Everyone loves to hate Ontario, or as it’s often referred to, On-terrible. Whether it’s our lack of mountains and coastal lifestyle, or how the entire province is equated with Toronto, it’s not a great reputation. I have spent my much of life in Ontario though, and if you get out of the suburban cities, you’ll see it’s actually spectacular. I’m a canoeist, so I believe the water is the best way to see all that Ontario has to offer. Here are my favourite places I’ve paddled (and if you live in or are visiting Toronto, I’ve included how far it would be to visit them):
- Georgian Bay Islands National Park: First off, I dare you to find a place with more frequent beautiful sunsets. I went to a camp in the area for 13 years, and it’s the place that introduced me to the wild. It’s part of the Canadian Shield, so the terrain is white and pink-streaked granite. Being a windy bay, it’s also home to the Windswept Pine. It’s a 3 hour drive from Toronto.
- Killarney Provincial Park: Possibly the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. The park is a matrix of lakes, joined through portages. It has white rocky hills, the largest known as Silver Peak (which you can hike to for incredible views of the park), and the water ranges from black-blue to blue gatorade. There were several moments when I had to stop canoeing just to take in my surroundings. I’ve only been once, but I did essentially the entire park with six campers and a co-tripper. Even my most stubborn camper admitted it was amazing. It’s almost 8 hours from Toronto, but so, so, so worth it. I wish I had more photos of the place, but here are two from my co-tripper, Chris Brock.
- Missinaibi Provincial Park: I paddled the entirety (all 520 km) of this river over 25 days last summer. It’s remote (some 12 hours from Toronto) and can be a challenging paddle in parts. I’ll go into much more detail about this river in later posts and use it as an opportunity to discuss backcountry tripping, wilderness safety and paddling rapids.
- Temagami: It’s not a national or provincial park, though it could be, so it’s maintained by the Friends of Temagami. I’ve done two different portions of it, and both were great. The first, which was a route centred around Paradise Lagoon, I did when I was 15 and it was my first long canoe trip. I returned a few summers ago to lead eight campers through Lake Temagami and the Maple Mountain hike (tallest point in Ontario). It has a much more remote feeling to it, since it isn’t built up like a park and you’re less likely to see other people.
- Algonquin and Lower Madawaska River: I actually haven’t spent much time in Algonquin park. It’s the most popular park for canoeing in Ontario, and it’s very accessible for a weekend trip. For that reason, it’s usually fairly busy. There’s no denying that it’s beautiful, especially during autumn, but I prefer the aforementioned places. The Lower Madawaska River that leaves Algonquin park and runs south, however, is a fun trip. It’s great for an introduction to whitewater canoeing (most rapids can be run by beginners with support from guides). I took five high school students down the river for a week and it was a lot of fun. It’s not nearly as remote as the parks, but it is a great change from flatwater canoeing.
On the bucket list:
- Bruce Penninsula: National Park with incredible grottos and cliffs and sparkling water and great sunsets. Definitely put it through google images.
- North of Lake Superior: This is where things start to get really remote. It’s quite a bit of a drive from any major cities, but it’s got some great coastlines and a rugged feel to it.
Hopefully this will inspire at this some people to get out of the Greater Toronto Area and explore all that Ontario has to offer!