Canada: Canoe Ontario

Why paddling is the best way to discover the heart and soul of the province.

By Ontario Tourism OTMPC
Published 3 Feb 2017, 11:07 GMT, Updated 19 Jul 2021, 14:31 BST
Getting ready to go fishing on a perfect summer morning. Classic Smallmouth Bass and Walleye water ...

Getting ready to go fishing on a perfect summer morning. Classic Smallmouth Bass and Walleye water on Crooked Lake (Wednesday Bay) in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area / Quetico Provincial Park.

Photograph by Getty Images

They say it's possible to canoe coast to coast across Canada, so long as you're prepared to portage (carry) it now and then. But if you're short on time, or simply want to sample the best bits, head to Ontario.

With around 400,000 lakes, rivers and streams, the eastern province is nicknamed the 'canoeing capital', with water a defining force, shaping its landscapes and people.

The principal means of transportation in Canada until the mid-1800s, the canoe is very often still the best way to explore the country's vast wilderness, easily accessible by car or plane from both Toronto or Ottawa. While some itineraries enable you to paddle close to iconic Canadian wildlife such as bear and moose in the early morning mist, others will deposit you in the belly of mighty rivers to raft among the rapids.

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Algonquin Provincial Park

A labyrinth of forests, lakes, rivers and majestic rocky ridges, this park is a few hours' drive from Toronto and Ottawa. One of the largest in the country, covering approximately 8,000sq miles, it's also the best in the province to spot Canadian moose, best seen from the water, plus white-tailed deer, beavers, black bears and wolves. Camp, or stay in one of the park's lodges, to appreciate the sounds and silence of the wilderness — and the incredible night sky. A variety of operators, including Algonquin Outfitters, offer adventures ranging from half-day guided canoe trips to multi-day lightweight canoe rentals for those who want to go it alone on an adventure. 

Ottawa River

North west of the capital, this river carried the first explorers into the interior and was later used as a delivery route for fur and timber. Famed for its rapids, the Ottawa Valley is nicknamed the 'Whitewater Capital of Canada', with rafting trips from May to September. Owl Rafting, located 90 minutes from Ottawa, caters for

everyone from families to adrenalin junkies, with a range of rafts and itineraries. Day trips through the Rocher Fendu rapids are popular, with opportunities to relax and picnic beside quiet pools, spotting beavers and partaking in a spot of cliff jumping. Those who want to brush up their paddle skills will be in good hands — owner Claudia Kerckhoff-Van Wijk, is a 10-times Canadian kayak champion. 

Lake Superior

If portaging (carrying your canoe from one waterway to another) sounds too strenuous, the world's largest freshwater lake may be a better place to kayak. Stretching 350 by 160 miles, Lake Superior north shore lies claim to dramatic cliffs, enchanting rock monoliths, rock paintings, sheltered coves, remote islands and pretty beaches. This summer, Naturally Superior Adventures is offering six guided, all-inclusive tours that trace the same coastline that was paddled by the fur-trading voyageurs two centuries ago. Guests will travel in replica 36ft voyageur canoes that carry camping supplies and food for 12-14 people on multi-day trips.

Woodland Caribou Provincial Park

Finding solitude is easy here. At 1.2 million acres and with around 800 visitors a year, some paddlers never see another person throughout their trip. The northwestern provincial park is home to stunning boreal forest and large groups of woodland caribou and is also famed for its pictographs (rock paintings). Visitors can paddle around

1,250 miles of maintained canoe routes, spot birds, including great grey owls and bald eagles or fish for pike and trout. Red Lake Outfitters is the only operator in the region that works alongside the park and can advise or guide paddlers on the best spots to hike, fish and cook up delicious backcountry cuisine.

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