Canada’s capital region is known as one of the world’s top destinations for whitewater adventures. The mighty Ottawa River offers everything from family-friendly rafting and tubing just minutes from downtown Ottawa, to jaw-dropping class III to V rapids just over an hour’s drive away. Whether you’re looking for a gentle splash on a hot summer day or your next adrenaline fix, Ottawa has the perfect whitewater adventures for you!
Water adventures in the wilderness
From May to September each year, people from around the world flock to a stretch of the scenic upper Ottawa and Madawaska Rivers, located just over an hour’s drive west from downtown Ottawa. This whitewater mecca, with its warm water, lush green forests and majestic Canadian Shield rock formations, is where you’ll find paddling outfitters, OWL Rafting, Rafting Momentum, and Wilderness Tours.
These outdoor activity resorts offer half-day and multi-day whitewater packages with overnight options that range from rustic camping, to cedar wood cabins and even B&B accommodations. No matter which experience you choose, you’ll be thoroughly immersed in the magic of the Ottawa River!
Rafting in the wild
The Ottawa River’s numerous channels and wide range of rapid classes allow river guides to offer a variety of rafting experiences. Choose from a gentle float with a bit of splash on a large raft, or an extreme adrenaline-pumping trip over class V waves on a sport raft – or anything in between! Boat sizes (and passenger capacity) vary, and private bookings are available.
Depending on the trip, you might also get to swim, body surf and float in the waves, as well as cliff jump, walk along the shoreline and see waterfalls. All the necessary gear is provided and most trips include meals on the boat or by the water. At the end of the day, you might have the option to order a local craft beer and relax in a hot tub or sauna, and maybe even catch a live band playing at the resort!
Whitewater kayaking in the wild
Want to get even more up close and personal with the roaring waterway? Learn whitewater kayaking from some of the world’s best at Wilderness Tours’ Ottawa Kayak School – the largest of its kind in Canada. Kayaking legend and program director Seth Ashworth made the Ottawa area his home after kayaking all over the globe. Seth’s team offers beginner clinics for kids or adults, all the way up to premier-level instruction. Choose a one-day clinic if you’re short on time, or for the ultimate immersion, join a week-long program. Different kayaking experiences are available through other outfitters as well.
Urban whitewater experiences
From gentle family rafting or tubing excursions to high-adrenaline kayaking, there’s plenty of whitewater action within a few minutes’ drive from downtown Ottawa. And best of all, they’re easily accessible by car, public transportation or even by bicycle!
Rafting and tubing in the city
Ottawa City Rafting (operated by Wilderness Tours) offers more urban and leisurely ways to experience the majestic Ottawa River. The half-day gentle rafting or tubing excursions begin just 10 minutes west of downtown Ottawa and go through a few sets of Class I and II rapids separated by stretches of flat water. As you float towards the ultimate view of Canada’s beautiful Parliament Buildings, you’ll have the chance to do some body surfing, cliff jumping and other activities. Along the way, your guide shares historic anecdotes about the Ottawa River’s historic importance and fun facts.
The rafting boats fit groups of 4 to 9 people, and private bookings are available. Participants don’t have to paddle the entire three-hour journey: on flat stretches of water, the guide activates a quiet, eco-friendly electric motor so you can sit back and relax.
For a more independent (and physically-distanced) experience, choose Ottawa City Rafting's two-hour trip in individual, inflated kayak tubes (solo rafting) which offers similar activities as the rafting trips, plus tube racing, jumping and bumping.
You can also take a half-day urban “kayarafting” adventure on the Ottawa River with Boreal River Adventures. You’ll learn how to paddle an inflatable kayak through Class I and II rapids, with Parliament Hill and the skylines of Ottawa and Gatineau as your backdrop. Excursions leave from Parc Moussette just west of downtown Gatineau, across the river from Ottawa.
Whitewater kayaking in the city
Did you know that you can learn to whitewater kayak less than 5 minutes’ drive from downtown Ottawa? The Downtown Ottawa Instruction program offered by OWL Rafting’s Madawaska Kanu Centre is perfect for beginners and novices. Lessons take place at a spot called The Pumphouse, located just around the corner from the Canadian War Museum. Many Canadian kayaking athletes train there!
If you’re an experienced whitewater kayaker (or even a surfer), you’ll certainly want to play at Ottawa’s Champlain Bridge wave known as The Wall. Located off of Bate Island, less than 10 minutes drive west of downtown Ottawa, the rapids feature a standing, ever-flowing wave that attracts surfers and freestyle whitewater kayakers from around the world each spring. If you prefer to be a spectator, you can easily access the site by biking from downtown Ottawa along the scenic Ottawa River Pathway, or by driving to Bate Island.
About two kilometers upstream from The Wall, towards the Quebec side of the Ottawa River, is another popular playspot for freestyle kayaking. The Deschenes Rapids in that area run through the cement ruins of an abandoned electricity facility, and the waves below attracts kayakers from around the world. Definitely a rush for skilled paddlers!
For more exciting activities in Canada’s Capital, check out our suggestions on how to be adventurous in Ottawa!