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Rideau Attractions

There is just so much of interest along the Rideau that it is hard to know where to start, in Canada's shining jewel, its national capital, Ottawa or in the beautiful limestone city, a wonderful blend of old and new, Kingston. Then of course there is the canal itself, which offers attractions such as fishing, wildlife, parks, hiking, cycling, canoeing, group tours, shopping, museums, dining, interesting communities, marinas, golfing, skating, skiing, snowmobiling and more. But to be fair to the Rideau, we should start with the main attraction, its history and heritage.

History and Heritage

Everything you see on the Rideau Canal, whether it be the beautiful lakes or interesting locks, relates to a significant part of our Canadian heritage. The Rideau Canal was built for a military purpose, as a secure supply route in the event of a war with the U.S.A. It used a slackwater system to tame the rapids and the locks and dams were all built by hand using local sourced materials. It was a monumental feat of both human genius and human effort.

Today, it is living history, the locks operating much as they did in 1832 with most of the original structures are still intact. Take advantage of this to take yourself back in time, to understand why and how it was built. Explore the many stories of the Rideau Canal.

The Locks

Boats in lock at Jones FallsThe locks on the Rideau operate today much as they did when first opened in 1832. The large wooden lock doors are opened and closed using hand cranks. Hand cranks are also used to let water in and out of the locks. Most of the stone blocks that you see are the ones originally emplaced in the 19th century. The locks cater to tourists and even the novice boater will have no trouble locking through. Parks Canada staff are always there to assist.

All the locks offer nice grassy lawns with picnic tables. Lock watching is an interesting pastime, a great way to spend a lazy afternoon, watching boats of all descriptions go up and down in the lock. Many transient boaters moor at the locks which offer good dockage, washroom facilities and an interesting area to explore. Several of the locks have defensible lockmaster houses and blockhouses, some of which are open for public viewing. Many of the locks offer hiking trails. Several of the locks such as those at Ottawa, Merrickville, Smiths Falls, Chaffey's, Jones Falls, and Kingston have heritage museums located close by.

For those interested in exactly why there are locks and how they work, be sure to visit my What is a Lock page.

Parks and Conservation Areas

Tree Sign IconThe whole of the Rideau Waterway is a park of sorts, but along the way you can stop in at two Ontario Provincial Parks, Murphys Point and Rideau River Provincial Park. These parks offer camping opportunities for the boater, trails, and interpretive displays. You can visit the Web sites for these parks by going to either Murphys Point Provincial Park or Rideau River Provincial Park.

In addition to the Provincial Parks, there are several conservation areas that offer lots of family fun. Some are free, and some charge a $8 day use fee (a $55 annual pass is available). For more information contact the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority at 613-692-3571 or toll free at 1-800-267-3504. Conservation areas (listed geographically, south to north) are:

  • Foley Mountain Conservation Area: located near Westport, off County Road 10, it offers swimming, group camping, hiking, educational programs. It also has a 6km walking trail, an Interpretive Centre, toilets, beach, change house, picnic tables and a picnic shelter. Call: 613-273-3255.
  • Portland Bay Conservation Area: located in Portland, on Highway 15, it offers a lovely lakeside picnic area. Call: 613-273-3255.
  • Mill Pond Conservation Area: located on Briton-Houghton Bay Road, off Highway 15 between Portland and Lombardy. Offers natural habitat and a seasonal sugarbush program. It also has 15km walking trail, a seasonal Interpretive Centre, toilets, small boat launch, picnic tables and a picnic shelter. Call: 613-273-3255.
  • Rideau Ferry Yacht Club Conservation Area: located off County Road 1 in Rideau Ferry. It features a sandy beach, picnic area and boat launch. It also has toilets, a change house, picnic tables, a picnic shelter and claims to have the best beach on the Rideau. Call: 613-273-3255.
  • Perth Wildlife Reserve: Off County Road 1 between Perth and Rideau Ferry. It features a wildlife area, including an overlook of the Tay Marsh. It provides for goose habitat with a goose landing zone and features a 4km walking trail. It also has toilets. Call: 613-273-3255.
  • Baxter Conservation Area: Located on Regional Road 13 (Dilworth Drive) off Highway 16, south of Kars. It features swimming, hiking and year round programs. It has a 5km walking trail, an Interpretive Centre, marsh boardwalk, toilets, a beach, change house, small boat launch, picnic tables and a picnic shelter. Call: 613-692-3571.
  • W.A. Taylor Conservation Area: Located on Regional Road 19 near Osgoode. It features a concrete boat launch and a picnic area. Call: 613-692-3571.
  • Dickinson Square Conservation Area: Located on Mill Street in Manotick. Features the historic Watson's Mill (operating), access to the dam, a heritage square and picnic tables. Call: 613-692-3571.
  • Chapman Mills Conservation Area: Located on Prince of Wales Drive in Ottawa. Features walkways and boardwalks along natural shoreline and wetlands. Call: 613-692-3571.


Loon PictureNature lovers will enjoy their journey through the Rideau, which provides a haven for many species of wildlife. Loons are common on all the lakes, and at night, their haunting cries echo across the water. The Rideau is also home to the blue heron and osprey. Many species of duck stop off at the Rideau for several weeks in the spring and fall. Of course frogs and turtles are permanent residents, and it is not uncommon to see half a dozen turtles sunning themselves on a floating log in amongst the lily pads. During the day, hummingbirds flit back and forth, searching out nectar and small flies, and at night flashes of fireflies can been seen in the trees. Beaver abound in the region and the alert traveller may even spot an otter. In addition, Rideau boaters may find the occasional muskrat locking through with them.

Those interested in nature and wildlife should have a look at the Ecology of the Rideau section of this website.


Hiking IconOutside of boating, there is no better way to see the wildlife of the Rideau and just enjoy nature in general than taking a nice hike through the woods. There are many trails that the hiker can take advantage of. The most extensive trail system in the region, The Rideau Trail, forms a traverse from Kingston to Ottawa. An interesting portion of the Rideau trail for the boater, is the section between Westport and Murphys Point Provincial Park, where the trail runs close to the shores of Upper Rideau and Big Rideau Lakes.

More sedate hikers will enjoy the Cataraqui Trail, part of the Trans-Canada trail system, which follows an old railway bed (no more than a 2% grade).

For more about hiking, see the Hiking the Rideau section of this website.


Canoeing IconCanoeing or kayaking is a lovely way to see the Rideau. The whole of the Rideau is accessible by canoe/kayak, and every year many intrepid paddlers do the full length of the canal. For information about paddling the Rideau have a look at the Paddling the Rideau Waterway section of this website.

Another option if you don't own a canoe is to rent one. Information on canoe and kayak rentals can be found on the Boat Rentals Page

Local canoe clubs include the: Cataraqui Canoe Club.

Group Tours

Crowd Icon One way a group can discover the historic heritage of the Rideau is by taking a guided lockstation tour. Explore a variety of learning and recreational opportunities for groups of 25-88 people combining a blend of historic and natural environments. Contact the Parks Canada Tour Booking Officer for information about hours, locations and facilities. Call 613-283-5170 or 1-888-773-8888


Communities IconSeveral communities are located on the shores of the Rideau Waterway, and all offer services to the boater. Smiths Falls the largest community between Ottawa and Kingston, is close to the halfway point of the Rideau Waterway. The Rideau Waterway passes through the heart of town, and it is well worth while to tie up at the dock and spend a day exploring. Smiths Falls is also home to the Rideau Canal headquarters, the Rideau Canal Visitor Information Centre, and train buffs will enjoy a visit to the Railway Museum.

There are also several smaller communities that work hard to cater to the traveller. Westport, a short jaunt off the main channel, offers many interesting shops. Merrickville, the Jewel of the Rideau, prides itself in its artistic community, boasting over thirty local artist and artisans. You can also make a nice side trip up the Tay Canal to visit historic Perth.

Several Rideau communities have their own websites. You will find these listed on the Links Page.

To see maps, histories and walking tours of Rideau area communities have a look at the Rideau Community Histories section of this website.

Fish Icon


The lakes and rivers of the Rideau Waterway offer great fishing opportunities. Species caught along the length of the Rideau Waterway include Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Northern Pike, Lake Trout, Yellow Perch, Black Crappie and Walleye (Yellow Pickerel). Information about fishing is detailed on my Rideau Fishing Page.


Rowboat IconThe whole of the Rideau is well serviced with marinas. Most offer fuel, repair services, supplies, and transient dockage. Marina staff are always friendly and always willing to help the traveller, offering advice to make your journey more pleasurable. For a full listing of marinas along the Rideau, be sure and have a look at my Marinas Page.


Museum IconFor those of you who like to take a stroll through history, there are several museums along the Rideau Waterway that will be of interest to you:

  • Rideau Canal Visitor Information Centre (Smiths Falls) - Formerly the Rideau Canal Museum, Parks Canada has now closed this facility.

  • Heritage House Museum - This elegant classically styled house is restored to ca. 1867 and features: 7 Victorian rooms, a two-storey privy, an indoor bake oven, "mirror image" Facades, exhibition gallery, heritage gardens, picnic area, and gift shop. Address: Old Slys Rd., Smiths Falls, ON, K7A 4T6 (adjacent to Old Slys Lockstation, Rideau Canal). Tel: (613) 283-8560.

  • Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario - Located in the former Canadian Northern Railway Station built in 1914. A large elegant brick and stone structure with high ceilings and impressive plaster and wood trim. The station, heritage artifacts and rolling stock are still undergoing restoration. A national historic site, the museum features railway artifacts, archival materials, memorabilia, a library, and rolling stock equipment. Address: 90 William St. W., Box 962, Smiths Falls, ON, K7A 5A5. Tel: 613-283-5696.

  • Merrickville Blockhouse Museum - Originally planned as part of its defense system, this is the largest blockhouse on the Rideau Canal. It is now a museum run by the Merrickville and Distric Historical Society containing artifacts of the blockhouse and social environment of a rural community in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Located on the waterfront beside the upper lock. Admission is free. Tel: (613) 269-3614.

  • Matheson House - Perth Museum - The Matheson House is a nationally designated stone house ca. 1840. Four Victorian period rooms and enclosed garden give an intimate glimpse of the lifestyle of a well to do family. Changing exhibitions in two galleries plus permanent exhibitions, for example: Last Duel - Pistols and sample Mammoth Cheese. Located in downtown Perth. Air conditioned. Address: 11 Gore St. E., Perth, ON, K7H 1H4. Tel: (613) 267-1947.

  • Rideau District Museum - Former blacksmith forge and carriage shop. Features artifacts of the regions history. Located in downtown Westport.

  • Lockmaster's House Museum - An original lockmaster's house, exhibits are changed each season. It is open from June 22 to September 1. Located at beautiful Chaffey's Lock.

  • Old Stone Mill, Delta- A bit off the path for boaters, but well within the reach of those driving the Rideau, the mill is located on County Road 42 between Athens and Forfar. It is a National Historic Site of Canada showcasing milling technology and industrial heritage in a spectacular heritage building, a 3 storey grist mill built in 1810. The museum is open daily, 10 am to 5 pm from Victoria Day weekend until Labour Day. Admission is free. Contact: Box 172, Delta, Ontario, K0G 1G0. Tel: 1-613-928-2658.

  • Bytown Museum - located beside the scenic Ottawa locks, this is the former Commissariat of Col. By and the Royal Engineers when the canal was being built. It is the oldest stone building in Ottawa, beautifully maintained with many interesting exhibitis. It's a "must see" on any visit to Ottawa.

  • Ottawa and Kingston - You'll also find a good selection of quality museums in Ottawa and Kingston. See the sections on these cities below.

Eating Icon

Dining Out

Naturally, the large communities of Kingston and Ottawa offer the traveler ample opportunities for fine dining. But you will also find culinary delights as you travel the Rideau. Most of the lodges and Inns along the route have dining rooms offering the traveler a delicious selection of meals. In addition, the communities along the route offer various restaurants to satiate almost any type of food craving.


Shopping IconOf course no trip is complete without engaging in a shopping expedition, or two, or three. The communities along the Rideau all offer shopping opportunities for the tourist. Discover a hidden treasure in one of the many antique stores along the route, check out the products of the many local artisans in the quaint craft shops you will discover in many of the towns. Shopping doesn't have to be restricted to dry goods. Many of the stores offer locally made food products including maple syrup, honey, and cheese. During late July and early August be sure to pick up some cobs of corn from a local vendor and sink your teeth into the delicious sweet tender kernels.


Cycling IconBicycle enthusiasts can fully enjoy the Rideau region. Although there are no bicycle trails directly along the Rideau (except for bicycle paths in Ottawa), there are many trails and secondary roads close by that the bicyclist can enjoy.

You can either come here just to cycle or strap a bike or two onto your boat (trails cross the Rideau Waterway in several places). In addition, several shops and some bed & breakfasts offer bicycle rentals. For more information on cycling in the region, have a look at the Bicycling the Rideau section of this website.


Golfer Icon
Hey, just because you're on a boating vacation doesn't mean you have to give up golf. Bring your clubs along or rent a set at one of the several local golf course that you will pass by. You will find golf courses located close to the Rideau at communities such as Smiths Falls, Westport, and Perth. Of course the larger communities, Kingston and Ottawa, also offer the golfer several golf courses to choose from. Contact numbers for local courses can be found in the tourist literature.


Whether Kingston is the beginning of your Rideau adventure or the end, it is well worth spending a couple of days to take in the town. Founded in 1673, it is known as the "Limestone City" and offers many examples of beautiful early Canadian stone architecture. For the boater, Kingston offer two municipal and several privately owned marinas, all catering to the transient boater. The Flora MacDonald Confederation Basin marina for example can accommodate 300 transient boats and is located in the downtown core.

Kingston offers an excellent choice of restaurants, interesting museums, art galleries, and shopping. Main attractions include:

  • Fort Henry takes the tourist down an interesting trip into military history. Staff, in period costume, will show the visitor all the aspects of this restored fort. Many events are held throughout the summer at Fort Henry including a Grand Military Tattoo, Celtic Festival, "Kids Major Fun" Day, Music on the Hill, Marine Weekend, and more. For information call 1-800-437-2233.

  • Bellevue House: The home of Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald.

  • Queen's University: Beautiful campus with interesting architecture. On campus you will also find the Agnes Etherington Art Centre.

  • Marine Museum of the Great Lakes

  • Pump House Steam Museum

  • The MacLachlan Woodworking Museum: antique carpentry tools

  • City Hall: This building was Canada's first Parliament Building. During the summer a public market runs daily except for Monday and Wednesday

For more on what to do and see in Kingston, you can follow the links that I have included.


Ottawa, Canada's capital city, caters to the tourist. You could easily spend a week here and there would still be more things to see. It offers world class restaurants, great shopping opportunities and a very long list of interesting sights to see, of which I will only list a few. There are several marinas catering to the transient boater and Rideau Canal itself features 24 hour a day docking privileges. Many of the sites are within easy walking distance of the canal. A few of the attractions are as follows: For more on what to do and see in Ottawa, you can follow the links that I have included.

Skating on the Rideau

Skater IconWhen the cold winds of winter descend upon the region, the Rideau does not shut down. The residents of Ottawa strap on their skates and enjoy crisp winter days by skating on the frozen canal. The Rideau Canal Skateway holds the Guinness World Record as the world's largest naturally frozen ice rink. The 7.8 km long skateway is 165,621 m2, equivalent in size to 90 Olympic sized rinks. Skating on the canal has become a favourite pastime of winter visitors, especially during Ottawa's winter festival, Winterlude (first three weekends of February). It's a great way to see some of the sights, and you can enjoy a delicious Beaver Tail from one of the kiosks on the canal in the centre of downtown.

The National Capital Commission maintains the skating section of the canal in winter. Visit their skating conditions website for current information. A red flag flying over the canal means it is closed to skating; a yellow flag means the conditions are fair to good and a green flag means very good to excellent.

Skiing and Snowshoeing

Skier IconWhen the deep fluffy snows of winter cover the ground, Canadians slap lumber on their feet and take to the frozen lakes and trails.

Cross country skiing has become a favourite pastime, it's inexpensive and anyone can do it. When the lakes freeze over, they become an ideal place for a leisurely ski, places accessible only by boat in the summer, can now be visited by skiers in the winter. A word of caution however, there is often open water around the locks throughout the winter. Before venturing out onto the lakes, check with a local source regarding safe access points and ice conditions.

Several of the local parks and conservation areas offer skiing opportunities such as Murphys Point Provincial Park (25 km of groomed trails), Foley Mountain Conservation area (4 km of groomed trails) and Little Cataraqui Creek Conservation Area (13 km of groomed trails). See the Parks section for links. And of course there is the Cataraqui Trail, offering 200 km of groomed trail.

The really adventuresome, who wish to re-live the experience of early Canadian explorers, can strap on a pair of snowshoes and head off into the woods. If you're the type of person who likes to get off the beaten track, then snowshoeing might be for you.


Skater IconFor those of you who like to fill the silence of the winter wilderness with the roar of engines, then snowmobiling in the Rideau region will be a fun sport for you. Snowmobiling should only be done on existing trails with full respect for the private property. The local snowmobile association can show you how to responsibly enjoy your snowmobile adventure in the Rideau region.

Visit the Rideau Ridge Riders Snowmobile Club webpage for more information.

Comments: send me email: Ken Watson

©1996- Ken W. Watson