Length of stay: 1 day
Visited: August 2020
The French River flows 110km from Lake Nipissing to Georgian Bay. It became referred to as the French River by Europeans as it was associated with French explorers of the 17th century, including Samuel de Champlain. It once served as a major canoe route and was also widely used by Indigenous people, in the days of the fur trade and by the logging industry. It was designated Canada’s first Heritage River in 1986 because of its historical significance. A few years later it became a provincial park.
The French River Provincial Park offers 250 backcountry campsites along the shoreline of the French River that are accessible for paddlers and boaters. There are 13 access points along the river and all campsites are first-come, first-served. Besides canoeing or boating, there is a single hiking trail in the park: Recollet Falls Trail (4km round trip, rated moderate).
On the drive from Mississagi to Killbear, we stopped at the French River Provincial Park since it was on the way. And to avoid the rain. According to the weather forecast, Killbear was under a rainfall warning for the afternoon with the bulk of the rain (15mm) expected between 5 to 7p.m – right when we’d be entering the park. So we figured we might as well kill some time and explore the French River.
The Recollet Falls Trail begins at the award-winning visitor centre, which is known for showcasing many stories of the people who lived, travelled or worked along the French River from glacial times to present. Due to the pandemic, all services and facilities were closed, including the visitor centre.
The trail is marked by a series of blue markers and follows along the edge of the French River Gorge to the Recollet Falls. It rained here earlier in the day so the ground was still wet, which created some muddy sections along the trail. We took our time as the footing was uneven and some of the rocks were slippery.
Along the way, there are a few short detours from the main path that provide nice views into the gorge of the French River.
The path leads to Recollet Falls, which marks the end of the trail. There is plaque here that provides some details of the history of the falls. Recollet Falls was named after the Recollet Fathers, who were a French reform branch of the Friars Minor that Samuel de Champlain brought over to Quebec in 1615. The Recollet Fathers were the first to use the French River to work among the Amerindians and as chaplains to exploratory and military expeditions. With the capture of the colony of New France in 1629, the Recollet Fathers were compelled to leave. Though early maps of the French River indicate the falls, in french, as “sault” the name was changed to Recollet Falls apparently for its association with the Recollet Fathers.
We turned around and walked back the way we came to the parking lot. It took us just over an hour to complete the trail, which meant that by the time we would arrive in Killbear, it would hopefully be done raining for the day.