A kayak points towards a wide river surrounded by forest.

Rossport | Conor Mihell

Bucket list kayaking routes in Ontario

A kayak points towards a wide river surrounded by forest.

Rossport | Conor Mihell

Beginner or a pro, kayaking in Ontario offers something for everyone. Sign up for a guided day trip on placid, island-pocked waters or plan your own adventure on Lake Superior’s wilderness coast.

This article will leave your bucket list brimming with Ontario kayak trips.

1000 Islands National Park

Sheltered waters and easy access make 1000 Islands National Park, near Kingston, one of the best places to kayak in Ontario.

This labyrinth of land and water where Lake Ontario narrows into the St. Lawrence River remains central to the Indigenous Six Nations’ creation story, in which Gitchi Manitou encouraged feuding nations to find peace in a beautiful place of rockbound passages, turquoise water and skylines of wispy pine, known as “the Garden of the Great Spirit.” Later on, these islands also played a key role in Canada’s birth, with remnants of castles, War of 1812 battle sites and shipwrecks attesting to a colourful past.

Dream trip: There’s something special about camping on an island—and better yet if the island comes with a unique and cozy cabin, all to yourself!

Parks Canada rents oTentik cabins on McDonald Island, making for a great destination for an overnight kayak trip starting from the town of Gananoque. Experienced paddlers can paddle a diverse nine-day kayak route with backcountry camping (and more oTentik options) along the 1000 Islands Water Trail.

Insider tip: Millions of birds, including many species of colourful warblers and iconic common loons, use the 1000 Islands and the UNESCO Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve as navigational aids during their epic spring and fall migrations. The shoulder seasons of May and September are ideal times to see the birds—while also avoiding the crowds of peak summer.

Outfitters: Gananoque-based 1000 Islands Kayaking offers guided kayak tours in the 1000 Islands, including day trips and overnight camping adventures. The company offers all-inclusive trips throughout the spring, summer and fall, as well as offering rentals and trip planning advice for DIY kayakers.

French River and Georgian Bay

The mesmerizing interface of open water and ancient rock at the mouth of the French River captures the essence of paddling on the “Sixth Great Lake.”

The French River is a historical watery highway linking central Ontario and Lake Huron. The area remains largely undeveloped, and the river’s many outlets to Georgian Bay set the stage for a paddling paradise: there are myriads of hidden channels to investigate, some barely wide enough for a kayak. It’s all part of French River Provincial Park, which offers plenty of options for backcountry camping.

Dream trip: A weeklong journey by sea kayak from the village of Killarney to Key River will make you appreciate why Georgian Bay is credited with having 30,000 islands (or more).

This 100-kilometre expedition includes crystalline waters, polished granite shorelines and countless secret channels between islands to explore, where you can escape the wind and spot wildlife like black bears, white-tailed deer and shorebirds. The route is best for paddlers with intermediate skills and solid wilderness camping background. Adventurous novices can experience it safely on guided Georgian Bay kayak trips.

Insider tip: Hundreds of look-alike islands at the mouth of the French River can befuddle even the best navigator. Buy a detailed map of the area, brush up on your map and compass skills and carry a GPS to confirm your location; don’t count on getting a cell phone signal to bail you out in these tricky and remote waters.

Outfitters: Black Feather Wilderness Adventures offers all-inclusive guided sea kayak tours and skills courses on Georgian Bay, including several multi-day options to see the French River. For Georgian Bay sea kayak rentals check out White Squall in Parry Sound or Killarney Outfitters in Killarney. 

Lake Temagami

Temagami is rightly famous as canoe country, but the sprawling lakes of Northeastern Ontario, an hour’s drive north of North Bay, also provide some of Canada’s best inland kayaking.

Lake Temagami’s intriguing octopus-like form has hundreds of kilometres of shoreline, great wilderness camping and day hiking trails to old growth white pine forests on Temagami Island and ridgetop lookouts. Nearby Lady Evelyn Lake, which is accessed by way of portage trails or chartering a floatplane, delivers similar backcountry kayaking experiences in an even greater remoteness.

Dream trip: Lakeland Airways can fly you and your sea kayak and camping gear into Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Provincial Park on a classic Canadian bushplane.

Here, experienced backcountry campers and paddlers can map out a route from Lady Evelyn Lake to Hobart Lake, where a rugged footpath leads to the summit of Maple Mountain, one of Ontario’s highest summits. You could easily spend a week kayaking in the area’s interconnected lakes with no need to portage.  

Insider tip: Kayaks are more seaworthy than canoes for paddling on big water, making them more efficient for crossing Temagami’s large lakes. However, it’s still important to be mindful of changing weather and be honest with your skill level when planning a Temagami kayak trip.

Outfitters: Temagami Outfitting Company rents sea kayak and camping equipment at its paddling shop in downtown Temagami. They’re also a great resource for planning a Temagami kayak trip.

Pukaskwa National Park

Pukaskwa National Park protects about 100 kilometres of Lake Superior coastline in Northern Ontario, south of the town of Marathon. It’s easy to see why Lake Superior is called an inland sea when you paddle the Pukaskwa (pronounced “Puck-a-saw”) coast: you’ll feel tiny paddling this huge expanse of water alongside stalwart cliffs, headlands and steep rock beaches.

Pukaskwa is perfect for expert kayakers with a keen awareness of weather and the humility to travel cautiously. This attitude leads you to the sheltered coves and island-guarded passages that define the yin and yang of Lake Superior. Pukaskwa is bounded by another 100 kilometres of undeveloped coastline west of the town of Wawa, ranking this amongst the longest stretches of wilderness freshwater shore on the planet.

Dream trip: The ultimate wilderness kayak expedition on Lake Superior starts at the Pukaskwa National Park Visitor Centre at Hattie Cove and traces about 200 kilometres of shoreline to Michipicoten Bay, near Wawa.

With deserted beaches, towering headlands and lush boreal forest shores, this is simply the best kayaking in Ontario for advanced paddlers.

Insider tip: Lake Superior is notorious for its fickle winds and waves. Cell phones are worthless in the Pukaskwa backcountry; carry a VHF marine radio to get weather updates. The lake is usually calmest from June through early August. But the water is cold, blinding fog is common and paddlers should plan several layover days in their itinerary to sit out strong winds.

Outfitters: Wawa’s Naturally Superior Adventures offers guided sea kayak tours along the Pukaskwa coast and many other Lake Superior kayaking destinations, rentals, vehicle shuttles, and waterfront accommodations. It may be possible to hire a boat charter to facilitate a shorter kayak trip in Pukaskwa National Park; contact the park for more information.

Rossport Islands and Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area

The Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area (NMCA) is a massive water park consisting of over 600 islands, east of Thunder Bay. In contrast to huge expanses of open water, the Lake Superior NMCA features prominent landforms like the iconic Sleeping Giant, cliffs of volcanic rock and intriguing gravel beaches laced with agates.

Located 10 kilometres offshore from the town of Terrace Bay, the Slate Islands were created by a meteorite impact eons agon and provide refuge for woodland caribou. NMCA is unique compared to other places to kayak on Lake Superior for its diversity of route options: so many islands create endless possibilities, compared to typical linear trips.

Dream trip: Advanced paddlers will love the challenging 125-kilometre route from the tip of the Sleeping Giant at Silver Islet to the community of Rossport for its open water crossings, exposed shorelines and remote campsites.

Less experienced paddlers can get a taste of the area by kayaking the easily accessible and relatively sheltered waters of the Rossport Islands, where options include day trips to long weekend adventures.

Insider tip: Lake Superior is generally too deep for kayak fishing. However, shoals around the Rossport and Slate Islands make it easier for kayak anglers to catch lake trout by trolling and jigging with simple fishing gear.

Outfitters: Such a Nice Day Adventures offers many options for guided kayak trips and instructional courses in the Lake Superior NMCA, ranging from sunset and half-day outings in the Rossport Islands to day trips and multi-day wilderness expeditions. The company also offers sea kayak rentals and vehicle shuttles in Rossport.

Thunder Bay and the Blues Highway

Highway 61 south of Thunder Bay is known as the Blues Highway for its connections to Duluth, Minnesota (the birthplace of Bob Dylan) and all the way south to the Mississippi Delta. While it’s great for making a musical pilgrimage, Highway 61 also offers kayakers access to big, blue Lake Superior waters.

Make Thunder Bay your basecamp for kayaking day trips from launch sites at Sturgeon Bay, Little Trout Bay and Little Pigeon Bay. The best kayak trips near Thunder Bay feature undeveloped shorelines, alluring islands, skyscraping cliffs and coastal wetlands teeming with waterfowl and shorebirds, with easy access and route choices for all levels of paddlers. 

Dream trip: Thunder Bay’s rugged landscape lends itself to paddling and hiking. Drive south on Highway 61 to Pigeon River Provincial Park, near the Minnesota border, for a one-day multisport adventure.

A launch at Little Pigeon Bay near the Minnesota border gives kayakers access to the aptly named Boxcar Islands on a half-day trip. Then lace up your hiking boots to tackle the Finger Point Trail, which climbs to a panoramic overlook of western Lake Superior.

Insider tip: Today’s Thunder Bay was the site of the Northwest Rendezvous, a prominent annual event in the Canadian fur trade. After paddling in the wake of the voyageurs on Lake Superior, visit Fort William Historical Park to learn more about the area’s history.

Outfitters: For kayak rentals in Thunder Bay check out Wilderness Supply Company or Chaltrek. Both shops are also great sources of local information. Such a Nice Day Adventures offers Thunder Bay guided kayak trips.

Last updated: June 3, 2024

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