*Wander safe, wander local. Check your region’s local health guidelines before heading out.
This summer is the year to be on the water, to cast off on an epic paddling adventure that will take you along winding rivers, past shorelines crowded with towering trees, and where the ripples on the water draw you forward with each pull of the paddle.
If you have been yearning to feel the river carry you forward, you need to add these paddling routes to your bucket list for 2021. Remember to be prepared for whatever you may encounter on the river or lake and treat your natural surroundings with the respect it deserves.
#PaddleOn in Ontario’s Highlands.
If you have your own canoe or kayak, great! If not, no worries, there are plenty of outfitters in Ontario’s Highlands who can get you on the water in no time. Use our list below, but be aware it is not exhaustive.
- Deep Roots Adventure (Minden)
- Algonquin Outfitters (multiple locations)
- Perth Outfitters (Perth)
- Smiths Falls Pedal and Paddle (Smiths Falls)
- Bon Echo Outfitters (Cloyne)
- Palmerston Lake Marina (Palmerston)
- Trips and Trails Adventure Outfitting (Bancroft)
- Always wear your life jacket (pfd)
- Check rapids from shore and use portages where necessary – only experienced paddlers should attempt to paddle rapids.
- Let someone know when you are leaving on your paddle, your route, and when you are expected to arrive back home.
- Always carry a compass and cellphone kept in a watertight bag.
- For multi-day paddles, plan your overnight stay in advance as well as the distance you need to cover each day.
- Treat all dams and water control devices with respect as they can be extremely hazardous.
Best Paddling Routes
Pack the sunscreen, bug spray, and set off on a paddling adventure that will take you down serene waterways or through roaring rapids, depending on your appetite for adrenalin. We’ve classified each of these routes based on the level of difficulty or experience needed to make the trip. Some of these routes will involve whitewater, but if you’re not comfortable with that, a portage is always an option.
Mississippi River – Sheridan’s Rapids to Playfairville
This river is often overlooked, but it is a beautiful option for someone who doesn’t mind a bit of whitewater or portaging. Intrepid paddlers may choose to paddle the entire route from Mazinaw Lake to the Ottawa River which will take approximately eight-to-ten days. We’ve highlighted a short trip that’s great for a lazy Sunday afternoon spent on the river.
Distance: Estimated 5 kilometres
Level of Difficulty: Easy to moderate – some smaller rapids and long straight stretches of flat water.
Put In: Sheridan Rapids
- Be aware that some of the smaller rapids may not be navigable in low water conditions
- Most portages are easily located before the start of each of the rapids and are relatively short to circumvent.
Madawaska River – Aumond’s Bay to Griffith
The Madawaska River is a whitewater paddling paradise, surrounded on all sides by rocky escarpments and the Canadian shield. While there is some heavy duty whitewater on this river, there is also a lovely flatter stretch that runs through Lower Madawaska River Provincial Park that takes about two days of paddling (although you can take out earlier, too). There are a few light rapids to navigate along this route, but you can also choose to portage around or line your canoe or kayak through.
Distance: 42-kilometres (approximately two full days)
Level of Difficulty: Moderate
Put In: Aumond’s Bay
- Spend the night in Lower Madawaska River Provincial Park at one of their first-come, first-served, leave-no-trace, paddle-in only campsites that also happen to be free!
- You can also extend your trip to paddle all the way down to Palmer Rapids, adding an additional 17 kilometres to the trip. If you do this, you can book an overnight at Jessup’s Campground or Paddler Co-op Camping, depending on availability.
Bonnechere River – Lower Bonnechere River to First Chute
The mighty Bonnechere River is a highlight of the Ottawa Valley’s diverse watershed and runs a total of 145 kilometres from Algonquin Park to the Ottawa River. Along its course the river passes through two lakes and has a varied terrain that includes rapids, waterfalls, and the many chutes built by early log drivers. This river is literally suitable for every skill level, depending on where you put in. We’ve selected a nice easy route with great views for a fun daytrip paddle.
Distance: 15 kilometres (7 hours)
Level of Difficulty: Easy
Put In: At the base of the Second Chute, in Renfrew
- This is arguably the most beautiful stretch of the Bonnechere, with plenty of wildlife and wild terrain. Bring a camera!
Bon Echo Provincial Park – Upper Mazinaw Lake to Mazinaw Rock
This one-way trip will take you straight to the famous and picturesque Mazinaw Rock. Towering over 100-metres above the water, this rock is more like a small mountain, and the pictographs at its base will be the icing on the cake for this leisurely paddle.
Distance: 6.5 kilometres (roughly 3-4 hours)
Level of Difficulty: Easy
Put In: North Mazinaw Heights Road Boat Launch
- Bon Echo Provincial Park is one of the most popular parks in Ontario and often full, but if you are able to get a campsite there, we recommend planning a day trip for this paddle.
- The towering cliffs really draw you down the river on this paddle for a unique experience.
Nunikani Lake Loop – Haliburton Highlands Water Trails
Lake Nunikani is famous (sort of) – it made it into the Top 60 Canoe Roots in Ontario, and is worth an explore. Located in the Haliburton Highlands Water Trails, a network of paddle-in campsites located on 28,000 hectares of deep in the wilds of Haliburton Highlands, this loop will take a couple of days but will be worth the effort and is suitable for all skill levels.
Distance: 19 kilometres (can be done in 2 long days or 3 shorter days)
Level of Difficulty: Easy
Put In: At Haliburton Water Trails, Frost Centre
- Keep an eye on your map to make sure you don’t get turned around as this route takes you around a number of islands.
- Total portage distance is about 1.6 kilometres, broken into shorter chunks as you come across them.
- Check your route and reserve a campsite that falls along the way.
Ottawa River – Forrester’s Falls to Grants Settlement
We saved the best for last! This section of the river is known around the world for its phenomenal whitewater, with Class II to V rapids. This isn’t recommended for novice paddlers. Water conditions often vary depending on the season and water levels. Rapids can be scouted in advance and you will rarely be alone on the water as the region draws whitewater paddlers from far and wide.
Distance: 12 kilometres
Level of Difficulty: Advanced
Put In: Municipal boat launch at Forrester’s Falls
- Take out can be done at River Run Rafting or Wilderness Tours on the Ottawa River, however fees may apply. Please connect directly with the business to inquire.
- If whitewater is what you’re looking for, check out the Gull River at the Minden Whitewater Preserve, another famous whitewater region.
This one isn’t a route, per se, but we think it’s worth a mention! If you like the quiet pace of exploring a large body of water you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful spot to paddle than Sharbot Lake.
Due to its unique configuration with multiple capes that jut out you’ll find quiet, secluded bays among the wider body of water. Bring a fishing rod and paddle the lake to find the best spots, or just explore at your leisure. The charming community of Sharbot Lake makes this a lovely spot to spend the day on the water.
Level of Difficulty: Easy
Put In: Sharbot Lake Public Boat Launch
- Black Lake is separated from Sharbot Lake but is another great addition to a paddle here.
- While in Sharbot Lake plan to stop at the community beach and walk up to Cardinal Café for some ice cream.
- Be prepared for some rougher waters if the wind is up on the lake.
Looking for more inspiration for paddling and water play?
Click here to watch and learn more about connecting with the water in Ontario’s Highlands.