Canoe and kayak sales are going bonkers right now. There are more people out paddling than ever before. Some are heading to the far north to soak in the solace of some far-off wilderness waterway. But a lot more are just looking for tranquility on a piece of nearby semi-wild water, and maybe even practice up their skills a little bit.
Southwestern Ontario is chalked full of amazing paddling destinations, from day use to a quick overnight. Here are some of my favourite beginner routes.
Paddling Point Pelee
There’s something euphoric about standing at the southernmost part of mainland Canada - Point Pelee. However, this National Park has much more to offer than a point of land jutting out 15 km into Lake Erie. It’s also an amazing place to go paddling.
Approximately 70% of Point Pelee is made up of marsh, creating a protected area to explore, far away from the harsh winds and big water of Lake Erie.
Access is at the Marsh Boardwalk. Here you can rent canoes or just bring your own canoe or kayak. Beyond the boardwalk there is a labyrinth of marshland to navigate through, highlighted by unique Carolinian flora like pink flowering Swamp Rose-mallow, related to Marsh Mallow (marshmallow), and gigantic Yellow/American Lotus and red flowering Water Shield. There are enough bays and inlets to keep you busy for half-a-day.
Pinery Provincial Park Old Ausable Channel
In the late 1800s a channel was cut to alter the course of the Ausable River. It was done to enhance development in the area and was believed to eventually dry up. Instead, it was fed by underwater springs and became one of the most unique and diverse ecosystems in the middle of Pinery Provincial Park. It also is a great place to float a canoe or kayak for an hour or so.
The 14 km channel is now referred to as the Old Ausable River and runs south from Grand Bend through Pinery Provincial Park to the Ausable River Cut at Port Franks.
Countless rare species of flora and fauna thrive here and along the western shore of the river. Pinery’s infamous globally rare Oak Savanna habitat take root. Massive oak trees grow out from rare prairie grasses, which together help hold the ecologically significant sand dunes in place.
The best place to launch is the dock where the park staff offers canoe and kayak rentals.
The Catfish Creek Slope and Floodplain Forest spreads across the properties of eight landowners just northwest of Port Bruce. It contains provincially rare and threatened Carolinian flora and fauna such as Blue-Eyed Mary and Oswego Tea. Distinctive Carolinian trees like the tulip tree, sassafras, sycamore, black gum and Kentucky coffee tree are characteristic of this region. Much of the vegetation you would find here is typical of that found in the Central and Eastern U.S. This is the northern limit of the zone and the only place in Canada with this type of vegetation. Also, significant species such as red-shouldered hawk, Acadian Flycatcher and Louisiana Waterthrush are located there.
It’s best planned as a “there-and-back” paddle. The put-in and take-out is the Imperial Road Bridge (#73)—take Dexter Road (#24). Dexter Road ends on a narrow side-road on the southeast side of the river.
Sharon Creek Conservation Area
This body of water is a favourite in Middlesex County and of the London Canoe Club for a casual gather and paddle day. If you’re looking for a few paddling instructions, or to borrow a canoe or kayak, join them for the day. Springer Lake (the reservoir) has 35.6 hectares of water to paddle. There’s also a picnic area, a mature woodlot, a small wetland and a rare tallgrass prairie ecosystem managed by volunteers. The lake was named after Daniel Springer, an early Delaware settler. It’s located at 4212 Springer Road, southeast of the village of Delaware, in the Municipality of Middlesex Centre. From Delaware follow Longwoods Road (Middlesex County Rd. 2) east. Take Springer Road south 2 km from Longwoods Road.
Pittock Conservation Area
Pittock Reservoir offers a nice half day paddle for novice paddlers. Most of the shoreline is forested with spruce, pine and a mixture of deciduous trees, including species of the Carolinian forest. They have also added interior paddle in campsites (completed Spring of 2018) along the western shore of Pittock Reservoir: Aspen Ridge and Cedar Ridge. The Upper Thames Conservation Authority plans to develop more in the near future. The sites have a level, sandy take-out, a picnic table, fire grate, portable outhouse and wood box. A key must be obtained at the front gate to open the outhouse and wood box.
There are two access points: boat launch #1 and #2. If you’re looking at a quick way to get to the campsites then use boat launch #2. But if you’re looking for a nice 1/2-day circumnavigation of the entire reservoir for the day then boat launch #1 is best.
Wildwood Conservation Area
This Conservation Area also has added interior paddle in sites. There are four developed; three along the southwest shoreline and one on the northeast. Site 500 is set amongst a deciduous (hardwood) forest and provides exceptional privacy. Campsite 501 also has a “remote” feel to it, set amongst a pine plantation. Campsite 502 is more open, grassy area. Very spacious. Campsite 503 is set in a cedar grove.
The first two back-country campsites are just under 1 km (1000 meters) from the public boat launch (just under a 20 minute paddle). The second two are approximately 3 km from the public boat launch (taking less than an hour paddle).
Wildwood reservoir also offers novice paddlers a scenic half-day paddle with an undeveloped shoreline.
Looking to learn some new paddling skills?
Southwestern Ontario has a good selection of guides, outfitters and volunteer paddling clubs that will jump at the chance to teach others how to canoe or kayak safely. Here are some recommended choices:
- Grand Experiences - Owner and operator, Jamie, is an exceptional guide and paddle instructor. And he knows every single place to canoe or kayak across Southwestern Ontario.
- Otter Valley Paddle Sports - They’ve partnered with Paddle Canada to offer half day to full day clinics, courses and seminars to ensure everyone learns the skills to paddle safely - and organize time afterwards to paddle on your own.
- Urban Surf - They’re well-known for their sunset “learn how to paddle” courses.
- Pelee Wings - Their Friday night paddles are awesome. Meet at Pelee Wings Beach, 6-8pm, for a fun evening of paddling, sharing techniques and meeting some fellow paddlers.
- Oxley Surf - They provide solid canoe and kayak classes and guided outings.
- London Canoe Club - This amazing organization goes on countless outings in the region and all participants are willing to give you a few free lessons on how to paddle. They also have a full fleet of canoes and kayaks for members to borrow.
- Chatham-Kent Canoe & Kayak Club - The group organizes several paddle outings throughout the season.
- Friends of Pinery Provincial Park - The group organizes several paddle outings at the park throughout the season.
- River Adventures - River Adventures Eco Friendly Water Sport in Grand Bend provides attentive instruction/training to beginners for both kayaks and canoes.
- Beach Bumz in Sarnia also provides instruction to beginners renting kayaks. They also have tandem kayaks built for 2 people available.
We are so lucky to have beautiful natural areas in Ontario’s Southwest to enjoy. Let’s take action to protect our precious natural spaces. Click here to join the #ForTheLoveOfParks movement and learn 5 ways you can help keep parks clean and safe.