Wilderness and Wildlife

A Voyageur Cycling Route Experience

A great reverence for the wild spaces is common amongst those who have the privilege of spending time in the North. Northeastern Ontario is such a place with large tracts of forest, flowing rivers and lively wetlands teeming with wildlife – a place to connect with nature  and unwind as you paddle and hike along wilderness trails of the upper French River and Lake Nipissing’s west arm.


Paddle Wild Waters

Upper French River

Flowing from Lake Nipissing to Georgian Bay, the French River holds a place in history as a transportation and trade route rich in legend and folklore. Home to the Anishinaabe of Dokis First Nation and renowned for its many islands, quiet bays, wind-swept pines and ancient rock formations, the Upper French River is a wilderness trails adventure with countless opportunities for paddlers.

Backcountry campsites are scattered along the shore within French River Provincial Park. A backcountry camp permit is required if staying within French River Provincial Park and can be purchased from Ontario Parks online.

Restoule River / Upper French Loop

The Restoule River / Upper French Loop is backcountry route taking paddlers to the seldom travelled backwaters of Restoule Provincial Park. The trip generally takes between 4 – 6 days and requires intermediate canoe tripping skills to navigate the route between Shoal Creek and Stormy Lake that does not receive any maintenance and can become unnavigable at certain times of the year. Ontario based paddling legend Kevin Callan known these days by his social media handle @KCHappyCamper recounts just such an adventure during an early spring trip in his book “A Paddler’s Guide to Killarney and the French River”.

Muskrat Creek – Mashkinonje Provincial Park

Explore the 2.5km wetland extending into Lake Nipissing while kayaking Muskrat Creek. It is common to see large birds of prey such as osprey and harriers along the marsh. Paddlers can continue around the entire coast of Mashkinonje Provincial Park on Lake Nipissing’s West Arm.

Hike Wilderness Trails

The area around the Lake Nipissing’s West Arm and the Upper French River has some of the best wilderness hiking opportunities for adventurer seekers comfortable to navigate wilderness trails with little maintenance.

Mashkinonje Provincial Park Trails

Mashkinonje – meaning Muskellunge – Provincial Park is classified as a natural environment permitting low intensity recreational activities including over 35km of wilderness trails for hiking.

Loudon Peatland Trail on the east side of Highway 64 is the most developed in the network. The interpretive trail offers a tranquil escape with boardwalks and lookouts to the expansive wetland teeming with life. A series of wilderness trails ranging in length from 2-5+km loops around the west side of the park, along the shoreline and into the interior with rock ridges and valley wetlands. The trails can be accessed by land or water.

The trails are cared for by volunteers of the Friends of Mashkinonje.

Dokis First Nation Trails

Dokis First Nation has a series of wilderness trails for hikers. The Tikibi – Ojibway for Springwater – and Chaudière trails are short 2+km loop trails with beautiful views of the French River and the famous Chaudière Dam. The Papase Trail – Ojibway for Woodpecker – is an 18km wilderness hike that leads to the beautiful Five Finger Rapids, or Zoongininjii in Ojibway meaning Manitou’s strong hand. The trail is minimally developed and requires a moderate degree of preparation. There are two campsites along the trail.

A permit is required for the hiking trails and camping within Dokis First Nation and can be obtained by calling (705) 763 2575 or by email to trails@dokis.ca.

Restoule Provincial Park Trails

There are a variety of fully developed hiking trails at Restoule Provincial Park for every level, all offering something a little different. The Tower Trail is a favourite trail with stunning views of the Restoule River from atop granite cliffs on Stormy Lake.

Loring Deer Yard

Home to 10,000 white-tailed deer who “yard up” through the winter, the Loring Deer Yard is a serene area where these beautiful animals gather for mutual protection against the harsher weather to come and the potential lack of food. The Deer Yard features 3.6km of trails on Crown Land that wind around stunning wetlands through a beautiful hemlock forest.

Cycle Quiet Roads

Vive le Nord! is a  self-guided cycling route celebrating the region’s Francophone history and culture with a smooth road ride alongside the West arm of Lake Nipissing following parts of the Voyageur Cycling Route. Riding along quiet country roads, surrounded by corn fields, horses and sunflowers, and through rugged Northern forests with the water never far from view, it is a route to find solitude and recharge.


As you wander through the wild spaces and wilderness trails of the Upper French River, consider the words of John Muir, "In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks."

Where the Wild Things Are

The best way to spotting even the most elusive of wildlife is to know when and where to look – and how to see. As you wander through the wilderness be on the lookout for clues like tracks, scat, markings on trees, nests or tree cavities. Observe changes in the landscape and be mindful of different habitats and sounds all around. Keep a distance from wild animals and always respect their space.

Engineers of the Forest

The beaver is firmly positioned in Canadian history and an icon of the Northern Ontario wilderness. Long before European fur traders set foot on these lands, the beaver was of great importance for food, clothing and trade to the Indigenous people living on the shores of Lake Nipissing. Beavers are considered the “engineers of the forest” for tirelessly building dams and altering the water’s flow. See active beaver colonies on the Loudon Peatland Trail at Mashkinonje Provincial Park.

Be Bear-Wise

Black bears are most active at dawn and dusk in spring and summer, so keep your campsites clean! It is important to be keep your distance and take the advice from the bear experts at Ontario Parks with their bear-wise program. Black bears mark their territory by standing on their hind legs and clawing scratches into trees. Keep your eyes open for these markings while hiking.

Common Loon

The haunting, soulful cry of the loon is common on the French River. It is truly magical when heard in chorus on still nights. The loon is a sacred bird in ancient lore across North America and many First Nations revere the loon as a spirit animal with an important role in their origin stories.


Dokis First Nation

Dokis Village is the main community on Okikendawt Island meaning land of pots named for unique formations in the rock due to centuries of water flow. Dokis First Nation is named after Chief Michel “Eagle” Dokis who signed the 1850 Robinson Huron Treaty setting aside the lands that once hosted a successful fur trading enterprise. Following the merger of the Hudson’s Bay and North West companies in 1821 trading slowed at Dokis.

Starry Nights

Since the beginning of time, stargazers have imagined captivating stories and sought knowledge and spiritual guidance from the night sky. Indigenous peoples’ knowledge of the skies has been shared orally through the generations through a set of stories deeply interwoven into cultural beliefs, traditions and ceremonies. For the Anishinaabe, the sun is the very source of life on the planet and the moon is a way to measure time, when to travel, and when to harvest. The dark skies over the French River allow one to experience this sense of mystery and wonder.

A Bee in the Bush

Keeping bees since 1974 with 300 active colonies, Board’s Honey Farm in Restoule welcomes visitors to buzz around the farm on the Bee in the Bush trail, participate in an educational program or simply pick up a tasty souvenir at their shop.  The Board family shares the ancient knowledge of apitherapy, or using honey and other products from the hive to heal the body.

Outfitters & Guides

Restoule Provincial Park

Mountain bikes, canoes and kayaks are available for rent at Restoule Provincial Park.

Black Feather Wilderness Adventure Company offers fully outfitted, guided trips on the French River.

Many of the lodges on the shores of the upper French River and west arm of Lake Nipissing offer canoes rentals, overnight parking and basic supplies for a backcountry trip. Northeastern Ontario Tourism lists many of these outposts.


Backcountry Camping

Remote and rugged backcountry campsites are scattered along the shore within French River Provincial Park. A backcountry camp permit is required if staying within French River Provincial Park and can be purchased from Ontario Parks online.

Camping is also available at Dokis Park on Dokis First Nation. A permit is required and can be obtained by calling (705) 763 2575 or by email to trails@dokis.ca.

Lodge and Cabin Stays

Northeastern Ontario Tourism has all the details for a range of uniquely northern accommodations from rustic cabins to lodges and simple B&Bs as well as a host of familiar hotels.

“The sunsets are spectacular over the French River. And, we love how there are so many quiet bays explore.”

Supported By:

The vast network of trails we celebrate exist on the traditional lands and waterways of the Anishinaabe people within the territory protected by the Robinson Huron Treaty of 1850 and Williams Treaties of 1923.