For paddlers from the Buffalo and Rochester regions, Ontario’s world-class canoeing and kayaking are just a few hours’ drive away. Three areas stand out for their easy accessibility and outstanding scenery: 1) Georgian Bay’s island-studded coastal waters; 2) the countless pine-fringed lakes of Muskoka, Algonquin and the Almaguin Highlands; and 3) the famed rivers of Northeastern Ontario.
Three hours north of Buffalo, the communities of Parry Sound and the Township of Georgian Bay serve as convenient gateways to the sparkling waters of the Bay. This wild and lightly populated region is home to the 30,000 Islands, as well as a stunning national park only accessible by boat.
Experienced kayakers who are comfortable paddling on open waters could spend a lifetime exploring the tens of thousands of rocky islands and hidden, clearwater passages in the UNESCO-designated Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve. Just starting out? Ontario Sea Kayak Centre offers guided day-trips in the Biosphere, departing from locations near Parry Sound.
In a sheltered, southeastern nook of Georgian Bay, beautiful Georgian Bay Islands National Park is accessible only by park shuttle boat or your own watercraft. The largest of the park’s 63 islands—Beausoleil Island—offers backcountry camping, waterfront cabins, trails, sandy beaches, and sublime smooth-rock swimming. Head north into the park’s outlying pink-granite islands for solitude and wild camping.
Stretching along the filigreed Georgian Bay coast from Parry Sound south to the Moon River, the Massasauga Provincial Park encompasses hundreds of windswept islands and peaceful inland lakes. Plentiful backcountry campsites and moderate portages allow for a variety of easy weekend routes. The park is a popular escape for Toronto-area paddlers; plan to make reservations for campsites up to five months in advance for summer long weekends.
Muskoka, Algonquin Park & Almaguin Highlands
Encompassing world-famous Algonquin Park and the opulent cottage lakes of Muskoka, this diverse region of Ontario is also home to forgotten rivers and well-kept secrets like the rolling hill country of the Almaguin Highlands. Go just a little further north, and discover the dense forests and heritage rivers of Loring-Restoule—you’ll most likely have them all to yourself.
Just 4.5 hours from Buffalo, Algonquin Provincial Park offers canoeing enthusiasts a canoe route network of more than 2,100 km (1,300 miles), encompassing thousands of lakes, rivers, and backcountry campsites. The park offers 29 access points, with the most popular found along the Highway 60 corridor. Pick up a copy of the Canoe Routes of Algonquin Park map and ask park staff for assistance with trip planning.
Get off the beaten path at charming Restoule Provincial Park, where weekend warriors can make scenic paddling day-trips from the park campground. The park also serves as a starting point for a seldom-travelled 72-km (45-mile), four- to six-day circuit on the Restoule River, Upper French River, and Lake Nipissing.
The country’s first designated Canadian Heritage River is also this region’s finest canoeing river—paddle the entire French River Canoe Route from Lake Nipissing to Georgian Bay (110 km/68 miles), or choose from shorter circuits combining interconnected lakes, channels and rapids. Expect scenic gorges, tumbling whitewater, and serene camping.
The outstanding Magnetawan River offers something for everyone. Multiple, easy access points allow for rewarding day-trip possibilities. Paddlers with more time can enjoy the classic four- to five-day loop (80 km/50 miles) from Harris or Wahwashkesh lakes—a mostly flatwater route suitable for novice canoe trippers. For the ultimate whitewater adventure, tackle the Lower Magnetawan River in spring or early summer—five days of thrilling class I to III rapids and stunning campsites.
Read more about the Lower Magnetawan River trip highlights here.
Five to six hours north of Buffalo, the paddling possibilities include some of Northeastern Ontario’s wildest and most beautiful landscapes. Destinations so iconic, just a single word resonates with canoeing enthusiasts: Killarney… Temagami… Mattawa. This is the country for which the canoe was designed.
Read more about the route, access points, and highlights on Killarney Outfitters’ page.
Further west, Killarney Provincial Park provides access to the incredible outer coast of Philip Edward Island. Paddle out from the park’s Chikanishing Creek launch to reach the island, which is skirted by hundreds of smaller islands and wild, smooth-rock campsites with unforgettable sunsets. Navigating these maze-like waters is recommended for experienced trippers only.
Deep, crystal-clear lakes nestled between the ancient, white quartzite mountains of the La Cloche range make Killarney Provincial Park a canoeist’s dream. Camp at George Lake Campground or make a weeklong tour of the backcountry choosing from 183 campsites on over 50 lakes. Ask park staff about their canoeing map detailing 11 of the more popular routes.
You could spend a lifetime exploring the interconnected parks, waterways and ancient portages of the Temagami region—and many ardent canoeists do. The sheer size of Temagami—16,000 sq km (9,940 square miles) with 4,700 km (2,920 miles) of canoe routes—means you’ll need some advice on how to get started.
Find Temagami highlights, trip planning resources, and local outfitters here.
Steeped in the history of Canada’s Indigenous peoples and early European explorers, the Mattawa River is a natural link between the Ottawa River and Lake Nipissing, as well as a classic Ontario canoe route. Paddling the entire 58-km (36-mile) route from Trout Lake near North Bay to the town of Mattawa is a three- to four-day trip with nine to 14 short portages, depending on water levels. Experienced whitewater paddlers may choose to run some of the rapids, adding to the excitement level. Shorter trips (one or two days) are also possible, taking out at scenic Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park. Read more about the Mattawa’s natural and cultural heritage here.
Need more ideas? Discover other great rivers and routes in Northeastern Ontario here.