storms can brew up. On a windless day it’s an idyllic place to be.

      • Karen says:

        My husband and I have done many kayak trips on Georgian Bay over the years. There are many good books to help plan a trip. The snakes will leave you alone if you leave them alone! Bears are out there as well. Check out the club we belong to http://www.glska.com and you will note that most of the planned trips by volunteers are on Georgian Bay.

      • @Karen I agree about the snakes and have had exactly that experience. I haven’t seen bears out there but good to know. Thanks so much for stopping by.

  • MichaelSteinberger says:

    The sightseeings are so inviting to come and join the locations. Romantic campfire captured.

  • Susan Swope says:

    Thank you! I just returned from a fabulous kayaking trip (my first kayaking trip, with my brother who’s been coming here for 15 years) in the Georgian Bay. I used this website to give everyone an idea of what I was looking forward to. I have only one CAUTION: ONE SHOULD NOT MAKE A CAMPFIRS on these islands. If you make one on the rock, you will shatter the rock; you’ll be your own little environmental catastrophe marring this pristine landscape for a time measured by geologic eras. If you make it in the woods, you may cause a forest fire. From miles away, as we paddled, we watched the immense effort it took to put just a little one out.

  • Mike OConnell says:

    Great article! I am just getting into paddling and wanted to know how long a boat I would need for Georgian Bay. I live on Lake Simcoe so that’s where I would be most but would like to see Georgian Bay a few times a year. Is 13 feet long enough?

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