Kayaking Georgian Bay’s Biosphere Reserve

Franklin Island offers easy overnight options for aspiring paddle-campers.

The idea was a moms-and-daughters getaway. The only questions to decide on were: what to do and where to do it. We knew we wanted to escape all the distractions of the city to a place we could reconnect and have a little fun together. Our research led us to the quintessential wilderness experience just north of Toronto, an area sometimes referred to as Explorer’s Edge. It was easily accessible for everyone, just a two-hour drive from the city, and home to a wealth of rivers, lakes and pristine landscapes. Next we decided on our mode of transportation: kayaks.

When planning begins for our moms-and-daughters kayaking adventure, enthusiasm peaks in inverse to experience. Four of the ladies will be paddling kayaks for the very first time, yet the option of playing it conservative on sheltered inland lakes is a nonstarter. The gals agree: we’ll take on the more exposed waters of Georgian Bay, a 15,000-square-kilometer lobe of island-studded waters that clings like an oversized child to the back of Lake Huron.

We settle on Franklin Island, a short drive from the town of Parry Sound. Lying within the sprawling Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve—home to the 30,000 Islands, the world’s largest freshwater archipelago—Franklin is accessible yet largely wild. The six-kilometer-long slab of peach-colored Precambrian Shield is packed with small lakes, draped with wind-skewed pines and cleaved by countless coves and channels. Georgian Bay’s expansive waters massage its outer shores; the distant silhouettes of the tiny Mink Islands afford scant protection.

At the launch in Snug Harbour, patrons of Gilly’s Restaurant—famous for its fresh fish ‘n’ chips—eye our flotilla with envy. Perhaps they see more than just the placid harbour sparkling invitingly in the June sunshine. Maybe they also notice Marg and Emma’s warm hugs, Jo and Kaydi’s wide smiles and the matching, tousled blonde braids my mom and I wear. 

“The greatest gift between a mother and daughter is to enjoy each other’s company and share their adventures,” Jo notes later, as she helps Kaydi prepare a feast of veggie stew wraps and campfire éclairs.

The views from our basecamp on the island’s south end, just an hour’s paddle from the launch, awe moms and daughters alike: the red-and-white towers of Snug Harbour and Red Rock lighthouses, the granite whalebacks of the Savage Rocks and the surreal calm of the restless lake.

The following day we paddle north up the outside of Franklin, jumping from high cliffs into cool water, sunbathing on glacier-polished stone and marveling at natural amphitheaters of ancient rock. A serpent swimming near Emma’s bow slithers onto a sun-warmed shoal and its gold-and-brown body and twitching tail—accompanied by a subtle buzzing sound—confirm it’s a shy and threatened eastern massasauga rattlesnake. 

On our final morning, we awake to a fine mist and a 15-knot southeasterly wind furrowing the field of water between our campsite and the shelter of the harbour. I worry that the bumpy crossing will dampen the others’ enthusiasm, but the moms continue chatting happily even as waves slap their bows and splash in their faces. I catch a snippet of their conversation: someone is proposing we make moms-and-daughters kayaking weekends an early summer tradition. 

Kayak Rentals – depending on your destination, you can rent kayaks from White Squall (Georgian Bay), Killarney Outfitters (Georgian Bay), Swift Outdoor Centre (Georgian Bay), Liv Outside (Muskoka) and Muskoka Paddle Shack (Muskoka).

Kayak ToursSea to Sky Expeditions (5-day tours of Georgian Bay), Voyageur Quest (3 and 5-day tours of Georgian Bay), Wolf Den Expeditions (3 and 5-day tours of Georgian Bay) and Liv Ouside (2-hour tours of Muskoka).

About Virginia Marshall

Virginia Marshall is a freelance outdoor adventure writer, photographer and editor with roots in Muskoka and Lake Superior. Read her work in Adventure Kayak, Canoeroots, Rapid, Paddling Magazine and Backroad Mapbooks.

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