Forget the West

Wilderness rivers, sprawling lake networks, freshwater coasts, train-assisted tripping, and a host of world-class paddling schools.

We hear you, B.C.

You have endless mountain ranges, deep alpine lakes, steep whitewater runs, and hundreds of first-rate mountain bike trails. But with all due respect to the West, a few provinces over, adventure runs deep.

Ontario is packed with hidden gems and amazing opportunities. For paddlers in particular, Ontario offers adventures for every discipline and skill level. We’ve compiled our top reasons why paddlers should set their sights east—and suggested some of our favorite destinations within Ontario.

Reason #1: Rivers

Whitewater kayaker playing in rapids.
Exciting whitewater all season long.

Ontario is truly a river runner’s dream. The 100,000 km of rivers that flow through the province once opened the region up to voyageurs, loggers, and settlers. Today, they represent endless potential adventures for another kind of explorer. For intense river expeditions, there are the breathtaking northern arteries flowing into James Bay—the Albany, Attawapiskat, Moose, and Harricana rivers, to name just a few. These rivers provide a true wilderness experience in a remote part of the province, with challenging rapids, amazing fishing, and incredible wildlife.

For adventures with easier access and logistics—and warm water—there are exciting central Ontario rivers like the Ottawa, French, Spanish, and Petawawa that offer excellent paddling all season long. The importance of these waterways to both the local and global whitewater paddling communities has given rise to long-running races and festivals plus fully outfitted and/or guided adventures—yet another reason Ontario’s rivers take the cake.

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Reason #2: Paddling Schools

Kayaks in water with instructors standing in water beside kayaks
One-on-one learning from world-class instructors.

Ontario is well-known for its excellent collection and calibre of paddling schools. Positive and memorable paddling adventures call for solid skills and confidence, assets instructors can help canoeists and kayakers develop. You’ll find schools all over the province with professional instruction in canoeing and kayaking, as well as certification programs for aspiring leaders.

Want to learn how to surf in a playboat? Catch puddle-sized eddies in your new open boat? Self-rescue in your sea kayak? No matter your goals, there is a course or clinic for you. The breadth of educational offerings, not to mention the density of knowledgeable instructors, makes Ontario the perfect place to build your paddling skills.

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Reason #3: Train-Assisted Canoe Trips

Train shuttles.

A unique option for some canoe trips in Northern Ontario is the option to start and finish your trip by train. Arrangements can be made with rail lines to bring your canoes and gear with you, then be dropped off at access points for your wilderness adventures. This opens up a lot of the more remote parts of the province to paddlers, cuts down on long drives, and adds a fun element to trip logistics. Via Rail’s Budd Car can accommodate boats, barrels, and canoe packs, and allows you to reach some fantastic wilderness areas, while the Polar Bear Express ferries travellers to bucket list rivers in the province’s far north.

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Reason #4: Lake Networks

Three people sitting on ground with canoes and tent in background
Limitless canoe tripping routes.

Ontario contains a quarter of a million lakes, tens of thousands of which are connected by snaking wetlands and waterways. These expansive lake networks mean there’s no shortage of options for expedition canoe tripping and other multi-day paddling trips. The well-worn portages in many of Ontario’s most renowned regions—Algonquin, Killarney, and Temagami to name a few—mean paddlers can lose themselves in these wild areas and spend as much time as they like linking lake to lake. Choose a region, smooth a map out on your kitchen table, and decide which lakes you want to move through this summer.

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Reason #5: Freshwater Coasts

Kayaking paddling beside high rocky cliffs.
The Great Lakes—unsalted and spectacular.

With coastline on four Great Lakes totalling over 7,600 km, Ontario has more freshwater coast than anywhere else in the world. Sea kayakers, stand-up paddleboarders, and open water canoeists could spend a lifetime exploring these challenging waters and only just scratch the surface. For stunning wilderness coastline, striking headlands and vast beaches, head to Lake Superior. For tens of thousands of smooth-rock islands—the largest freshwater archipelago in the world—along with wind-swept pines and easy access, head to Georgian Bay and Lake Huron’s North Channel. In the south, Lake Ontario and Erie offer surprisingly empty stretches of impressive bluffs and outstanding surf beaches.

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#PADDLEON

Our paddling adventures connect us with the land, the water and each other. They provide us with a unique way of experience the Canadian Canoe Culture. There are endless options to explore Ontario’s cultural, serene, or exhilarating routes. Find the ones best suited to your personal sense of adventure.  

About Hannah Griffin

Hannah Griffin is a journalist and photographer whose work has been published by Al Jazeera, Vice and Rapid. She has a Master’s of Journalism from New York University and has reported from coastal British Columbia and Mongolia.

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