How to Level up Your Paddling Skills This Season

Learn backcountry camping, navigation, first aid and survival skills on these courses and guided adventures in Ontario.

Becoming an expert paddler is about more than simply mastering strokes and rescues. In addition to developing canoe and kayak skills, to seriously level up your paddling game, you’ll need to learn supporting outdoor skills like backcountry camping, navigation and safety.

Whether you are new to paddling or looking to hone existing skills, taking a course or joining a skills-based guided adventure is a powerful way to boost your comfort and confidence in the backcountry.

Not sure where to start? Browse the courses, clinics and trips below to identify skill areas that might need work. Perhaps you’re comfortable with bushcraft, but less experienced with orienteering or wilderness first aid. There’s a course that can help!

If you’re looking to practice a broader skill set, visit Paddle Canada to find a course or certified instruction provider near you. Ontario Recreational Canoeing & Kayaking Association members (ORCKA) also offer certification courses throughout the province. Whether your passion is canoe tripping, sea kayaking or whitewater, these courses aim to teach a range of supporting skills in addition to improving your on-water technique.

As your skills improve, you'll feel more confident and safe exploring Ontario’s outstanding canoeing and kayaking destinations. For a comprehensive listing of canoe and kayak skills schools in Ontario, click here.

during a course, people practice providing wilderness first aid
Learn everything from how to treat common injuries to how to save lives in remote environments when you take a wilderness first aid course. Photo: John Rathwell // Boreal River Rescue

Wilderness First Aid Courses

Be prepared when things go wrong. Learn to provide medical assistance for first aid emergencies in remote backcountry settings. Courses range from the introductory Wilderness First Aid course (2 days) to the intensive Wilderness First Responder program (8 days).

Naturally Superior Adventures, (800) 203-9092, 10 Government Dock Rd, Wawa, info@naturallysuperior.com

Paddling skills centre and lodge hosting wilderness first aid courses, including basic Wilderness First Aid (16 hours), Advanced Wilderness First Aid (40 hours) and Wilderness First Responder (80 hours). Camping, glamping or lodge accommodation options. Courses offered in May 2024.

Horizons Adventures, (705) 866-6069, 28 Sleepy Hollow Rd, Whitefish, info@horizonsadventures.ca 

Basic and advanced Wilderness First Aid courses (2-4 days) taught by paddlers; courses offered from February to May near Sudbury.

Canadian Ecology Centre, (705) 744-1715, 6905 Highway 17, Mattawa, info@canadianecology.ca

Wilderness First Responder (5 days) and recertification courses delivered by Wilderness Medical Associates.

MHO Adventures, 67 Widjiitiwin Road, Huntsville, (705) 789-6479, info@mhoadventures.com

Five-day Wilderness First Responder course offered by whitewater canoe experts; courses available April and October 2024 near Huntsville.

Voyageur Quest, (416) 486-3605, Kawawaymog (Round) Lake, Algonquin Park, info@voyageurquest.com

Advanced Wilderness First Aid course (4.5 days) delivered at a lakeside canoe outpost; cabin accommodations and all meals included.

White Squall, 53 East Carling Bay Rd, Nobel, (705) 203-2955, info@whitesquall.com

Full suite of wilderness first aid courses (2 to 8 days) delivered by Wilderness Medical Associates at Georgian Nordic Outdoor Activity Centre. On-site camping available.

PaddleFoot, (705) 766-2394 / (888) 388-3668, 1035 Long Line Lake Rd, Baysville, info@paddlefoot.ca

Wilderness Advanced First Aid (4 days) and Wilderness First Responder (8 days) courses, as well as bridge and recertification options.

Paddler Co-op, (613) 758-2772, 6535 Palmer Rd, Palmer Rapids, info@paddlerco-op.com

Advanced Wilderness First Aid (4 days) and recertification courses delivered by Wilderness Medical Associates. On-site camping available.

Madawaska Kanu Centre, (613) 756-3620 / (888) 652-5268, 247 River Rd, Barry's Bay, paddle@mkc.ca

Wilderness first aid courses of all levels, from introductory Wilderness First Aid classes (2 days) to the 8-day Wilderness First Responder program. Courses offered May, June and August 2024 at the centre’s riverfront location. Accommodation and meal packages available.

Boreal River Rescue, (866) 242-9383, 78 George St, Ottawa, info@borealriver.com

Hands-on wilderness first aid courses of all levels, from introductory Wilderness First Aid classes (2 to 3 days) to the 80-hour Wilderness First Responder program. Courses offered throughout the year, most open enrollment courses take place near Ottawa.

Bear Creek Outdoor Centre, (613) 889-7262 / (888) 453-5099, 3828 Burnstown Rd, Horton, info@bearcreekoutdoor.com

Immersive wilderness first aid courses of all levels, from introductory Wilderness First Aid course (2 days) to the intensive Wilderness First Responder program (7 days). Delivered by Canadian Wilderness Medical Training; meals and cabin accommodations included.

three whitewater rescue students crouch in the river as they learn their lessons
Whitewater rescue courses provide hands-on training for safer river running. Photo: John Rathwell // Boreal River Rescue

Whitewater & Swiftwater Rescue Courses

Learn techniques for assisting and leading whitewater rescues. Practice making smart decisions on the river.

Boreal River Rescue, (866) 242-9383, 78 George St, Ottawa, info@borealriver.com

Progressive, in-river whitewater rescue training for all levels of whitewater paddlers, from beginner to advanced (2 to 5 days). Courses are offered in May on the Madawaska and Magnetawan rivers.

PaddleFoot, (705) 766-2394 / (888) 388-3668, 1035 Long Line Lake Rd, Baysville, info@paddlefoot.ca

River rescue courses for recreational and professional paddlers (2 to 3 days).

Madawaska Kanu Centre, (613) 756-3620 / (888) 652-5268, 247 River Rd, Barry's Bay, paddle@mkc.ca

Two-day Rescue for River Runners and 3-day Swiftwater Rescue Technician courses, offered in May, June and August on the Middle Madawaska River.

Backcountry Camping Courses

Gain hands-on camping experience to take your next paddling adventure into the backcountry.

Kirkwood Canoe, (705) 783-5817, 729 White House Rd, Huntsville, kirkwoodcanoe@gmail.com

One-day Camping Skills Tune-up Workshop is offered by experienced canoe trippers in Huntsville. Topics covered include fire lighting, knot tying, tarping, field repairs, cooking and water treatment, and animal avoidance.

Bear Creek Outdoor Centre, (613) 889-7262 / (888) 453-5099, 3828 Burnstown Rd, Horton, info@bearcreekoutdoor.com

Paddle Canada-certified Wilderness Camping (4 days) and Camping Basics (2 days) courses for paddlers looking to make the leap from day trips to overnights in the backcountry.

people practice traditional bushcraft skills with Lure Of The North
Learn traditional wilderness living skills with Lure Of The North. Photo: Lure Of The North

Bushcraft Courses

Become comfortable living with the land. Develop camping and bushcraft skills to connect and thrive in the wild.

Lure of the North, (705) 207-4831 / (705) 280-6809, Espanola, info@lureofthenorth.com

Specialists in winter travel and wilderness living, LOTN offers expedition-style guided learning trips. The 4-day Forest Skills Intensive is a comprehensive introduction to backcountry living skills, including fire making, axe craft, snaring, fishing, knot tying, shelter building, wild edibles and medicinal plants, cooking and water purification. Course offered in February 2024 near Espanola.

Keepers of the Wild, (249) 878-9817, Greater Sudbury, callofthewild138@gmail.com

Sudbury-based wilderness adventure outfitter and bushcraft school; courses include bushcraft skills weekends, plant identification and uses (1 day), and primitive fire starting (1 day).

Earth Tracks, (519) 217-4921, Durham, Grey County, info@earthtracks.ca

Choose from a range of workshop topics and locations, including wildlife tracking in Temagami and Algonquin Park, and edible/medicinal plants foraging workshops. One-on-one mentoring and naturalist-guided canoe trips are also available.

School in the Woods, Mississauga, info@schoolinthewoods.ca

Basic Bushcraft (2 days) and Advanced Bushcraft (5 days) courses focusing on the “know more, carry less” ethos. Knot workshop (4 hours) and Fire by Friction workshop (4 hours) also available; locations include Algonquin Highlands, Norval and Mississauga.

Canadian Bushcraft, 134 Paudash St, Keene, Hiawatha First Nation

First Nation-owned and run wilderness skills company. Choose from one-day workshops in basic survival, firecraft, camp cooking, axecraft, rope-making, Indigenous food systems and more. Three-day basic and advanced bushcraft courses build on developing skills as well as a one-week skills intensive are also available.

Sticks & Stones Wilderness School, (519) 216-6942, Tehkummah, Manitoulin, skeet@wildernessschool.ca

Hosted by Manitoulin Eco Park, the Empowering Ancient Ways program is a 5-day exploration of traditional living; course topics include shelter, water, fire, food and wild edibles.

Wilderness Survival Courses

Master essential backcountry survival skills under the guidance of an experienced mentor.

Survival in the Bush, (519) 534-5376, Wiarton, survivalinthebushinc@gmail.com

Hands-on realistic courses range from one-day introductory or weekend outings to two-week simulations; all survival courses are practiced in a wilderness setting on the Bruce Peninsula. Private programs are tailored to meet student needs; topics include wilderness survival skills, edible plants, canoe camping and more.

Great Ape Empire, 658 Berford St, Wiarton, store@greatapeempire.com

Five-day and 9-day Survive the Bruce courses are delivered from the Bluewater Outdoor Education Centre; topics include fire-starting, shelter building, practical knots, foraging, and map & compass navigation exercises.

Wilderness Rescue Solutions, Pickering, wildernessrescuesolutions@gmail.com

Introduction to Wilderness Survival (8 hours) and Advanced Overnight Wilderness Survival (2 days); courses teach survival fundamentals including fire lighting and shelter building.

Expedition Food Planning Courses

Eat well in the backcountry. Learn meal planning, food preservation and packing, and wilderness cooking skills.

MHO Adventures, 67 Widjiitiwin Road, Huntsville, (705) 789-6479, info@mhoadventures.com

Learn about backcountry meal planning and prep from experienced canoe trippers; the 2-day Expedition Food Training course is based at MHO’s tripping base near Huntsville.

a person demonstrates how to navigate using compass and map
Never get lost again after you’ve brushed up on your navigation skills with one of these courses. Photo: Virginia Marshall

Navigation & Orienteering Courses

Practice reading maps, planning routes and techniques for navigating in the field.

Naturally Superior Adventures, (800) 203-9092, 10 Government Dock Rd, Wawa, info@naturallysuperior.com

Five-day Guides Course focuses on leadership and risk management in the context of a sea kayaking expedition on Lake Superior. Topics include trip planning, navigation for kayakers, weather interpretation and decision-making. Course offered in June near Wawa.

Canadian Ecology Centre, (705) 744-1715, 6905 Highway 17, Mattawa, info@canadianecology.ca

One-day navigation workshops; topics include UTM and Lat/Long coordinate systems, compass work and using a GPS unit.

Keepers of the Wild, (249) 878-9817, Greater Sudbury, callofthewild138@gmail.com

One-day Basic Navigation course focuses on using a map and compass to take your navigation skills from the classroom to the wilderness.

Survival in the Bush, (519) 534-5376, Wiarton, survivalinthebushinc@gmail.com

Private courses in Orienteering (1 day) and Advanced Bushwhacking (2 days); practiced in a wilderness setting on the Bruce Peninsula. Topics include the use of maps, compass and wilderness navigation by land and water.

Swift Response, (647) 482-6583, Pickering, info@swiftresponse.ca

Introductory Wilderness Navigation course (4 hours) includes lessons and field activities to reinforce learning; topics include map reading, measuring distance, plotting and following bearings. The course location is Enniskillen Conservation Area near Bowmanville.

Akuni Adventures, (416) 410-7240, 3230 Yonge St, Toronto, info@akuni.com

Navigation courses are taught by experienced canoe trippers; take a Map and Compass course (1 day), GPS course (1 day) or 2-day combined course. The course location is in Halton Hills.

Hike Ontario, 262 Lavender Dr, Hamilton, info@hikeontario.com

Provincial organization dedicated to promoting hiking in Ontario; training courses include Map & Compass Navigation (1 day) and GPS Navigation. Course locations in southern Ontario.

people participate in an ice rescue course
Learn how to assess ice conditions and self-rescue when you take an ice safety and rescue certification course. Photo: Andre Forget // Boreal River Rescue

Ice Safety & Rescue Courses

Recommended learning for anyone who plays or travels on ice, including early-season paddlers.

Boreal River Rescue, (866) 242-9383, 78 George St, Ottawa, info@borealriver.com

Introductory 1-day Ice Safety workshops and 2-day Ice Safety & Rescue certification courses. Course dates in December, January and February; course locations include Thunder Bay, Peterborough, Orillia and Ottawa area.

Lure of the North, (705) 207-4831 / (705) 280-6809, Espanola, info@lureofthenorth.com

The 8-day Winter Training Camp and Vast Horizons Expedition combines 4 days of skills-focused lessons with a short winter expedition. Topics include ice safety and winter navigation; course offered in January 2024 near Espanola.

Swift Response, (647) 482-6583, Pickering, info@swiftresponse.ca

Ice Rescue courses (2 to 4 days) are delivered by full-time rescue professionals; wilderness first aid training is also available.

people participate in a whitewater paddling course on the Madawaska River
Take a course from the professionals and learn to read the river—then paddle or portage it. Photo: Madawaska Kanu Centre // Destination Ontario

Whitewater Canoe & Kayak Courses

Once you learn how to paddle rivers, the wilderness trip possibilities in Ontario become almost endless. Whitewater courses range from just a few hours to multi-day adventures.

MHO Adventures, 67 Widjiitiwin Road, Huntsville, (705) 789-6479, info@mhoadventures.com

Go on a guided canoe trip to learn or improve your paddling skills. Join a women’s adventure on the Spanish River, take a family trip on the Moose or French rivers, or dive into a guided white water canoe expedition on the Missinaibi River. Instruction-focused courses include ORCKA canoe tripping and a 2-day Whitewater Warm-up Weekend offered at Palmer Rapids. For a truly epic outdoor learning experience, register for the 42-day River Roots Program, which includes a 3-week whitewater canoe trip to the James Bay coast.

Temagami Outfitting Co., (416) 835-0963, 11 Lakeshore Dr, Temagami, info@temagamioutfitting.ca

Intermediate whitewater canoe clinics on the Temagami River (4 days) and Sturgeon River (5 days), offered in May. Guided trips and women’s trips are also available.

Blackfeather, (888) 849-7668, 76 Rankin Lake Rd, Seguin, info@blackfeather.com

Beginner whitewater canoe clinics from 2, 3 or 4 days on the Madawaska River at Palmer Rapids (May and June). Intermediate and advanced whitewater canoeists can improve whitewater skills in the technical rapids of the Upper Magnetawan River and Lower Magnetawan River (mid-May). Guided canoe trips on the Spanish, Petawawa and French rivers are also available.

Kirkwood Canoe, (705) 783-5817, 729 White House Rd, Huntsville, kirkwoodcanoe@gmail.com

Canoeing instruction for all skill levels and ages; ORCKA certification courses (1 to 5 days) and custom lessons available. Locations include Huntsville, Algonquin Park and Muskoka.

Paddle In, (705) 528-4805, 503 Con Rd 15W, Tiny, tannahillmarty@gmail.com

Flatwater and moving water canoeing instruction for all skill levels; ORCKA certification courses (1 to 5 days, May to August) and custom coaching available. Course locations throughout central Ontario, including Washago, Bala, Palmer Rapids, French River and Georgian Bay.

Madawaska Kanu Centre, (613) 756-3620 / (888) 652-5268, 247 River Rd, Barry's Bay, paddle@mkc.ca

Award-winning paddling centre offering whitewater canoe, kayak and standup paddleboard courses for all ages and abilities; full-day, weekend and 5-day courses available. World-class instruction for beginner to advanced paddlers; locations include the Madawaska and Ottawa rivers. Lodge, cabana, glamping and camping stay-and-play packages for whitewater learning vacations.

Paddler Co-op, (613) 758-2772, 6535 Palmer Rd, Palmer Rapids, info@paddlerco-op.com

Whitewater canoe and kayak instruction for all ages and abilities; full-day, 2-day and 5-day courses available (May to August) on the friendly Madawaska River. Stay-and-play at the Paddler Co-op’s riverside campground.

people practicing kayak rescue
Increase your confidence and learn how to rescue other paddlers during an intermediate sea kayaking course. Photo: Virginia Marshall

Sea Kayaking Courses

Expand your kayaking skills to increase your confidence and take on new paddling environments. Courses range from just a few hours to multi-day adventures.

Such a Nice Day Adventures, (807) 356-6785, 121 Lloyd Ln, Rossport, info@suchaniceday.com

Sea kayak education for beginner to intermediate paddlers; half-day and full-day introductory clinics and 2-day Lake Superior Starter Course. Combine with a 3- to 4-day guided trip for a comprehensive learning experience. Locations include Rossport and Thunder Bay vicinity (June to September).

Naturally Superior Adventures, (800) 203-9092, 10 Government Dock Rd, Wawa, info@naturallysuperior.com

Beginner to advanced sea kayak instruction (half-day to 5-day), Paddle Canada certification and custom courses available June through September on Lake Superior. Standup paddleboard and canoe instruction also available. Lodge, glamping and camping stay-and-play packages for paddlesports learning vacations.

Horizons Adventures, (705) 866-6069, 28 Sleepy Hollow Rd, Whitefish, info@horizonsadventures.ca

Beginner to advanced sea kayak instruction (half-day to 5-day), Paddle Canada certification and custom courses available May through September. Course locations include Greater Sudbury, North Channel and Manitoulin Island.

By Path or Paddle, (705) 859-1683, 20 Moggy Pkwy, Manitowaning, Mark Gibeault

Introductory to intermediate sea kayak instruction, and introductory canoe or big canoe instruction available on request.

Blackfeather, (888) 849-7668, 76 Rankin Lake Rd, Seguin, info@blackfeather.com

Join a beginner or intermediate guided trip on Georgian Bay to learn or improve your paddling skills. The 2-day sea kayak clinic and 3-day Georgian Bay Getaway for Women are designed to provide you with basic paddling, safety, rescue, navigation, touring and kayak camping techniques while enjoying a night of wilderness camping on Georgian Bay.

Ontario Sea Kayak Centre, (905) 399-1216, 6 Harmony Lane, Parry Sound, info@ontarioseakayakcentre.com

The paddling centre offers beginner to advanced Paddle Canada sea kayak certification courses (2 to 5 days, May to August) on Georgian Bay and Lake Superior. Guided trips focusing on self-sufficiency are also available. The annual Paddlepalooza Kayak Festival and Women On The Water Festival offer great learning opportunities.

1000 Islands Kayaking Co, (613) 329-6265, 110 Kate St, Gananoque, kayaking@1000ikc.com

Beginner and intermediate sea kayak certification courses (2-day or 4-day), offered May to September.

Harbourfront Canoe & Kayak Centre, (416) 203-2277, 283 Queens Quay W, Toronto, ask@paddletoronto.com

Downtown paddling centre offers beginner to intermediate sea kayak, lakewater canoe, and standup paddleboard instruction; programs range from themed evening sessions to 2-day Paddle Canada certification courses.

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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