The best ways to experience Ontario's waterways
An amazing one-fifth of Ontario’s total area is aquatic. With over 250,000 lakes, including four of the five Great Lakes, endless rivers, historic waterways and canals, the province is defined by water. In fact, the word “Ontario” is derived from the First Nations Iroquois word “kanadario,” which means “sparkling water.”
As a four-season destination, the province has a wide variety of water-based experiences and adventures. During the “green seasons” of late spring and summer, paddling, rafting, boating, fishing and swimming are popular activities. Into the autumn season, the fall colour creates a dazzling backdrop for end-of-season paddling or boat cruising. Winter presents a whole new world of ice-based activities like skating and ice fishing.
Here are some of the best water-based experiences you won’t want to miss in Ontario.
Water adventures and experiences in spring, summer and fall
From active adventures to scenic sightseeing tours, here are some of the top water-based activities in Ontario during the warmer seasons of spring, summer and fall.
Over centuries, Indigenous peoples developed ingenious canoe designs using various materials, which they relied upon for transportation. European fur traders, or voyageurs, adopted the use of the canoe, and this watercraft has since become a Canadian cultural icon. Learn more with the beginner’s guide to canoeing in Ontario.
Fully guided canoe trips in Algonquin Park
Algonquin Provincial Park is one of the most rewarding destinations in Ontario for canoeing. Located approximately three hours’ drive from Toronto and Ottawa it covers over 7,500 square kilometres of wilderness and is home to diverse wildlife including moose, wolves, eagles and beavers.
Explore Algonquin Park with:
Offers cabin-based, day trips, multi-day experiences, including fully equipped and guided canoe trips into Algonquin.
Location: northwest corner of Algonquin Provincial Park
In addition to providing all the equipment and gear rental you’ll need to set out on a paddling trip, Algonquin Outfitters also offer fully guided and outfitted one-day and multi-day trips.
Location: operates from several locations in and around Algonquin Provincial Park
Learn how to canoe on the Madawaska River
The Madawaska River flows over 200 kilometres from the highlands of Algonquin Park to merge with the Ottawa River and eventually drain into the St. Lawrence River and is popular for diverse and exciting paddling experiences.
Learn the basic techniques or improve your paddling skills on a guided canoe trip. In addition to family and adventure rafting outings, Madawaska Kanu Centre provides a great one-day kayaking and canoeing course call Zero to Hero.
Location: 247 River Road, Barry’s Bay
From calm channels to rushing rivers to Great Lakes, the diversity of kayaking opportunities across Ontario provides exciting new challenges for avid paddlers and safe, easy waters for beginners. Ontario’s expansive freshwater lakes and rivers are perfect for exploring by sea kayak or touring kayaks as they are sometimes referred to.
Get all the details with the beginner’s guide to kayaking in Ontario.
Great sea kayaking waters include:
Sea kayaking tours in 1000 Islands
Explore islands that were once mountain peaks along some of the safest and most scenic paddling routes in Ontario’s 1000 Islands National Park on the St. Lawrence River just two hours drive south of Ottawa.
Guided sea kayaking tours are offered from mid-May to mid-October and include all the gear, safety equipment and permits.
Location: 110 Kate Street, Gananoque
Guided sea kayak trips on Lake Superior
Ancient and majestic, Lake Superior is the most northerly and largest of the five Great Lakes. It’s the world’s largest freshwater lake by area and has understandably been described as an inland ocean.
This outfitting company provides certified sea kayak guides, instructors and over 25 years of experience on Lake Superior’s waters. And their Rock Island Lodge B&B is a cozy spot to make home base.
Location: 10 Government Dock Road, Wawa
White water and river rafting
Get your heart pumping on high-adrenaline class VI white water action, the most intense rapids east of the Rocky Mountains. Or enjoy floating down a soft flowing scenic waterway on a relaxing river raft. Find out more about white water rafting in Ontario.
White water rafting on the Ottawa River
One of Ontario’s most famous rivers, the Ottawa River, runs along the border between Quebec and Ontario, through the city of Ottawa and down into the St. Lawrence River and is known for several series of exciting rapids and cascades. Go rafting with:
Choose between high-energy white water action and softer family-oriented water adventure, plus several different accommodation options from camping to cabins.
Location: 40 Owl Lane, Foresters Falls
Canada’s largest white water rafting resort offers a full range of activities on and off the water, including fishing, mountain biking and of course, amazing rafting.
For a truly unique experience, ride the rapids on the Ottawa River in the heart of Canada’s capital city.
Location: 102 Greenview Avenue, Ottawa
River tubing on the Grand River
The largest watershed in Southern Ontario, the Grant River stretches along a scenic, 300-kilometre route into Lake Erie and is popular for fishing, paddling and other water-based activities including river tubing.
Drift down the “Grand” in a turbo tube! You can also opt for canoes, kayaks and stand up paddleboards (SUPs).
Location: 181 Bethel Road, Paris
Boat tours, cruises and houseboating
From ferries and historic vessels to sailboats, speed boats and houseboats, the variety of ways to cruise Ontario’s waterways is exceeded only by the diversity of landscapes, both natural and urban to witness and appreciate.
Sightseeing boat tours
Cruise, ferry, sail and tour the waters of Ontario to see natural wonders, stunning landscapes and marine heritage. Explore more ways to tour Ontario’s waters.
Highlights on the signature Palaces and Palisades Cruise of the 1000 Islands include sailing under the 1000 Islands International Bridge, along Millionaire’s Row of cottages and around the imposing Boldt Castle.
Location: 20 Front Street, Rockport
Tour Ontario’s iconic cottage country aboard North America’s oldest operating steamship. The history of steamships in Muskoka dates back to before Canada was recognized as a nation.
Location: 185 Cherokee Lane, Gravenhurst
Take in the spectacular scenery and unique sights around Georgian Bay on a glass bottom boat tour with Bruce Anchor Cruises or Blue Heron Cruises from Tobermory, on the Bruce Peninsula. Highlights include sunken shipwrecks, historic lighthouses and flowerpot island, a uniquely stacked rock formation.
Location: Tobermory terminal, 8 Eliza Street, Tobermory
Departing from Marina Park in Thunder Bay, Sail Superior invites you to embark on one of several unique excursions including a luxury catamaran tour, high speed zodiac adventure, wine and cheese cruises and even multi-day, learn-to-sail holidays.
Experience the raw power and awe of class VI white water rapids on the Niagara River on a thrilling adventure of a lifetime. Feel the adrenaline rush on the Wet Jet (you’ll get soaked) or Jet Dome (dry option) boat tours at the base of Niagara Falls.
City cruises in Toronto and Ottawa
Ontario’s two largest cities both boast unique and picturesque waterfronts, with Ottawa resting along the banks of the Ottawa River and Toronto located on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario.
Explore both the Ottawa River and Rideau Canal. This cruise departs from the foot of the Ottawa Locks, between Parliament Hill and the Chateau Laurier Hotel.
Location: Ottawa Dock, 1 Canal Lane, Ottawa
Take in stunning views of the recognizable CN Tower, Rogers Centre and other features along Toronto’s skyline as you enjoy a delicious brunch or dinner on one of the featured city cruises.
Location: 207 Queens Quay West, Toronto
Rideau Heritage Route by houseboat
Stretching 202 kilometres between Ottawa and Kingston, the Rideau Canal is a heritage waterway designed to connect the capital with the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario. Explore the canal’s impressive lock systems, charming communities and scenic shorelines by houseboat. Read more about houseboating in Ontario.
One of the best river and canal boat rental companies in the UK and Europe has crossed the pond and now provides luxury, self-drive boating experiences along the Rideau Canal.
Location: 1 Jasper Avenue, Smiths Falls
Great diversity of fishable species and an even broader selection of ways and places to fish makes Ontario one of the finest destinations in the world for freshwater fishing.
Here are a few bucket list Ontario fishing experiences.
Fly fishing on the Saugeen River
Just under a three-hour drive west of Toronto, the lower section of the Saugeen River offers exciting fly angling opportunities to hook well sized trout, bass and even muskie.
Skilled anglers from one of Ontario’s top river fishing guide services will lead you to explore the very best fly fishing rivers in Southern Ontario, including the Saugeen.
Location: based in Orangeville
Charter fishing on the Lake Ontario and Lake Erie
While Lake Ontario is famous for chinook salmon and Lake Erie for incredible yellow perch, you can also cast for trout, pike, bass, walleye and carp on these two Great Lakes.
Leave the planning and logistics to the experts. Chart a fully guided angling tour where all you have to do is show up and fish.
Location: various towns along Lake Ontario and Lake Erie
Fly-in fishing in Northern Ontario
If you’re an avid angler, an all-inclusive (also called American Plan) fly-in fishing vacation in Northern Ontario should be on your bucket list. This is freshwater fishing at its finest.
Embark on a spectacular trophy fishing trip and enjoy stunning wilderness scenery of pristine forest and lakes, comfortable accommodations, great cuisine and the camaraderie of fellow anglers.
Location: Algoma Region
Beaches and swimming
Summer weather calls for a day at the beach. And Ontario’s beaches are waiting for you.
Beaches at Ontario’s Provincial Parks
Ontario Parks is an agency that preserves and maintains over 300 natural parks of varying sizes and classifications across the province. In addition to vast wilderness landscapes, Ontario Parks feature beautiful lakes with inviting waterfronts and well-maintained sandy beaches.
Wide sandy beaches that lead to shallow swimmable waters, surrounded by significant sand dunes, wetlands and walking trails make this park a mecca for beach goers.
With 14 kilometres of white, sandy shoreline, Wasaga Beach is hailed as the longest freshwater beach in the world and boasts stunning views of the nearby Niagara Escarpment and evening sunsets.
Location: 11 22nd Street North, Wasaga Beach
Toronto’s urban beaches
Visitors are often pleasantly surprised to discover that Toronto is home to close to a dozen different beautiful beaches, some of which have been awarded the Blue Flag status for excellence in water quality, environmental concern and safety.
Easily one of Toronto’s best kept gems, a collection of connected islands just a 15-minute ferry ride from the harbour is home to several gorgeous beaches.
Location: City of Toronto Harbourfront
Ice adventures and experiences in winter
When the temperatures dip and waterways freeze, new adventures heat up. From gliding across the ice on skates to drilling through it for a day of ice fishing, here are a few classic Canadian winter pastimes.
Ice skating is a timeless winter tradition. In Ontario, ponds, lakes, waterways and even land trails turn into skating rinks.
Ontario’s bucket list ice skate trails
Each winter, the Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, transforms into the world’s longest outdoor skating rink in the heart of the nation’s capital.
Location: Rideau Canal, Ottawa
Skating through the forest at dusk, under the stars, with the trail lit up by tiki torches is a magical experience at this skate trail. Make your reservations well in advance.
Location: 451 Arrowhead Park Road, Huntsville
Ice angling opportunities abound in Ontario, from the Great Lakes and Georgian Bay all the way up to the wilderness lakes across the north.
Ice fishing on Lake Simcoe
Often referred to as the “ice fishing capital of Canada,” Lake Simcoe is one of the most diverse lakes in Ontario in terms of fish species. Because it freezes over completely in winter, it’s a hot spot for ice fishing.
Just under a two-hour drive north of Toronto, Tim Hales invites you to experience ice fishing in a comfortable, warm hut. You’ll be transported in a heated Bombardier Snow Bus and supplied with bait, minnow pails and nets.
Location: Lake Simcoe, Beaverton
Last updated: September 25, 2023