Cruising Georgian Bay’s 30,000 Islands: Canada’s Freshwater Paradise for Boaters

By Elizabeth Wilson, “Georgian Bay Beauties” (www.GeorgianBayBeauties.org)

The Plan

It’s a beautiful morning as we perform our pre-departure checklist, fire up the engines and prepare to release our lines. And if the long-range forecast of very low winds coupled with plenty of sunshine holds, that’s exactly what we need for the areas we plan to explore on this trip! 

We are departing Midland for a week of visiting some of the islands and anchorages within Georgian Bay’s “30,000 Islands” – specifically those along the western edge. These are the less protected islands which face toward wide-open Georgian Bay, where boaters often have to depart the small craft route and work a little harder at setting the hook but are then rewarded with magnificent western views, stunning sunsets, and so much to explore! 

American Camp

The History

Named by Captain Henry Bayfield in 1822 after Britain’s King George IV, the Bay covers approximately 15,000 square km and is often referred to as the 6th Great Lake due to its size!  

Georgian Bay’s east coast is home to the amazing 30,000 islands which form the largest freshwater archipelago in the world! From Beausoleil in the south to French River in the north, it is the islands along the eastern shore that create the spectacular scenery plus provide the protection boaters love so much. The islands are designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve so there is a real focus on maintaining a balance between nature and humans while working towards future sustainability. 

Sunset at the Westerns!

The science of how the islands were created, although spectacular, is not near as fun as the legend: it is told that the great warrior Kitchikewana fell in love with a princess who was in love with another; when he found out he could not have her, in anger, he picked up and flung huge handfuls of earth, the rocks scattering to become the 30,000 islands. Heartbroken and exhausted, he then lay down and died, forming Giants Tomb Island, one of the larger islands in southern Georgian Bay known as “The Tomb” by locals. 

Thanks to Kitchikewana boaters now enjoy the quiet anchorages, abundance of shoreline, amazing sunsets and incredible biodiversity found throughout the islands. And all of these are visible at our first destination today – American Camp. 

American Camp

Century Old Traditions

This island’s anchorage is located off the small craft route and surrounded by shallow shoals, so use caution and a bow watch on approach. But once tucked inside, the low-lying rock that surrounds the harbour allows for great views and stunning sunsets, right from the bow of your vessel!

For over a century the locals have been meeting at American Camp Island to enjoy a variety of activities: paddling, swimming, fishing and especially picnicking – a fantastic place to meet up with friends or family and enjoy the best lunch views on the Bay! As there is no overnight camping allowed on the island, boaters in the anchorage enjoy the evening peace and solitude as they watch the blazing sun set over the Bay! 

Western Islands Lighthouse

“Treasure” Island

On this visit, the winds cooperate so we make a dinghy trip to nearby Southeast Wooded Pine Island, about 2 nm west. With its natural enclosed harbour, golden lichen, infinity pools and wide-open views, this beautiful island is a true Georgian Bay treasure! 

Both SE Pine and American Camp are managed by the Georgian Bay Land Trust; for more information on visiting and the history of the islands see their website at www.gblt.org.

After a few glorious nights at American Camp, we check the weather and radar before moving on to our next destination – the Western Islands, situated a little further offshore.

Golden Lichen at SE Wooded Pine Island

The Route Less Traveled

This Island chain is rough, barren, exposed, unpredictable for wind and currents, and one of my favourite destinations on the Bay! To spend an evening anchored within this remote and rugged rock pile, surrounded by wide open water, can feel like no other experience! 

The anchorage is located within the northeastern group of islands and although some work may be required to set the hook, you will be rewarded for your effort! The tops of both Harbour and Crescent Islands give stunning views of Georgian Bay, the Westerns and best of all – your boat, making for some very memorable photos!

On this trip, we spend the afternoon dinghy’ing the circumference of the harbour, exploring all the little inlets, and then climbing Harbour Island hill – which is much harder than it looks!

Harbour Hill, Westerns Islands (can you see us?)

Not to be missed is a dinghy trip to nearby Double Top Island to see the lighthouse, operational since 1895. It’s amazing that at one point in history, a keeper lived on this slab of rock from spring until late fall, managing the lantern so the commercial traffic could safely pass by the dangerous shoals! 

But by far the most magical part about these islands are the sunsets! The true beauty shines as the setting sun illuminates the islands, washing the rocks in warm shades of pink and gold!  A time to sit back, to take in the view and the sound of the waves as they roll across that sweet water to meet the rocky shoreline of the Westerns! 

After two beautiful evenings, the forecast shows a slight change in winds so, time to move on to our next destination which not only provides some better protection but also has some unique and delicious options for the “foodies” onboard – including the four-legged kind!

Anchored at Franklin Island

A “Crown” Jewel

Franklin Island, named after the Arctic explorer Rear Admiral Sir John A Franklin, is quite large and diverse. The island is about 5.5 km long by 3 km wide, with a jagged coastline making it perfect for paddling, gunkholing and exploring. Other than a few cottages towards the northern end, the island is mostly Crown land so going ashore – or tying to shore – is not a problem and expeditions passing by will often set up camp here. 

There are two main anchorages: Regatta Bay on the east side, where we will anchor on this trip, and Shark Bay on the southwest side. Regatta is on the small craft route with buoys marking the entrance in, but for Shark Bay, you must leave the small craft route and enter at the north side of Windsor Island. Both have many areas to drop the hook and stern tie to shore, although some boaters elect to swing. 

On our first morning, we take advantage of a very unique treat: “Buns on the Bay” – a local bakery – gets our morning started with a delivery of hot, fresh-from-the-oven Chelsea buns (must be pre-ordered through their Facebook page a few days in advance). Add some Ontario wild blueberries and that’s a Georgian Bay breakfast! A good hike on Franklin will definitely be needed to work it all off, and to pick more blueberries – just keep an eye out for bears! 

Red Rock Lighthouse, Franklin

The afternoon is the perfect time for a dinghy trip to Red Rock Lighthouse located on Old Tower Island, about 3 km west of Franklin. An amazing part of Georgian Bay history, this is a Recognized Federal Heritage Building due to its architecture, historical significance and environmental traits. And the fun part about this journey is that with Red Rock on the main commercial shipping channel, you never know who you will meet out there! On this trip we get up close to the Viking Octantis, one of the many cruise ships visiting the ports on Georgian Bay each summer.

The “Bun Runner” delivering our breakfast at Franklin

The Finale!

For our final evening what better way to close off the week than with cocktails and delicious pan-fried pickerel at Gilly’s Snug Harbour Restaurant, located just across the channel from Franklin. And pets are welcome so bring the entire family and be sure to ask for their “Fur Baby” specials!

This week has given us just the right weather to explore a few of the Bay’s more diverse and remote islands. The unspoiled nature, incredible scenery, centuries of history and the many stunning anchorages found throughout the 30,000 Islands truly make Georgian Bay beautiful! A world-class destination for all boaters, especially those who prefer the route less travelled! 

Author Bio:

Elizabeth Wilson, lifelong Georgian Bay boater and creator of the boating website “Georgian Bay Beauties” (www.GeorgianBayBeauties.org), spends May until October cruising and exploring the Bay with her partner on their Sea Ray “Georgian Pearl”.

Elizabeth Wilson (SE Wooded Pine)

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Cruising Georgian Bay’s 30,000 Islands: Canada’s Freshwater Paradise for Boaters

By Elizabeth Wilson, “Georgian Bay Beauties” (www.GeorgianBayBeauties.org)

The Plan

It’s a beautiful morning as we perform our pre-departure checklist, fire up the engines and prepare to release our lines. And if the long-range forecast of very low winds coupled with plenty of sunshine holds, that’s exactly what we need for the areas we plan to explore on this trip! 

We are departing Midland for a week of visiting some of the islands and anchorages within Georgian Bay’s “30,000 Islands” – specifically those along the western edge. These are the less protected islands which face toward wide-open Georgian Bay, where boaters often have to depart the small craft route and work a little harder at setting the hook but are then rewarded with magnificent western views, stunning sunsets, and so much to explore! 

Read More