The Canadian Canoe Route

The Canadian Canoe Route is a multi-day road trip that enables travellers to gain an understanding of the vessel that has long facilitated movement across bodies of water while enjoying adventure in Ontario’s Highlands and exploring highlights of the national capital.

Following the Canadian Canoe Route

Using a special Canadian Canoe Route passport, visitors have the option of collecting stamps along their journey. 

Under two hours’ drive northeast of downtown Toronto, Elmhirst Resort overlooks Rice Lake and has 30 waterfront cottages. The family-friendly resort offers an array of activities, both on land and water, including rides in horse-drawn carriages, boating, fishing and – fittingly, given the route name – opportunities to paddle kayaks and canoes.

From the resort, which is an ideal base for a couple of days of unwinding, it’s easy to visit the new Canadian Canoe Museum

The beautifully designed, canoe-shaped building opens on May 11, 2024. Fittingly it is by a waterfront, overlooking Little Lake in Peterborough, and houses the world’s largest collection of paddled watercraft. Exhibits convey the evolution of canoe and the vessel’s often under-appreciated significance to people inhabiting the land today known as Canada.

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From beginners to experienced paddlers

Continuing northward to Madawaska Kanu Centre presents travellers with opportunities to participate in canoe and whitewater rafting courses, with options for beginners, intermediate- and advanced-level paddlers. The one-day Zero to Hero course is aimed at beginners looking to quickly learn skills to enjoy water trails in Ontario.

Open from May into September, the centre was established by champion kayakers and is by the Madawaska River, on the Canadian Shield southeast of Algonquin Provincial Park. It’s possible to park camper vans at the centre, which also offers accommodation in a lodge, woodland cabanas and tents.

After a couple of days on the water the short journey to Omàmiwininì Pimàdjwowin (Algonquin Way Cultural Centre), at Golden Lake, presents an opportunity to learn about the Omàmiwininì people and see the world’s largest birch-bark canoe. Carefully crafted, such vessels were used by trappers and Voyageurs as well as Indigenous people and capable of transporting significant cargoes.

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Whitewater rafting in Ontario

Consider overnighting at OWL Rafting’s beachfront resort, by the Ottawa River, ahead of day or two of whitewater rafting. The intensity of the rafting varies from low – ideal for families whose youngsters weigh a minimum of 23kg (50lbs) – to high.

There’s a high probability of falling into the river during high intensity rafting – meaning it’s an activity for those who are comfortable swimming in whitewater and weigh 41kg (90lbs) or more.

After navigating through the challenging Rocher Fendu Rapids it is possible to glide aboard a pontoon while appreciating landscapes from a waterway that was designated a Canadian Heritage River in 2016.  

A 590km (367-mile) stretch of river between East Hawkesbury and Lake Temiskaming has historical links with the logging and fur trading industries about which more can be learnt in the Canadian Museum of History – one of seven national museums in Ottawa. 

Indigenous interpreters explain that habitation of Victoria Island, once an important place of trade and portage, dates back 9,000 years – long before Ottawa became the capital of Canada.

Probably the most thrilling way of arriving in the national capital is by ziplining across the Ottawa River, but seasoned paddlers and those enjoying Le Boat boating holidays along the Rideau Canal may agree to disagree. 

That historic waterway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, links Ottawa with the St Lawrence River and following it to Kingston means being able to tour Kingston Penitentiary and Fort Henry.

Those with more appetite for canoeing can do so in Ontario’s 1000 Islands region before returning to Toronto.