Montreal to Ottawa by Personal Watercraft
Editor's Note: If you haven't read Craig Nicholson aka The Intrepid Cottager's piece on the Upper Ottawa River from Pembroke to Mattawa, you need to check it out now. But those who are looking for ways to cruise the Ottawa River a little further downstream will be interested in this article, covering these awesome cruising grounds from Montreal to Ottawa.
For PWC riders and boaters, the Lower Ottawa River offers a touch of everything that’s great about Ontario waterways. This stretch of water forming the Ontario-Quebec border is bookended by Montreal at its east end, where it meets the St. Lawrence River, and Ottawa at its west end, where there’s access to the famous Rideau Canal. The Lower Ottawa widens out considerably as it closes with the St. Lawrence, so it also includes the Lake of Two Mountains and Lake Saint-Louis. The whole route is very navigable and well-buoyed where needed.
About 360 km of boating adventures awaited us along well-populated and serviced Ontario shores between the two cities – more than enough to satisfy any boater with a yen for river cruising. That’s why we recently spent two very enjoyable days exploring the prominently Francophone Ontario shore by Sea-Doo watercraft. Unable to find any riverside lodgings with docks at a halfway location, we did discover a gem of a place in Alfred, Ontario called the Motel Rouleau, where we stayed both nights. It’s only 10 minutes by trailer to a good and free public launch at Lefaivre where we staged for each day’s ride.
Day One: Lefaivre to Montreal
This part of the ride is about 94 klicks to the western end of the Lachine Canal, which is a 14.5-kilometre slow speed zone run by Parks Canada that takes boaters into the Old Port of Montreal. Even by Sea-Doo, this day ride didn’t allow enough time to canal it into the city, because before arriving there we had to pass through (and wait for) two busy locks (and had to allow time to go back through them, too). As it was, with stops for lunch, gas and double locks, this day ride took us almost 11 hours total, but we knew that going in – and what better way to while away a hot summer day?
The Carillon Lock is about 43 klicks downriver from Lefaivre. It’s the largest one operated by Parks Canada and boy, did we ever feel insignificant with its walls towering more than 100 feet over us! About 40 km farther along, the Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue Canal is a much smaller lock (and very short canal) with plenty of riverside restaurant patios to choose from for lunch. We gassed up for the return ride at the Ile Perrot Marina just east of this canal.
Our Lefaivre-to-Montreal ride was a "kick back and enjoy the relaxed ambience of the whole experience" kinda day. The sights, scenery and the waterway itself were well worth our time – and after all, we still rode a total of almost 200 klicks!
Day Two: Lefaivre to Ottawa
This 80-km or so excursion upstream to Ottawa was a much more straightforward PWC ride, with no locks or canals. But what with spending a couple of hours sightseeing Canada’s capital city from the water and stopping for a patio lunch and gas at the Rockcliffe Boathouse Marina, we did put in a very full day, riding over 160 klicks total in about seven hours, including stops.
This part of the Lower Ottawa doesn’t widen into any major lakes, but has many broad stretches where we made good time running past towns like Clarence-Rockland and Cumberland. Best of all, it was pretty neat seeing the City of Ottawa gradually rise out of the distant shore, growing larger the closer we got.
Between these latter two landmarks are the eight flight locks that mark the northern entrance to the Rideau Canal, for those who have the time for the multi-day cruise south to Kingston. Unfortunately, only a kilometre or so east, just past the Portage Bridge, the navigable portion of the Lower Ottawa comes to an abrupt halt where impassable rapids block farther progress upstream. There may be a transfer service available to trailer around, but we didn’t have time to check it out properly or do any more riding that day.
The Lower Ottawa River is considerably more populated and has much more boat traffic than the Upper Ottawa does. But each section of this mighty river is unique in its own right, and that’s what makes riding your personal watercraft or cruising your boat there such a special experience. And it’s why I go back every year for more Sea-Doo touring!