Canada is a paddler's paradise. On the west coast and the east coast, to the Klondike and right across the Prairies—iconic waterways abound. Here are 10 to put on your bucket list:
Raft the Kicking Horse River in British Columbia
Golden is an outdoor adventurer’s mecca—and the mainstay of the summer tourism season is whitewater rafting. With three incredible rivers to choose from—Kicking Horse, Columbia and Blaeberry—all offering varying experiences but the same Rocky Mountain scenery, there may be no better place to plan your next rafting getaway. With rapids from Class I to Class IV, all levels are welcome. And packages range from gentle birdwatching floats to helicopter-access extreme whitewater adventures.
Canoe the Athabasca River in Alberta
Jeff Bartlett/ @photojbartlett
An Arctic watershed river, running from its headwaters in Jasper National Park and joining the Peace River near the Alberta-Northwest Territories border, the Athabasca River is steeped in history. From the First Nations who used this artery for trade and travel since time immemorial, to the fur traders of the Hudson Bay Company, to you, today, and the epic multi-day paddling trip you’re about to embark on. Three classic itineraries include an intermediate route from Jasper to Whitecourt, a novice/intermediate route from Whitecourt to Athabasca, or a challenging route from Fort McMurray to Fitzgerald.
Paddle the Churchill River in Saskatchewan
Running across northern Saskatchewan like an artery, the Churchill River is steeped in history and adventure. Used by First Nations for millennia and Voyageurs during the Fur Trade days, it drops about 25 metres as it flows in rapids, eddies and draws over scenic Precambrian Shield. Typical paddling expeditions take a week or so and cover around 100 kilometres of river. Enjoy an exciting canoe adventure by day; sleep to the sound of loon-song by night. Northern perfection.
Canoe the Bloodvein River in Manitoba
Possibly the most iconic paddling trip in Manitoba, the Bloodvein River is a remote waterway that winds its way through pink granite (where it gets its name) and boreal forest in the wilderness northeast of Manitoba. You’ll learn to navigate some rough-and-tumble rapids along the way—your reward will be a night in Bloodvein Lodge to break up the tent camping. Expect to spend at least nine nights on this wilderness route and to return a far better paddler than you left.
Portage through Algonquin Provincial Park
Algonquin Provincial Park is synonymous with Canadian culture. It conjures up paintings by the Group of Seven, distant loon-song, fiery sunsets and, of course, world-class canoeing. One catch—you’ll have to love portaging. This is what the 7,750-square-kilometre expanse of Algonquin is also known for. But with great challenge comes great reward! Start with the Rain Lake or Petawawa River routes, and if you’re really experienced, look for The Meanest Link—one of Canada’s most extreme canoe routes.
Island-Hop in Outaouais, Quebec
Most Canadians don’t even know where the Outaouais Region is, let alone that it is a canoeing hotspot. Located just across the border from Ottawa, this is the land of 20,000 lakes. In fact, there are some 200 accessible paddling routes just within a short drive of the town of Pontiac. Lac des Trente un Milles is a popular spot for day-trippers, or head to Poisson Blanc Regional Park for serene paddling and island-based campsites.
Kayak Around Grand Manan in New Brunswick
One word sums up New Brunswick’s Grand Manan Island: authentic. Marking the mouth of the Bay of Fundy and long-known as a lobster-fishing mecca, Grand Manan is nowadays attracting ecotourism. Adventure High is the main kayak tour-operator on the island, offering half-day, full-day and multi-day guided paddles. Cruise past historic Swallowtail Lighthouse, get up-close with sardine weirs in operation for generations and maybe spot a minke whale or two. The famous Fundy tides dramatically change the seascape every six hours, offering a new perspective with every paddle.
Paddle Nova Scotia's Eastern Shore
Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore is remarkably rural, considering how easily accessible it is from Halifax. Within an hour of leaving the Maritimes’ largest city, you’ll be out of cellphone range. Welcome to Tangier, Nova Scotia—sea kayaker’s paradise. Paddle past wave-sculpted rocks, to serene sandy beaches and through tide-influenced narrows. Contact Scott Cunningham at Coastal Adventures and you’ll have one of the province’s most experienced paddlers guiding you through these protected, island-strewn waters.
Paddle the Hillsborough River in Prince Edward Island
Tourism PEI/Stephen Desroches
As the largest river system in PEI, the Hillsborough nearly cuts the island right in half. And it’s a challenging place to paddle. In places, it’s heavily influenced by the tides—not to mention the wind and waves coming off the Northumberland Strait. The banks are often made up of massive salt marshes—thankfully there is a plethora of tributaries at the north end. It can be paddled as a day-trip, but the better option is to make a weekend out of it, staying at the charming B&Bs you’ll find along the shoreline.
Paddle the Peel River Watershed in Yukon
Government of Yukon
The Peel River Watershed—which includes the Peel, Hart, Wind, Bonnet Plume and Snake rivers—is not simply gorgeous. It’s not simply adventurous. And it’s not simply culturally important to the Aboriginal people who have lived there for thousands of years. It’s all of those things, yes, but it’s also threatened by resource extraction and development. So the time to paddle it is now—to see this biodiverse landscape in all its untouched glory, and perhaps, to return as an advocate for its protection.
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