Ultimate Guide to Canoeing on Georgian Bay

Where to paddle, put in, take out, camp, and rent canoes on this beautiful shoreline.

Often called the sixth Great Lake, Georgian Bay is technically part of Lake Huron, but it’s huge in its own right. It makes up the eastern shores of Lake Huron, with Manitoulin Island in the northwestern part of the bay and the Bruce Peninsula separating it from Lake Huron proper. It’s home to warm, crystal clear waters, great fishing and some of the most beautiful landscapes in the province.

People ask “can you canoe on Georgian Bay?” and the answer is “heck yes you can.” While most consider Georgian Bay a sea kayaking destination, canoeing is possible too. A canoe is a great way to move a lot of gear (as well as your dog) to beautiful campsites throughout the region. You just need to be mindful of the weather and respect any dangerous forecasts—much like any of the Great Lakes, ocean-like conditions can develop very quickly. Storms and wind are not to be taken lightly; Georgian Bay waves will easily swamp a canoe.

Below is everything you need to know to go canoeing on Georgian Bay and plan an awesome adventure.

Georgian Bay Canoe Routes

canoeists relax on a rock cap on Philip Edward Island
The scenery on Philip Edward Island simply can’t be beat. Source: Colin Field

Philip Edward Island

Philip Edward Island is a beautiful landscape of polished granite islands and is the epitome of Georgian Bay’s 30,000 Islands. The scenery simply cannot be beat and the campsites provide unreal experiences. This is all Crown land, so there’s no booking ahead to get a spot; simply show up and start camping (non-Canadian residents must purchase a Crown land camping permit or use the services of an outfitter).

If you’re here in August, you may wonder if there’s anywhere else in the world that’s better: warm, clear water, incredible sunsets, no bugs and true wilderness. Circumnavigating the island is a classic three- to five-day trip, but you’ll need to be lucky for the weather to cooperate; waves from the Bay side of the island can definitely get too big for a canoe.

You can also pick a campsite close to the put-in and do day trips from there depending on the weather. Whatever you do, you’ll have an incredible adventure. It’s easiest to take out at the same place you put in.

  • Read our Guide to Camping on Philip Edward Island for all the details.
  • The put-in for most trips to Philip Edward Island is at the end of Chikanashing Road. This is technically part of Killarney Provincial Park, so you’ll need a permit to leave a vehicle here. Get those at the George Lake office (it’s on the way to Chikanashing Road). 
  • Nearby outfitters like Killarney Kanoes and Killarney Outfitters both rent canoes and all the gear you’ll need for multiday excursions.
  • Chrismar’s Adventure Map makes a Philip Edward Island & Area map that’s specifically for sea kayaking but will obviously work for canoeing. You can order it online or pick one up at any of the local outfitters.
  • Philip Edward Island is also accessible via Point Grondine Park, an Indigenous protected area on the mainland shore of Georgian Bay.
canoeists coming ashore on the French River Delta
Explore the channels and islands of the French River Delta by canoe. Source: Colin Field

French River Delta

The French River Delta (where the French River meets Georgian Bay) is an amazing place to canoe. Part of French River Provincial Park, the river mouth is full of incredible rock formations, beautiful scenery, thousands of islands and a sense of wilderness. It’s a bit difficult to get out here, so you’ll want some experience navigating weather and wilderness before heading out to the Delta. Expect to spend a few days out here, too. 

Killarney

The lovely little town of Killarney is the perfect place to get out onto the Bay from. Located at the end of Highway 637, the town has everything you need to get on the water. Experienced paddlers can venture out on a multiday trip and novices or those looking for more comfort can do day trips from one of Killarney’s great motels and lodges. You’ll find options for just about every budget and group size, as well as a few awesome restaurants and a quaint village vibe.

There are plenty of places to put in right in ‘downtown’ Killarney, including the dockside LCBO. Generally you’ll put in and take out at the same place.

  • Rent a canoe at Killarney Outfitters. They’re located just out of town, but they know what they’re doing and can help you figure out some perfect paddling locations. Killarney Kanoes runs a similar business and both companies rent everything to get you on the water. Tents, sleeping bags, mattresses, stoves and lanterns—they’ve got it all.
  • Set up a base camp at Killarney Mountain Lodge. This classic waterfront family resort has everything, including amazing food and guided hiking tours. The Sportsman’s Inn is another resort right downtown offering rental canoes and an unforgettable experience on the Bay.
  • No trip to Killarney is complete without a meal at Herbert Fisheries. Right on the water, this is the ultimate way to fuel up before or after a paddle.
a canoe paddles along the escarpment at Lion's Head
Paddle along the Escarpment in Lion’s Head. Source: Colin Field

Lion’s Head

For an evening paddle, it’s hard to beat Lion’s Head. Chalky Niagara Escarpment cliffs plunge into Georgian Bay in a dramatic landscape that’s absolutely stunning—especially viewed from the water. Azure waters look like the Caribbean. Paddle in August and enjoy warm water that’s clear as glass. You could camp at Lion’s Head Beach Park Campground and do a sunrise paddle too.

  • Rent a canoe at the nearby Suntrail Outfitters in Hepworth. This is a great outdoor shop, and they’ll have tons of ideas of where and when to paddle.
  • It makes the most sense to put in at Lion’s Head Beach. Paddle along the cliff on your right and marvel at the rock climbers and incredible views. Sunsets here are beautiful, but be sure to know when the sun goes down and how long it takes to get back to the beach. You don’t want to be out here when it gets dark or if the weather turns. Turn around and head back to the beach when you’re done exploring.
  • The Lion’s Head Inn is the classic spot for good grub and atmosphere. If you want to spend the night, The Fitz Hostel is the coolest place in town.

Manitoulin Island

Manitoulin Island is an absolute gem. Whether you get there by the MS Chi-Cheemaun ferry or by driving the long way around on Highways 69, 17 and 6, you’ll quickly realize time moves at a slower pace on the island. The beautiful agricultural landscape is surrounded by an unspoiled shoreline, making it a perfect place to paddle on Georgian Bay.

  • Rent a canoe at Manitoulin Wind and Wave. As always, these local businesses are the best to ask about paddling routes and weather forecasts.
  • There are lots of places to put in on Manitoulin. Providence Bay is a classic: This beautiful bay has a massive, protected beach that is picture-perfect in the summer. You could stay in the sheltered near-shore waters or head out into Georgian Bay proper to explore the shoreline.
  • Grab some local fresh-caught grub at Lake Huron Fish & Chips in Providence Bay. Delicious!
  • Gore Bay is another great place to put in. While you’re here, check out Split Rail Brewing Co. and book a night at the beautiful The Queen’s InnLoco Beanz can get you caffeinated in the morning, too.

Georgian Bay Canoe Fishing

There’s a reason anglers flock to all regions of Georgian Bay: the fishing is incredible. Bass, pike, walleye, perch, trout and salmon are all found in the Bay. Areas around Killarney, Philip Edward Island and Manitoulin Island are all popular with anglers.

Obviously to fish from a canoe you’ll want a calm, wind- and wave-free day, so be sure to keep an eye on the sky and heed any forecasts of inclement weather.

Georgian Bay Camping

If you’re ready to paddle to your campsite, there are tons of places to camp. Killarney and Phillip Edward Island are full of Crown land, so you can camp anywhere you find a flat piece of ground. The whole French River Delta is part of French River Provincial Park which has listed campsites on their maps. Be respectful of other people enjoying the wilderness and pack out everything you pack in.

If you’re looking for more of a car camping situation where you use your campsite as a base camp, places like Craigleith Provincial ParkAwenda Provincial ParkRocher Rouge Campground and Cape Croker Park are solid options. You can also camp at Lion’s Head Beach Park Campground.

Canoe Rentals Georgian Bay

There are a number of outfitters offering canoe rentals on Georgian Bay.

Eastern side of the Bay

Western side of the Bay

Manitoulin Island

Southern Shore

Georgian Bay Canoe Map

  • Any of the above outfitters will also have maps of the regions you’re looking to paddle.
  • The French River Visitor Centre will have maps of the French River region.
  • Chrismar’s Adventure Map makes a Philip Edward Island & Area map that’s specifically for sea kayaking, but obviously will work for canoes too. You can order it online or pick one up at any of the local outfitters.
  • Unlostify has maps of Killarney, Phillip Edward Island and the west end of the French River which includes the French River Delta.
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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