There really is quite a lot to do around here, but it’s not always evident. Sure, there are the usual tourist attractions, like the lodges that offer boat rentals and access to fishing to their guests. But there are also inexpensive adventures for the independent explorer. By no means an exhaustive list, here are a few of my favourite spots for outdoor recreation in the French River and Lake Nipissing area.
Outdoor Recreation at Provincial Parks in the French River and Lake Nipissing Area
The area is blessed with three provincial parks, each with its own distinct attractions.
French River Waterway Provincial Park
free to poke around the Visitor Centre’s interactive exhibits, take in the views from the suspension bridge overlooking the river, and walk the 30-40 minutes along a linear trail following the river to Récollet Falls, a historical landmark.
Update: I hear there’s a small fee now — perhaps a few dollars.
Paddlers and boaters wishing to camp along the river’s shores must obtain a park permit.
Mashkinonje Provincial Park
With about 35 kilometres of looping trails, barrier-free access, a viewing tower over an important wetland, canoe and kayak access to Lake Nipissing, and water access from two beaches in the West Arm, this free park rocks!
Grundy Lake Provincial Park
With three hiking trails, a campground, backcountry campsites accessible via water routes, picnic areas, and a beach, this park at the junction of Highways 69 and 522 is a popular destination, and can therefore be busy.
It’s also subject to regular park fees.
Local Walks and Swimming Holes in the French River and Lake Nipissing Area
From Noëlville, go south on Highway 64 towards Alban, but only a few minutes, taking a left on Wolseley Bay Road. It feels like a long drive to Highway 528A, which branches off to the right. Take it.
A few turns later, you will get to the bottom of a right-curving hill. The road straightens for a bit, and there’s a rock outcrop and a lake on the right.
There are a few places to park along the road here. The spot next to the outcrop can be used to launch a small boat.
Locals go to Lac Clair to fish (on the ice or from a boat), swim, picnic, walk on the road (or snowshoe on the lake in winter)…
There isn’t much traffic, but it’s just as likely as not that there will be other people there.
From Noëlville, head North on Highway 535 towards St. Charles for about five minutes. Take a right at Whitetail Road and drive nearly to the end. Park in the crook of the Y at the junction to Bons Vivants Road.
The walk begins across the street, down the road which almost forms an intersection with Bons Vivants and Whitetail Roads. It’s unofficially known in the area as Jurassic Road.
There are some nice blueberry spots along both sides for part of the first half of the walk, and at the right time of year, a few blueberry pickers may be parked alongside the road. From Whitetail and Bons Vivants, it’s about 15 minutes to the fork in the road — take a right if you decide to continue on (the short walk to the left ends in private property). Shortly before reaching the fork, at the top of a long, steep, left-curving hill, keep an eye out for rock outcrops heading towards Lake Nipissing — they can be followed to the shore for a better view.
It’s about another 20 minutes from the fork to the top of a high hill, and the roadside is full of wild flowers in the spring, raspberries and field strawberries in the summer.
At the top of the hill, it’s private property on the right, but the rocky cliffs on the left are a good place to take in the scenery. The road ends about five minutes later on private property.
Further on down Highway 535, there’s an old logging road on the right about 5 minutes before reaching West Arm (about 10 minutes from Noëlville). The trail starts just before the highway passes through a wetland, and it can be muddy when wet. There’s enough space to park in the entrance and still leave room for other vehicles to get by.
These trails are used by ATVers and snowmobilers now, as well as hunters and at least two hikers — my partner and me.
The trails back there are unmarked, and some are long. Remember which way you came from, because there aren’t any loops!
All on crown land with a few private properties to the right of the main trail, hunting watch towers here and there sometimes afford a nice view.
We’ve seen all kinds of wildlife, too — plenty of deer, a wolf, snakes, frogs and toads, turtles, birds and waterfowl… The muddy (and frequently wet) trails make good breeding grounds, and it’s fun to go in spring to see the eggs, and later, tadpoles.
If you can find the right trail, you can even get to Jack Lake, which is otherwise accessible only via private land.
Outdoor Recreation at Beaches and Rest Stops in the French River and Lake Nipissing Area
MTO Rest Area, Monetville
On Highway 64, north of Monetville and just beyond the Sucker Creek public boat launch on the left, there’s an MTO rest stop along Lake Nipissing with a small beach, plenty of parking and picnic tables, shady trees, and lots of room to play. Consider coming here just to relax with a book or a fishing rod, or make an afternoon of it with the kids and dogs. There are two driveways that connect in a semicircle, so if you miss the first one, just take the next.
Knights of Columbus Beach, Alban
The Knights of Columbus Beach just outside the village going towards Noëlville, at the bottom of the big hill on the left, is a great spot for a picnic or take-out lunch. The large, grassy area overlooking the French River is perfect for energetic kids and pets. There are change rooms and restrooms, trees for shade as well as picnic tables beneath a covered shelter, and plenty of parking.