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10 of the Best Boating Destinations in Canada

By: Scott Way

Boating destinations in Canada
Austin Neill / Unsplash


Canada is home to twenty percent of the world's freshwater, so as you might expect there is no shortage of places to explore. From west to east, Canada's rich ecosystems are full of enviable waterways that boaters can experience with ease. From the temperate rainforests of BC's west coast to harbour life in Nova Scotia's eastern Atlantic fishing towns, Canada is a boater's paradise. Whether you're Canadian or not, there's good reason to explore the Great White North by water. To experience just a sliver of it's natural beauty is a privilege that shouldn't be taken for granted. Not to mention, Canadians are welcoming to those looking to take part.

If you're looking for your next adventure, here are 10 of the best boating destinations in Canada from west to east:

#1 Haida Gwaii, BC

Formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, Haida Gwaii is renowned for rich ancient forests full of cedar and spruce, and waterways full of wildlife along rugged coastlines. For those in search of wilderness and the attached peace and quiet, Haida Gwaii is a traveler's dream. If your sense of adventure draws you to unscathed nature in seemingly faraway lands, you'll find yourself reveling in the great outdoors of BC. Its rare blend of coastal geography and temperate rainforest create a striking combination that fosters some of Canada's best fishing. If you're a boater with a penchant for catching dinner, the region is home to international caliber sport fishing lodges where guests from around the world do battle against giant salmon and halibut. Book an experience with one of the many renowned lodges and you'll inevitably spend your days reeling in the best of coastal B.C waters. Haida Gwaii is an outdoor adventurer's playground.

#2 Okanagan Lake, BC

Lake Okanagan is more than just a lake. Several cities border it including Vernon, Pentiction, and Kelowna, and the region is famous for its enormous orchards that provide ingredients for award-winning wine and cider. Each city offers multiple winery tours and tastings, not to mention a variety of first-class restaurants. On the water, there are multiple marinas along the shore that offer fuel docks, supplies, restaurants, and moorings. There's no shortage of variety either, you're likely to see sailboats, powerboats, houseboats, and watersports throughout. Okanagan Lake is a hub of activity both on the water and around its shore. If you're looking for a boating adventure mixed with some terrestrial fun, Okanagan is definitely worth exploring.

#3 Harrison Lake, BC

Harrison Lake is a couple hours from greater Vancouver, so if you're tired of city life and need to slow your pace, head east. With a laid back vibe that's not unsurprising for rural B.C, it's visually stunning and nourishes the soul. The village of Harrison Hot Springs has the quintessential lake vibe and offers all the supplies you'll need to explore the surrounding landscape. The village sits at the southern tip of the lake within the greater Fraser Valley, which also happens to be the supposed home of the mystical Sasquatch. You'll enjoy lots of great marketing about Harrison's official but elusive mascot, and there are a variety of nature trails you can explore to try and catch a glimpse. As for the water, Harrison Lake and the nearby Fraser River are famed for their white sturgeon fishing, which is the world's oldest living fish species, so there's no shortage of extraordinary wildlife you can search for on this trip.

#4 Sylvan Lake, AB

Located west of Red Deer and two hours from Edmonton or Calgary, Sylvan Lake is one of Alberta's best hubs for water activity. It's part of one of Canada's fastest growing communities and is quickly becoming a centrepiece for summer fun in Alberta. During peak season you'll see a multitude of boaters, dragon boat racers, windsurfers, and recreational boaters. Fishing enthusiasts will find the lake stocked with northern pike, burbot, yellow perch, pickerel, and whitefish. Some species are catch and release, but there's no shortage to seek out. The lake is easily accessible by vehicle and trailer from a variety of locations, although the southern tip is the preferred spot and home to the town's only boatyard, Sylvan Lake Marina. As the photo suggests, there's lot of fun awaiting on Sylvan Lake for both kids and adults.

#5 Dauphin Lake, MB

While there's no shortage of freshwater anywhere in Canada, Manitoba boasts the moniker "the land of 100,000 lakes." And for good reason, no lake better exhibits what Manitoba has to offer than Dauphin Lake. Northwest of Winnipeg but still south of the much larger Lake Winnipeg, it offers something for every water enthusiast. The lake itself is relatively shallow (and warm) which makes it a popular destination for wakeboarding, tubing, swimming, and fishing. There's also a pickerel (walleye) fishery on the lake and some of the best trophy pickerel in Manitoba can be caught here. If you're after fish, you can also explore scenic rivers attached to Dauphin including the Valley River and Wilson River. If you're looking to take an extended trip, Rainbow Beach Provincial Park sits on its shores and offers various accommodations as well as trails and a sand beach. Other great spots include the boat launch at Methley Beach in the town of Ste. Rose du Lac, where several great restaurants nearby offer a variety of cuisine. Dauphin Lake is a gem in the heart of Manitoba.

#6 Muskoka Lakes, ON

You may have heard of Muskoka- its idyllic collection of granite-lined lakes in Ontario's cottage country have seemingly transcended boating 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 waterways 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- 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 and explore another 380 km's of controlled waterways that include 44 locks. 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.

#7 The Trent-Severn Waterway, ON

The Trent-Severn Waterway is a veritable expressway for adventure seekers looking to explore Ontario by boat. 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 hotels and B&B's along the entire 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 with innumerable art galleries, museums, and historical sites that provide insight about the heritage of the region. 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 any fun along your route.

#8 The Rideau Canal & Waterway, ON

The Rideau Canal & Waterway encompasses over 200 kilometres and 45 locks within Canadian Shield granite. Running near and through Canada's capital city, you can boat to the foot of Parliament Hill in Ottawa if you choose. From there you can get off to explore a diverse city with countless options for food and entertainment. Not surprisingly, the Rideau Canal is steeped in history- it serves as Canada's first UNESCO World Heritage Site- and much like the nearby Trent-Severn waterway, there are countless historical sites and museums to enjoy. 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. Be sure to make a trip plan to ensure you experience the Rideau Canal as both a boater and a tourist.

#9 Chaudiere-Appalaches, QC

Chaudiere- Appalaches is one of the most beautiful regions in 'Old Quebec.' Named for its stunning scenery at the intersection of the Chaudiere river and the Appalachian mountains, its history dates back over 400 years. The region itself contains five beautiful historic villages that are part of Old Quebec, all of which sit on the shores of the St. Lawrence River. The Chaudiere-Appalache encompasses over 200 km of the St. Lawrence, which has served as commercial strait and a recreational playground for boaters for centuries. It offers anything and everything, both by land and water. Its historic architecture is surrounded with chic restaurants and fine dining. If you're a history buff, there's no shortage of options- Grosse-Ile is a federally protected cultural heritage site only accessible by water that provides a great look at the history and development along its scenic coastline. If you're looking for an adventure by water where every stop brings something new, the Chaudiere-Appalaches region is worth traveling for.

#10 Northumberland Strait, Maritimes

The Northumberland Strait bears the unique trait of being the only body of water that connects all three Maritime provinces. It borders New Brunswick's eastern Acadian shore to the west, Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island to the east, and Prince Edward Island to the north. The Straight is a stunning passageway for boaters looking to experience east coast hospitality and lifestyle. If you're coming from Quebec (see #9 above), you can travel through the Bay of Chaleur, a popular whale-watching site off the northeast coast of New Brunswick. From there you can head south through the drawbridge at Shippagan and into the Gulf of St. Lawrence which will lead you to the Northumberland Strait. To experience the Strait in full is a big undertaking, but the highlights are plentiful. You'll pass under the Confederation Bridge, a 12.9 kilometre superstructure that connects mainland PEI to New Brunswick. You'll also enjoy some of Canada's best seafood where local lobster fishermen are happy to sell their catch over the side to passing boaters. If you time it right, the Festival of Lights in Charlottetown on Canada Day long weekend is a worthwhile stop, and be sure to make time for a visit to Shediac, the lobster capital of New Brunswick. It won't be hard to find, there's an enormous lobster statue that lets you know you've arrived. Prince Edward Island is the jewel of the Strait, it's sand dunes and red sand beaches are strikingly beautiful and a sight to behold. Everything you hear about eastern Canada is true- the food is exceptional, the people are great, and the water will take you to stunning places you'll never forget.

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