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Quintessential Georgian Bay scenery

Kayaking Georgian Bay Over a Long Weekend

The magnificent Georgian Bay wilderness in Ontario is home to 30,000 windswept, granite islands, making it an amazing paddling destination. Kayaking Georgian Bay for a weekend or a week will leave you in awe of the rugged beauty of this magnificent, quintessential Canadian wilderness.

The Georgian Bay, sometimes called the “sixth Great Lake”, covers close to 15,000 square kilometres 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. Kayaking Georgian Bay, while mostly great fun – can become dangerous and difficult in short order – so always keep an eye on the weather.

The view from Franklin Island
Quintessential Georgian Bay scenery – and the view from Franklin Island
Gorgeous Group of Seven landscape
Gorgeous Group of Seven landscape

Kayaking Georgian Bay – where can you go?

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. Be sure to take enough extra food.

Paddling around Franklin Island in the Georgian Bay
We lucked out with super calm water for our paddle around Franklin Island
This is what the Georgian Bay can look like in mid-September
This is what the Georgian Bay can look like in mid-September

Circumnavigation Franklin Island in the Georgian Bay

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
Pulled up on the smooth rocks on Franklin Island

Great options to extend your trip

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 m off Green Island.

Adventurous paddlers can continue further and explore the McCoy Group. But you want a good weather window to do that!

Early morning fire to warm up
Early morning fire to warm up
Mist rising off the Georgian Bay at sunrise
Mist rising off the Georgian Bay at sunrise

Useful info for a Georgian Bay paddling trip

Bring your own kayak or rent from White Squall or Killarney Outfitters.

Its 13 kilometres to circumnavigate Franklin Island. That doesn’t include the paddle out to the island. The Mink Group is 5 kilometres 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 km 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 or launch from the Key River Marina and head for the Bustard Islands. Or leave from Britt and head to the Churchill Islands.

Enjoying a campfire and a sunset - in September
Enjoying a campfire and a sunset – in September
Beautiful sunset
Beautiful Georgian Bay sunset

You might also like – Early Season Canoeing in Algonquin Park

The wild rocks of Georgian Bay
The wild rocks of Georgian Bay

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

A 3 day kayaking trip around Franklin Island, Georgian Bay, Ontario


Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 46 Comments

  1. 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?

  2. 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.

  3. 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! 🙂

    1. @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.

  4. 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.

    1. @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.

  5. 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. ; )

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

    1. @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.

  8. 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

  9. 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.

    1. @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.

  10. 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.

    1. @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.

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

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

  13. 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!

      1. 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 and you will note that most of the planned trips by volunteers are on Georgian Bay.

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

  15. 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.

  16. 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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