Saturday 27 June 2015

Rideau Canal Kayak Camping - Kingston to Ottawa

Rideau Canal Waterway - World Heritage Site

Kayak camping Kingston to Ottawa

The Rideau Canal being one of eastern Canada's most attractive canoe and kayaking destinations offers a truly unique experience; spectacular scenery, quaint villages, military history, varied wildlife and best of all for the kayak camper, a wonderful opportunity to sleep under canvas with a high degree of comfort at little expense.    The canal or more correctly referred to as a waterway as only about 19 kilometers of its 203 kilometer length is actually man made, the rest consisting of the then existing lakes rivers and swamps, now all connected due to the efforts of one Lieutenant Colonel John By and his Royal Engineers. Opened in 1832, it provided a safe route to supply Fort Henry, a bastion against invasion by the Americans, who today ironically are likely one of the canal's top customers. The fortifications, Fort Henry in particular, at the mouth of the Cataraqui River were very different then from the fort that exists today which was built much later.   I have a very personal connection with this Fort Henry as some years back while researching my genealogy I discovered that my great-great-grandfather a Private in the 79th Regiment of Foot (The Cameron Highlanders) was stationed there just two years before the canal opened.

Queen's University Archives
Kingston Picture Collection, V23-MilB-OFH-2

Old Fort Henry, 1819

He had enlisted at Kilmarnock, Ayrshire Scotland in 1825 and the regiment almost immediately set sail for Québec, first setting foot on Canadian soil at Québec City from where they set out to perform various garrison duties throughout Upper and Lower Canada.   This June of 2015, a friend from a kayaking group I belong to will accompany me on a transit of the Waterway; beginning Kingston on Sunday the 14th and arriving at Victoria Island in the Ottawa River on Sunday the 21st.

Day 1  Kingston to Upper Brewers

Day 1 - Kingston to Upper Brewers

We arrive at our put-in, a boat ramp at the end of Cataraqui St. Kingston at 10:00 a.m.   My paddling companion Terri first had to make her way to my house where we transferred her kayak to my vehicle, my wife then accompanied us to Kingston (almost another 2 hour drive) to drop us off before returning home with my car.   We unload our gear and pack the boats beginning our paddle by 11:00, being Sunday the locks remain open till 19:00 rather than 16:00 giving us plenty of time to make our first camp at Upper Brewers.

Cataraqui St. ramp
We're off!

Hwy 401 over Cataraqui River

We need to stop at the first locks so Terri can purchase her Transit pass which covers locking for entire canal end to end in one direction, I already have mine.   This will also be a convenient place for lunch.   On arrival at Kingston Mills we lock through then tether the boats to the canoe/kayak jetty on the upstream side of the locks.  Weather is now hot and sunny but looking very unsettled, we can expect rain!   Pass in hand, lunch over and a quick trip to the facilities we are back on the water, Colonel By Lake then River Styx.  A note of warning to potential campers; Kingston Mills is the campground of Hell, don't even consider it!   I had the unfortunate experience of an overnight there some years back on a weekend trip someone organized which was the worst night ever in a tent.   There is a railway bridge runs almost over the top of the camping area with frequent trains, 3 passed while we locked through this time and the noise is deafening and the ground shakes!    We travel upstream, the waterway drains in two directions with Newboro being the top of the watershed at which point we will then go downstream.  Four sets of locks at KM for a lift of almost 17 meters then one at Lower Brewers for 3.6 meters.  If going upstream in a kayak it is best to stay at back of lock as there can be quite the rush of water at front which can result in a very bumpy ride.  Betwee KM and LB I spot the first of 2 Green Herons perched in a tree,  common enough but not often seen as they like to feed under shrubbery along banks and are more reclusive than the Great Blue.  Then it is Upper Brewers around 17:30 and Terri gets a start as it looks like a Northern water snake considers climbing aboard her kayak.

Upper Brewers
Northern water snake

It is now raining quite heavily as we pull into the basin and find the embankment  almost wall to wall tents as a scout group from Ottawa has set up along  where we hoped to camp.   Squeezing in at the far end we are now at some remove from a picnic table as most have been taken by the scouts.   I get an idea, we pull the end of a table by the office under the building overhang and bring our mess gear there so we can make food out of the rain; this works quite well and as they don't open till 10:00 in the morning we leave it there for breakfast.  It's off to bed!

Odometer = 25.7 kilometers

Day 2  Upper Brewers to Davis

Day 2 - Upper Brewers to Davis

Morning and the rain is off but dull and very humid.  Breakfast under the eave and by 09:30 we are pulling out leaving the scouts to break camp before they head to Seeley's Bay where they will take out.   Now we know why the washroom at Kingston Mills was very grubby, that was their last camp!   20 or 30 young kids using one washroom is just not going to cut it!  Leaving the channel we paddle into Cranberry Lake which is really flooded land as was the River Styx and Colonel By lake all formed by dam and lock construction for the canal which altered water levels throughout the area.   This is a very pretty area with not too much development.   After sighting another Green heron I spot a Bald eagle perched in a tree.  It is great to see these birds do well as they were almost wiped out by the use of DDT as a pesticide.  At the top of Cranberry Lake is a low bridge which can be opened at one end to allow vessels through but just high enough that we can limbo under it.

Seeley's Bay is our next stop for lunch as there is a small park on the point with picnic table and an easy landing.    This pretty little stop complete with flower planters and garbage can is provided by the municipality; perfect for kayakers!

Seeley's Bay picnic stop
Lunch over it is on to Jones Falls for another 4 locks, 3 in flight then one after the basin, total lift here will be around 21 meters.   As we traverse Whitefish Lake we can see Dunder's Mate and the entrance to Morton Bay which leads to Rock Dunder (see blog Paddle & Hike).  It is 14:00 when we reach Jones Falls and enter locks almost immediately.   In the second chamber we swap positions with a down bound cruiser, this the first time I experience this! When we reach Davis it is 15:55 so too late for locking as summer hours begin on the 18th.  Unloading on the downstream side we haul the gear up to our campsites, then carry the boats to the jetty area on the upstream side.  It has turned into a lovely afternoon and a quick dip in the river is very refreshing not to mention cleansing!

Jones Falls

Davis camp 2

Davis is one of the nicest locks on the system to camp at and there is only one power boat parked in the basin so we have it almost all to ourselves.  The basin is on the opposite side from where we camp so it makes it very quiet and private.   The area around the locks is equipped with tables, chairs and umbrellas, even has two loungers: luxury!  Our evening is spent very pleasurably and we have a late visit from a couple of Porcupines. It rains in the night!

Davis basin at dusk

Odometer = 51.5 kilometers

Day 3  Davis to Colonel By Island

Day 3 - Davis to Colonel By Island

Awakening to a light drizzle almost a mist, we set about preparing breakfast. Before getting packed up it pours again and we leave at 09:00 but will not get far as Chaffey's Locks is only 3 kilometers away and it does not open till 10:00.

Leaving Davis in the rain

Taking our time we still have to sit and wait for the locks to open, when they do 10 minutes is all it takes to lock through, be glad when summer hours begin! From Davis we cross Indian, Clear and Newboro Lakes to reach the locks at Newboro where we intend to have lunch at the Stirling Lodge, this will be our first catered meal.   Arriving by 11:30 and locked through the boats are now tethered at the canoe/kayak jetty so we can walk up to Stirling Lodge for lunch.


Stirling Lodge
After some tasty fish & chips it's back to the boat only to find Terri's spare paddle has been knocked off her deck requiring about 15 minutes of thrashing around with my paddle to retrieve it from the bottom of the channel.  13:30 ish when we get going and hurrying to make the Narrows by 15:15 in order to lock through before closing.  Arriving at 14:55 the door is open and five minutes later we are through, clear sailing now to Colonel By island our next camp. Now we are in the largest body of water of the system, Big Rideau Lake and the weather is lovely once again.   By 16:10 we reach our camp and lay out gear to dry while setting up our camp.

Big Rideau Lake
Camp 3 Colonel By Island

There is just the two of us on the island, lovely peace and quiet. This island was once the property of a philanthropist who built a mansion, now derelict, where he entertained the rich and famous including the movie actor David Niven.  In an earlier existence there was a fishing lodge where the gentry came to enjoy being ferried around by fishing guides.  Eventually bequeathed to Parks Canada the house still stands with its tennis court still used by boaters.  Plenty of hot water so time to do a little laundry then relax under a canopy of stars.

Evening relaxation
Odometer = 79.1 kilometers

Day 4  Colonel By Island to Smith Falls detached

Day 4 - Colonel By Is. to Smiths Falls Detached

It is another gorgeous day, warm and sunny with almost no breeze.   By 09:15 we are off heading almost due north towards Murphy’s Point gradually bearing more northeasterly as we head for Rideau Ferry which hasn’t been a ferry for a long long time having been replaced by a bridge. 

Heading north
Leaving Colonel By

We hope to make our next camp at Smiths Falls detached lock as this will be very convenient for us to have more catered meals and that means only having to get through one lock at Poonamalie before early closing.    Wind picks up but we can stay in the lee of the shoreline so not a problem.    Arrive at Rideau Ferry around 12:30 so looking for somewhere to land for a lunch stop.  Eureka!  Just before the bridge is a lovely little park (township?) looks new, complete with docks, washrooms and a bench to sit on under a shelter.  All very nicely landscaped with hanging planters  and baskets of flowers.   Perfect!   We are able to leave the boats in the water, tied at the back of the dock so protected from wave action.

Rideau Ferry lunch stop

Lunch over its on to Poonamalie, crossing about 5 km of open water in Lower Rideau Lake to reach the cut which leads first to Poonamalie then Smiths Falls.  Reaching the locks in good time to lock through we arrive by 15:00 at Smiths Falls detached where we will camp for the night. It will be just the two of us tonight and we set up close to the office only about 50 meters from  the Roosteraunt restaurant where we can have dinner and breakfast.  We stash any loose valuable gear in the hallway of the office and lock up, as we have the only key!   Now we can go where we want.

The cut to Poonamalie

After cleaning up and getting everything in order it is time for dinner at the Roosteraunt. Tonight's special BBQ back ribs, very good and price is quite reasonable.  We will be back for breakfast in the morning.

Camp 4 Smith Falls detached
Dinner at Roosteraunt

So another very pleasant evening is spent and even though a busy street is not far away it is surprisingly peaceful and the day closes with a lovely sunset.

Sunset at Smiths Falls

Odometer = 106.8 kilometers

Day 5  Smiths Falls detached to Merrickville

Day 5 - Smiths Falls detached to Merrickville

Tent view
I awaken with the increase in traffic noise, the hustle bustle of daily life in Smiths Falls has begun.   Peeking out I can see it is another day starting bright and sunny.   We will start packing up before heading over to the restaurant for a cooked breakfast.   I have a visit with two lovely girls  I had noticed in the area the night before,  Mariah and Lindsey who are on a road trip which will culminate with their attendance at Rockfest held at Montebello Quebec.  Staying at a nearby hotel they are seeing the sights and we take some pictures as mementos of their trip.  Oh to be so young!

Mariah & Lindsey

Breakfast at the restaurant about 08:00 then finish off packing the boats; locks open at 10:00 so plenty of time.   By 10:15 we are in our first lock then on to the combined lock which has replaced two and is completely automatic, requiring just the press of a finger!  Last is "Old Sly" and I park on right to enjoy the shade of a stately Beech, it is going to be a hot one.   About 2.5 kilometers further and it will be Edmonds, then a good 6 or 7 to Kilmarnock.
At Kilmarnock we can stop and have lunch this will leave us about another 12 km before reaching Merrickville today's destination.

Taking shade at Old Sly

Locking through we take out on the floating jetty at Kilmarnock to have our lunch.   This is an area I have paddled many times being not too far from my home and the wind has now strengthened likely SSE 20 km + which often seems to occur here.  When we leave it will be in our face for awhile until going around the big bend then it will be almost at our backs.   Once around the bend we are fairly skimming along and making very good time.  Getting to Merrickville at 15:05 we're told it is too late they can't lock us through.   A kayak wants to come up and he has priority.   I get the feeling this is an excuse as they are going to carry the other kayak up and want to carry us down so no locking is actually going to happen!   I say no!  I will not allow them to try lifting a fully loaded kayak onto a cart, not designed for these stress loads out of the water and we are content to stay on top as we are right across from the restaurant on Main St.  The other guy appears to be travelling very light, so no problem there!

Historic Merrickville attracts many tourists with its many boutiques and fine restaurants, a popular destination for canal boaters.  A blockhouse (built 1831-32) stands by the locks, one of four constructed for defense of the canal. Today it is now a heritage museum with many artifacts dating from canal building days.  The up bound kayaker is now camped beside us and he is on a very interesting  journey!  He started at Kingston, paddled to Montreal via St. Lawrence River, paddled Montreal to Ottawa via the Ottawa River and is now on his final leg; Ottawa to Kingston via the canal: Alone!  I believe this is in the order of 800 kilometers!  Dinner tonight will be at the Main St. restaurant.

Merrickville at night

Odometer = 128.5 kilometers

Day 6  Merrickville to Rideau River Prov. Park (Kemptville)

Day 6 - Merrickville to Rideau R. Prov. Park

Today is looking fine and I have time to wish our kayaker friend Bon voyage before doing some packing up and heading over to Main St. restaurant for some bacon and eggs.  The predicted thunderstorm of last evening while turning the sky an ominous black, passed over with the merest sprinkle around 22:00, although I gather Ottawa and places east of us had a downpour!

Breakfast at Main St.
09:00 and we are ready to lock (summer hours have now started!).  We leave with a cruiser and I put on a spurt of speed trying to get to the next lock Clowes, about 4 kilometers away, figuring if we can hit it when the cruiser does we will get the next two which are only a few hundred kilometers apart.  Strong N or Ne wind and I can’t catch them, but doesn’t matter we still get locked through immediately.  By sticking close to shore we can stay mostly out of the wind.

Island at Burritts Rapids

Looking downstream from
Burritts Rapids lock
Upper and Lower Nicholson locks in quick succession, then it is another 5 kilometers to Burritts Rapids where we can stop for lunch.  Our kayaks are tethered behind the floating dock above.  No more locks this day so time for a leisurely lunch and a cat nap on a bench before pushing on to Rideau River Provincial Park.   This the only practical choice as the next lock is over 40 kilometers from here.    I stop and capture an image of a Painted turtle, a common amphibian seen along the canal and by 15:30 the old highway 16 bridge looms into view signalling our arrival at Kemptville with the park just about 2 kilometers beyond.   After setting up I phone my wife to meet us for dinner; my home is only twenty minutes away.   Tonight we dine in style at the Nakon Thai restaurant, isn't this camping great!

Painted turtle

Rideau River Provincial Park

Odometer = 151.5 kilometers

Day 7 Rideau River Park to Long Island Manotick

Day 7 - Rideau River Park to Long Island
We have not enjoyed our stay at this park, surprisingly busy for this time of year and we are surrounded by camp trailers and last night some of our neighbours yelled and laughed to all hours.    The site itself is rather muddy from the downpour we missed, it is also rather dark and gloomy.  After camping on the canal at locks, this is a big let down!  Be glad to be on our way!  One thing positive, there was a man on an ATV of some kind doing maintenance at the dock and he offered to haul our gear up to our campsite which saved us a number of trips back and forth. Very considerate! 

Camp 7 toward boat ramp
We did get a shower, but the washrooms are inadequate for the number of people.   Sunny and warm and by 10:00 we are off heading for Long Island locks our next and last camp.   No locks in between but river narrowing and we will be in one of the busiest sections prone to all kinds of speeding craft, usually not very considerate of others, it is the weekend and all the yahoos will be out in force.   We have not gone very far when  I discover to my horror that my camera is missing!  Can’t remember if I secured with clip to deck, completely blank on this!  Nothing to do but press on but will phone my wife to get her to check park for me and to drop off my other camera at Long Island.  Would hate to lose all the pics!   Sure enough this is the heaviest traffic we have experienced the whole trip,  I usually will only paddle this section early spring or late fall and preferably on week days as it is not very pleasant with the noise and the smell of exhaust fumes lingering on the water.   At 12:00 we stop for lunch at a public boat launch/park a little south of Kars.  This works well as the kayaks can be pulled easily onto the grass and we have a picnic table to sit at.  Pressing on we make Long Island by 15:00 and land the kayaks on a floating jetty where they can be left till morning.   My wife brings my other camera and the good news that the park has the one I mistakenly left in their office.  Yeah!

Parking at Long Island

We will set up camp across the road under the trees as right now there is a fair number of visitors to the area for swimming, picnicking and sunbathing. They will no doubt disperse as the hour grows late.

Tonight we decide to revert to camp food although it would be easy enough to get food delivered.   So a leisurely supper of chicken and low mein noodles, all quite tasty and nothing fried for a change!

Everything quiets down as people leave and there is just one other tent belonging to some cyclists who have decided to spend the night here.  Off to bed when it starts to get dark for some reading and an early night.  Tomorrow is our last day of paddling!

Odometer = 178.7 kilometers

Day 8  Long Island to Victoria Island (Ottawa River)

Day 8 - Long Island to Victoria Island

We are up and ready to go for 09:00, gloomy but no rain yet but the forecast is for around 25mm.  A staff member arrives and begins to lock us  through the 3 chambers to drop us almost 8 meters.

Long Island Locks

Great Blue Heron

We notice the appearance of what looks like small icebergs, in reality big clumps of foam dotting the river below the spillway at Black Rapids.   Seems like something has leeched into the watercourse, likely fertilizer runoff from fields.  Not so good!

We are getting a little rain but very light and no boat traffic, I guess the weather forecast scared them away.   Making good time, about 7 kilometers later we are crossing Mooney's Bay to Hogs Back locks.  Here the Rideau Canoe Club practices and there is a Dragon boat being put through its paces.

We will wait until Hartwell before stopping for lunch, and we can get them to inform staff at Ottawa locks of our anticipated ETA.  There is an area of parkland on the left between Hogs Back and Hartwell locks which includes Fletcher Wildlife garden.   A good spot for birders and I notice a variety of passerines the most interesting being a small group of Rough-wing swallows that likely nested along the river bank.    Like Bank swallows they burrow! Then we have Ottawa's version of the Taj Mahal.  Tethering the kayaks to a dock in the basin we take out for lunch.

At Hartwell we take out for lunch, tethering the kayaks to a dock in the basin. The sun is in and out but the heavy rain forecast has stayed away.   Lunch over we are informed that Ottawa is just beginning the process of locking an up bound vessel and if we can arrive in about an hour we should be in time for the next down.   It is about 6.5 kilometers so no time to dawdle.  Arriving before the up bound vessel has cleared the last lock, there is time to take a few pics.  We are the main attraction of the numerous spectators gathered to watch the process.

Sharing the locks with a sailboat under power, it takes just over an hour and we are dropped 24 meters to the mighty Ottawa River.  Champlain on his pedestal appears to be welcoming us home.   Now a short one kilometer paddle will take us past the seat of government and the Supreme Court to Victoria Island, appropriately 1st Nations land where we will be taking out and ending our journey.

Victoria Island

We're done!

Odometer = 203.5 Kilometers

I hope my readers have enjoyed this blog and are encouraged to to paddle this waterway at some future date.   It is well worth the effort!

Happy paddling!


No comments:

Post a Comment

Put your comment here