With three oceans, thousands of lakes and dozens of legendary rivers, the waterways of Canada provide almost endless opportunities for paddling for both kayakers and canoeists. Put a kayak or canoe into almost any body of water and you have yourself a classic Canadian paddling experience. But there are some paddles that offer something extraordinary. Each of these amazing Canadian kayak and canoe trips listed below offers something a little different from the norm. We have personally tried and tested each suggestion, chosen from six years of kayak and canoe trips in Canada.
A taste of the Caribbean in the 100 Wild Islands, Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia, as it has long been stated on license plates, is an ocean playground. To name just a few accolades, the waters around this province are home to the highest tides and rarest whales in the world. The eastern shores of Nova Scotia also host some of the clearest turquoise waters you can imagine, lined by impossibly white stretches of sand straight out of the tropics.
The 100 Wild Islands, a newly protected archipelago just 80km north of Halifax, is a perfect representation of this Caribbean-like side to Nova Scotia. Accessible within just a few kilometres of paddling from the mainland, these wilderness islands are the last of their kind in Nova Scotia. The 100 Wild Islands stretch 30km along the Atlantic Coast, supporting a rich diversity of marine and bird life rarely seen elsewhere.
Kayaking opportunities in the region are plentiful, though there are not yet any organised camping areas or facilities. For our five-day paddling trip into the 100 Wild Islands, we launched at Murphy’s Cove and base camped on beautiful Middle Island. Intrigued? Dedicated 100 Wild Islands blog post coming soon!
Reliving the Klondike days on the Yukon River, Yukon Territory
Paddling the Yukon River between Whitehorse and Dawson City is to relive the Klondike Gold Rush and pioneering days of the early 1900’s. It is also a beautiful and relaxed 720km journey filled with northern wildlife, mountain vistas, emerald waters and interesting rock formations, all showcased by the ever-burning Midnight Sun. It is extraordinary for the historical context that led thousands of people to make their way up this river and the many more who worked, lived and lost their lives along it.
The Yukon Territory was one of the last areas of Canada to be explored and settled, though it was soon hurried along as soon as gold was found. Would-be miners from around the world rushed to the Yukon in 1898 to discover their fortune. As did all visitors at the time, these miners travelled to Dawson City by boat. It is for this reason that the banks of the Yukon River are dotted with abandoned settlements, cemeteries and cabins. There are old steamships too, left to decay after the roads were built.
Canoe trips on the Yukon River are both scenic and historically fascinating, with a side of wilderness adventure. The first 300km from Whitehorse has many established campsites (some with outhouses), while the second half becomes increasingly wilder. A typical Whitehorse to Dawson city paddle takes around 8-10 days.
Paddling in False Creek, downtown Vancouver, British Columbia
As much as I love being in the quiet and beauty of wilderness canoe trips, there is something special about exploring urban areas with a canoe or kayak. For one thing, it offers an entirely new perspective to familiar places. One of my favourite places to paddle within urban environments has to be the False Creek inlet in Vancouver. A similar paddling experience can be had in Toronto, Ontario, but we have yet to try this.
There’s just something about the towering skyscrapers so close to the water, the thundering bridges overhead, the futuristic Science World building at the far end and the opportunity to see the ‘other side’ of Granville Island. It’s prettier than you may first imagine and definitely a unique way to see Vancouver.
We found Burrard Civic Marina to be a convenient place to launch for this paddle. As well as providing easy access into False Creek, the location offers the opportunity for further exploration around Vanier Park. On summer days, be prepared for the wake from bigger boats cruising the water.
Travelling through a lock on the Trent Severn Waterway, Ontario
The Trent Severn Waterway travels between Lake Ontario and Georgian Bay on Lake Huron, a collection of 386km of connected rivers, canals and lakes. Paddling the entirety of the Trent Severn would undoubtedly be an impressive kayak or canoe trip, but even day trips here offer something extraordinary. The different bodies of water, you see, are linked by 45 heritage locks. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to pass through a lock system in a canoe or kayak, the Trent Severn is the place to try it out.
The process of travelling through a lock on the Trent Waterway is surprisingly easy. Approach the lock, wait for the lockmaster’s signal, paddle past the gates and head for the guide ropes. Loop one of your own ropes (at either end of the canoe) through the lines and then hold on tight. The water will then start to rise or fall, effortlessly bringing you and your canoe or kayak to the height of the next section of the Waterway.
Dining on restaurant quality food on Lac 31 Milles, Québec
Home base to many of the original voyageurs, Quebéc offers an incredible choice of potential kayak and canoe trips. One unusual option is paddling Lac 31 Milles in the Gatineau Valley region, just north of Ottawa.
Long and winding with many inlets and islands, Lac 31 Milles may not be true wilderness but certainly provides a fun canoe camping weekend. The most unique aspect to canoe trips on Lac 31 Milles is the opportunity to get takeout camp food from the fantastic L’Huile d’Olive Restaurant.
Located at the boat launch in Village Majopial, high-quality meals from L’Huile d’Olive are packed into vacuum sealed bags. Paddlers can pick up dinner before launching and then heat up the bags at their lakeside campsite. We had risotto, barbeque ribs, marinated vegetable salad and more. The breakfast offerings are equally tasty with granola, yoghurt, fruit and pastries. This is canoe trip glamping on another level!
Completing a perfect canoe circuit in Bowron Lakes Provincial Park, British Columbia
The Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit is one of those canoe trips that features high on many paddler’s bucket lists. A perfect parallelogram of lakes, rivers and portages surrounded by temperate rainforest and imposing mountains, the Bowron Lakes network is a geographical wonder. Paddlers start and end at the same point, journeying over 100km through what is essentially a remote wildlife refuge.
Whether you’re hoping to see moose, paddle beneath impressive peaks, complete a personal challenge or simply take in the beauty of nature, Bowron Lakes is sure to deliver. The average canoe trip time is around five to seven days and reservations are highly recommended, especially in summer.
Other local canoe trips involving circuit routes include those in the Sayward Forest on Vancouver Island and the Powell Forest on BC’s Sunshine Coast. The latter is not quite a true circuit but it still makes for a fantastic three to four-day paddling adventure.
Exploring easily accessible yet endless wilderness in Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario
Like Quebéc, the province of Ontario is legendary for paddling potential, particularly when it comes to canoe trips. One of the most accessible areas for adventure is Algonquin Provincial Park, an easy four-hour drive away from Toronto.
Algonquin exemplifies the quintessential Canadian canoe trip. Small, cool lakes for afternoon swims, the haunting calls of loons at night, skies full of stars, maple and pine trees for shelter during rain showers. If you do just one kayak or canoe trip in Canada, Algonquin should be a strong contender.
With over 2,400 lakes and 1,2000 kilometres of rivers and streams, the number of canoe trips and routes in Algonquin is almost unlimited. Those who like to avoid crowds should be prepared to portage at least four or five times to find the quieter areas of the park. Despite being so reachable, Algonquin still offers true wilderness to those who seek it. And that is exactly the reason it deserves to be called extraordinary.
Paddling with orca whales, Vancouver Island, British Columbia
It is the dream of many kayakers to paddle at close contact with whales. Orcas, with their distinctive colouring and playful, social nature, are one of the most revered species to see. Having the opportunity to paddle with them, of course, is a matter of luck. There are a few places, however, that kayakers can go to increase their odds.
One of these places is Johnstone Strait, between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia. This waterway is the territory of numerous migratory and resident orca whale pods. Johnstone Strait is particularly well known for being one of the rare places where orcas approach the shore to rub their bellies on pebble beaches. Kayaking here offers the best chance to paddle with orcas than anywhere else in Canada.
Other locations in Canada with high potential for paddling with whales include Tadoussac in Quebéc and Churchill in Manitoba.
Discovering amazing sea caves, Ovens Natural Park, Nova Scotia
Just a short drive south of the colourful port town of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, is Ovens Natural Park. Here, the ever powerful Atlantic Ocean has carved out a series of impressive caves, or ‘ovens.’ Even if you’ve explored plenty of caves by land, there’s definitely something a little special about paddling close (or into) the mouth of one. The yawning entrances are bordered by jagged rocks, streaked with brilliant yellow and orange. The seaweed, the salt and the slap of the waves on the cave walls (like a gunshot at times) all offer a different dimension to cave exploring.
The other bonus of visiting these particular sea caves? If the conditions are right, it is possible to paddle to Lunenburg (16km return). It is simply beautiful from the water. Just by chance, we also had the opportunity to paddle with the famed Bluenose II.
Entry to Ovens Natural Park costs $10/per adult. The park also has overnight camping ($35/night), with the tent sites being some of the best located in Nova Scotia – right on the water!
What are your favourite unusual and extraordinary Kayak and Canoe Trips in Canada?
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