Boating on Lake Huron

By Marty Richardson
Published: April/May 2013

Come and explore Lake Huron's top cruising ground, with a couple who go there every year, for good reason. Here is their "must visit" boating itinerary.

Photo of sunset over the North Channnel Photo: Carl Bihlmeyer

Sunset over the North Channel.

At the northern end of Lake Huron is a remote, wild passage known as the North Channel. To the north lies the Ontario mainland; to the south is Manitoulin Island, the largest freshwater island in the world. My husband Jerry and I have sailed — and motored — the North Channel for more than 30 years, first on our Catalina 30, then our Beneteau 375, and now on our 52-foot Halvorsen trawler, Monarch. We plan to spend at least two weeks per trip in the North Channel, and always wish we had more time. With hundreds of uninhabited islands, countless anchorages, hidden beaches, and remote coastline, the North Channel is, simply put, one of the best freshwater cruising grounds in the world.

Whether you prefer docks, anchorages, or a mix of both, you’ll find gunkholes and marinas conveniently scattered along the channel. We recommend making short hops from place to place to leave lots of time during daylight hours for exploring. Make sure to have a seaworthy dinghy, trusty outboard, and spare gas can, so you can thoroughly experience the North Channel's nooks and crannies.

Photo of a Nordic Tug in the North Channel Photo: Carl Bihlmeyer

Nordic Tug in the North Channel.

Manitoulin Island protects the area from the full fury of Lake Huron's storms. But you can still experience heavy seas along the North Channel's 100-mile long east-west fetch, so keep an ear to the Canadian weather on your VHF radio. The channel's bottom is unforgiving solid rock; it's imperative to know your location on both electronic and paper charts, and keep a sharp lookout. Depths can change from a few hundred feet to just inches in a few boat lengths, so the risk of running aground is real here. Complicating navigation, some of our favorite remote anchorages have no channel markers, and should be entered with the sun at your back and a lookout on the bow; of course, never travel after dark. Instead, use your nighttime hours to lie on the deck and gaze at the Milky Way. With no ambient light, it’s so bright and close you can almost touch it.

A convenient spot to stage a North Channel trip is the port of Tobermory, Ontario. This is one of our favorite Lake Huron harbors, located where the lake meets Georgian Bay. Renowned as the freshwater scuba capital of the world for its clear water and dozens of shipwrecks, Tobermory is about a day's cruise from the North Channel. We often provision here, then head north along the eastern shore of Manitoulin Island. Many boaters will start or complete their North Channel cruise in the town of Killarney at the channel's eastern end. For docking, fuel, and dining, our favorites here include the newly renovated Sportsman’s Inn restaurant and hotel, and the historic Killarney Mountain Lodge, which serves popcorn in front of the lounge's huge fireplace-in-the-round. For casual fare, don’t miss the dockside fish-and-chip wagon where fresh whitefish is served from the window of a red school bus.

Photo of the Chip Wagon in Killarney Photo: Carl Bihlmeyer

The Chip Wagon in Killarney.

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