French River Provincial Park

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.


41 thoughts on “French River Provincial Park

  1. kagould17 says:

    Great hike and scenery. We stopped here to do this hike in 2018. Some of the photo points look familiar, but we were disappointed on our hike. The day was hot and sweaty, the mosquitoes were relentless, the trail was overgrown and seemed to be a lot of effort for very little reward. Your falls view is much different than what we saw on our hike. Perhaps we stopped too soon or perhaps we missed the main trail. Thanks for sharing. Allan

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      To call it a waterfall is a bit of a stretch as it’s such a small cascade. We felt a similar sentiment in that it was kind of anticlimatic once you reached the end. The views into the gorge were the real highlight of the hike though. It’s never fun being harassed by the mosquitoes and can turn the nicest trail into the worst experience. Take care.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I didn’t even notice the wild blueberries in the park. Granted, we only really hiked along Recollet Falls Trail and then left since everything was still pretty wet from the rain. It’s a shame the visitors centre was closed for the season as I’ve heard such great things about it. I guess this means we’ll just have to return next summer to check out the visitors centre (fingers crossed it opens) and wild blueberries!


        The visitors centre is wonderful. I was very impressed with the presentation and interpretation. When we stopped there, everything was closed, including the trails to the falls so we just wandered around near the bridge, which is where we found all of the blueberries. When we stopped there on our way back from our second trip, that area was closed as well. Hopefully, it will open next season.

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        When we visited it looked like work was being down on the suspension bridge. It’s too bad as I’ve heard you can get a stunning view of the gorge from the bridge. Yes, hopefully it and the visitor centre will be open next year.

  2. winteroseca says:

    I love the historical background. One of my French ancestors was a trapper in Canada before he moved to the US, and it makes me wonder if he ever travelled along the French river

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      This is one of the things that I love about road trips is that you can be spontaneous and take detours along the way. The French River wasn’t on our itinerary, but we stopped here to break up the drive and stretch our legs. Turned out to be a really nice area and I’m glad we visited.

  3. carol hopkins says:

    I love it when municipalities or governments of any stripe provide the history of an area via signposts and plaques. I’ve always enjoyed historical places. I have never been to this park, despite living in Ontario for many, many years. It would be nice to learn the indigenous perspective as well. It’s been said that history is written by the victors and I know much of what we consider “our” history is definitely one-sided.

    I love the photos and the info. Thanks for sharing.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Me too! It’s been neat learning more about the history of a certain area or how something gets its name. I’ve driven by this park so many times as it’s right off of Highway 69, but this was my first time stopping to visit. Apparently the visitors centre focuses more on highlighting stories from the Indigenous people who first lived and used this land, but unfortunately was closed for the season due to the pandemic. Thanks for reading.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words. It’s too bad it was gloomy outside, as I’m sure the views into the gorge would have been stunning on a sunny day. It was still a lovely hike nonetheless. And agreed, it’s always interesting to learn more about how an area was used in the past.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I would love to come back and do some paddling and backcountry camping along the French River. My only hesitation is that the campsites are all first-come, first-served, which is never my favourite.

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        That’s always the best, especially when it comes to venturing out in the backcountry. I’ll have to do some research on the French River and maybe we’ll visit next summer.

  4. Ab says:

    What a lovely detour you took en route to Killbear (one of my faves). It looks so scenic there and the lookout with the mountain facade remind me a bit of Bon Echo. The waterfall and River photos are beautiful! And how interesting to hear Samuel De Champlain, whom I have not really heard of since high school history class. 🙂

    There really is so much beauty in Ontario. Just out of curiosity, how many provincial parks do you have left to visit?

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We’ve driven by the French River so many times and I’m glad we actually stopped to check it out. There’s a suspension bridge that’s reputed to provide lovely views into the gorge, but it was closed when we visited due to construction. It’s funny because I’ve visited more provincial parks this year than in all my other years of living in Ontario combined. And we still have way more than half to see! Next year we’re going to do an Ontario Parks Challenge and try to visit as many provincial parks as we can (and collect those park stickers and badges!)

      • Ab says:

        Was this the suspension bridge you blogged about recently (I think it was you) or another one? Anyway, so much left to see in this beautiful province. Can’t wait till summer!!! 🙂

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        That one was different as it’s located in Pukaskwa National Park along the Coastal Trail, which ended up being an 18km hike round trip to get there and back. The suspension bridge at the French River is supposed to be super accessible, but was closed as they were doing construction in the area. Oh well, looks like we’ll have to stop here next summer!!

  5. Lookoom says:

    French River has a stunning landscape. This river flows between two cliffs, as if deliberately dug out to join two large lakes. Hiking is a good way to see part of it. The historical background is interesting, I imagine that travellers in the future will one day consider the remains of our highways as we do with French River.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Agreed, it’s such a lovely landscape and a good way to see the forces of water erosion up close. I would love to return and canoe along the French River as I’m sure that’s another good way to see the landscape and gorge. It’s always neat learning more about the history of Ontario. History was never my strong subject in school, but I have so much more of an appreciation for it when I visit a certain place or area.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      At least it wasn’t raining! The rocks were a bit slippery and there were some muddy patches, but we just took our time. I bet this place is just lovely in the fall when the leaves are changing colour.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The falls themselves were a bit of a let down as it’s such a small cascade, but the gorge was the real highlight. It was a great spot to take a break from driving and stretch our legs. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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