Canoe manufacturers and outfitters are scrambling to provide paddlers with canoes and kayaks for the summer season. It seems everyone is taking to the water during their COVID-19 “staycations.” It also seems more newbie canoeists and kayakers are looking for a place to paddle—with a large percentage of them staying closer to home in southern Ontario rather than venturing to the northern parts of the province.
Southwestern Ontario is full of amazing paddling destinations, from day-use to a quick overnight. Here’s some of my favourite easy day trips for first timers to practice their paddling skills and get out on the water.
Detroit Lower River
Canada’s side of the Detroit River is far more paddle-friendly then the American side. Townships have created access points and picnics areas along the shoreline, and the local canoe club organizes day outings for newbie paddlers.
The upper and middle stretches of the Detroit River are nice floats and very historic, but the lower river is the preferred portion to canoe or kayak. The route begins in the town of La Salle, a quaint community below Windsor on the Canadian side. The best put-in is at the foot of Laurier Drive across from the top of Fighting Island. Parking is available. From there, several narrow channels can be navigated but the main run is the passage down the west side. There are also two eastern channels passing many private marinas.
At the bottom end of Fighting Island and Turkey Island, the Detroit River opens and becomes more lake-like, bordered by large wetlands thriving with bird life. A strip of land jaunting out from Boblo Island, toward Lake Erie, gives shape to White Sands Beach Conservation Area. This is a good place to take out since you are close to where the Detroit River flushes out into the expanse of Lake Erie.
Sharon Creek Conservation Area
This body of water is a favourite of the London Canoe Club for a casual gather and paddle day. If you’re looking for a few paddling instructions, or to borrow a canoe or kayak, join them for the day. Springer Lake (the reservoir) has 35.6 hectares of water to paddle. There’s also a picnic area, a mature woodlot, a small wetland and a rare tallgrass prairie ecosystem managed by volunteers. The lake was named after Daniel Springer, an early Delaware settler. It’s located at 4212 Springer Road, southeast of the village of Delaware, in the Municipality of Middlesex Centre.
Paddling Point Pelee
There’s something euphoric about standing at the southernmost part of mainland Canada: Point Pelee. However, this national park has much more to offer than a point of land jutting out for 15 kilometres into Lake Erie. It’s also an amazing place to go paddling.
Approximately 70 per cent of Point Pelee is made up of marsh, creating a protected area to explore, far away from the harsh winds and big water of Lake Erie.
Access is at the Marsh Boardwalk. You can rent canoes or bring your own. Beyond the boardwalk, there’s a labyrinth of marshland to navigate through, highlighted by unique Carolinian flora like pink flowering Swamp Rose-mallow, related to Marsh Mallow, and gigantic Yellow/American Lotus and red flowering Water Shield. There are enough bays and inlets to keep you busy for half a day.
Pinery Provincial Park Old Ausable Channel
In the late 1800s, a channel was cut to alter the course of the Ausable River. It was done to enhance development in the area and was believed to eventually dry up. Instead, it was fed by underwater springs and became one of the most unique and diverse ecosystems in the middle of Pinery Provincial Park. It also is a great place to float a canoe or kayak.
The 14-kilometre channel is now referred to as the Old Ausable River and runs south from Grand Bend through Pinery Provincial Park to the Ausable River Cut at Port Franks.
Countless rare species of flora and fauna thrive here and along the western shore of the river, Pinery’s infamous globally rare Oak Savanna habitat take root. Massive oak trees grow out from rare prairie grasses, which together help hold the ecologically significant sand dunes in place.
The best place to launch is the dock where the park staff offer canoe and kayak rentals.
The Catfish Creek Slope and Floodplain Forest contains provincially rare and threatened Carolinian flora. Much of the vegetation you would find here is typical of that found in the Central and Eastern U.S. This is the northern limit of the zone and the only place in Canada with this type of vegetation. It’s best planned as a “there-and-back” paddle. The put-in and take-out is the Imperial Road Bridge (#73)—take Dexter Road (#24). Dexter Road ends on a narrow side-road on the southeast side of the river.
Pittock Conservation Area
Pittock Reservoir offers a nice half day paddle for novice paddlers. Much of the shoreline is forested with spruce, pine and a mixture of deciduous trees, including species of the Carolinian forest. They have also added interior paddle-in campsites (completed Spring 2018) along the western shore of Pittock Reservoir: Aspen Ridge and Cedar Ridge. The Upper Thames Conservation Authority plan to develop more. The sites have a level, sandy take-out, a picnic table, fire grate, portable outhouse and wood box. A key must be obtained at the front gate to open the outhouse and wood box.
There are two access points: boat launch #1 and #2. If you’re just looking at a quick way to get to the campsites, then use boat launch #2. But if you’re just looking for a nice half-day circumnavigation of the entire reservoir, boat launch #1 is best.
Wildwood Conservation Area
This conservation area also has added interior paddle-in sites. Four are developed: three along the southwest shoreline and one on the northeast. Site 500 is set among a deciduous (hardwood) forest and provides privacy. Campsite 501 also has a “remote” feel to it, set amongst a pine plantation. Campsite 502 is more open, grassy area. Very spacious. Campsite 503 is set in a cedar grove.
The first two backcountry campsites are just under one kilometre from the public boat launch (just under a 20-minute paddle). The second two are approximately three kilometres from the public boat launch (less than an hour paddle).
Wildwood reservoir also offers novice paddlers a scenic half-day paddle with an undeveloped shoreline.
If you’re looking for help to increase your paddling skills in Southwestern Ontario, check out these outfitters’ classes and local paddling club outings.
Southwestern Ontario has a good selection of guides, outfitters and volunteer paddling clubs that will jump at the chance to teach others how to canoe or kayak safely. Here are some recommended choices:
Grand Experiences: Owner and operator, Jamie, is an exceptional guide and paddle instructor—and he knows every single place to canoe or kayak across Southwestern Ontario.
Otter Valley Paddle Sports: They’ve partnered up Paddle Canada to offer half-day to full-day clinics, courses and seminars to insure everyone learns the skills to paddle safely—and organize time afterwards to paddle on your own.
Urban Surf: It is well-known for sunset “learn how to paddle” courses.
Pelee Wings: The Friday night paddles are awesome; meet at Pelee Wings Beach, 6-8pm, for a fun evening of paddling, sharing techniques and meeting some fellow paddlers.
Oxley Surf: Provides solid canoe and kayak classes and provide guided outings.
London Canoe Club: This amazing organization goes on countless outings in the region and all participants are willing to give you a few free lessons on how to paddle. They also have a full fleet of canoes and kayaks for members to borrow.
Chatham-Kent Canoe & Kayak Club: The group organizes several paddle outings at the park throughout the season.
Friends of Pinery Provincial Park: The group organizes several paddle outings at the park throughout the season.
River Adventures Eco Friendly Water Sport: Located in Grand Bend, it provides attentive instruction/training to beginners for both kayaks and canoes. riveradventuresgrandbend.ca
Beach Bumz in Sarnia: Also provides instruction to beginners renting kayaks. There are tandem kayaks available.