The Froud

for Lake Nipissing

Lake Nipissing Map
Canadian Hydrographic Services Key Map of Lake Nipissing


We have been boating on Lake Nipissing for 40 years, but only in the past 5 years have we done any extensive cruising. Lake Nipissing presents an unusual situation for the boater - it is a very large lake, offering opportunities for the adventurous cruiser, yet its adjoining bays and river areas are as sheltered as any recreational waterway in the country.

Callander Bay, the South Bay, Cache Bay, the Northwest Arm, the West Arm, the West Bay, the South River, the Sturgeon River and the French River can all be navigated safely in small skiffs. However, to venture to the Manitou or Goose Islands in such a craft would be foolhardy, except under the most favourable circumstances.

Lake Nipissing is notorious for the speed with which it can become treacherous when the weather turns foul - the combination of its shallow depth and low shoreline, its long fetch and orientation toward the direction of the prevailing winds, mean that it can become very rough in short order. It also exhibits a short wave interval, which makes it extraordinarily uncomfortable in windy conditions.

All this is not meant to alarm you, but only to urge caution when venturing away from a protected area in a small craft.

For 35 years, we were entirely comfortable with an 18 foot boat and a 100 horsepower outboard for our major boating needs. This took us fishing, cruising to the French River, water-skiing and to visit our friends at other cottages. However, if we were venturing more than a few miles, we wanted to be certain that either there was a way home by road or that we kept a watchful eye out for changes in the weather. Innumerable trips to the French River and the Goose Islands were cut short when a storm front blew in.

Finally, we decided to bite the financial bullet and purchased a Bayliner 2855 cruiser. This is enough boat to handle pretty well anything Lake Nipissing will throw at us.

Now, we are at ease exploring the farthest reaches of the Lake. From our base at Hunter's Bay Marina, on the northeast shore of the South Bay, we have visited Callander and North Bay in the east, the Town of Sturgeon Falls in the North, Monetville and Indian Portage Bay in the West and Chapman's Chute in the South.

The development of the North Bay Marina on the city waterfront in the early 1980's created the first major facility for the recreational cruiser on the Lake. Before that, dockage for a boat over 20 feet or so was severely limited. However, outside of this marina there are few docking facilities for cruisers such as are common on the Great Lakes. Many resorts offer fuel and a convenience store. Some offer overnight dockage, restaurant and shower facilities. However, shore power hookups are virtually unknown, much less telephone or cable television. Pump out facilities are available at several marinas.

Earlier in our boating experience, local knowledge was indispensable for cruising Lake Nipissing. However, the lake was recharted in the 1980's and most areas can now be navigated safely by relying on the charts, a depth finder, a compass and the aids to navigation (buoys and day markers). Caution must still be exercised in the West Bay - a track from Hays Rock to the West Arm is well buoyed, but off of this route, there are many unmarked rocks and shoals. Most buoys in the West Bay and West Arm are privately maintained by the West Nipissing Boating Club and are not shown on the CHS charts. I have seen an illustration map prepared by the club and when I can find a source for it, I'll post the information here.

There are four CHS charts covering Lake Nipissing, illustrated on the key map at the top of this page. There is also a Small Craft Guide to Lake Nipissing published by CHS. Regrettably, it hasn't yet been updated from the first edition, published in 1987. Nevertheless, it is useful guide to the Lake and the available facilities. Updates to the Small Craft Guide, and the charts, are available from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Ottawa.

The West Arm

The West Arm area of the lake is historic and very unique. The two cuts that you pass through going from Warren Bay to Monetville alone are worth the trip. There are two bridges where Highway 64 crosses the route. Both offer 5. 3 meters clearance, which is plenty for an express cruiser like ours. If you have a flying bridge, check your specs! Where Highway 535 crosses the route at The Island, it is another story. We were able to pass under the northerly bridge by lowering our biminy and removing our light standard - our official clearance is 9. 5 feet, which means the clearance was just the advertised 3. 1 meters. However, we couldn't get under the southerly bridge at all - we backed right up to it, and our radar arch was a good half a foot too high to make it under. Still, it was a pretty trip and we didn't regret having to retrace our path.

The South River

One of our favourite cruising routes is from Hunters Bay Marina to Chapman's Chute on the South River. For one thing, we can make this trip in almost any weather, since we don't have to leave the shelter of the South Bay. The entrance to the river is well marked and, once you are into the river proper, there are few navigational hazards. We recommend you keep well to the outside of any bends, while being alert for oncoming traffic entering bends to the right. Although the river is posted with a 10 km limit, it is not uncommon to meet small boats coming along on plane. The dock at Chapman's Landing was, until this winter, a (federal) Government Dock. It appears it will soon been turned over to the Township of Nipissing and we are not certain what effect this will have on the use of the dock by cruisers. We often enjoyed tying up there and taking the short walk up to Becker's Berry Patch to pick strawberries and raspberries, in season. The river is navigable to Chapman's Chute, a picturesque waterfall which effectively bars the rest of the river. The length of the trip from the mouth of the river to the chute is about 3 miles and takes about 45 minutes each way at the posted speed.

The Sturgeon River

Another favourite cruise route is to the Town of Sturgeon Falls. The mouth of the river is well marked, with a fairway buoy well out in deep water, and spar buoys marking the channel into the river itself. Once in the river, we have not encountered any navigational hazards. The bed appears to be free of obstructions from bank to bank, except for the odd Javex bottle marking pilings and deadheads near shore. This river is much wider and more built up than the South River. Its shores are lined with resorts, cottages and homes - some of which are quite luxurious. The river ceases to be navigable to cruising boats at Minnehaha Bay, where the Town of Sturgeon Falls maintains a large and hospitable marina. You can tie up there and easily walk the two blocks into the heart of downtown. This is a fun spot to spend a couple of hours shopping and having lunch. Highway 17 passes right through Sturgeon Falls (you have to cross it to get from the marina into the downtown) and features most major fast food joints, including McDonalds and KFC. Or, you can get a burger and some of the "world famous" Sturgeon Falls french fries at one of the shops along the downtown streets. With a population of some 6,000, Sturgeon Falls is reputedly the largest predominantly French speaking community in Canada, outside the Province of Quebec. This lends the community a touch of European je ne sais quoi, but doesn't pose any inconvenience to the unilingual anglophone visitor. If you don't care to see the town, the Sturgeon Falls Hotel has its own docks on the west side of the river at the entrance to Minnehaha Bay. Tie up there, climb the path to the Hotel and enjoy a nice lunch in their dining room overlooking the river and keep an eye on your boat at the same time!

Wigwam Channel

Whether heading to Sturgeon or the West Bay, we enjoy passing through the Wigwam Channel at the north end of Sandy Island. Not only does the route west of Sandy Island provide a more sheltered and scenic passage than the open water route east of the island, but it affords an opportunity to follow this channel through the wild rice fields that surround it. The beginning of the channel at the south end is clearly indicated by a fairway buoy, spar buoys line the channel, and the north end of the channel is indicated by Wigwam Point Light on a small island at the north west end of the channel. However, leaving the channel at the north end, care must be observed not to bear west too quickly. Dangerous shoals lie north of Wigwam Point light for some 500 feet.

The French River

No doubt the most popular cruising ground on Lake Nipissing is the French River. The portion navigable by cruisers from Lake Nipissing displays the deltaic features of a river mouth, because they were formed when the river flowed from west to east, draining glacial Lake Iroquois into the Ottawa River system. When the water level subsided, the North Bay escarpment blocked the eastward flow and now the area west of the escarpment drains westerly through the French into Georgian Bay.

As a result, there are a large number of sheltered islands and meandering bays which offer the gunkholer a wealth of opportunities for exploration. Also, apart from the access road to Dokis Village, the area is not accessible by road, which makes the area more boater-friendly. Many of the resorts have major docking facilities for their own use, and offer cruisers over-night dockage at a reasonable price, as well as use of restaurant and other facilities.

Some of the more notable areas are:

Twilight Bay

This attractive, remote and sheltered bay is a favourite anchorage for French River cruisers. The privacy and serenity of the location cannot be overstated. The low, steep, rock shore offers the opportunity to tie up and step ashore, perhaps with the aid of a short gang-plank. Or you can anchor out and swim or dinghy in to the more gradually sloping areas.

The Free-Flowing Channel

This spectacular feature is well worth a visit. Although the total outflow of Lake Nipissing into the lower French is regulated by dams, this narrow chasm sends an unregulated stream cascading between tall cliffs. Entry from the French River is gained through a narrow cut in the granite, into a wider pool. Only the eddying current and the roar of the cascade gives the visitor an indication of the outlet. However, with care you can tie up to the shore and follow well-worn paths along the side of the cliff to examine the torrent.

The North West Bay

This is a very picturesque are of the Lake, but has little else to offer the cruising explorer. The highway bridge at Lavigne effectively bars the end of the bay to any type of cabin-cruiser. The water is shallow and weedy and the shoreline is heavily developed. We were unable to locate a marina with dockage for a boat our size, nor an appealing anchorage or beach to go ashore and swim or picnic. Local knowledge might disclose attractions in this area which we missed in a one-day trip. However, based on our experience, the area is only suitable to the cruising boat for a brief sight-seeing excursion.

© 1998 Jeffrey L.Froud
Last updated October 17, 1998