7 Getaways from Ottawa Paddlers will Love

Putting together a canoe, kayak, or SUP vacation that suits you is easy.

Ottawa is a beautiful city with a plethora of paddling opportunities at its doorstep. But sometimes you want to dip your paddle in unfamiliar waters and explore someplace new. You don’t need to travel outside the country, or even province, to do so—there are nearly endless opportunities for paddling trips within a short drive (or in some cases, even a flight) from Ottawa.

Northern Ontario is the perfect place to ditch the crowds and get back to nature, and there are a variety of experiences to be had. From lakes to rivers, flatwater to whitewater, guided trips to fly-in experiences, there’s a trip for every skill level and interpretation of the word “adventure.” Venture to places like Temagami, Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie and Mattawa, and get a taste for the wilderness that exists in Ontario’s backyard.

Read on to find out more about some of the best paddling-inspired vacations from Ottawa.

Best weekend getaways from Ottawa 

Best Getaway #1: Mattawa River

Approximate Drive Time From Ottawa: 4 hours
Trip: Leave your worries and the crowds behind in Ottawa, pack your favourite camping trip food (or let the outfitter handle that for you), and hop on Hwy 17 to North Bay. From there you’ll paddle the smooth waters of the Mattawa River to the scenic town of Mattawa. To see this area at its loveliest, go in the fall as the leaves are beginning to change.

Group of people paddling a replica voyageur canoe
Follow the historic fur trade route of the Voyageurs. Source: Destination Ontario

Why You’ll Love It: The Mattawa is a Canadian Heritage River—its waters played a key role in transporting voyageurs and establishing the fur trade in early Canadian history. And of course it held great importance as a link from the St. Lawrence Valley to the upper Great Lakes for First Nations people. For much of the journey, the river is wide and calm; any sections of whitewater have short, well-marked portages for those who aren’t quite ready to brave rougher waters (though experienced whitewater paddlers will enjoy these portions of the river). Paddle through Mattawa River Provincial Park and Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park, and be sure to make stops at the various informational plaques along the way explaining the history of the area.

How To Make It Happen: The majority of this trip falls within the bounds of Mattawa River Provincial Park. There are designated campsites, but they don’t have to be booked in advance as this is a non-operating park. Be sure to purchase a Mattawa River and Area map to view the location of established campsites. There are also various campgrounds located along the river you can book a stay at: Camp Conewango, Talon Lake Campground and Marina, and Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park. If you’re in need of outfitting or shuttles, Algonquin North Outfitters will do the trick. They also offer a guided day trip that will give you a glimpse into the beauty and history of the area.
While You’re There: If you’re a history buff (or paddling with one), check out the Mattawa Museum for a look into the storied heritage of this area.

Best Getaway #2: Temagami

Approximate Drive Time From Ottawa: 4.5 hours
Trip: A variety of provincial parks make the Temagami area rife with opportunities for paddling adventures. Whether you are looking for frontcountry comforts with lake access at Finlayson Point Provincial Park, backcountry routes through lakes and along ancient portage trails in Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Provincial Park, or whitewater adventure on the Temagami River, there are plenty of options for you to customize the trip that suits you.

Woman lounging on a smooth rock at lakeshore, beside a tent and canoe, at sunset
Real wilderness. Real easy. Source: Destination Ontario

Why You’ll Love It: While you can find remote areas of Algonquin by putting in at northern access points and travelling long portages, finding solitude is even easier in Temagami. With over 4,700 km of canoe routes, crossing paths with other humans is a matter of chance. The area is also home to the world’s largest stands of old-growth red and white pine. You can find them on Temagami Island and in the Wakimika Triangle. Then of course there’s the main attraction: the lakes and rivers. Find the sparkling blue waters of Wolf Lake set amid white quartzite cliffs. Decide for yourself whether Florence Lake is the most picturesque in the park, with its clear waters and white-sand beaches. Float past rocky islands, access old-growth forest trails, and enjoy moving with the current on the scenic Obabika River.  

How To Make It Happen: Get in touch with one of the local outfitters in Temagami—they’ll help you shape your weekend so it’s just right for you. Both Temagami Outfitting Co. and Smoothwater Outfitters offer canoe and gear rentals, shuttles, meals, guided trips and trip planning. Want to step things up a notch? Plan a fly-in canoe trip using Lakeland Airways. Only some trips in Temagami will require you to secure permits, which are available at local outfitters, at the Finlayson Point Provincial Park gatehouse, or through Ontario Parks’ online reservation system. Topographic maps are available for purchase at the outfitting companies listed above, and you can order paddling specific maps for different areas of Temagami from Chrismar.

While You’re There: Check out Andorra Lodge for beautiful accommodations on Ferguson Lake. Or fly into Hap and Andrea Wilson’s Cabin Falls Ecolodge for a weekend of equal parts adventure and relaxation. Lastly, climb to the top of the Temagami Fire Tower for a stunning view of the surrounding landscape.

Best Getaway #3: Ottawa Valley

Drive Time From Ottawa: 1.5 to 2.5 hours
Trip: Known as the Whitewater Capital of Canada, this area has some of the fastest, cleanest, warmest and safest rivers in the country. You can learn or improve your whitewater canoe or kayak skills at Canada’s best paddling schools. The adventure resorts on the Ottawa River, a Canadian Heritage River, offer exciting one- or two-day whitewater getaways. Camp, RV or stay in a cabin onsite, and enjoy delicious meals, resort amenities and adventurous whitewater rafting, kayaking and SUP. Gentle family trips are also available.

Man and woman paddling a canoe in whitewater.
Learn to whitewater paddle in a weekend. Source: Madawaska Kanu Centre

Why You’ll Love It: Discover the thrill of whitewater paddling in the warm water of the Ottawa River. Want to get your adrenaline flowing? The Main Channel is powerful and provides a “rock-em sock-em” roller coaster type ride. The Middle Channel is famous for its tight, technical rapids as well as its body surfing. The scenic Lower Channel is great for gentle family rides. With its warm water and dependable flows, the Madawaska River is celebrated as one of the best places in North America to learn whitewater paddling.    

How To Make It Happen: Book a Weekend Whitewater Canoe or Kayak Course at the Madawaska Kanu Centre, on the Madawaska River near Barry’s Bay. Learn the basic strokes then paddle up to class II rapids. After paddling, return to the comfort of the Wilderness Resort with hot outdoor showers, a sauna, yoga, delicious meals and choice of accommodation. On the Ottawa River, choose from Beginner, Intermediate/Advanced or Premier whitewater kayaking programs at Wilderness Tours Adventure Resort or get expert instruction from the Ottawa Kayak School at River Run Campground & RV Park. For an exciting whitewater adventure getaway on the Ottawa River, book a rafting package at OWL Rafting & Resort, Wilderness Tours Adventure Resort or River Run Campground & RV Resort. Each resort offers exceptional camping, lodging, meals, saunas, beach fun, entertainment, hiking and biking trails, and more. 

While You’re There: Be sure to enjoy the hiking and biking trails offered at the resorts. Try SUP, sport yaking, bungee jumping and more. Visit the Ottawa Valley’s local Whitewater Brewing Co.  

Best Getaway #4: Algonquin Provincial Park

Approximate Drive Time From Ottawa: 3 hours
Trip: Algonquin Provincial Park is a popular destination that offers very customizable getaways. Stay at one of Algonquin’s 12 frontcountry campgrounds and paddle at your leisure, or book a backcountry campsite (or multiple) to paddle into. Browse the great packages from the tour operators below and you’ll be on your way to planning your best close-to-home vacation yet.

Two people in a red canoe paddling along shore of lake beside rock cliff.
Paddle the painted landscapes. Source: Destination Ontario

Why You’ll Love It: Algonquin offers something for everyone. Whether you want a short paddle to your campsite with great swimming for your little ones to enjoy, a challenging journey over unmaintained portages and into seldom-seen lakes, or something in between, you’ll be spoiled for choice in Algonquin. This well-loved park is a great location for an introductory canoe trip, offering campsites with firepits, privies, and often creatively crafted natural benches and tables. The portage trails are generally well-maintained and well-marked—and if they’re not, it’ll be marked as such on a map. Many people love Algonquin for the frequent moose sightings, and also the occasional wolf howlings.

How To Make It Happen: If you have all your own equipment and know-how, it’s as easy as booking a campsite online. However, Algonquin features an experienced and professional group of outfitters that are eager to help you make your weekend adventure a reality. With several locations around the park and just outside the park boundary, Algonquin Outfitters offers boat rentals, full outfitting, a water taxi service, guided trips and trip planning services. Also located in the park, at the popular Canoe Lake access point, The Portage Store offers boat rentals, full outfitting and guided trips. With three locations at each of the major entries to the park, Algonquin Bound Outfitters offers boat rentals, full outfitting, guided trips, shuttles, introductory canoe/camping courses and lodging. Located near the Kawawaymog Lake access point in the northwest corner of the park, Voyageur Outfitting offers boat rentals and full outfitting. Take a guided trip or stay in a log cabin with Voyageur Quest. Located north of the park and close to the Kiosk access point, Algonquin North Outfitters offers boat rentals, full outfitting, guided trips and shuttles. Take your pick and start planning your trip!

While You’re There: If you’re looking for another way to tour the incredible beauty of Algonquin, consider renting bikes from The Lake of Two Rivers Store—where it just so happens you can also find The Lake of Two Rivers Cafe & Grill serving burgers, Kawartha Dairy ice cream, fries and more.

Best week-long getaways from Ottawa 

Best Getaway #5: Georgian Bay/Killarney

Driving Time From Ottawa: 6 to 8 hours
Trip: Killarney Provincial Park and Georgian Bay are absolutely stunning with landscapes like no other place in the world. Paddle interior aqua-blue, crystal-clear lakes surrounded by white quartzite mountains on these incredible three- and five-day backcountry canoe trips in the Park. Hike to the top of The Crack and Silver Peak for breathtaking views. Kayaking is the best way to experience Georgian Bay, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. Paddle through the world’s largest freshwater archipelago with over 30,000 islands. Explore a mosaic of open water, sheltered bays, coastal wetlands and its rugged windswept beauty. Camp on smooth Canadian Shield.    

Two kayaks paddling in sheltered bay with beautiful sunset
Paddle in the Georgian Bay UNESO World Biosphere Reserve. Source: Destination Ontario

Why You’ll Love It: Be awed by the same beauty that inspired some of the Group of Seven’s most recognizable work. Killarney Provincial Park offers 645 sq km of wilderness landscape to explore with over 50 clear, sapphire lakes. Canoeists love the simple and quick access to this marvellous landscape from George Lake Campground. Novice to expert kayakers can easily explore the classic rocky shorelines with wispy pines made famous in Canadian art. 

How To Make It Happen: Killarney Provincial Park and Georgian Bay are popular destinations with exceptional local outfitters. Killarney Outfitters provides full and partial canoe, kayak, SUP and camping outfitting services for the Park and Georgian Bay. Killarney Kanoes offers canoe, kayak and camping outfitting for the Park. Take a guided canoe and hiking trip with Overhang Adventures. Georgian Bay is sea kayak heaven. If you want to learn to kayak, check out the Ontario Sea Kayak Centre. If you’re after a multi-day adventure, visit Wilderness Adventures, chill out on a kayak and yoga trip with Wild Women Expeditions or choose from a variety of guided adventure trips with Black Feather.

While You’re There: Stop for a bite at Killarney’s famous Herbert Fisheries. Begin or end your paddling trip with a special night at Killarney Mountain Lodge. On your way, be sure to visit Parry Sound and take a sightseeing tour with Georgian Bay Airways. You’ll get an unforgettable view of Georgian Bay from high in the sky.


Best Getaway #6: Sault Ste. Marie Area

Drive Time From Ottawa: 8.5 to 11 hours
Trip: Base your stay out of Sault Ste. Marie or along the Lake Superior coast to access many day paddling experiences. Or spend a night in town before heading out on a multi-day backcountry paddling adventure. You can take your pick from sea kayaking or paddleboarding on majestic Lake Superior, tripping down wild rivers like the Michipicoten, and portaging into gem-like lakes like Old Woman Lake.

Guy carrying a SUP board into Lake Superior at sunset
Paddle this SUPerior lake. Source: Destination Ontario

Why You’ll Love It: Algoma is a mecca for those looking for a remote escape within driving distance of Ottawa. Access to Lake Superior will give you a true look at the largest of the Great Lakes. Explore more of the charming lakes, rivers and forests that will surround you, and enjoy the creature comforts of Sault Ste. Marie if you’re in the mood to explore local restaurants or breweries.

How To Make It Happen: The picturesque drive along the Trans-Canada Highway to get to Sault Ste. Marie from Ottawa is part of the adventure for this getaway—you will want to make sure you have extra days to make stops along the way. You can book a stay at the Water Tower Inn in Sault Ste. Marie and store your canoe or kayak overnight before heading out on the nearby St. Mary’s or Goulais rivers, or travelling farther north to the Lake Superior coast. You’ll be welcomed by stunning scenery and friendly local outfitters who are happy to provide a guide or give you some tips on where to go. Naturally Superior Adventures, located near Wawa, offers sea kayaking and canoeing tours, sea kayaking, canoeing and SUP instruction, guided sea kayaking trips, shuttles, and boat and gear rentals. You can stay overnight at the Rock Island Lodge, located right onsite. If you plan on paddling within Lake Superior Provincial Park, you can rent canoes from the gatehouses at the Agawa Bay and Rabbit Blanket Lake campgrounds, and at the park office for Mijinemungshing Lake.

While You’re There: The area surrounding Sault Ste. Marie is full of opportunities for adventure. Take a guided rock climbing tour with Superior Exploration, mountain bike at Hiawatha Highlands, or hike a section of the Lake Superior Coastal Trail.

Best Getaway #7: Sleeping Giant Provincial Park

Driving Time From Ottawa: 16 hours
Flying Time From Ottawa: 4 hours
Trip: Book a campsite or rustic cabin at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park and paddle around Marie Louise Lake in addition to exploring the park’s many world-class hiking trails on foot. Or stay in a cozy, private Beyond the Giant log cabin, perched along the shores of Lake Superior. Be sure to take a drive east to Rossport for a guided sea kayaking tour.

Two kayakers paddling next shore over clear water.
Explore from your Beyond the Giant log cabin. Source: Destination Ontario

Why You’ll Love It: Sleeping Giant is a surreal sight, the forest rising up out of sparkling Lake Superior to meet the sheer rock cliffs that tower over the horizon looking out from Thunder Bay. Paddling here is truly a life experience. Thunder Bay is home to a vibrant local culture, providing the perfect mix of urban amenities and access to remote wilderness unique to this area. If you choose to paddle the coastline, you’ll get to see the crystal-clear waters Superior is known for and its rocky, rugged beaches.

How To Make It Happen: The marathon drive to the Thunder Bay area is made better by the spectacular views you’ll see along the way and the memorable experiences you’ll have once you arrive. You can also fly into Thunder Bay directly from Ottawa for an easier commute. Book your campsite at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park using the Ontario Parks online reservation system or contact Beyond the Giant to book your log cabin. If you plan to paddle Marie Louise Lake in the park, you can rent canoes and kayaks from the WestWind Store, located on the upper floor of the Visitor Centre. If you’re heading into Thunder Bay for the day, you can rent canoes, kayaks, SUPs and roof racks from Wilderness Supply. For guided sea kayak tours, you’ll want to take advantage of the expertise at Superior Outfitters Coastal Kayak Adventures in the village of Rossport. They offer guided day trips and multi-day tours, as well as kayak rentals. Naturally Superior Adventures offers guided sea kayak expeditions along the coast as well as guided Lake Superior Voyageur Canoe Brigades.

While You’re There: Rock climbing in Thunder Bay is a hidden gem. Local guide Aric Fishman operates Outdoor Skills And Thrills, and is the best person to show you around the incredible climbing in the area. After a day of paddling, support a local business by heading to Sleeping Giant Brewing Company, home to great craft beer.

Best Getaway #8: Woodland Caribou Provincial Park

Flying Time From Ottawa: 7 hours (including connecting flights)
Trip: Looking for a trip few others will experience? Less than 1,000 paddlers visit Woodland Caribou Provincial Park each season, making it a true wilderness park that offers backcountry paddling for experienced canoe trippers. Take a floatplane ride into the park or get shuttled on ground or water by an outfitter to start your trip.

Man in a canoe paddling along a rock face with a pictograph on it
Reflect on the sacred pictographs found throughout the park. Source: Destination Ontario

Why You’ll Love It: Put your adventure boots on, because this place is not for the faint of heart. You’ll get an authentic remote backcountry paddling experience in Woodland Caribou. Marshlands, boreal forest, elk, caribou and a seemingly endless variety of avian life will greet you at every turn. With over 2,000 km of maintained canoe routes over rivers and lakes, your options are endless. You’ll also have the opportunity to view pictographs throughout the park and a night’s sky like you’ve never seen before.

How To Make It Happen: Located in the far reaches of Northern Ontario, you’ll need to fly to make a trip to Woodland Caribou Provincial Park worthwhile. Most flights involve a connection in Thunder Bay to Red Lake. From here you can choose to be flown into the interior or be shuttled by an outfitter on land or water. Book a Goldseekers Outfitting & Wilderness Expeditions guided tour in Woodland Caribou. They also offer full outfitting, canoe and gear rentals, ground shuttles, floatplane services, and trip planning. Chukuni Outdoor Supply offers guided trips, outfitting, and trip planning services—contact them for more details about their services.

While You’re There: The town of Red Lake has a storied past involving the gold rush and the establishment of commercial bush flying in Canada. Visit the Red Lake Regional Heritage Centre to learn more.

Plan Your Adventure Now

Whether you are looking for a weekend getaway or a longer paddling vacation, there are lots of new places to explore. 

About Kiley Whittal

Kiley Whittal was born and raised in the outdoor life. Paddling, rock climbing, yoga, running—you name it! Kiley roams Canada while working, and splits time at home between Quadeville, ON and Powell River, BC.

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