Editor's Note: The range of boating destinations in Ontario is truly-breathtaking—whatever your flavour, there's something for you here. What follows below is a general list of a wide variety of boating destinations, chosen by a seasoned boater with a broad experience in a range of settings, whether by cabin cruiser, powerboat, yacht, pontoon or fishing boat.
With that in mind, please remember that a boater's individual skills and experience dictate what type and size of boat are best-suited for each of these destinations, and how far from shore you'll want to stray. And of course, the assembled list is just one man's opinion—please feel free to add your own destinations and comments below!
There are as many boats in Ontario as in the rest of Canada combined. Boaters with runabouts, small fishing boats, pontoons, day cruisers, and performance boats can trailer their boat to a wide variety of boating destinations, each with a unique personality. Boaters with larger yachts and motorized sailboats can access most destinations in their own boat. A fun-filled family vacation awaits you at any one of these varied and fabulous boating destinations in Ontario:
# 10 - Lake Nipissing
# 9 - Lake Simcoe
# 8 - The Ottawa River
Heading north from Ottawa, the Ottawa River offers a casual cruising opportunity with sandy beaches and family entertainment. Heading downriver from Ottawa and through the Carillon lock will deliver a pleasant cruise all the way to Montreal. There are many interesting sections and of course, because it’s a river, you don't have to worry about getting lost!
My number seven destination choice is a favourite for fishermen worldwide. Rather than being a specific body of water, it’s an area that contains hundreds of smaller lakes that represent a fisherman's paradise. Geographically, it’s the area surrounding Lake Nipissing, which contains countless lakes and streams. Regulations, licenses, and lake access routes can be readily obtained, and of course, local fishing guides can tell you their choice of lakes to catch specific species of fish. If fishing is your passion, this could be your number one choice.
# 6 - The Rideau Canal
Relive a historical journey, by boat. Opened in 1832 as an alternative military route between Lake Ontario and the city of Ottawa, the Rideau Canal is Ontario's first UNESCO World Heritage Site. With 45 locks at 27 lock stations, this 202-km, well-marked waterway is the oldest continuously operated canal in North America. Unlike open water boating, this trip will pique your interest every kilometre that you travel, beginning at Old Fort Henry in Kingston and ending at the stepped locks that lead to Canada's parliament buildings in Ottawa.
# 5 - The Muskoka Lakes
Last year, National Geographic named Muskoka the number one place in the world to live during summer. A visit to Muskoka is all about the beauty of its granite-lined waterways and the spectacular summer homes of movie stars and millionaires. Launch your boat at one of the free town ramps, rent from a local marina, or book a day cruise on the Segwun—the oldest operating passenger steamship in North America—the oldest operating passenger steamship in North America. You may want to stay a few nights at one of the classic Muskoka resorts while you’re at it, as you’re certain to enjoy the crystal clear waters and scenic shorelines of Muskoka.
Begin your 1,000 Island boat trip in Kingston, Gananoque, Brockville, or any of the many marinas along the north shore of the St Lawrence River. While this boating area is called the "1,000 Islands", there are actually almost twice that many islands within an 80-km section of the river. Travel in your boat to castles, specialty dining, hiking trails, museums, fishing spots, summer events and even a casino. On this route, you’ll probably boat on big water with huge commercial ships, yet you’ll always be close to shore. Many websites offer advice as to hotel and resort accommodations, or where you can spend a night on your boat.
Once you’ve traveled the Trent Canal once, you’ll want to do it again. Travel one portion at a time, or make it a week-long holiday. There are plenty of hotels and B&Bs for small boaters. For the cruisers among us, overnight docking can be arranged at each of the 45 locks. As a boater you will not only see amazing, world-class nautical equipment, you’ll become part of it. Two giant lift locks and the spectacular marine railway will thrill you and everyone in your boat. And as you boat the many towns, communities, lakes and rivers that the Trent borders, you’ll find numerous art galleries, museums and historical sites to stop at and visit. Last year, over 129,000 boaters traveled the Trent, but be sure to do your research before you go to avoid missing any points of interest that might strike your fancy.
Ask any true yachtsman in Ontario if they have cruised Georgian Bay and they will answer by describing the magnificent scenery on their journey through endless islands and passageways in the North Channel. Yes, there are rocks, and you will need to pay attention to your charts, but Georgian Bay is exceptionally well-marked, so grounding should not be a worry. Choose a launch location and spend as much time as you want in the natural beauty of the islands. Ontario Parks are plentiful, where you can dock or anchor out for the night. Campsites are also available.
# 1 The Great Lakes
With Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario forming the largest grouping of freshwater lakes in the world, how could I not choose the Great Lakes as the number one boating destination in Ontario? Naturally, this is a very broad selection, encompassing a wide variety of types of boating. I've chosen to group them together in very general terms because of their diversity and the opportunities that they represent for boaters of varying skill levels and experience. They represent our closest approximation to ocean boating, and can be even more treacherous at times – for example, Lake Superior is probably best-suited to larger cabin cruisers and yachts. Yet with a little planning, even smaller boats can safely navigate the majestic shorelines of the Great Lakes and enjoy the seemingly endless variety of ports to visit. For big water, variety of scenery, and the best choice of town and marina stops, the Great Lakes are number one.
Each one of these locations is more than just a destination – they represent some of the best boating opportunities in the world, in areas that you can readily access. If you love boating, plan a trip to one of them soon. You will remember it for a lifetime!