There's no place in Canada that's as canoe-crazy as Ontario, and it's easy to see why.
To start, the province is home to more than a quarter-million lakes. That accounts for one-fifth of the world's fresh water. You could say that life in Ontario is lived at the lake's edge. But it's not just lakes; navigable rivers and tributaries are found in abundance too.
Canoeing in Ontario is what poutine is to Quebec, and Moraine Lake is to Alberta: iconic. The province's waterways are steeped with Canadian heritage. First Nations were the first to identify that rivers like the Mattawa and French were effectively 'water trails', and they used them as important early routes. Later, Voyageurs (fur traders) would do the same. It's a history that Canadian school children all learn, and there are few things that feel as Canadian as canoeing a heritage river in Ontario.
Today, canoeing is a recreational pursuit, but the raw wilderness afforded by backcountry paddling still invigorates spirited adventure. Here are 25 Ontario routes to inspire your next quintessentially Ontario canoe trip.
Routes suggested by Explore editor David Webb.
1. Beaverhouse Ranger Station
Quetico Provincial Park
Put in: Start at the northeast corner of Beaverhouse Lake.
Take out: This is a loop and you’ll come back to Beaverhouse Lake.
Distance: 64 kilometres
Description: Known also as the Cirrus Lake – The Sue Falls Loop, this paddle should take you about four days. The route travels across five lakes with seven portages. You’ll enjoy long, uninterrupted stretches of paddling, with portages few and far-between. While paddling close to the north shore of Quetico Lake, look for the Anishinabe rock paintings (pictographs) on the granite cliffs.
2. Falls Chain Loop
Quetico Provincial Park
Put in: Start at Cache Bay.
Put out: This is a loop route, so you’ll journey back to your put-in point.
Distance: 168 kilometres
Description: It should take 8-10 days to complete this trip. This should be reserved for strong, experienced paddlers. You’ll paddle through 26 lakes and cross 37 portages. Stop at Silver Falls, follow smaller lakes and streams and paddle alongside the American border.
3. Lady Evelyn River
Lady Evelyn Smoothwater Provincial Park
Put in: If paddling the north branch, you can access the entry at Gamble Lake. If you plan to paddle the south branch, you’ll need a floatplane to take you to Florence Lake.
Put out: Access off the river is either via floatplane or by paddling through several lakes to the access at Mowat Landing.
Distance: About five to seven days, depending on the route you decide to take.
Description: This is a wilderness river, known to have some awesome early-season whitewater. The north branch is easier to access at the beginning, and can be done by vehicle. This route is shorter and passes by three large waterfalls. The north and south branches will meet during your trip, and then the river begins to drop in elevation, and steeply, with rapids and falls and rugged portages. The river will then split again after paddling through Katherine Lake, once known as Divide Lake. Either way you choose, your course will be scenic, rugged and natural.
4. Lake Temagami/Obabika Lake Loop
Finlayson Point Provincial Park
Put in: Launch your canoe or kayak in Lake Temagami.
Put out: This route is a loop and will bring you back to Lake Temagami
Distance: 88 kilometres
Description: This trip will take you at least five days and four portages. Starting at Lake Temagami, you’ll paddle to the North Arm. You’ll paddle through Sharp Rock Inlet, Diamond Lake, Wakimika Lake and river and then into Obabika Lake and through Obabika Inlet. Once you’ve paddled through the inlet, you’ll come back to Lake Temagami. Be prepared for strong headwinds, which can create big waves.
5. Sturgeon River/Wawiagama Lake
Sturgeon River Provincial Park
Put in: You can put in at Paul Lake, via floatplane, or further north along river where the Portelance timber access road crosses.
Put out: You can get a floatplane out of Wawiagama Lake, or by vehicle at the Goulard Lumber Road.
Distance: It depends on the route you choose, but it should take about a week to complete.
Description: There are several options when paddling the Sturgeon River, but the most popular route includes the length of the river, and then paddling upstream on the Obabika River and onto Wawiagama Lake. A scattering of portages and some class I and II rapids lead to campgrounds along the way. This trip can be combined with other routes to make it a longer voyage.
6. Maple Mountain Route
Obabika River Provincial Park
Put in: Take Highway 558 to Mowat Landing to launch.
Put out: This is a loop route, so you’ll end up back at Mowat Landing.
Distance: 114 kilometres
Description: This route is not for the novice, nor the faint-of-heart. The trip should take about six days and includes 16 portages. The Montreal River, Lady Evelyn River, Lady Evelyn Lake, Sucker Gut Lake, Hobart Lake, Bill Lake – these are just a few of the waterways you’ll have to navigate on your journey. Start your journey on a Monday to avoid weekend traffic. Be sure to hike up Maple Mountain before paddling home again.
7. Kopka River
Wabakimi Provincial Park
Region: Thunder Bay
Put in: The Via Rail stop at Allanwater Bridge (you can arrive by train from Toronto)
Put out: Paddle from Wigwasan Lake to the take-out point at the end of Bukeniga Lake Access Road. This is about 30 kilometres from Armstrong Station, a small community on Highway 527 from Thunder Bay, and a Via Rail stop.
Distance: 225 kilometres
Description: This incredible excursion will take almost two weeks to complete, depending on the weather. If you start at Allanwater Bridge, you’ll head upriver on the Brightsand and then on the Kashishibog River. This part should take about five days. Portage to Redsand Lake and then dip into the headwaters of the Kopka River. You’ll spend another five days paddling down the Kopka, and you’ll be rewarded with one of the most spectacular paddles northern Ontario has to offer.
8. Ogoki River
Wabakimi Provincial Park
Put in: Bath Lake
Put out: Albany River, and have a pre-arranged ride back to your vehicle.
Distance: 460 kilometres
Description: This epic 14-day voyage is not a loop trip, so some pre-planning is required to make sure you can get back to your vehicle. You’ll cross 20 portages on this two-week journey, the longest being about 300 metres. The fishing is said to be fantastic, and if you're lucky you'll see a lot of wildlife.
9. Marie Louise Lake
Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
Region: Thunder Bay
Put in & Put out: You’ll paddle around Marie Louise Lake, entering and exiting the water from the boat launch.
Distance: 10 kilometres
Description: This is an excellent option for those that want to paddle, but might want a few good breaks here and there. You can camp at the Marie Louise Lake campground and put in and out of the lake at your leisure. Canoes and kayaks are available for rent from the park store.
10. Charlton-Three Narrows-Iroquois Bay-Whitefish Falls Loop
Killarney Provincial Park
Put in: Widgawa Lodge.
Put out: This is a loop trip, so you’ll end up back at the lodge to unload.
Distance: 75 kilometres
Description: This trip should take about seven days. There are plenty of places to camp on Crown land along the way. This seems to be a route that’s less popular, so you might not run into as many people on this loop. There are about 20 portages, with the longest being 1,200 metres. As some of the route passes through Whitefish River First Nation land, it is advised to obtain permission from the band office before crossing.
Killarney Provincial Park
11. Bell Lake-David Lake
Killarney Provincial Park
Put in & Put out: This is a loop trip. You’ll start and end at Bell Lake.
Distance: 24 kilometres
Description: This trip should take about two days to complete, which makes it a great option for a weekend paddle. You’ll pass through some of the most beautiful lakes in the park, and you’ll also get the chance to see white quartzite hills from David Lake. There are four portages, but they are relatively easy. The longest portage is 745 metres. Reserve a camping spot as early as possible, if you want to go during the peak summer period, and be sure to take in some hikes along the route.
12. Mississauga River
Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park
Put in: Take Highway 36 north and then Highway 507. Turn right on Mississauga Dam Road and make another right at the stop sign. You can access the river from Iron Bridge.
Put out: Leave your other vehicle on Highway 36 where the river enters Lower Buckhorn Lake.
Distance: 21 kilometres
Description: Although this journey is not a loop trip, it is another great option for a weekend away. It will include 15 portages, the longest of which is only 360 metres. There is cellphone service along the river. Aluminum canoes or kayaks are recommended for tackling this trip. You’ll encounter several rapids and a few short, scenic waterfalls along the way. The trip could be done in one day if you 're keen.
13. French River Canoe Route
French River Provincial Park
Put in: Pine Cove, at the end of Highway 528A.
Put out: This is a loop route, so you’ll end at Pine Cove.
Distance: 20 kilometres
Description: This trip takes about four days to complete, but it can be customized if you want to do the journey in less time (there are 13 access points along the river). You’ll find rapids, minimal portages and beautiful scenery as you paddle the historic route of First Nations groups and explorers. This trip is perfect for the intermediate paddler that is looking to improve their skills.
14. Restoule-Upper French River Route
Restoule Provincial Park
Region: North Bay
Put in: Launch your canoe on Restoule Lake, about 75 kilometres southwest of North Bay on Highway 534.
Put out: This is a loop trip, so you’ll end up back at Restoule Lake.
Distance: 72 kilomteres
Description: You’ll spend about five days on this trip and trek over 14 portages, the longest of which is about 900 metres. There is beautiful scenery, and you’ll be paddling a route with history – Champlain and the Voyageurs navigated one of the same portages you’ll venture through. With lots of wildlife to be seen and plenty of fishing to be done, this promises to be a great trip.
15. Petawawa River
Algonquin Provincial Park
Put in: Lake Travers
Put out: Lake McManus
Distance: 2-4 days
Description: This is the trip of a lifetime for the whitewater canoeist. You won’t find a more exhilarating trip, full of wildlife, stunning scenery and stories to last a lifetime. Most canoeists leave about four days for the trip. Those that are comfortable with the route might accomplish the trip in three days, or even two.
16. Rain Lake
Algonquin Provincial Park
Put in: Launch your canoe on Rain Lake, at access point #4.
Put out: This isn’t exactly a loop trip, but more like a there-and-back trip. You’ll make it to Moccasin Lake and then come back again.
Distance: 30 kilometres
Description: This is a great introduction to wilderness canoeing. There’s quite a bit of lake travel, easy portages and the opportunity for a side trip. Head to Moccasin's North Arm if you’re interested in some optional river travel.
17. Meanest Link
Algonquin Provincial Park
Put in: You’ll put in at Oxtongue Lake.
Put out: This is a loop trip (albeit, a long one) and you’ll end up back at Oxtongue Lake.
Distance: 68 kilometres
Difficulty: Difficult (they don’t call it The Meanest Link for nothing!)
Description: Twenty days, 93 portages and the meanest trip you’ll take in a canoe. This route combines four smaller routes – Oxtongue to Huntsville, Huntsville to Brent, Brent to Openongo and Openongo back to Oxtongue. Named after Algonquin Outfitter's Bill Swift Sr., this route is a combination of four difficult canoe routes that connects the four stores in Algonquin Park.
18. Georgian Bay Coast
Region: Bruce Peninsula
Put in: Tobermory’s Little Tub Harbour.
Put out: If you choose to paddle the length of the bay, you would end near Owen Sound.
Distance: 237 kilometres
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult
Description: Tobermory to Owen Sound is the entire coast, but you can make this trip as long or as short as you want. View lighthouses at day and at night, explore inlets and coves, and discover abandoned fishing villages. This isn’t a loop, unless you turn around and paddle back where you came from, so plan accordingly.
19. Kingston Islands
Thousand Islands National Park
Put in: Cataraqui Canoe Club’s public boat launch, just off Rideau Street.
Put out: Make your way back to your starting point to unload.
Distance: 3.5 kilometres from the club to Cedar Island, and another 5 kilometres between Cedar and Milton Island
Description: Located on the eastern end of Lake Ontario, you’ll paddle around the Kingston Islands, Cedar and Milton. This trip should take a full day. You can get to the beaches on Wolfe Island, when the winds are light.
20. Superior Shore
Pukwaska National Park
Put in: Hattie Cove Visitor Centre
Put out: Michipicoten Bay, near Wawa
Distance: 160 kilometres
Description: Lake Superior is known for being large, wild and cold. And you’re going to paddle its coast! Be prepared for rough weather, tempered by some of the most rugged and untamed scenery that you’ll never be able to find anywhere else. Camp within the park, and then on Crown land once you’re past Pukaskwa River and heading south to Michipicoten.
URL: pc.gc.ca/eng/pukaskwa (download the trip planner PDF)
21. Missinaibi River
Put in: Near the town of Mattice
Put out: Near the town of Moosonee
Distance: 297 kilometres
Description: On the Missinaibi River, you’ll undergo 7 portages during this long trip, the longest being about 2,530 metres. It’ll take about two weeks to complete the journey, and it’s certainly not for the faint of heart. Black Feather Rapids, Kettle Falls, the rapids around Alice Island, Thunderhouse Falls, Hell’s Gate Canyon – all of this and more awaits!
Lake Superior Provincial Park
22. Algoma's Ranger Lake Loop
Put in: Start on Ranger Lake, Saymo Lake or Gong Lake.
Put out: This is a loop route, so you’ll reverse course and come back to your starting point.
Distance: 104 kilometres
Description: Nine days, 37 portages and one amazing canoe trip! Bring your camping gear for the numerous campsites along the way, and don’t forget to pack your fishing gear – brook and lake trout are available in abundance. You’ll pass through Ranger, Saymo and Gong Lakes, West Aubinadong River, Megisan, Prairie Grass Lakes and Nushatogaini River on this loop.
23. Goulais River
Put in: You’ll start your trip at Witchdoctor Lake.
Put out: Whitman Dam Falls, with a short walk up to Whitman Dam Road.
Distance: 70 kilometres
Description: There are a few different options for take-out points along the way, so this trip could be done as a five-day stretch, or you can do it as an overnight or even a day paddle. You’ll find waterfalls, rapids and great scenery along this route.
24. Batchawana River
Batchawana River Provincial Park
Put in: You’ll start on the river at the Batchawana Station, on the Algoma Central Railway, about 128 kilometres north of Sault Ste. Marie.
Put out: Highway 17, at the mouth of the Batchawana River.
Distance: 48 kilometres
Description: This trip should be done in May and early June, when the water levels are high enough. It takes about 4 days. You’ll find the water moves quite swiftly, passing through some spectacular Algoma country along the way. There are good camping locations along the river.
25. Lower Madawaska
Put in: Aumond’s Bay, near Quadeville
Put out: Griffith at Highway 41
Distance: 40 kilometres
Difficulty: Easy to moderate, depending on time of year.
Description: Nicknamed “The Mad,” this river isn’t as bad as the name might suggest. This is known as a paddler’s playground for the long, flatwater paddle to the first rapid. In the spring, the river attracts higher-calibre kayakers, but in the summer, when the water's level is lower and the speed is slower, this is a great trip for beginner paddlers or families. The Lower Mad is known to be a great learning river. The entire route can be done in two or three days, or you can exit at Buck Bay and make it a one-day trip.
Canoe and kayak journeys like these require specialized gear and apparel. Here are a few of our preferred picks:
- Mustang Survival Highwater 60L Waterproof Gear Hauler
- Mustang Survival Khimera Dual Flotation PFD
- Mustang Survival Callan Waterproof Jacket
With 250,000 lakes, we're sure to have
missed someone's favourite waterway.
Let us know where you love to paddle in Ontario:
Tweet us or comment below!
P.S. Want more adventure in your life?
Join over 3,000 subscribers across North America when you sign up for explore magazine’s “Live the Adventure” Club.
Click here to learn more.
More Ontario Adventure on Explore
When you purchase something via the links in our articles, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Read more about our policy.