The Rideau Canal is one of the greatest civil engineering works of the 19th century, and is the oldest, continuously operated canal in North America. The Rideau Canal and Waterway was designated a National Historic Site in 1926 and a Canadian River in 2000. In 2007, it was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations as it celebrated it's 175th year of operation. It was recognized by UNESCO for it's place in Canada'a history, its amazing engineering feats, as well its beauty and importance to the area's development, both commercial and recreational.
A celtic cross near the mouth of the Canal says: In memory of 1,000 workers and their families who died building this Canal 1826-1832.
From Ottawa, Ontario, Canada's capital city on the Ottawa River to Kingston, Ontario on Lake Ontario, the historic Rideau Waterway may be explored by boat, automobile, and bicycle. The Rideau Waterway and its water-side towns constitute one of the most popular tourist and recreation areas in Ontario. Every year, tens of thousands of boats pass through its locks, and millions more visit its parks, beaches, and historical sites. The waterway, an engineering marvel and amazing achievement in 1826, is a series of rivers, lakes and wetlands connected by man-made canals and locks, which passes through the rock and forest of the Canadian Shield, farms, and small towns - truly a cruiser's dream.
The 198-kilometre (123 mi) waterway has 45 locks at 22 lock stations (only 10% of the total length) which connects a chain of pastoral lakes and rivers. The Rideau River drains 4,234 km2 of land, a large portion of eastern Ontario. Most of the lock stations are operated manually using the same mechanisms that were used in 1832. The massive timber gates and cutstone canal walls that most locks have maintained are engineering marvels. Only 3 locks are not operated by hand. The season is mid-May to mid-October. Hours of operation change with the day of the week and time of year. In spring and fall, contact the Beveridges Lockstation (613-359-5377) to arrange lockage into the Tay Canal.
The maximum size of boat that can normally use the Waterway channel and locks is 27.4m (90ft) long, 7.9m (26ft) wide, 6.7m (22ft) high, and 1.5m (5ft) deep. If your boat is near these limits, or there are drought conditions, contact the Canal office before planning a cruise throught the Waterway. (Canal Facts) Water levels are controlled by dams and locks, but flooding or drought can affect water levels of lock sills and overhead clearances (Becketts Landing fixed bridge clearance is 6.7 m). Check Notices to Mariners or ask any lockmaster about water levels.
If you boat draws over 1.2 metres (4'), contact the Rideau Canal Office before entering the waterway. The water levels are controlled by a series of dams, but rain and weather can restrict draft and height that can pass through the waterway. The boat packing list for cruising the canal might save you forgetting something important - like binoculars!
Small boats less than 4.3 m (14') high may pass through Kingston's La Salle Causeway into the Rideau Waterway by using the eastern boat channel; higher boats must wait for the lift bridge to open.
"How long does it take?", everyone asks. It depends on the time of year, weather, and your boat habits. Spring/fall lock hours are shorter. In summer, it takes at least 4 days to travel the 202 km. waterway to the top of the Ottawa locks - if you don't stop and get lucky with weather and lock schedules. The Ottawa locks take another day to reach the Ottawa River. The end of July and long weekend in August is the busiest period and may take longer. A canoe takes 6 to 12 days. Planning stops to visit ashore and "rain days" will allow you to enjoy the trip more.
Overnight docking, washrooms, picnic tables, garbage disposal and ice are available at most lock stations. Some have power outlets and showers. Washrooms are sometimes locked after hours. Canal fees are charged for locking and dockage separately - multiple-day and annual passes are available. Canal staff can answer your questions, or Parks Canada or their contacts).
Boats can dock during the day at some town docks such as Portland and Seeley's Bay and marinas to shop. Some restaurants offer docks to customers. Towns docks often have washrooms and parks nearby, and even free Wi-Fi. Some towns (Westport, Kingston) charge a day dock fee.
There are great walking trails at many lockstations, such as Ottawa, Burritts Rapids, Merrickville, Jones Falls and Kingston Mills. This cruising guide is organized by the towns along the waterway. Enjoy the trip!
Take sunscreen, bug repellant, a camera, and maybe fishing gear. Read the diary contributed by boaters who made the trip. Our links provide more information (locking procedures, regulations, canal facts, ...)
Public beaches along the waterway are often man-made and located at campgrounds, conservation areas, and town parks. Here are a few:
You can buy a pass for locking and overnight docking from the Lockmaster or Canal offices. Only a few decades ago locking and docking were free, but today only day-docking is free. Visiting cars pay to park at lockstations near cities. Camping can often be arranged for boaters travelling the waterway. Docks with power are available for a fee at resorts, marinas, towns and some lockstations.
In 2013, Parks Canada shortened Rideau Canal hours and the canal lockage and mooring fees were frozen for 3 years. Hopefully the heritage canals can be operated efficiently without unaffordable fees. [Boating in Canada News]
Rocks and tree stumps lurk outside the red and green spar buoys. From Kingston or Ottawa, you rise with each lock going "upstream" so the red pointed buoys are on your right and the green flat buoys on your left. A simple rule is red to the right when returning upstream - "red, right, returning". (Place a piece of tape by the wheel marked in red and green to remind you, and reverse it at Newboro.) At Newboro Locks the locks take you back "downstream" and the buoys reverse - red buoys to your left (port) side and green buoys to your right (starboard).
Speed limits and "no wake" zones are clearly marked with floating markers. Watch your wake - swimmers, fishermen and paddlers can be easily injured. Boat wakes are a major problem on the Rideau Waterway. Local and provincial Police and Parks Canada are working together to solve the problem. Slow down and enjoy the waterways - the loons will thank you.
Chat with the lock staff. Shop in farmers markets. Anchor at Morton Bay. Catch a fish. Stop in Westport to shop, eat, or go to The Cove on Thursday night! Boat-watch under a shady tree at the Narrows Lock. Visit Livingston (Colonel By) Island. Follow the Tay Canal to Perth. Dine out in Merrickville. Walk the Burritts Rapids Trail and buy ice cream to reward yourself. Stop at the Manotick village dock in Mahogany Harbour to tour the heritage Mill and buy supplies on the way back. Stay in Ottawa, Canada's capital, to visit the Parliament buildings and national museums close to the locks. And if your timing is right, you can watch Canada Day fireworks from your boat docked on the canal wall. A once-in-a-lifetime experience!
This guide takes you from Kingston north to Ottawa. So, on with the cruise...
* Compass icons lead to Google Maps
Kingston is in a class of it's own for boaters. It is at the junction of the Rideau River, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. East leads you on to the Thousand Islands [sigh] and the Seaway. West leads you to the protected waters of the Quinte area. Check cruising hints before entering Kingston harbor.
First choice is Confederation Basin on the downtown waterfront behind the Martello Tower (the entrance is to the north of the light on the breakwater. Anchoring is not allowed inside the harbour. Phone the marina for reservations, then call on VHF channel 68 just before you arrive for docking instructions. It's within easy walking distance to a wide assortment of restaurants, stores, theatres and bars. Laundry, telephones, showers, and ice are on shore. Security is better than most -- you'll get a "card" to enter the docks.
There is a grocery store a few blocks from the Basin (north of Princess St.), near the liquor store (which sells some beer). The beer store and another supermarket are a long walk up Princess Street. Last time I took a taxi back, the driver moved my purchases to a dock cart without even asking! I won't recommend restaurants -- too many good ones within a short walk.
In summer, there is daily entertainment in the park in front of City Hall (the big building with the clock tower and wind vane on top). There's a farmers market behind it several times a week where you can buy vegetables, baking, flowers and crafts. You are close to the Kingston Theatre, the Marine Museum, Queen's University, and the Fort. If you get bored with Kingston, hop the free ferry (or take your own boat) for a short ride to Wolfe Island. You can dine at the Wolfe Island Inn if you reserve weeks ahead.
This large marina west of Kingston harbour has a marine store and restaurant. Between the two large marinas, Kingston Yacht Club also hosts small boats from reciprocating yacht clubs. Smaller marinas are located inside the causeway bridge leading to the Rideau Waterway.
The "Frontenac", the first steamship to navigate Lake Ontario, was built and launched near Kingston, then a shipbuilding centre, on September 7, 1816.
At Kingston Mills, you will meet boaters and paddlers from all over! There's a good museum and interpreters to keep you busy while you wait. Trains will keep you awake here so continue on to Upper or Lower Brewers locks - a great place to stay.
This village is off the waterway but has a public wharf also used by rental boats, plus marinas and basic shopping.
South of Jones Falls, is Morton Bay, a beautiful bay surrounded by tree-covered hills. The turn into the bay is marked with a red-green junction buoy. You can anchor or even tie up to "Rock Dundar" if you are clever. This is a lovely spot to relax or swim in nice weather. But don't swim after you feed the fish - I won't elaborate!
There's a walking trail, swimming, and places to stay at the bottom of the lockstation. The stone dam at Jones Falls was the highest in the world in 1832 when it was completed! (map)
It's particularly beautiful in the fall when the leaves turn color. The Hotel Kenney resort closed in 2019. Shangri-La, south of the locks, has power, fuel and a restroom. Stop at Davis Locks if you're looking for peace and quiet.
From here to the Rideau Lakes is one of the most beautiful small-boat cruises in the world, passing though lakes controlled by dams: Sand Lake, Davis Lock, Opinicon Lake, Chaffeys Lock, Indian Lake, Clear Lake, and beautiful Newboro Lake. This whole area is full of cottages, quiet bays, and first-rate fishing. Watch for loons!
From beautiful Newboro Lake, you pass through a man-made channel to Newboro Lock. The town has restaurants and a small store.
The canal begins to "decend" after Newboro Locks, so buoys reverse direction, with the red starboard hand buoys now being on your left side and the green flat port-hand buoys on your right.
At Chaffey's Locks, the completely renovated Opinicon Lodge is a friendly place that attracts a broad mix of tourists, fishermen, paddlers and boaters. The resort has a pool, hot tub, showers, laundry, power, water and a restaurant. (Opinicon is an Algonquin word meaning "gap between two waters.") Dorothy's Fishing Lodge is a smaller resort with a restaurant. There is a fish and chips place near the lock. Brown's Marina is a full-service marina with a small grocery and liquor store.
You can easily spend a week here if you enjoy fishing, swimming, reading and boat-watching. You can buy supplies at small towns Westport, Portland and Perth. We took our first trips in a small rental boat to these lakes and were "hooked" on boating. Sadly, the iconic loons we listened to in the evenings are now on the "Threatened" species list (nests and chicks are lost in boat wakes), but everything else is much the same.
Westport is a very picturesque town in the Upper Rideau with a public wharf where you can buy gas. Nearby you'll find groceries, liquor, hardware, fishing gear, banks, gifts and clothing. The beer store is a long walk. Eating out has great choices, such as "The Cove" for lunch, dinner, live music and dancing, "Tangle Gardens" for all-day meals, and "Steves" for pizza. The town owns it's own telephone and hydro companies, and it was the first community in Canada (1996) to use Freeze crystallization to turns sewage into snow!
The Narrows Locks is a great place for boat-watching. Dock at the "top" for a great sunset view - if it's not windy! It's one of the few lockstations that can have waves blowing in from the lake. Keep a pair of binoculars handy.
Colonel By Island (former Livingston Island) is a highy-recommended stop in the Big Rideau Lake. This is a taste of the genteel cottage life of these lakes. Your Canal mooring pass is valid here as it's operated by Parks Canada. It has good docks, washrooms, barbecues (bring briquettes), picnic tables, horseshoe pit and a huge firepit (bring wood, check for fire bans). Good swimming and trails. 48-hour camping for boaters only. Just remember, don't go fishing in the fish sanctuary!
Portland: Located at the south end of the Big Rideau Lake, the cottage crowd shops here - grocery store, hardware store, bank, liquor (LCBO) and beer store. There is also an art gallery-store within walking distance. Word on the dock is that Louis' Pizza is good. The Galley Restaurant, on the west side of town, has a great lake view from their deck and provides a dock in front while you eat. Len's Cove Marina, a full-service marina with pool, is also a reputable boat broker. There are other marinas and a town dock.
Returning to the Rideau Waterway, you can get dockage, gas, diesel, and boat service at Rideau Ferry Harbour just west of the bridge between the Big Rideau Lake and the Lower Rideau Lake. There is also a restaurant and a small store with basic supplies.
From Lower Rideau Lake there is an amazing side trip starting at Beveridge Locks (Lower and Upper) to the historic town of Perth, with many stone buildings built in the 1800s. The 11-km cruise (7 miles) passes by the Perth Wildlife Preserve about half way along - watch for the Tay Marsh Lookout Tower on the left. It has a walking trail with deer, porcupines, birds, snakes, and turtles. Winding along the Tay River surrounded by tall grasses reminded me of the Florida Everglades.
The Last Duel Campground in Perth provides docking - this is where the last fatal duel was fought in Ontario. Small boats and dinghies can pass under a low bridge to reach the Tay Basin in the heart of the town, where you will find restaurants, arts and crafts, and summer festivals.
Murphy's Point Provincial Park provides a few small docks and a nice bay for anchoring.
If you are near shore, watch for wildlife. Burn off or scrub your grill after a barbeque and put away anything that might attract bears or racoons. Mosquitoes can be nasty along the waterway at certain times of the year, so pack long sleeves, repellant and something with "caine" at the end of the name! [more]
Smiths Falls is a good place to buy supplies as it's the largest town in the central part of the canal. Restaurants, LCBO, beer, laundromat, Canadian Tire and Walmart! The Independent Grocer is a long walk from the lock, but you can get a taxi back. Victoria Park can moor many boats in a holding basin between locks. There are stores and eateries on the main street by the bridge. If the water tastes of sulphur, drink beer instead! After you pass through the big lock, you may be permitted to tie up to the the wall at the Mariners Inn, which is a short walk to a supermarket and beer store. You can also moor at the park between Smiths Falls Detached Lock and Combined Lock.
Get answers to all your canal questions at the Rideau Canal Visitor Information Centre at 34 Beckwith Street near the bridge over the canal.
This town is known as the "Jewel of the Rideau". It is a picturesque village where we first discovered the beauty of the Rideau by renting a small cruiser from the boatyard. Peter Ayling said we had "missed" the best years on the waterway - of course, we later said the same thing to new visitors!
On the western edge of Merrickville is the Rideau Migratory Bird Sanctuary, 800 hectares (2800 acres) beside the river - some of the best wetlands along the Rideau Waterway. This haven is possible due to the willing participation of landowners. This is NOT a park! Scientists from the Canadian Wildlife Service estimates that the traffic of geese and ducks is comparable to that found in staging areas in Ontario's Prince Edward County and around Wolfe Island in Lake Ontario.
Merrickville has many shops by the canal where you can buy old books, art, sculpture, crafts, hand-made clothing and antiques. Right near the canal is a canal museum as well as pubs and good restaurants. The historical village is full of stone buildings built of the same limestone as the locks. Walk across the bridge to see the stone ruins - you'll see artists set up easels on a nice day. It's easy to see why people drive here on weekends to eat, shop, and look at the boats.
This is one of my favorite lockstations -- quiet, good swimming, with power available. There's a restaurant across the road with a washer and drier for the boaters! There is a wonderful walk on the Tip-to-Tip Trail to the picturesque village. The first bridge across the Rideau River was built here in 1824. the villages of Burritts Rapids, Kars, and Manotick are all part of the City of Ottawa.
Becketts Landing (Chart 1512) fixed bridge clearance is 6.7 m. Check with a lockmaster about water levels that affect clearances and depths on the charts.
You will pass by Rideau River Provincial Park on the north shore, but it does not have any boat facilities. After passing under the bridges at Kemptville, there is a marina on the right. The Baxter Conservation Area is on the west shore - you may be lucky to see Bob Harlowe's "Ice Cream Float" boat anchored there on summer afternoons selling cones to people on the beach. If it's not busy, he sells to passing boats.
There's a low concrete day dock in the village of Kars. A convenience store is a 5-minute walk. [map] Just north is a small marina (photo).
There is a full service marina just before the fixed bridge. Just beyond the bridge is "The Swan on the Rideau" pub in a Tudor-stye house with a "guest dock" for restaurant patrons. Beside it is a full-service marina with pool.
As you continue north, you will encounter fishing boats, canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, and swimmers - as well as ski boats and large cruisers going fast! As the river narrows, Kelly's Landing on the right (east shore) offers gas, a small store, and a dock for lunch on a lovely water-side patio. Manotick Marina on the west shore at a speed zone - this is where we kept our first boat!
The lovely and historic Manotick village is your best stop for supplies before you enter the canal. You can use the day dock in Mahogany Harbour (or anchor), named for the mahogany boats that belong to members of the Manotick Classic Boat Club (MCBC). You can find the 15-metre (50 ft) day dock and dinghy docks down a side channel of the Rideau Waterway.
Here's a map showing the channel to the day dock. Turn west at buoy N138 into a side channel of the Rideau River and proceed slowly for 700 metres (half mile). As the river widens you will see a day dock on your left. It's 300m upstream from Watson's Mill Dam so watch for current.
Climb the stairs and turn right on Manotick Main Street, then left at Currier St. into The Mews shopping center. It has Robinson's Independent Grocer, Rexall drugstore, Home Hardware, Beer Store, LCBO liquor, pet store, CIBC, clothing, shoes, and several restaurants. Stay on Manotick Main Street for more stores and restaurants. A 5-minute walk takes you to the historic site Watson's Mill and Dickinson House. You can take free tours and buy books about the Rideau Canal, stone-ground flour and bread, and feed for the nearby ducks (kids love this). There's a used bookstore in the Carriage House. A gazebo in A.Y. Jackson Park across the river is perfect for photos.
At the east end of the bridge over the main Waterway channel (Bridge St @ River Rd.) is a Chinese take-out, pizza cafe with great breakfast, Tim Horton, TD Bank, Shoppers Drug. (A gas station is being constructed in 2019).
Just south of Hog's Back Lock, the canal separates from the Rideau river and leads into Dow's Lake, where the marina offers unleaded gas and diesel. (The next fuel is several marinas south of Long Island Locks in Manotick village.
Ottawa has an impressive flight of 8 locks lifting boats 24 metres (79 feet) from the Ottawa River to the man-made canal, taking 2 or more hours. This scene is duplicated in numerous paintings and photos of Canada's beautiful capital city.
At the top of the Ottawa locks is 150 metres (500') of dockage along the east canal wall with 'some' power outlets and video surveillance. The Westin Hotel charges a day fee for use of their pool, showers, etc. At the bottom of the locks, there is 45 metres (150') of docks in the Ottawa River. The Rockcliffe Boathouse is 2 kilometres east of the locks, Hull Marina is on the Quebec shore.
You can tie up along the canal in the heart of downtown within a short walk of the Parliament Buildings, National Arts Centre, National Gallery, the Bytown Museum, the Byward Market with local produce, and shopping at the Rideau Centre. The popular Tulip Fesival in May offers boat flotillas with decorated, lighted boats. There are festivals all summer close to the canal. Winter brings the world's longest outdoor skating rink and "Winterlude" festival in February.
There is a tourist kiosk by the Arts Centre (613-239-5000 1-800-363-4465). Colonel By Drive beside the Canal is closed to traffic Sunday morning (9 am to 1 pm) for cyclists, in-line skaters, runners and walkers. Rent a bike near the Ottawa locks.
Ottawa is relatively safe, but you would be wise to dock with other boats amd lock movable gear inside when you leave the boat. City of Ottawa, RCMP and the National Capital Commission have coordinated security patrols and cameras at the Ottawa Locks, the most popular stop along the waterway.
Mute Swans can seen in the Rideau River (parallel to the canal) from Hogs Back Falls to Rideau Falls on the Ottawa River. They are descendants of swans that were donated to the city by Queen Elizabeth II as part of Canada's 1967 Centennial.
Farther along, Dow's Lake Pavillion has a marina with facilities and restaurants. To the north is the main site of the spring Tulip Festival; to the south is Canada's "Experimental Farm", an urban agricultural station with acres of trees, flowers, fields, greenhouses, barns, and trails! The "Arboretum" looks like a water-side park, but almost every tree is labelled. The rock gardens are a favorite for wedding photos. The Fletcher wild flower garden is a natural paradise. [Ottawa boating links | Canada's Capital | City of Ottawa]
Travelling south, 30 to 50 boats might pass through Hartwells Locks 9 and 10 on a busy day, while many hundreds of bikes and pedestrians cross over the lock doors between Carleton University and the Experimental Farm. The lockmaster orchestrates this 4-way traffic. Hogs Back Lock has a bridge that opens on a schedule, so taller boats must wait.
Rideau locks operates from the Victoria Day weekend until Thanksgiving in mid-October.
From mid-June to beginning of September, hours are generally 9 am - 6 pm during the week and 9 am - 7 pm on weekends. Days are usually shorter in spring and fall.
During spring/fall, you must call 613-359-5377 to pre-book Beveridges Lock (Tay Canal) 48 hours in advance.
Parks Canada Rideau Canal schedule
Rideau Canal Headquarters Phone: 613-283-5170 34a Beckwith St. South Toll-free: 1-800-230-0016 (Can/U.S.) Smiths Falls, Ont. K7A 2A8 FAX: 613-283-0677 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org