By: Scott Way
Canada as a whole, and Ontario in particular, has the enviable luxury of being abundant with freshwater lakes and rivers. Canada has 20% of the world's freshwater, and its ample supply has become a part of our lifestyle, our livelihood, and our culture. Spend even a day on Ontario's waterways and you'll understand why we're privileged to live where we do, it's a wealth that can't be taken for granted. For any boater looking to explore more of what Ontario's water can offer, here are 10 boating destinations that should be on your list. Ontario is 'yours to discover,' after all.
1) The Great Lakes
Let’s start with the biggest gem of them all- The Great Lakes. The name is fitting- Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario comprise the world’s largest freshwater paradise. Some, like Superior and Erie, are similar to ocean boating with their wide expanses and windswept shores. Others, like Huron and Ontario, offer some quieter coastlines and a labyrinth of islands to explore. Some of Canada’s best fishing exists in hot spots throughout the Great Lakes, and there is no shortage of historical ports, scenic tours, or well-known routes that you can experience to see what they have to offer. Whether you're a recreational cruiser looking to spend a day or a weekend (or the summer) on ocean-like water, or you're a weekend fisherman in search of the bite, boating the Great Lakes provides some perspective about just how big, and how beautiful, Canada's freshwater lakes can be.
2) The 30,000 Islands- Georgian Bay
A stunning subsection of larger Lake Huron, the 30,000 islands are a utopia nestled within Georgian Bay on Lake Huron's northern coast. There is no shortage of boating whether you're a sailor, cruiser, fisherman, or anything in between. Georgian Bay and the North Channel are rocky, but the area is well marked and caters to boating enthusiasts everywhere along the way. A stop at the fabled Henry's Restaurant on Frying Pan Island makes for a great introductory trip that you can expand from if you want to cruise farther into the bay. There are numerous Ontario provincial parks, harbors, marinas, and historical stops that offer the freedom to choose between a day trip, a weekend, or an entire summer exploring the heart of the 30,000 islands.
3) The 1000 Islands- St. Lawrence River
Although there are 29,000 less islands than the above entry, don’t let the quantity fool you- the quality of the 1,000 islands along the shores of Kingston, Gananoque, and Brockville more than make up for it. There are countless places to launch along the north shore of the St. Lawrence river, on both the Canadian and U.S side, and you won't run out of places to explore. The name itself is actually a misnomer, there are almost twice as many islands (1,864 to be precise) along this 80 km stretch of river. If you're a historical buff, there are legitimate castles you can visit, as well as museums, fishing spots, hiking trips, and a stacked calendar of summer events. Given that the St. Lawrence connects to Lake Ontario in the west, and to the Gulf of St. Lawrence in the east, you can go a short distance or a long distance through this stunning section of Ontario and Quebec. Bring your passport if you'd like to explore the U.S side as well.
4) Lake Simcoe- Central Ontario
Perfectly situated only an hour from Toronto and connected to the larger Trent-Severn Waterway, Lake Simcoe has a tonne to offer boaters in central Ontario. With little commercial traffic but a hub for summer water enthusiasts of all kinds, you can stay on Simcoe and fill your time, or you can explore one of its many attached waterways as part of a bigger trip. With a cottage country vibe mixed with boater's havens stashed throughout, Simcoe has a bit of everything. There are great harbour towns that cater to local boaters or those passing through the Trent-Severn on bigger voyages, and the attached Lake Couchiching has some of the clearest (and warmest) water you'll find in Ontario. If you're on Lake Simcoe on a Saturday in July, look for collections of boaters anchored in one of its many quiet bays for an afternoon of socializing in the shallows.
5) Lake Nipissing- North Bay
Northern Ontarians are well aware of the beauty of Lake Nipissing, but if you're a southerner it's well worth the trip north. Head for the city of North Bay and one of the town's many public launches, and from there you'll access one of the largest lakes in Ontario that isn't part of the Great Lakes. An enormous body of water that covers over 800 square kilometres, it attaches to Georgian Bay in the west via the historic French River and has a multitude of interesting stops along its shores. The town of Callandar in the southeast possesses one of the most underrated beaches in Ontario, and North Bay Marina on the city's waterfront has been developed into a full spectrum hub for boaters. Nipissing can present dangerous conditions when the weather turns, so treat it like the Great Lakes, but catch this gem during the height of summer and you'll be surprised what northern Ontario has to offer.
6) Lake of the Woods- Kenora
Another hidden gem in northern Ontario that stayed under the radar for years, Lake of the Woods in Kenora is quickly becoming a destination for boaters from Canada and the U.S. Its rugged beauty is on full display with impressive granite shorelines and expansive boreal forest. The lake itself is massive, containing over 100,00 km's of shoreline and over 14,000 islands, creating limitless small bays and quiet honey holes to cast a line or drop your anchor. You won't see many cluttered shorelines full of boathouses and packed beaches either; much of the lake is shrouded by hedges of enormous white pine that add to the remoteness. If you'd like to experience boating from the solitude, peace, and serenity of untouched nature with few distractions, head north for Kenora.
7) The Ottawa River
With its connection to our nation's capital, the Ottawa River isn't just a destination for boaters, it's a place to explore on both land and water. There are sandy beaches and family entertainment all along its shores, and the waterway itself presents some of Canada's best cruising. On the Lower Ottawa, you can travel from Canada's capital in the west and pass through the Carillion lock, allowing you to travel to Montreal in the east and into the Upper Ottawa. Should you continue eastward, you can enter the St. Lawrence river and it's 1000 Islands (see #3 above). Should you go westward from Ottawa, the Rideau Canal awaits (see #8 below). The lower Ottawa widens as it approaches the St. Lawrence where Lake of Two Mountains and Lake Saint-Louis reside, giving even more for exploration within its boundaries. For a touch of culture along Canada's most historical waterway, the Ottawa River is a Canadian showpiece.
8) The Rideau Canal
The Rideau Canal & Waterway resides to the west of the Ottawa River (see #7 above) and encompasses over 200 kilometres and 45 locks. Running through Canada's capital city, you can boat to the foot of Parliament Hill should you choose. From there you can explore the city through limitless food and entertainment. Like many of Canada's interior waterways, The Rideau Canal is steeped in history- it's Canada's first UNESCO World Heritage Site- and much like the nearby Trent-Severn waterway, there are countless historical sites and museums along its length. Originally opened in 1832 as a military route between Lake Ontario and the city of Ottawa, the Old Fort Henry in Kingston is one stop that comes highly recommended. If possible plan your trip to ensure you can experience the Rideau Canal as both a boater and a tourist. There's so much to explore you can utilize several great resources to help make the most of your journey.
9) The Trent- Severn Waterway
The Trent-Severn Waterway is an expressway for adventure seekers traversing central Ontario. Covering over 380 kilometres, it connects Lake Ontario to Lake Huron via 44 locks and offers boaters the chance to go nearly anywhere and see anything. There are numerous of hotels and B&B's along the route catering to boaters, not to mention restaurants, shops, supply depots, and marinas. One of the best stops is Big Chute at Lock 44, where your boat will be lifted out of the water by a railway and carried 80 feet overland to connect you from Georgian Bay to the west with the Severn River to the east. There's also a rich history to the Trent-Severn, which will be apparent at every stop via innumerable art galleries, museums, and historical sites. There is so much for a boater to see and do on the Trent-Severn it's wise to plan ahead, you don't want to miss anything along your route.
10) The Muskoka Lakes
You may have heard of Muskoka- its idyllic collection of granite-lined lakes in Ontario's cottage country have seemingly transcended popular culture. Sometimes dubbed 'The Hamptons of the North,' the Muskoka Lakes region has its gem, Lake Muskoka, but is also home to several equally impressive lakes including Lake Joseph, Lake Rosseau, and Lake of Bays. National Geographic Traveler Magazine named Muskoka the #1 place to live in the world during the summer, and if you spend a day on the water you'll see why. Transient boaters can access the Muskoka lakes from numerous launches on the 'Big Three' (Muskoka, Joseph, and Rosseau), but if you're still not satisfied the truly adventurous can hop over to the nearby Trent-Severn Waterway (see #9 above) and explore another 380 km's of controlled waterway. If you're not a boat owner, Muskoka Lakes maintains a fleet of steamships including the RMS Segwun- the oldest operating passenger steamship in North America- which you can board for a scenic tour of cottage country. There are countless resorts, fine cuisine, and a multitude of summer activities for any boater or outdoor adventurer to discover. Muskoka isn't just a name, it's a lifestyle. Spending a day on Muskoka Lake will only strengthen your passion for boating.