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By John Geary
(For Travel Writers’ Tales)

We paddled off the main channel of the waterway, admiring nature’s paintbrush of autumn splendor, and then spotted it: a great blue heron standing on a tree sticking out into the Tay River as we paddled closer.

The bird groomed for a quite a long time before it finally decided we were too close, so it flapped its wings and lifted off into the bright blue afternoon sky.

(Photo #1– Heron)

It was turning out to be an amazing day for spotting birds while canoeing along the Rideau Waterway near Perth, Ontario. Although we were only an hour’s drive from Canada’s capital city of Ottawa, we’d seen plenty of birds and wildlife in this not-so-wild rural setting.

Built in the first half of the 19th century as a quick transportation route between Kingston and Ottawa, you can paddle the entire 202 km long Rideau—a series of small lakes joined by man-made canals—from start to finish, in anywhere from six to 10 days, depending on how fast you paddle, and what you want to do in terms of sight-seeing and exploring off the water, along the way. Time limited us to day-tripping along the Rideau, but we experienced the same beauty and natural wonders as that of a longer trip.

Our first put-in saw us paddle from the Narrows Lock through Big Rideau Lake northeast toward Murphy’s Point Provincial Park, a trip of about 10 km. Paddling in mid-October may seem to be a bit late in the season, but the fall colours far make up for cooler temperatures. And with the sun out—and no bugs!—it’s arguably the best time of the year to paddle there.

(Photo #2–Fall Colours)

That morning’s paddle treated us to a close encounter with a young loon who seemed quite unconcerned as paddled towards it. Ah, youth! It finally dove when we were almost close enough to reach out and touch it with our paddles. Mind you, we were not trying to paddle towards it, it was just in a direct line between where we were and where we wanted to go. Within a half hour, we spotted several trumpeter swans which were not as patient as the loon. They quickly took off as we approached, soaring into the sky from the water past a line of trees in their full autumn colours.

(Photo #3 – Swans Against Foliage)

Just before noon, we took out and drove to Beveridges Locks for a lunch break. While there, we had a chance to check out some Parks Canada OTENTicks. More than tents, but not quite glamping-style accommodations, these half-tent, half-cabin lodgings provide places to stay for paddlers and other boaters travelling the Rideau—and in many other areas of Canada that fall under Parks Canada’s jurisdiction. It was a little late in the season to stay in them, so I made a note to investigate a stay there on a future trip.

(Photo #4 – Paddlers)

A quick but hearty repast and a short drive back to Rideau Ferry Conservation Area for our afternoon put-in and we were back in the water. We did a quick but interesting paddle around Hog Island, accompanied by a female common merganser diving and re-surfacing several times, no doubt looking for something to eat before she finally flew off.

(Photo #5 – Merganser)

We continued paddling northeast, hugging the shore of what was now Lower Rideau Lake, looking for birds and other wildlife. At one point we did see some spotted turtles sunning themselves along the shore. A pair of wood ducks swam by headed in the opposite direction to which we were paddling. As we entered the Tay Marsh at the mouth of the Tay River, a pair of buffleheads swam past. We tried to get closer, but they took off from the water, heading southeast.

A few minutes past the aforementioned heron, the country’s national animal popped its head up not far from our canoe. A lone beaver swam past after checking us out while making a nearby cormorant a bit nervous.

I was still shaking my head a bit at how much wildlife we were seeing, 60 minutes from Canada’s capital city.

This late in October the sun goes down earlier, so we could not stay out on the water too long. We pulled off the river along the shore close to the community of Port Elmsley, our day’s paddling done. We traded our canoe and waterway for a vehicle and roads, heading for supper and a good night’s sleep before heading out for more paddling adventures the next day.



From Ottawa:

Numerous airlines fly into Ottawa, a one-hour drive from Perth, our base for our day-trip paddling adventures.

From Kingston:

Not as many flights go directly to Kingston, Air Canada flies there if you want to start there.


Paddling the entire route? Combine camping with stays at hotels. You can camp at most of the lockstations. Parks Canada also has oTENTiks at some lockstations. There are many B & Bs, inns, and lodges along the Rideau’s shores.

Listings at:

Paddling map:

Lanark Country Tourism:

Friends of the Rideau:

Paddling the Rideau:

PHOTOS: John Geary

1. Heron
2. Fall Colours
3. Swans Against Foliage
4. Paddlers
5. Merganser

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