One for the Bucket List

An awesome PWC tour up the Ottawa River

Spectacular, untouched scenery and highly navigable waterways make for an unforgettable trip.



As Canada’s premier Go Ride destination, Ontario offers many outstanding PWC touring opportunities. My hands-down favourite is the four-day, 654-km (406-mile) cruise on the Ottawa River Waterway (comprised of the Ottawa River and Lake Temiskaming), from Pembroke in the Ottawa Valley to Mattawa, then on to Temiskaming Shores and back again.

With 14 riders, including five couples, on 11 personal watercraft (seven Sea-Doos, two Yamahas, one Kawasaki and one Honda), I recently completed another visit to this magical, mystical place to re-experience a sense of wonder at the incredible, pristine majesty of the mighty Ottawa.

This is a must-do ride for anyone interested in PWC touring. Tucked away on the northeast side of Algonquin Park, it’s both the historic voyageur fur trading route and the major gateway from the St. Lawrence River to Northern Ontario. This article overviews the information, contacts and tips needed to plan and prepare for your own Ottawa River Waterway tour. Other articles will follow soon providing more detail on each leg of the journey. So let’s get launched…

The Ottawa River Waterway is highly navigable – wide, deep, and well marked, with few rocks or obstacles. There’s very little traffic, and even on weekends it’s not busy. With Ontario on one side and Quebec on the other, it’s almost impossible to get lost; just follow a shoreline all the way up and back.

Primarily a ride through an untamed and untouched wilderness, the waterway hasn’t changed much for hundreds of years. It’s largely protected in a valley location, so the water surface ranges from glass-smooth to ripply most of the way, but can become somewhat choppy toward the north end, especially on Lake Temiskaming, depending on wind velocity and direction.

What to Expect

Group Ride Ottawa River
Eleven riders had the ride of their lives on the Ottawa.

 

Along the way, the scenery is spectacular. As the river meanders and curves, dense green forests grow to the water’s edge and massive hills frequently drop towering rock faces precipitously to the surface. There are numerous coves, inlets, beaches, and river mouths to explore. For variety’s sake, we mostly rode up one side and down the other. Unless otherwise occupied with exploration, photo taking or rest breaks, we clipped along at a steady pace, arriving at each overnight destination before dinnertime each day. 

Lodgings & Services

Riding the Ottawa River
Deep, wide water is great for serious riding.

 

The distances between destinations are comfortable and services are adequate, but don’t miss an opportunity to gas up. Riding up river from our staging point, here are the lodgings and services in the order we visited them on our journey:

Pembroke, Ontario - We staged from the Best Western Pembroke, which provides the onsite Westwinds Restaurant, ample parking, pool and hot tub. There’s a gas station and convenience store across the road. The full-service Pembroke Marina, where we docked overnight and parked our trucks and trailers during the journey, is located just minutes away (follow the blue and white signs with the anchor symbol). For our trip, we rented two Sea-Doo watercraft from George’s Marine & Sports.

Deep River, Ontario - Our first fuel stop was the Deep River Marina, located on the Ontario side about 65 km (40 miles) upriver from Pembroke.

Ottawa River Scenery
Eye candy scenery is breathtaking.

 

Rapides des Joachims, Quebec (commonly known as “Swisha”) - After riding 25 km (15 miles) past Deep River, we arrived at the free boat ramp and docks of this small village, the first of three transfer sites, where it’s necessary to trailer boats around hydro and control dams. We booked our shuttle in advance by contacting Noel LeClare of Dumoine River Expeditions. There’s a gas station and convenience store nearby, so we filled up when the PWC were on the shuttle trailer. The launch site on the other side also has free docks and a ramp.

 

Adventure Camp Mattawa
Cruising by Mattawa Adventure Camp.

 

Mattawa, Ontario - After riding 75 km (46 miles) from Swisha to Mattawa, we stayed overnight at the Valois Motel & Restaurant, known for its home-style cooking and scrumptious desserts. The Valois is located on the river with its own free-for-guests docking and boat ramp. Fuel is available at the Mattawa Marine on the north side of the railway bridge, but since Mattawa is the second transfer site, we found it more convenient to fuel up while the PWC were on the shuttle trailer. We booked our shuttle in advance with John at Mattawa Sports & Marine. The free launch on the north side of the Otto Holden Dam has a steep ramp with no docks, so we tied on to the boom above the dam.

Temiscaming, Quebec - Located 56 km (35 miles) north of Mattawa, Temiscaming is the third and final transfer site on the trip upriver. It offers free docks and boat ramps on each side of the dam. Once again, we fuelled up while our PWC were on the shuttle trailer. (Note: No transfer service is available in Temiscaming, so we brought our own tow vehicle and PWC trailer. This is easy to do because the highway parallels the river, and each rider can take a turn driving a short leg of the ride. Also, having a support vehicle along is good for extra luggage and emergency transport in case of a breakdown on the water.)

Ville Marie, Quebec - After riding 83 km (52 miles), our next stop was the marina at Ville Marie for gas. It’s located at the end of a long bay around the point of the southern gateway to Lake Temiskaming where an old fort guards the entrance.

Ontario Tributary River Ride
Exploring one of the tributary rivers.

 

Temiskaming Shores, Ontario - The most northerly destination point of our ride is located 23 km (14 miles) up Lake Temiskaming. We docked at the Haileybury Marina and the owners of our overnight lodgings at President’s Suites shuttled us a few blocks to their door. President’s Suites is a charming lakeside mansion, now a stellar bed & breakfast, complete with a fabulous (and much appreciated) hot tub.  Because our group was so big, we also took two rooms at the nearby Leisure Inn.

We launched each day between 8 and 9 am, which allowed ample time for sightseeing, transfers and fuelling throughout the day, plus arrival at our destination by late afternoon. We ate our lunches at the transfer sites, with food boxed for us by each morning’s restaurant. For our return trip, we revisited the above lodgings and services.

Without exception, everyone on this ride was blown away by our Ottawa River Waterway adventure. It exceeded all expectations and stands as the best multi-day ride most of us will ever do. You can do it too – so make sure a ride on the Ottawa River Waterway is on your own PWC bucket list!

 

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