Recognized in 2008 as a World Heritage Site, the Rideau Canal continues to be a first-class cruising destination. Linked with the Lower Ottawa River, these scenic channels, cutting through forests and rugged, breathtaking terrain, make this region an enjoyable cruising destination for the whole family.
Commence in Kingston
There are two routes to the Cataraqui River and the Rideau Canal from the St. Lawrence River at Kingston. Larger cruisers, or sailboats with masts that don’t step, will wait for the Bascule bridge on the west end of the LaSalle Causeway. Signal your intentions with three long blasts and one short blast. Smaller boats can proceed under the overpass on the east end of the causeway.
Once past the causeway, there’s a full service marina on the west shore. This facility is the only one with a dry dock between Toronto and Montreal. Just ahead on the east shore is another full service marina.
For safe passage, red and green buoys are located on the canal within metres of the causeway. It is not recommended to leave the navigation channel in the narrow and shallow stretches on the Rideau unless you know where you are going.
“…A boating excursion on either the Rideau or the Ottawa River is a modern way to take a trip back in time.”
When you reach the Highway 401 overpass, the St. Lawrence lowlands give way to the Frontenac Axis of the Canadian Shield. Ahead you will find Kingston Mills, the first lock station on the Rideau. Interpretation centres are open to the public including the blockhouse overlooking the locks which is home to a military display, and the former Lock Master Anglin’s residence with information about the canal. Overnight docking is available both before and after you lock through and the grounds are expansive. Camping is permitted and washrooms are available. Lock permits are required for the Rideau and can be purchased here.
The journey north continues through Colonel By Lake and the River Styx, both “drowned lands” formed on this slack-water canal. Along the lower Rideau route, charts will indicate lakes that lead off the main canal route and they can be explored as long as you pay close attention for hazards. Seeley’s Bay, a small community just off the main route, recently built modern docks for a quiet overnight stay. Morton Bay, south of Jones Falls off Whitefish Lake, is accessed through a narrow, rocky cut that opens to a secluded anchorage.
The series of four locks at Jones Falls are the deepest original locks on the canal. There’s also a horseshoe dam, which was the largest of its kind when it was constructed. It continues to attract historians and engineers. Interpretation centres provide a sense of what it was like to carve the canal out of the rugged wilderness. There’s a blacksmith shop and a Lock Master’s house where you can read about Lock Master Sweeney.
Cruising north from Jones Falls to Chaffey’s Locks leads through one of the finest passageways in the region. You’ll pass through Davis Lock, a popular weekend destination. Opinicon Lake is home to another marina and is accessed through a privately marked channel just before you get to the lock. Chaffey’s Locks is a popular fishing and cruising destination and just above the lock you will find a full service marina with fuel. North of Chaffey’s is a series of lakes that takes you to Newboro which is the summit of the system – which means the buoys switch sides – and the location of one of three electric locks on the Rideau Canal.
Proceeding down the Ottawa River you will enjoy the voyage along what used to be the main fur trading route into Canada’s interior. With the province of Ontario on your starboard and the province of Quebec to port, you’ll pass many small communities with services along both shores. A cruising guide and up to date charts are recommended to help you determine water depth as some docks are meant for smaller boats.
Gatineau, Quebec, has a public wharf with a limiting depth of three feet but a local marina with deeper water is situated just downstream.
There is a public wharf near Masson, Quebec. For services, simply take the short taxi to Masson or Buckingham. Opposite, at Cumberland, Ontario, is another public wharf offering nine feet of water. Be aware of the ferry that travels between these two locations.
There is a small marina and docks at Rockland. Another public wharf is found in Thurso and public docks are available in Wendover.
A real highlight in this area is the local public wharf as well as the luxurious Fairmont Chateau Montebello, which welcomes boaters with its popular and historic hotel featuring a swimming pool, tennis courts, horseback riding, restaurants, plus an 18-hole golf course. Full marine services and excellent shopping are available downstream in Hawkesbury.
At Chute-a-Blondeau is the popular guillotine-style Carillon Lock featuring a long approach dock exposed to the prevailing wind. The first Carillon Lock was built in 1854 and its remains can be seen at the bottom of the canal cut.
From Newboro, you will be on Upper Rideau Lake. Off the main channel is Westport, a quaint village with services and shopping. Following the main channel will take you through Narrows Lock to Big Rideau Lake where you can visit Portland, another village with full service marinas, specialty shops, and restaurants. Or you can visit Colonel By Island in the middle of the lake, with its scenic nature trail and picnic facilities.
Where the Big Rideau Lake becomes Lower Rideau Lake you will find Rideau Ferry with marinas and services. Just past Rideau Ferry, a turn to port will take you up the Tay Canal to Perth. Large boats must dock at Last Duel Park in Perth while small boats can dock at the downtown basin.
Following Lower Rideau Lake takes you through a winding passage and more locks to Smiths Falls – home to the Rideau Canal headquarters. Docking space is offered at the basin, and the Combined Lock Station is a modern electric lock with the largest lift on the Rideau.
Here, the canal lies in the Ottawa Valley lowlands and the next major community, is Merrickville, an historic village turned into a modern tourist destination. There is a full service marina below the locks.
After a scenic meander through several more locks you will reach Burritt’s Rapids Lock, a popular weekend destination that features the Tip to Tip Trail. From Burritt’s Rapids to Long Island Locks is a long reach that offers 21 miles of uninterrupted cruising. There are several full service marinas on the long reach – one just past Kemptville and three near Manotick. You’ll pass through a stretch commonly referred to as Millionaire’s Row before reaching Long Island.
Cruising through the city of Ottawa leads boaters to the shadow of the Parliament Buildings and the flight of eight locks that drop the Rideau into the Ottawa River. In Dow’s Lake, just past Hartwell’s Lock, is a transient marina that offers a secure stay from which to explore the city of Ottawa.