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 just minutes from downtown Ottawa, to jaw-dropping class III to V rapids in the Ontario wilderness just over an hour’s drive away. Whether you’re an urban dweller looking for a gentle way to have fun on a hot summer day, or an adrenaline junkie looking for your next wave 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 lush green forests and majestic Canadian Shield rock formations, is where you’ll find rafting outfitters Owl Rafting on the Ottawa River, RiverRun Rafting & Wilderness Resort, and Wilderness Tours.
These luxury outdoor resorts offer half-day and multi-day whitewater packages with overnight options like rustic camping, cedar wood cabins or 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!
Depending on the trip, you might also get the opportunity to go swimming, take walks along the shoreline and see waterfalls. All the necessary gear is provided and most trips include meals on the waterfront. 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.
Urban whitewater experiences
From gentle family rafting 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 in the city
Looking for a relaxed and leisurely way to experience the majestic Ottawa River? Join Ottawa City Rafting (operated by Wilderness Tours) for a half-day gentle rafting excursion. The trip begins just 10 minutes west of downtown Ottawa and goes through a total of three Class I and II rapids separated by long stretches of flat water. Your guide may ask that you paddle now and then, but you can able sit back and enjoy the scenery when your guide activates the boat’s quiet, eco-friendly electric motor.
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 fun activities. Along the way, your guide will share historic anecdotes about the Ottawa River’s historic importance as a key trading route for Aboriginal Peoples, then a main waterway for early explorers and later, a main lumber trading route in the 1800s.
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 2 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!