Within a 45-minute drive of downtown Kingston flow the Rideau Canal, the St. Lawrence River, and another thousand lakes and rivers cut into the Canadian Shield. If you’re a paddler, it’s a paradise, and if you want to be one, it’s easy to get started. Here are five of the best spots to drop in a canoe or kayak near K-Town, followed by a list of places to get rentals, tours and clinics.
1. Kingston Waterfront
Sure, you can take the Wolfe Island ferry to see Kingston’s skyline, but in a canoe or kayak you’ll get up closer and explore it at your own pace. Launch at Lake Ontario Park about five kilometres west of downtown or at these spots. In a couple of meandering hours, you’ll pass by the historic Kingston Penitentiary and Queen’s University, the state-of-the art Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts, and the iconic City Hall. If you want more, pack a lunch and head under the Lasalle Causeway into the mouth of the Rideau, stopping at one of the quiet parks along the river.
Tip: Consider a guided tour at Ahoy Rentals for the full waterfront story.
2. Thousand Islands: Smugglers Cove to Grenadier Island
For my money, the Thousand Islands are at their most stunning along this 10-kilometre route. Drop in at Ivy Lea Campground on the east side of Smugglers Cove — once a haven for rum-runners in the Prohibition era — and then head for Georgina Island, a microclimate with rich wildlife and trails throughout. As you pass under the Thousand Islands Bridge, keep your eyes out for First Nations petroglyphs on the nearby shoreline, and when you get to Grenadier Island, cool off at the sandy Central Grenadier Beach on the south side. More info.
Tip: Make it a multi-day trip and explore Heart Island’s famous Boldt Castle in the U.S. (bring your passport). Camp at Ivy Lea Campground or on Georgina or Grenadier Islands.
3. Rideau Canal: Kingston to Upper Brewers Locks
This two or three-day return route and southernmost stretch of the Rideau gives paddlers a gorgeous cross-section of the entire waterway, complete with wetlands, 19th century locks, big lakes and the rugged Canadian Shield, which, at almost 4 billion years old, contains some of the oldest rocks on Earth. At Kingston Mills Locks, check out Cataraqui Falls and wander around one of only four blockhouses on the Rdeau. Pitch a tent at Lower or Upper Brewers Locks, and drift off to the sound of those calming waters. More info.
Tip: Need a snack? Paddle up to the overhanging trees just south of Lower Brewers Lock, and snatch an apple.
4. Frontenac Provincial Park: Big Salmon Lake
With 22 lakes scattered throughout 5,355 hectares, Frontenac Park could have made this list multiple times. But if I have to pick one favourite for paddling, the six-kilometre-long Big Salmon Lake is it. Lined with dense forests and high cliffs, it also has islands perfect for picnics, sandy beaches near campsites 4 and 5, and good lake trout and bass fishing. If you need to stretch your legs and want to explore the woods, hop on the Big Salmon Lake Loop, a trail that circles the lake and can be accessed at any campsite. More info.
Tip: Big Salmon Lake runs through the centre of the park with multiple portage routes to neighbouring lakes. Make it a multi-day trip for a true Frontenac Park experience.
5. Charleston Lake to Lyndhurst
Cradled by granite and sandstone cliffs, this area was once home to a giant mountain range. It was also a travel and trade route for First Nations peoples for thousands of years, and you can still walk in their steps along the 3,000-year-old portage path from Charleston Lake to Red Horse Lake (560 metres). Launch from the boat ramp in the town of Charleston or Charleston Lake Provincial Park, but just remember that this route is about 10 kilometres one way and the lake can get windy. Once in the river system, though, it’s easy paddling to the quaint village of Lyndhurst. More info.
Tip: Hold off on this trip until the fall, if you can. The colours are spectacular, and Lyndhurst’s Turkey Fair is a can’t-miss on the third Saturday in September.
Cataraqui Canoe Club (clinics, events)
Trailhead Kingston (clinics, courses, rentals)
Frontenac Outfitters (courses, rentals, tours)
Ahoy Rentals (courses, rentals, tours)
1000 Islands Kayaking (courses, rentals, tours)
Frontenac Arch Biosphere (paddling routes)
Rideau Canal (paddling routes)