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Ontario Parks

Paddling in Ontario Parks

Ontario Parks offers unparalleled paddling opportunities amidst scenic beauty and landscapes that have remained unchanged for centuries. With over 7,500 interior campsites – many only accessible by canoe or kayak we are the largest provider of outdoor recreation in Ontario. Over 75 provincial parks rent canoes and local outfitters also rent canoes and equipment as well as providing fully guided trips. Park staff and local outfitters can also help with trip planning. Check out park pages on this website for availability of maps. And be sure of your paddling and backcountry camping and travel skills. No matter what your skill level – your next camping trip can include paddling. Check out our events listings for special workshops and programs that will help you to stretch your boundaries – explore, learn and be sure to share your photos and experiences!

Easy Paddling!

When you are planning your next visit – whether for the day or longer, consider adding on a paddling experience - stretch your limits! Check out our convenient boat launch sites, rentals - everything you’ll need to enjoy an outing on the water! Our handy Park Locator tool allows you to find parks with the amenities and services you require to get you started. You can find easy paddling in most provincial parks. Explore meandering rivers for great opportunities to see wildlife. The Bonnechere River makes for a great family paddle, close to shore, interesting vegetation and the chance to see turtles, fish, ducks and deer. The family cabins at Bonnechere make for a great getaway! Or check out Emily northeast of Toronto, a perfect spot for novice paddlers and the wetlands along the wide Pigeon River provide a habitat for many unique frogs and birds. If you do not have a canoe, you can rent one at the Park Store. Motorboat free lakes provide peaceful, easy paddling for novice paddlers and nature enthusiasts. The collection of picturesque lakes in Esker Lakes, the quiet, pretty Kettle’s Lake at Awenda or the peaceful waters of MacLeod in northwestern Ontario offer a relaxing option for a day of canoeing. Some parks like Silent Lake offer great home bases to explore. Try a quiet and relaxing paddle across the 2.5 km long Silent Lake. The adjoining Quiet Lake and Soft Lakes can be accessed (depending on water levels) by completing a short portage. More parks are beginning to offer “Learn to” programs – including Earl Rowe where you can learn to paddle. Be sure to check out “What Happening” highlights for each park. And park staff are excellent sources for advice on paddling and services available.

Learning to Paddle in the Backcountry

Perhaps you are confident in your flatwater paddling skills – but looking to test your backcountry mettle? Ontario Parks has a range of parks that provide paddle-in campsites, marked portage trails and peaceful solitude a short distance from where you launch. Minimal services at backcountry sites usually include marked campsites, box privies and fire pit rings. Some of these destinations can be busy, but for new backcountry paddlers, that can also be reassuring! Charleston Lake’s ten interior campsites provide a range of easy access options – ten minutes to two hours paddling. All sites come equipped with three elevated tent platforms, a picnic table, a fire grill and a privy. These sites are excellent for visitors who want to see a different side of the park or for those who are developing their interior camping skills. At parks like Grundy Lake or Rushing River nearby outfitters will deliver canoes to the boat launch. A short paddle from the landing at Grundy Lake can take you to nine interior campsites; with lots of options for longer trips. Rushing River is a popular park for nearby Winnipeg residents. Here campers can have canoes delivered and they’ll be able to access canoe routes that range in length from 32 to 103 kilometres. One of Ontario’s newest operating provincial parks - Kawartha Highlands is the largest park south of Algonquin. Choose one of six access points all located within central Ontario’s cottage country. Crossing one or two portages will allow you to feel as though you are really getting away from it all. Warm water, lovely campsites and stunning scenery with dark skies for star gazing await you. Another popular destination for backcountry camping is The Massasauga south of Parry Sound. From quiet inland lakes to the windswept islands of Georgian Bay the stunning scenery has attracted paddlers for generations. The park’s 135 campsites are only accessible by water. Looking to improve your backcountry skills? Frontenac is well-known for its “learn to” programs teaching many campers and paddlers how to be comfortable and enjoy travel in the backcountry. Check out the “What’s Happening” section of the park’s website page for details on programs.

Paddle into History

Ontario Parks protects some of the most pristine paddling destinations anywhere. Landscapes have remained unchanged for centuries. The term Nastawgan (an Ojibwa word) refers to ancient paths, developed and travelled by the Anishinabai people. You will find these same paths are still in use today linking many lakes and features in parks such as Lady Evelyn Smoothwater, Makobe-Grays River, Obabika River, Solace and Stugeon River. Travelling by canoe through the backcountry allows paddlers to access many special cultural sites including some with aboriginal rock paintings called pictographs. Bon Echo protects one of the greatest concentrations of Algonkian rock paintings found in a single site east of the Rockies. It is an easy paddle across Mazinaw Lake to see this collection of over 260 pictographs. It is possible to travel across Ontario by canoe and the historic Mattawa and French Rivers were important early routes for First Nations, French explorers, fur traders and voyageurs. Both rivers are protected within the Ontario Parks’ system and the French River was the first designated Canadian Heritage River. Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park is named for the explorer and map maker who travelled to Huronia in 1615 via the Mattawa River. Visitors to this park will be able to participate in special summer programs that include paddling a 10m (30ft) voyageur canoe and the visitor centre is well worth a stop. If history and architecture are of interest, the award winning French River Visitor Centre is also worth a visit. Provincial parks along the Rideau Canal World Heritage Site include Murphys Point and Rideau River. Canoeists and kayakers can use the park as a basecamp to explore many interesting sites within paddling distance. Visit Rideau Info and click on paddling guides 8 and 9 for suggested paddling routes and points of interest on Big Rideau Lake.

River Trips: Wilderness and Whitewater

The thrill of whitewater along with the opportunity to paddle amidst wilderness solitude attracts many to Ontario Parks. Spanish River is a favourite for newcomers to whitewater paddling. A range of route options appeal to paddlers with different skill levels and the opportunity to paddle the route of Grey Owl. The Missinaibi River is a Canadian Heritage River, designated for its significant Aboriginal, fur trade and logging cultural heritage and outstanding ecological and geological natural heritage. This 500 km-long Ontario Park protects one of the longest and most famous canoe routes in the world. Access to many northern rivers is made easy by train. VIA Rail offers a service called the “Budd Car” – a special train that can accommodate canoes and gear. Paddlers request a milepost stop and can be dropped off or picked up at their desired location. Trips like the Missinaibi River, the Spanish River or the Sand River Canoe Route in Lake Superior Provincial Park – which is adjacent to the Algoma Central Railway - are all possible with railway access. Be prepared for many portages! If you like waterfalls, try the Makobe-Grays River in springtime! It is one of the wild whitewater rivers that flows from the headwaters contained in Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Provincial Park in the Temagami Group of Parks.

Celebrated Paddling Destinations

Hundreds of lakes connected by ancient pathways, dark starry skies, loons calling and water lapping gently at the shoreline of a perfect campsite. These experiences are celebrated in paintings, music and literature. Ontario Parks protects and manages countless of these special places. Explore on your own or enjoy the services of an outfitter to simplify your trip! Northwestern Ontario’s three largest wilderness parks: Woodland Caribou, Wabakimi and Quetico collectively offer over 5,000 km of canoe routes across over 18,000 square kilometres. Here paddlers can travel for days in a wilderness environment – truly trips of a lifetime! You’ll find undisturbed boreal forest and plenty of opportunities for wildlife viewing and fishing with few other paddlers. Backcountry sites are primitive and often unmarked. For those wishing a bit more support – outfitters can provide everything from canoe rentals, guided trips and outpost cabins. In Ontario, iconic landscapes have been celebrated by artists like the Group of Seven. The 645 square kilometres of Killarney Provincial Park with its iconic white quartzite hills and over 50 clear blue lakes is one of the most painted. In fact the Ontario Society of Artists, led by Franklin Carmichael was instrumental in creating this provincial park. Algonquin Provincial Park, captured by the immortal Tom Thomson, is Ontario’s oldest park. It has 29 access points and over 2,000 backcountry canoe routes. Travellers from around the world come to Algonquin and enjoy full amenities including outfitters, resorts and lodges as well as numerous cabins scattered throughout the park. It’s easy to find your own level of adventure. The Temagami Group of Parks (Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater, Mabobe-Grays River, Sturgeon River, Solace, Obabika River) forms a 2,400 km network of portages. This area includes the highest point of land in the province (Ishpatina Ridge) and over 6,000 years of Aboriginal history. As with many of the Temagami canoe routes, many options are available to extend backcountry trips by combining other routes within the provincial parks, on adjacent conservation reserves and Crown land. Sea kayaking continues to grow in popularity. They are the perfect craft for exploring bigger waters and to access the iconically rugged coastlines of Georgian Bay via Killarney, French River, Killbear and the The Massasauga provincial parks. Photographers and painters often capture stunning windswept pines, smooth rocky islands, sheer cliffs and secluded beaches. Further north Rainbow Falls’ small campground at Rossport provides a good jumping off spot for sea kayakers to explore the coastline of Lake Superior. In Southern Ontario, many visitors enjoy paddling along the sheltered marshes of Long Point Provincial Park – a World Biosphere Reserve and camping among the dunes which are located adjacent to the 1.5 km long sandy beach. For tips on travelling in bear country. The Ontario Recreational Canoe and Kayak Association offer lessons and certifications.