Kids are simply happy in nature

Colin and his family share a special journey on their guided canoeing adventure on the French River.

We set off in the rain. The pouring rain. The kind of rain that soaks through to our underwear in minutes. But we can’t stop. We have to get to camp and there are two sets of rapids to get through today. The families have just met for the first time and the kids aren’t yet acclimatized to each other; they eye each other quietly from the bows of the boats, warily sizing each other up. It is the first few minutes of a three-night, four-day family adventure on the French River. And thankfully, we have Black Feather guides with us. We are 14 all together. Three guides, five adults and six kids; one of them is 12 years old, the rest are 10 and my son is seven.

The kids quickly become the best of friends. A game of Crazy 8's ensures laughter. 

We arrive at Little Pine Rapids after a short paddle through a downpour. Some of the kids are shivering as we scout the set. It’s a pretty straightforward section of whitewater. We paddle into it duckie style—one boat following another. As we splash through the whitewater, I laugh delightedly while my wife and little boy are silent and terror-stricken. My wife is petrified of moving water, it’s her nemesis, but she remains calm, and makes the strokes I ask her to. Our son Taj is sitting in the middle of the canoe and is also wary, but willing to give it a try. We paddle through the rapids easily and eddy out with the rest of the group. I’m thrilled. My family is silently chuffed.

When we get to Big Pine Rapids my family opts out of paddling; the water is high and there are some serious holes in this section. I don’t blame them for not wanting to paddle through, so they walk the short section of river and one of the other dads jumps in my bow. We choose the meatiest, hero line and bash through the waves while our guide, Jake Fell, yells, “No, no, no! Paddle, paddle!” We make it through unscathed, although our boat is full to the brim as we eddy out. It was a gnarly, but awesome set.

The grey sky finally shows signs of breaking and as we pull into camp 406, the sun appears.

Campsite 406 is a paradise.

The parents and guides set about making camp, getting the kids into dry clothes and making dinner. The rain is long forgotten and the kids quickly form a gang. They run through the woods, laughing, screaming and shouting. They become children of the forest.

We quickly dub the gang of kids, "Children of the Forest".

While only 3.5 hours from Toronto, the French River is an incredible place for adventure.  Flowing 110 km from Lake Nipissing to Georgian Bay, the river is often considered the dividing line between Northern and Southern Ontario. Cutting through the Canadian Shield with exposed granite and lush pine forests, the accessibility of this wilderness is hard to beat. Over one July weekend we barely see anyone; it truly feels like we are alone in the wilderness.

One of the many perfect campsites on the French River. 

The section of river from Pine Cove to the French River Supply Post and Marina is an easy four-day trip and takes you through the majority of the rapids on the river. That whitewater is pretty low-consequence (depending on water levels). If you’re not feeling up to it, there are easy portage trails at every set. And if you want to give the rapids a go but aren’t sure, you can portage your gear and paddle the rapids in an empty canoe with relatively low risk.

Black Feather guide Jake Fell takes my son Taj down the Crooked Rapids. 

In the morning, after a great sleep in the silence of the wilderness, we get ready to set off. We  swim this set of rapids (the Blue Chute), then paddle them. Over the next days, we go fishing, eat incredible food, and get to know one another.

Dinner time with a Black Feather guide is always the best time.

But watching the kids is the real treat; kids come to life in nature. And it doesn’t matter what kind of kid you’re talking about; they all thrive in the woods. For four days we don’t hear anything about screens. We don’t hear how they want the latest fidget spinner or how the toys they have aren’t good enough. We don’t hear anything about video games, TV shows, or movies. The kids are simply happy. Give them a rock to jump into the water from, some new friends to swim with and there are non-stop smiles.

As parents, we are able to truly relax; our phones aren’t pinging away, demanding our attention. And Black Feather guides are absolute workhorses; clients can do as much or as little as they want on trip. Sit back and relax, or gather firewood, wash dishes and cut up onions. It’s all up to you.

For my family and I, this is our second time down this stretch of the French River. It is a trip that I will cherish in my mind for the rest of my days. And I have absolutely no doubt we’ll be doing it again with Black Feather; it’s now a family tradition.

About Colin Field

Colin is an award-winning photographer and writer, specializing in outdoor travel and adventure. He is the editor-at-large with Mountain Life Magazine. He is based in Collingwood, Ontario. 

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