If you’re a fan of unique adventures then you’ll love exploring the 202 kilometres Rideau Canal by kayak or bicycle. Running between Ottawa and Kingston through a number of quaint, small towns the route – at least for kayakers is a mix of rivers and lakes and approximately 19 kilometres of the Rideau Canal itself. For cyclists there are many options including the full tour between Ottawa and Kingston; for something less ambitious you can choose from one of several scenic loops or an out and back ride.
The Rideau Canal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – and not because it is known to be the world’s largest skating rink in winter. Rather it’s considered to be the best-preserved example of a slack water canal in North America. Also, it’s the oldest, continually operating canal with the locks working in much the same manner they did in 1832. Built as a supply route alternative to the St. Lawrence River, it’s considered to be one of the 19th century’s greatest engineering feats. What this means for kayakers is that you can work your way from Kingston to Ottawa via a series of 47 locks and 23 lock stations. (Not including the locks and stations on Tay Canal that leads to Perth). Novices and experienced kayakers alike can enjoy the adventure.
If you want to have the lock through experience, then your paddling trip needs to happen between mid-May and mid-October – though it’s possible to portage around the locks if they aren’t open. If you paddle in the off-season – May, June, September or October, it will be quieter with fewer powerboats. While it’s suggested that you start in Kingston because the prevailing winds will likely be at your back, you really can start anywhere between the two cities, depending on how much time you have. In fact, you could just do a day-trip to experience paddling through the locks. On most multi-day trips people paddle the canal in one direction only so a shuttle needs to be arranged. If you can’t do it yourself, Ahoy Rentals in Kingston can pick up or drop off at most of the lock stations along the canal.
Assuming you start in Kingston you will be lifted 50.6 metres from Lake Ontario to reach the high point on the route – Upper Rideau Lake. From there you descend via the locks 83.8 metres to the Ottawa River. While it doesn’t matter so much in a kayak, there is a well-marked navigation channel that is 1.5 metres deep. If you’re on a self-guided trip be sure to carry the two sets of navigation charts that cover the river.
The beauty of this kayaking trip is you have the choice of camping at the lockstations or staying in nearby campgrounds and even some charming, historic inns and hotels just a short portage away – depending on your budget. Even if you elect to camp, you can still take advantage of fine dining options near some of the lockstations.
With mostly flat-water paddling except when the winds pick up on the big lakes, no appreciable currents, over 1,000 kilometres of shoreline to explore, and a beautiful section of the Canadian Shield to cross along with the unique lock through experience, this is definitely a bucket-list-worthy trip.
Cyclists have a lot more flexibility when it comes to exploring the region. For a self-guided option, you can find loads of detailed routes click here. The rides whenever possible take you on quieter back-roads. If you choose to do the full Ottawa to Kingston ride you’ll be able to experience the beauty the Rideau- provided you’re prepared to take several days and do a few side-trips. Highlights in the region, include the delightful town of Merrickville, Chaffey’s Locks and the Opinicon Lake boat tour, Delta and the Old Stone Mill, the Forfar Cheese Factory for squeaky cheese curds, and Kilmarnock Lock with its’ wooden swing bridge.
Whether by kayak or bike, the Rideau will charm you with its pretty towns and historic lock stations.
By Leigh McAdam