There are more people interested in paddling right now than ever before. A lot of us are looking for the tranquility it offers. Whether you're looking for a piece of nearby, semi-wild, water and maybe even looking to practice up your skills a little bit, or some more challenging routes, Southwestern Ontario is chalked full of amazing paddling destinations, from day-use to a quick overnight.
Here are some of my favourite novice as well as intermediate routes in Ontario's Southwest.
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.
To see a few more options for easy paddling routes in Ontario's Southwest, read my full article here.
This waterway is more doable during the shoulder season when water levels are higher but it’s still possible to paddle stretches year-round. The entire river has little current, so you can travel up or downstream. A popular put-in is near the village of Wilkesport, just a few hundred meters west of the Kimball Side Road on Wilkesport Line. Parking can be had alongside the road. From here you can paddle east and under the first bridge, or west and south towards the Darcy McKeough Floodway. Both stretches are scenic, isolated, and full of wildlife. It makes for a perfect novice day outing.
Big Creek—Rowan Mills to Port Royal
This is a fantastic paddle. Big Creek winds south through the Carolinian forests of Norfolk County into the Big Creek National Wildlife Area, an internationally recognized marsh and wetland, and finally empties into Long Point's Inner Bay.
There are numerous put-in locations along Big Creek. The starting point if you wish to paddle the creek in its entirety, which will take about 12 hours, is on McDowell Road. For a shorter paddle, use the Rowan Mills Conservation Area or Lower Big Creek Conservation Area as your starting point. It’s a novice-to-intermediate run.
Middle Thames River
The Thames River, originating northeast of London and flowing southwesterly to Lake St. Clair, offers more than 300 km of navigable waterway. The upper river water levels usually get too low mid-summer for paddling. But levels after the city of London can be generally good throughout. The preferred day outing is a 19-km section of shallow swifts and deep forested banks, beginning just below London’s Springbank Dam and ending before the town of Delaware, along Highway 2. Mid-way you’ll paddle through Komoka Provincial Park.
To reach the put-in, head south on Sanatorium Road and make a right on Halls Mill Road, and then a left on Old Bridge Road. There is a parking area beside a pump house, and a rough road heads down to the launch area. To shuttle a second vehicle to the take-out on the east side of Highway 2, drive back to Sanatorium Road and turn right onto Commissioners Road West. Approximately 3 km south, make a left onto Gideon Road (County Road 3), and then eventually a right on to Highway 2. The parking area is on the northeast side of the bridge.
Detroit Lower River
Canada’s side of the Detroit River is far more paddle friendly then the U.S side. Townships have created access points and picnics areas along the shoreline and the local canoe club organizes several day outings for newbie paddlers.
The upper and middle stretches of the Detroit River are nice floats and very historic, but the lower river is the preferred portion to canoe or kayak. The route begins in the town of La Salle, a quaint community below Windsor on the Canadian side. The best put-in is at the foot of Laurier Drive across from the top of Fighting Island. Parking is available. From there a few narrow channels can be navigated but the main run is the passage down the west side. There are also two eastern channels passing many private marinas.
At the bottom end of Fighting Island and Turkey Island, the Detroit River opens and becomes more lake-like, bordered by large wetlands that are alive with bird life. A strip of land jaunting out from Bob-lo Island, toward Lake Erie, gives shape to White Sands Beach Conservation Area. This is a good place to take out since you are close to where the Detroit River flushes out into the expanse of Lake Erie.
The Nith is a hidden gem of Oxford County, twisting its way through rural fields and woodlots most of its length. Unfortunately, it’s mostly a spring or fall run when water levels are up. But there are sections that can provide a suitable float throughout the summer.
There are three popular sections that make for excellent day trips. The upper stretch from the hamlet of Greenfield to the takeout at Frog Bridge at Drumbo (a.k.a. Silver Bridge); the middle run between Frog Bridge and the second bridge in Canning; and the lower portion from the Canning Bridge to Bean Park in the town of Paris.
The upper cuts through Carolinian wooded banks and the occasional farmer’s field. The middle snakes its way through the tranquil countryside of Oxford, cutting into high clay banks and Carolinian sycamore trees. On the lower run the river then picks up its pace, forming a stretch of class one and two rapids before flushing out into the Grand River. That last stretch, however, can only be done when the water level is up.
Find more options for next level paddling routes in Ontario's Southwest, read my full article here.
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.