11 "Instagram vs. Reality" Photos of Ontario to See Before Your Next Paddling Trip

Paddling in Ontario isn’t always sunshine and solitude, but challenging conditions can bring the richest experiences—and the best stories.

Instagram can be very powerful—inspiring dream trips, instigating micro-adventures close to home, or simply making us re-think our paddling apparel (remember teal-and-purple windbreakers? Yikes). But sometimes our own experiences (and Insta pages) don’t mirror those breathtaking images of bluebird skies and placid waters. Being prepared for challenges—like changeable weather, rough water, pre-dawn starts, and long portages—means you’ll experience both Type 1 and Type 2 fun. And have some great stories for your next campfire.

1. Spanish River on Instagram

Two people paddling a red canoe in whitewater.
Perfect introductory whitewater on the Spanish River. (Photo: @jeffjacksonmrbk)

Spanish River in Reality

A woman standing in shallow rapids at bow of packed canoe.
Canoe-hiking the upper Spanish River. (Photo: Virginia Marshall)

One of Ontario’s finest introductory whitewater canoe trips, the Spanish River’s East Branch spills through a series of small lakes and narrow passages before joining with the West Branch at The Forks. The gradually increasing volume makes for a perfect progression of runnable class I-II rapids. But late summer brings lower flows, especially on those upper reaches—expect to wade or line your canoe in some spots. Of course, August also brings delightfully warm waters and (usually) an end to blackfly season. Get geared up with a local outfitter.

2. Lake Superior on Instagram

Close up view of a man paddling a kayak.
Lake Superior can be a gentle giant... (Photo: @naturallysuperioradventures)

Lake Superior in Reality

Kayaker playing in large waves on Lake Superior.
…but plan for one day out of every four to look like this. (Photo: Virginia Marshall)

The spectacular coastline of Lake Superior is on many paddlers’ bucket lists. When the lake is calm, kayaking beside the soaring cliffs, gorgeous cobble beaches and rugged headlands is pure Nirvana. But winds change and waves develop with surprising speed on this vast sweetwater sea. Superior’s size and exposure means winds blow unimpeded for hundreds of kilometres across its open waters, resulting in waves and swell that more often resemble an ocean than a freshwater lake. Be prepared to be wind-bound one out of every four days—the lake is typically calmest in June and July; August brings more unsettled weather. Join an experienced outfitter like Naturally Superior Adventures to take the guesswork out of your trip.

3. Canoe Trip Weather on Instagram

Person in bow of canoe paddling on a calm lake with blue skies above.
Nothing but blue skies. (Photo: @davidjackson)


Coniferous tree covered in rain drops in front of a paddler on a river.
Real life includes rainy days. (Photo: Virginia Marshall)

A wise paddler once said, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear.” Leave the cotton T’s and denim pants at home, grab your Gore-Tex, and embrace those rainy days outside. After all, as many a wise paddler has observed, “It is a water sport—you will get wet.”

4. Killarney Provincial Park on Instagram

Red canoe on a rocky shoreline on a serene lake.
Yes, Killarney is this beautiful. (Photo: @sarahfurch)

Killarney Provincial Park in Reality

Person portaging a red canoe on a woodland trail.
There’s gold in them hills—steep portages reward persistent paddlers in Killarney. (Photo: Virginia Marshall)

The incredible landscape of Ontario’s Killarney Provincial Park is famous for its rumpled topography of ancient mountains pocketed with hundreds of crystalline lakes. The park is every bit as beautiful at its archetypal Instagram pic—white peaks, feathery pines, and sapphire lakes—but canoeists will earn those views over thousands of carefully placed steps on steep and challenging portage trails. Local outfitters can help to plan a route that matches your skill level.

5. Your Paddling Partner on Instagram

Slender, fit woman standing beside a canoe on a beach.
Feeling good, looking better. (Photo: @findingepic)

Your Paddling Partner in Reality

One man with heavy backpack and one man pointing at him.
#notamodel. (Photo: Virginia Marshall)

Reality check: Most of us aren’t Insta-models, and neither are our paddling partners. But there’s no one with whom we’d rather canoe trip.

6. North Channel of Lake Huron Campsite on Instagram

Glowing orange tent in front of the milky way in the night sky.
Maximum exposure. (Photo: @henrylw)

North Channel of Lake Huron Campsite in Reality

Backlit tent at sunset, nestled under some trees.
Choose a sheltered location when making camp on Lake Huron. (Photo: Virginia Marshall)

Precariously perched, artfully lit tents are an Instagram favourite—but ask any paddler who has slept out under the stars on the windswept, granite islands of Lake Huron’s North Channel, and they’ll vouch for the wisdom of a well-protected campsite. Sudden wind gusts can sweep a poorly secured tent right into the lake (we’ve seen it happen), and summer thunderstorms are common on the North Channel. Always follow lightning safety protocol when selecting a tent site.

Agawa Rock Pictographs on Instagram

Red pictograph on a vertical rock face.
The Manitou must be at rest. (Photo: @sarahfurch)

Agawa Rock Pictographs in Reality

Kayaks paddling in waves, trying to view pictographs.
Reflection waves challenge kayakers viewing the pictographs at Agawa Rock. (Photo: Virginia Marshall)

At Lake Superior Provincial Park’s Agawa Rock, generations of Ojibwe people recorded their visions and stories in centuries-old red ochre paintings. In the cultural tradition of the Ojibwe, high cliffs that plunge from sky to water like those at Agawa Rock are powerful spiritual sites. Today, the pictographs are faded with time, yet they still possess a remarkable energy and vitality—especially when viewed from the lively waters of Gichi-Gami. The “great sea” is seldom calm here, even the slightest swell creates surging reflection waves. Don’t expect to paddle right up close. Those who try are likely to experience the wrath of Mishipeshu—the Great Lynx whose likeness appears twice on Agawa Rock.

8. What Portaging Feels Like on Instagram

Man strumming on a guitar while portaging a green canoe on his head.
“I got that sunshine in my pocket // Got that good soul in my feet.” (Photo: @zachbaranowski)

What Portaging Feels Like in Reality

Close up of a man portaging a canoe.
1,400 metres of "Are we there yet?" (Photo: Virginia Marshall)

Ultralight Kevlar and carbon canoes have made shouldering your boat across the portage trail much easier than the days of waterlogged, cedar-canvas behemoths. Still, it’s relatively uncommon to find someone strumming a tune with 60 pounds on their shoulders and 800 metres of narrow trail ahead.

9. Northern Selfies on Instagram

Young woman  with a brimmed hat sitting on a dock beside an old-fashioned lantern.
Insta-brimmed hat and old-timey lantern? Check. (Photo: @laurencbridle)

Northern Selfies in Reality

Two men in bug jackets talking in front of a tent.
Bug jackets = sanity when the bite is on. (Photo: Virginia Marshall)

Ontario’s far northwest offers some of the province’s very best wilderness canoe tripping in sprawling provincial parks like Wabakimi and Woodland Caribou. Unfortunately, Woodland Caribou’s endless boreal forest and Wabakimi’s myriad lakes and rivers are home to more than world-class fishing, wildlife and paddling. This waterlogged country is also the bastion of hordes of blackflies—tiny insects that pack a disproportionately fierce bite. By all means, bring your selfie stick—just don’t forget a bug jacket for mornings and evenings at camp.

10. Lake Superior Provincial Park on Instagram

A group of kayaks and kayakers on the shore of Lake Superior.
Superior summer. (Photo: @wander.winny)

Lake Superior Provincial Park in Reality

Group of empty kayaks on shore of Lake Superior, covered in by fog.
Cloying fog banks are common in early summer on Lake Superior. (Photo: Virginia Marshall)

Experienced touring kayakers and canoeists bound for the island-studded waters and sandy beaches of Lake Superior Provincial Park’s Gargantua Harbour know that this inland sea frequently serves up impenetrable, onshore fog in early summer. The dense, damp whiteout is the result of warm air masses interacting with the lake’s still-frigid waters. While some trips are blessed with sunny July skies and stunning views, paddlers should be prepared to travel blind for days at a time (bring navigation aids and know how to use them), take a guided trip with a local outfitter—or stay on shore and enjoy the park’s excellent Coastal Hiking Trail.

11. #CampLife on Instagram

Well organized campsite with a tent, campfire, table, chairs and canoe.
Instagram loves a well-accessorized campsite. (Photo: @kylefinndempsey)

#CampLife in Reality

Man in a bug jacket chopping wood.
Chop wood, carry water. Actual bushcraft is an exercise in patience and simplicity. (Photo: Virginia Marshall)

Pssst…we’ll let you in on a dirty little secret: backcountry camping is actually hard work. The best kind of work, of course—glorious, achey shoulders, grimey fingernailed, weary boned, wonderful work. But, still, sometimes a bit of a chore. Especially when you toss in traditional bushcraft skills like harvesting chicots and making firewood splits to bake bannock over an open fire. But it’s the kind of work that builds character, makes us better paddlers, and may even makes us better people.

People in a canoe in whitewater, large shark with open mouth in front of canoe.
French River deep fake. (Photo: @wildcanoes)

So there you have it, don’t believe everything you see on Instagram. Get out there and discover paddling in Ontario for yourself!

About Virginia Marshall

Virginia Marshall is a freelance outdoor adventure writer, photographer and editor with roots in Muskoka and Lake Superior. Read her work in Adventure Kayak, Canoeroots, Rapid, Paddling Magazine and Backroad Mapbooks.

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