11 Don't-Miss Paddling Events In Ontario

Looking for a family-friendly gathering or adventure-soaked weekend with friends? There’s a canoe, kayak, or SUP event that’s perfect for you.

Update Coronavirus (COVID-19): Due to the Coronavirus, official measures are in effect that impact events as well as travel to and within Ontario. Learn more here

In response to recently announced government restrictions on gatherings, many of these events are postponed and/or cancelled. For updates please check the event websites or social pages by clicking on the links below. 

Ontario’s seemingly endless waterways are home to some of the country’s finest paddling events. Festivals and races are a great way to explore a new area, connect with present and future paddling friends, and improve your technique through clinics. From high-adrenaline whitewater races to family festivals with a focus on skill development, here are the don’t-miss paddling events of 2019.

MACKfest - Marmora, Hastings County 

Kayaker in whitewater

When: April 12–14
Why you need to go: Every spring, MACKfest kicks off the beginning of the whitewater season in south-central Ontario. This festival is unique in that it uses the town of Marmora as a home base for paddlers to meet before dispersing onto the various creek-style runs that tumble off of the southern edge of the Canadian Shield along the Highway 7 corridor. On this weekend, the Beaver, Black, Salmon, and Skootamata Rivers fill with avid canoeists and kayakers of all levels eager to take advantage of the spring melt. Dress warmly!

Hell or High Water - Petawawa River

Whitewater paddlers flock to Petawawa come Hell or High Water.

When: May 11–12
Why you need to go: Hell or High Water is the butterfly-inducing race Ottawa Valley paddlers look forward to all year—and 2019 marks the event’s 10th anniversary. Canada’s largest whitewater race, HOHW sees rafters, canoeists, kayakers and standup paddleboarders battle it out at swollen spring levels on the Petawawa River’s “Town Run”—a 3-km section of class II–III+ rapids that plunges right through the heart of the city. Not racing? Petawawa’s lovely riverside park offers an exceptionally up-close view of the action for spectators. After the race, camp nearby and the following day take a flatwater paddle on the Ottawa River or join a thrilling day trip down the class IV Upper Petawawa through the wilds of Algonquin Provincial Park. 

Palmer River Fest - Palmer rapids

Polish paddling skills at Palmer River Fest.

When: May 17–19
Why you need to go: Palmer River Fest is the ideal whitewater event for families and friends who enjoy paddling together. Located along the banks of the beautiful Madawaska River, the Paddler Co-op is situated just downstream of Palmer Rapids’ novice- and family-friendly Lower Set rapids. During this fun festival weekend, the Co-op’s pine-shaded campground fills with tents as canoeists and kayakers desend on one of Ontario’s most celebrated whitewater playgrounds. The class II rapids here are perfect for beginners and great for more advanced folks looking to improve specific skills. Even better, a well-worn portage trail alongside this 400-metre section offers easy scouting and re-runs. Targeted clinics during the day are followed by live music and dancing in the evening.

Paddlepalooza Festival - Parry Sound

Back view of kayaker with other kayaks in water
Learn new skills at Georgian Bay’s Paddlepalooza sea kayak festival.

When: May 31–June 2
Why you need to go: Paddlepalooza, eight years running, is the largest sea kayaking event in Ontario. The late spring timing makes this weekend of clinics, tours and instruction an ideal venue for tuning up or dusting off your skills as the kayaking season ramps up. Georgian Bay is a world-class paddling destination, and experienced instructors from some of the best kayaking schools in North America make this weekend a no-brainer for enthusiasts of all levels. Plus, event-goers stay in rustic cabins, enjoy great meals, and rock along to live music on Saturday night.

Women On Water Festival - Parry sound

Large group of women in front of lake with kayaks and SUP
Meet new friends and learn new skills. 

When: June 7 to 9, 2019
Why you need to go: The Women On Water Festival is open to all women, from beginners to advanced paddlers. Learn how to kayak and stand up paddle (SUP) from some of the most celebrated coaches in Ontario’s paddling scene. Advanced paddlers can hone paddling and rolling skills. Meet other Wild Women paddlers and enjoy lots of fun activities and entertainment at Camp Tapwingo.

National Paddling Week

Birch bark canoe

When: June 8 to 16
Why you need to go: National Paddling Week is Canada’s celebration of recreational paddlesports, craft heritage, and water safety from sea to sea to sea! Join in an event near you. The Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough often holds National Paddling Week events as well as other paddling-related events throughout year. Visiting the museum is an event in itself.

Temagami Canoe Festival - TEMAGAMI

Man repairing a cedar strip canoe in a workshop
Learn from local experts.

When: July 19 to 21
Why you need to go: Immerse yourself in the Canadian Canoe Culture at the Temagami Canoe Festival, an indoor-outdoor celebration. See canoe displays, demos and workshops, canoe race events, historical talks, birch bark canoes, guided old growth forest hikes, live music, and much more.

Mattawa River Canoe Race - North Bay 

People carrying red canoeing out of water on pebble beach
Paddlers test their mettle on the Mattawa River.

When: July 27
Why you need to go: Join the fierce competition at the 43rd annual Mattawa River Canoe Race—a stunning 64-km course that follows the historic Voyageur fur trade route from North Bay’s Trout Lake to the Mattawa Island Conservation Area, including five tough portages. Every year, kayakers, canoeists and standup paddleboarders duke it out in an attempt to beat the 1995 speed record of five hours and 27 minutes. The event isn’t just for the hardcore; a 13-km race launching from Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park is a great choice for more mellow paddlers and families looking for a challenge.

Upper Ottawa River Race And Paddle Festival - PETAWAWA AND PEMBROKE

When: August 9-11
Why you need to go: The Upper Ottawa River Race and Paddle Festival kicks off with kayak and SUP clinics, race registration and live entertainment on the beach by the bonfire. Enjoy the Kayak Fishing Derby and a day of races on Saturday and the Raise Your Paddle and Voyageur Canoe Paddle on Sunday. Great for families and friends. 

The Great Canadian Kayak Challenge & Festival - TIMMINS

Rise to the challenge this summer in Timmins.

When: August 23–25
Why you need to go: Celebrate late summer in Timmins at this well-rounded weekend of kayak challenges for every level of paddler. This year, the 11th annual event invites kayakers of all ages to enter races ranging from 3 to 32 km. The races take place on the scenic Mattagami and Mountjoy Rivers, and non-competing family members can stay busy with multiple activities and exhibitions throughout the weekend. Pontoon cruises, a classic car show, chainsaw carving, kids’ zone, and Indigenous village exhibition are just some of the other attractions—see the 2019 schedule for more.

Muskoka River X - muskoka 

Are you ready for the world’s toughest single-day expedition paddling race?

When: September 13-15
Why you need to go: For the seasoned canoeist, kayaker or standup paddleboarder looking for a new challenge, Muskoka River X is it. The event bills itself as the longest single-day expedition paddling race in the world. Make no mistake: this event puts even the hardiest marathon paddlers to the test—there’s rapids, scores of difficult portages, upstream travel, navigation challenges, and paddling all of the above after dark. This year, you can choose from three different courses: a 58-km sprint, a 133-km classic, and an epic 223-km journey tracing Algonquin Provincial Park heritage routes.


In addition to these top picks, there are many more local paddling events happening all over the province this summer. Whether racing or chilling is more your taste, you’re sure to find an event this year that’s perfect for you! 

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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