The Ottawa region is a popular whitewater activity destination, since access to the wilderness is so easy! And rafting is the perfect group or FIT activity to explore the majestic and historic Ottawa River. Ottawa’s hot summers are a great time to take to the cool clean waters, but groups and individual travellers can enjoy rafting from spring through fall. The region features several outfitters that specialize in different experiences from gentle family-friendly floats to challenging high adventure class V rapids.
The Ottawa River
The mighty Ottawa River was named fittingly for the Algonquin word for “trade” as it was once a major trading route for Eastern Ontario. It runs through two provinces, Ontario and Quebec, and between the cities of Ottawa and Gatineau.
There are many ways to explore the river on a trip to Canada’s capital. You can kayak, canoe, stand up paddleboard or take a leisurely river cruise. However, if it's an adventure you crave or a team-building event like no other, head to the rapids that make the Ottawa River a favourite whitewater rafting region.
Urban whitewater rafting
You don’t even need to leave downtown to experience whitewater rafting in the capital. Ottawa City Rafting, operated by Wilderness Tours, offers a unique experience, the opportunity to raft near the downtown core! This urban rafting day out is perfect for families, children as young as five are welcome to join in the fun. Your active day starts at Britannia Beach just a 10-minute drive west of downtown Ottawa where you’ll begin your 2.5-hour whitewater rafting excursion.
There is plenty of time allotted to practice with your guide on flat water before you reach the Deschenes Rapids. Here, depending on your group and their experience level, your guide can steer either into calmer waters or go for a more exciting route!
Before long you’ll notice landmarks like Parliament Hill coming into view. Refreshments, rental of safety gear and a shuttle bus to get you back to your vehicle are all included. Booking for groups of ten or more will receive one free spot.
More extreme adventures outside the city
The Ottawa River is popular with international whitewater rafters and even hosts competitions thanks to its towering waves and deep channels found in the upper section and at Madawaska River, only an hour’s drive west from downtown Ottawa.
Whitewater rafting outfitters in this area include OWL Rafting, Wilderness Tours, and across the river on the Quebec side, Rafting Momentum. They all offer group trips ranging from relaxing paddles right up to the thrill of navigating through class V rapids.
Whitewater rapids are classified from class I to class VI. Class I rapids describe almost flat water with little to no obstacles and are usually safe for beginner paddlers. They progressively become more challenging with eddies, falls, and waves, as well as more obstacles to avoid, which in class VI rapids can become dangerous.
All three operators offer packages that follow different channels of the river ranging from gentle floats where you’ll be unlikely to fall out to adventure routes that will get your heart pumping. During the tour guests can swim in the river, and take part in cliff jumping if they dare.
The gentle rafting day trip at Wilderness Tours, suitable for families, takes between 3-4 hours and is therefore perfect for beginners or younger kids. Similar soft adventures at OWL Rafting and Rafting Momentum are full 8-hour day trips.
A weekend of rafting
All three operators also offer the opportunity to extend your experience into a weekend away with meals, cabins to rent or camping spots available as add-on extras. All overnight packages at these spots include a hot meal, often a BBQ and a chance to relive your experiences by purchasing a photo or video of your trip.
At OWL Rafting—a Canadian and Ontario Signature Experience—you also have their beachfront amenities to enjoy which include SUP, kayaks and canoes, a slide off their floating dock, volleyball, giant Jenga, a sauna, and live music every Saturday night.
Wilderness Tours also has a beachfront with SUP, kayak and a basketball court and hiking trails to explore. Throughout the summer, live musical guests entertain visitors and for large groups, their accommodations include lodgings for up to 12 guests.
At Rafting Momentum, you can choose to add on experiences with their partners including options to relax at a spa, visit an aerial park or spend the day at a vineyard.
After a tiring but exhilarating day of paddling, you can enjoy a hearty meal and some entertainment before retiring to your rustic yet comfortable cabin, chalet or camping spot. Get a good night's sleep because you’ll want to ride the whitewater of the mighty Ottawa River again the next day.