Rideau Canal Cruise Guide

UNESCO World Heritage Site  (2007)

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.

World-class cruising:

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 canal and locks:

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. [Canal Locking Procedures]

Water Depths:

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.

Cruise Planning:

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. See our boat packing list for cruising the canal.

Small boats less than 4.3 m (14') high may pass through Kingston's La Salle Causeway 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. A canoe takes 6 to 12 days (see links). Planning stops to visit ashore and "rain days" will allow you to enjoy the trip more.

Overnight docking, washrooms, picnic tables and garbage disposal are available at most lock stations. Some have power outlets and phones and most sell ice. Washrooms are sometimes locked during off 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, ...)

Beaches:

Public beaches along the waterway are often man-made and located at campgrounds, conservation areas, and town parks. Here are a few:

Costs:

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. [ href="https://boatingincanada.blogspot.ca/" class="nowrap">Boating in Canada News]

Buoys:

green spar buoy

From Ottawa, you rise with each lock going "upstream" so the red pointed spar buoys are on your right and the green flat spar buoys on your left. At Newboro Locks the locks take you back "downstream" and buoys are now reversed with the red pointed spars on your left (port) side and the green flat spars on your right (starboard).

Wakes:

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.

Not to miss:

Boat-watching under a shady tree at the Narrows Lock. Visit Livingston (Colonel By) Island, the Tay Canal to Perth. Anchor at Morton Bay. Walk around Westport. Chat with the lock staff. Shop in farmers markets markets. Dine out in Merrickville. Walk the Burritts Rapids Trail. Catch a fish. (Ontario Fishing) Dock close to Parliament Hill for the ultimate tourist experience. Get a spot on the canal wall early for Canada Day - across from the National Arts Centre with a view of the sky for the fireworks.
On with the cruise...

* Compass icons lead to Google Maps

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Kingston

Kingston Confederation Basic

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 no longer allowed here. Phone for reservations, then call them on VHF channel 68 at the harbour entrance for docking instructions. It's within easy walking distance to a wide assortment of restaurants, shops, theatres and bars. Laundry, telephones and showers are located in the hotel on shore and ice are available. Security is better than most -- you must show your "card" later in the evening to enter the docks.

There is a grocery store a few blocks from the Basin (north of Princess St.), near the Ontario liquor store, which also sells some beer. The beer store and another supermarket are a long, long way up Princess Street - best to walk there and get a taxi back. Last time I did this the driver loaded and unloaded all my purchases into a dock cart! No, I won't recommend a restaurant -- there are too many to choose from. Go to city hall, turn west about 2 blocks to find the BEST ice cream -- just follow the people with the dripping cones!

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) and a market behind City Hall several times a week where you can buy vegetables, baking, flowers and crafts. There is a small marine supply store near the washrooms. 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 where you can dine at the Wolfe Island Inn if you reserve weeks ahead!

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Portsmouth Harbor

West of Kingston harbour - has a good marine store and restaurant. Nearly Kingston Yacht Club hosts small boats from reciprocating yacht clubs. Kingston Marina and Rideau Marina are smaller marinas on the Rideau canal side of the harbour. Now you really must go visit the 1000 Islands [sigh]. Have a great trip - take your time!

The "Frontenac", the first steamship to navigate Lake Ontario, was built and launched near Kingston, then a shipbuilding centre, on September 7, 1816.

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Jones' Falls

South of Jones Falls, is Morton Bay, a bay surrounded by tree-filled hills where you you can tie up at the "rock" dock to the left if you are clever. Anchor carefully as it's one of the few places we've dragged our anchor. And don't swim after you feed crumbs to the fish! This is a beautiful spot. Stop at Davis Locks if you're looking for even more peace and quiet.

The stone dam at Jones Falls was the highest in the world in 1832 when it was completed! (map) There's a walking trail, swimming, and places to stay at the bottom of the lockstation.

It's particularly beautiful in the fall when the leaves turn color. Hotel Kenney {Not open in 2019}, at the bottom of the locks, has power, a restaurant, and a pool. Shangri-La, close by, has power and a wading pool. One boater wrote to say "We stayed at Shangra-La and liked it so much we stayed a second night."

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Seeley's Bay

This village is off the waterway but has a public wharf (now used by rental boats) and marinas and basic shopping. On to the Cataraqui River to Kingston Mills (Canada entry port) where you will meet plenty of boaters while you wait! There's plenty to do with a good museum and interpreters.

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Newboro

Newboro Locks The canal begins to "decend" at the Newboro Locks, where you have to remember that buoys are now reversed with the red pointed spars on your left (port) side and the green flat spars on your right (starboard)! Newboro has two restaurants and a store with items like cheese, preserves, crackers, and frozen dinners.

South of Newboro you pass though a man-made channel to beautiful Newboro Lake, then through a series of lakes controlled by dams. This whole area is full of cottages, bays for anchoring, and the fishing is first rate!

Chafffey's Lock

At Chaffey's Locks, the Opinicon Lodge is a favorite stop for people travelling by car and bike as well as boat. The name is an Algonquin word meaning "the gap between two waters." It's a friendly place that attracts a broad mix of tourists and fishermen. It has docks with power, rental boats, a good restaurant and laundromat. Prices are reported to be reasonable. 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.

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Westport

Westport is a very picturesque town with a terrific public wharf where you can buy gas. Nearby you'll find groceries, liquor store, hardware, fishing gear, bank, gift and clothing stores. The beer store is a long walk. Eating out has great choices such as the "Cove" for lunch, dinner and live music, "Tangle Gardens" for all-day meals, and "Steves" for pizza and deep-fried zucchini. The town, which owns it's own telephone and hydro companies, and was the first community in Canada (1996) to use a technology that turns sewage into snow called Freeze crystallization.

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Portland

Portland waterfront

Portland is at the south end of the Big Rideau. There is a grocery store, hardware store, bank, liquor (LCBO) and beer stores (the cottage crowd shops here). The Galley Restaurant has a great lake view from their deck. Louis' Pizza is good for hunger pangs. There is also an art gallery within walking distance. Len's Cove Marina, a reputable boat broker, offers a swimming pool in addition to the usual marina facilities. There are several other marinas and a town dock.

Not to be missed is a park island called Colonel By Island in the Big Rideau (aka Livingston Island) which has washrooms, barbecues (bring charcoal briquettes), picnic tables, horseshoe pit and a huge firepit (bring wood). 48-hour camping is for boaters only. Your Canal overnight mooring pass is good here. This is a taste of the genteel cottage life of these lakes. Don't fish in the fish sanctuary!

The Narrows Locks is one of my favorite spots for boat-watching. Dock at the "top" for a great view of the sunset as long as it isn't windy! There is a pair of Trumpeter swams near the lock so keep a pair of binoculars handy.

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Rideau Lakes

You can easily spend a week or two here. On my first boat trip here, we spent a week anchoring in several different places, fishing and reading and watching the boats go by. The boat was tiny, but the weather was great and we were 'hooked'. Alas, the beautiful loon we listened to in the evenings is on the "Threatened" list. Learn about your boat's wake so you don't disturb too much of the shoreline where these wonderful birds nest. Baby loons cannot dive to safety like their parents! Many landowners on the waterway are building nesting sites for these shy birds, with some success.

Portland: Len's Cove is a full-service marina and Galley Restaurant on the west side of the town within walking distance of stores and shops. You can also dock in front of the Restaurant while you go in for supper.

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Perth - Tay Canal

Perth Basin

From Lower Rideau Lake there is a nice side trip starting at Beveridge Locks to the historic town of Perth. The Tay branch of the Rideau Waterway is a 11 km (7 mile) section of waterway through a set of locks and the Tay River (that reminds me of the Everglades) The Last Duel Campground provides docking - this is where the last fatal duel was fought in Ontario. Small boats 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.

Returning to the Rideau Waterway, dockage, gas, diesel, and boat service is available at Rideau Ferry Harbour, west of the bridge. There is a restaurant and a small store with basic supplies.

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]

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Smiths Falls

You can moor at the park between Smiths Falls Detached Lock and Combined Lock.

Smiths Falls is a good place to buy supplies as it's the largest town in the central part of the canal. Groceries, LCBO, beer, laundromat, Canadian Tire and Walmart! 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 able to tie up to the the wall at the Mariners Inn, which is a short walk to a supermarket and beer store.

Get answers to all your canal questions at the Rideau Canal Visitor Information Centre at 34 Beckwith Street near the bridge over the canal.

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Merrickville

Sam Jakes Inn

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 a local boatyard. Peter Ayling said we had "missed" the best years on the waterway - of course, we now say 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 are pubs and good restaurants such as the "Mainstreet Family Restaurant". The historical village is full of stone buildings built of the same limestone as the locks. Walk across the bridge to see the ruins - worth a few photos. 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, look at the boats and visit the sandy beach above the locks.

Merrickville Lock

Burritts Rapids

This is one of my favorite lockstations -- quiet, good swimming, with 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, where there are a few small shops. The first bridge across the Rideau was built here in 1824.

Becketts Landing (Chart 1512) fixed bridge clearance is 6.7 m. Check Notices to Mariners for updates or ask a lockmaster about water levels that affect clearances and depths shown on the charts.

Near Beckett's Landing, east of Kemptville, a dedicated group was restoring Canada's oldest registered sailing ship, "Canada" at Ludlow Boat Works (N 172). A century old, it was once one of the fastest ships of its kind. It sailed until 1965.

Kars

Kars marina

South of Manotick you come to Manotick Marina on the right, where we kept our first boat and cruised the Rideau all the way to the 1000 Islands! A little farther on the left, Kelly's Landing offers gas, a small store, and a dock for lunch on the water-side patio. As you continue south, you will encounter fishing boats, canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, and swimmers - as well as ski boats and large cruisers going fast! There is a full service marina on the left just before a bridge. Next door is "The Swan" pub in a Tudor-stye house. It has a labelled "guest dock" for restaurant patrons. South of the bridge is a small marina (photo). A bit farther is a low concrete day dock in the village of Kars. A convenience store is a 5-minute walk. [map] Not far along on the right is the Baxter Conservation Area, where you may be lucky to see Bob Harlowe's "Ice Cream Float" boat anchored at on summer afternoons selling cones to people on the beach. If it's not busy, he sells to passing boats. Before you reach the bridges at Kemptville, there is one more marina on the left. You pass by Rideau River Provincial Park on the north shore, but it does not have any boat facilities.

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Manotick

Manotick is south of Ottawa, as the waterway becomes a river south from Long Island Lock. This village is your last stop for supplies before Ottawa, but also the only town that waterway boaters cannot easily access.

Manotick boat

Best access for shopping is anchoring in Mahogany Harbour, a side channel off the Rideau River just upstream of Watson's Mill. [map] The bay is named for the many mahogany boats that belong to the Manotick Classic Boat Club (MCBC). At Long Island's south end at buoy N138, turn into the west channel of the Rideau and proceed slowly for 700 metres (half mile). As the river widens into a bay you will see a road on your left. You can anchor in this bay and dinghy to the day dock (new in 2019 so cruisers may be able to use it). There are floating docks for dinghies, canoes and kayaks.

From the dock, walk right (north) on Manotick Main St., then turn left (west) into The Mews shopping center, which has a supermarket, drugstore (post office), hardware, beer, liquor, pet store, CIBC, clothing, shoes, and several restaurants. Or stay on Manotick Main Street for OfficePro, a barber, First Choice hair, RBC, and several more restaurants. A 5-minute walk takes you to the historic Watson's Mill and Dickinson House museum. You can take a tour, buy stone-ground flour flour and bread, buy feed for the ducks in the river (kids love this). Browse the used bookstore in the Carriage House across the street. Most summers, you can play a "piano in the park" in a Gazebo overlooking the river - just cross the dam, walk to the road and turn left.

At the east end of the bridge over the main channel (Bridge St @ River Rd.) is a Chinese take-out, pizza and breakfast cafe, donut shop, TD Bank, drug store, and a gas station.

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Ottawa

Ottawa has an impressive flight of 8 locks lifting boats 24 metres (79 feet) from the Ottawa River to the man-made canal, taking 1-2 hours. This scene is duplicated in numerous paintings and photos of Canada's beautiful capital city.

Above the locks is 150 metres (500') of dockage along the canal wall ($2.30/m in 2003). In the Ottawa River side of the locks, there is 45 metres (150') of docks. The Rockcliffe Boathouse is 2 kilometres east of the locks, Hull Marina is on the Quebec shore. The canal joins the Rideau river south of Hog's Back Lock.

Ottawa, Ontario 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 href="http://www.bytownmuseum.com/">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. See our Ottawa Boating page.

There is a href="http://www.ottawatourism.ca/">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 | href="http://www.canadascapital.gc.ca/" class="external">Canada's Capital | href="http://www.ottawa.ca/" class="external">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.

Ottawa canal skating rink

Canadians warm to winter by turning their frozen rivers and lakes into skating rinks! In Ottawa, the Rideau Canal turns into the world's longest skating rink (7.8 kilometres) which hosts the Winterlude carnival in early February where the unique "beavertails" are sold [yum]!
So - this - is - a - river!
ďThe River,Ē corrected the Rat.
"And you really live by the river? What a jolly life! By it and with it and on it and in it," said the Rat. "Itís brother and sister to me and aunts and company and food and drink, and (naturally) washing. Itís my world and I donít want any other. What it hasnít got is not worth having and what it doesnít know is not work knowing. Lord! The times weíve had together! Whether in winter or summer, spring or autumn, itís always got its fun and itís excitements.Ē
      "The Wind in the Willows" by Kenneth Grahame [read it]
The best place to be when it's 35įC is half in the water and half in the bag. (from an online forum)

Rideau Canal Hours of Operation

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

Contacts & Information

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