The Rideau Canal offers a fascinating drive between Kingston and Ottawa traversing some of Ontario’s prettiest towns, going along lakes, rivers and 19 kilometres of canals cut into the soil and rock between the natural bodies of water. There are several interesting sights to be seen and lots of knowledge to be gleaned along the full 202km length of the Rideau Canal National Historic Site. The canal, built between 1812 and 1832, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007 as it “is the best-preserved example of a slackwater canal in North America, demonstrating the use of this European technology on a large scale. It is the only canal dating from the great North American canal-building era of the early 19th century to remain operational along its original line with most of its structures intact.”
On your trip that runs along Rideau River and various lakes, you will see lockstations operate the way they used to when first opened in 1832, historic properties and natural parks. The waterway runs for 202 kilometres via 45 locks at 23 lock stations from the Ottawa River to Lake Ontario at Kingston.
If you are driving visiting all the attractions listed belwo, the distance is about 305 km. Spread it around 3 days for a glorious road trip. Whether you stay at historic accommodations or camp at lock stations, you will find plenty of options along the route including resorts, and Bed and Breakfasts.
Rideau Canal is open from Victoria Day weekend (May) to Thanksgiving weekend (October).
**Kindly do not travel during provincial COVID-19 restrictions.**
Ottawa to Manotick
Start your trip at the Ottawa lockstation featuring locks 1 to 8. Enjoy a walk along the canal and drop into Bytown Museum to gain an insight into the Canal’s history. Here, you will discover the story of Ottawa and learn about the construction of the Rideau Canal.
From here, drive along the Canal via Colonel By Drive or Queen Elizabeth Drive south passing Ottawa’s main attractions to reach Hartwell Locks. Take a walk and enjoy the fabulous Central Experimental Farm and Arboretum.
Continuing your drive, you will reach Hog’s Back Park where you can watch Hog’s Back Falls or Princess of Wales Falls where you can watch the waters of the Canal plunging down to join the Rideau River.
If you like to stop and explore nature spaces, then stop for a picnic and take a walk on the 1.5 km trail of Chapman Mills Conservation Area located on the west bank of the Rideau River on Prince of Wales Drive between Winding Way and Lodge Road.
Your next stop on your trip is the village of Manotick. You’ll feel like you’re still in the countryside as you visit Watson’s Mill and shop at boutiques with a delightful number of unique wares. It boasts a gingerbread shop, scented candles and aromas from its wide range of bistros.
Manotick to Merrickville
Baxter Conservation Area near Kars has a nice beach and group camping for an overnight stay. Hike its five kilometres of trails then stop in at the Patrick McManus Interpretive Centre to learn about the nut tree plantation on the site.
Stop at Burritts Rapids (Lock 17) on Rideau River and hike the four-kilometre Tip to Tip Trail will take you through the village of Burritt Rapids and the “rapids” while highlighting features along the trail that were either influenced by or important in the construction of the Rideau Canal through interpretive boards.
For those who like to see the marvels of engineering of days gone by, make a stop at Upper Nicholsons Lock. The lock features one of four remaining unequal arm, centre-bearing, timber
swing bridges on the Rideau Canal which means a single person can swing the entire bridge just by pushing it.
If you are an avid gardener, visit Rideau Woodland Ramble, one of Canada’s top garden displays and the garden centre located on 7-acres of a verdant woodland setting. See a wide range of unusual trees, shrubs and perennials along with a wide range of unusual trees, shrubs and perennials.
Continuing your trip, stop at Merrickville Lockstation for a walking tour and see the historic Blockhouse. Walk through the Victorian village of Merrickville and count on the plentiful and helpful wooden arrow signs to make sure you don’t miss a single art shop or sweet treat, especially along St. Lawrence Street! You can also see ruins of five mills from the mid-1800s that complement the down-to-earth beauty of its surroundings.
Birders will love the Rideau Migratory Bird Sanctuary nestled on the banks of Rideau River, located just 5 minutes from the village of Merrickville, hosting dozens of species and lots of accessible trails.
If you are travelling with kids, you might like to stop at Rideau Ferry Yacht Club Conservation Area, a 10-acre park located on the shores of Lower Rideau Lake with a beach and short hiking trails.
Merrickville to Smiths Falls
From Merrickville, continue to Smith Falls, and stop at the central lockside park to admire the boats as they go by, before you begin exploring the many treasures of this town. Just walking along the waterfront then among the heritage building storefronts of Beckwith Street, you’ll surely enjoy your visit.
Visit Rideau Canal Visitors Centre in the stone former mill and find out more about the innovation needed to build and run the waterway, take a guided tour of Tweed Visitor Center to learn more about the history and modern cultivation of cannabis, and go on a historic train tour at the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario.
Smith Falls to Perth
On your drive from Smiths Falls to Perth, stop at Perth Wildlife Reserve Conservation Area located on Tay Marsh is a 257-hectare reserve that provides ample opportunities for observing diverse plant and wildlife species.
The utterly charming little town of Perth with unique shops and fine dining on virtually every corner of the downtown offers plenty to do. Admire the stone buildings, see the site of Canada’s last duel then walk the Tay River Trail, a historic path and portage route tramped down in 1816.
Perth to Westport
From Perth, travel southeast on County Road 1 and then 24, to reach Murphys Point Provincial Park and learn about natural history or take a guided tour of the Silver Queen Mine. It has five hiking trails, ranging from 800 metres to 5.5 kilometres.
The village of Westport tucked at the based on a mountain with a park on top and blessed with a waterfront and an airport, this tiny town is rich in experiences. Take a hike to the Foley Mountain Conservation Area and take in the view of the town from up above. Tour the local shops to see what unique treasures, taste the vintages at Scheuermann Vineyard and Winery and visit Rideau District Museum.
Westport to Jones falls
When travelling from Westport to Jones Falls, you will be enjoying glimpses of Upper Rideau Lake, Indian Lake, Opinicon Lake, and Sand Lake.
From Westport, visit the community of Newboro that popped up because of the building of the Canal. It was called “The Isthmus” since it marked the division between waters flowing north to Ottawa and those flowing south to Kingston. Explore the village on a heritage self-guided walking tour, and see one of the four blockhouses built by Colonel John By to protect the Rideau at Lock 36. If you want to stay at a historic location, Newboro Canalman’s Cottage is a fully restored vintage cottage that can be rented for your overnight stay. If you like to shop for local wares, visit Kilborn’s on the Rideau, a unique shopping experience located in the village.
Next on your stop is Chaffeys Locks which connects Upper Rideau Lake to Newboro Lake near Elgin. Take a historic walking tour of Chaffey’s Lock and visit Lockmaster’s house museum, restored Chaffey’s Cemetery and part of the Cataraqui Trail. Enjoy tea or a delicious lunch at The Opinicon, a historic lodge located right at the grounds of Chaffeys Locks.
If you want to combine a boat tour of Rideau Canal with your trip, then take a cruise with Rideau Tours (671 Chaffeys Lock Rd, Elgin). You can choose from a tour of Indian Lake, Clear Lake & Newboro Lake or a tour of Chaffey’s, Davis Lock & Jones Falls or an evening sunset cruise.
From Chaffeys Locks, a 12-minute drive will get you to Davis Lock. It is a “solitude” lock or one of the most isolated locks in the entire system. If you like to stay overnight, consider staying at Davis Lockmaster’s House overlooking the picturesque Sand Lake. The blockhouse built in 1842 showcases the best-preserved example of a defensible lockmaster’s house on the Rideau Canal.
Another 12-minute drive from Davis Locks will bring you to the historic Jones Falls lockstation which consists of three locks, a turning basin, an upper lock and the Great Stone Arch Dam. Explore the area on a self-guided walking tour. When the dam was completed in 1831, this was an engineering feat and the highest dam in North America. You can also see the Jones Falls Defensible Lockmaster’s House, also known as Sweeney House which is one of the few defensible lockmasters’ houses retaining the original functional form.
Jones Falls to Kingston
The trip to Kingston will take you through the communities of Morton and Seeley’s Bay.
Driving towards Kingston via Country Road 15, make sure you stop at Rock Dunder Nature Reserve to hike Rock Dunder Hiking Trail. Rising 275 feet above Morton Bay, Rock Dunder provides breathtaking views of the surrounding lakes and woodlands.
If you are travelling during Summer and Fall, stop at Waddell Apples to pick your own apples. You can also get apple-inspired food products from the farm store. Located nearby (300 m) is the Lower Brewers lock. Enjoy a picnic while watching the boats go through the lock. If you like you can visit Doner Studio, a unique artist’s studio, mill museum and gallery shop, with beautiful grounds, which is located in the historic Washburn Grist Mill and grounds built in 1865.
Your final stop is Kingston Mills Lockstation, the site of the first mill built on the Rideau, the 1784 King’s Mil on Cataraqui Falls. You can see four locks and a turning basin and a blockhouse here. The original lockmaster’s house is now a visitor centre called Lockmaster Anglin’s Visitor Centre. If you are visiting during high runoff periods (spring/after rainfall), walk to Kingston Mills waterfalls.
The lower lock at Kingston Mills is the final lock on the Rideau Canal when travelling from Ottawa to Kingston where the Cataraqui River flows directly to Lake Ontario.
To reach Kingston, continue on County Road 15. To complete your trip, visit historic Fort Henry before exploring Kingston.