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Paddling the Rideau Canal
Kingston to Smiths Falls
by: Don MacKay

Route: Kingston Lockstation to Smiths Falls Detached Lockstation
Time: 5 to 6 days
Best Map: NTS 31C/8, 31C/9 & 31C/16 or Chart 1513
Online: Regional Map - Paddler's Trip Planner (use BACK button to return)

This is a five to six day trip that encompasses the southern section of the Rideau Canal, as well as, a part of Frontenac Provincial Park. Topographic maps are recommended. The trip will be paddled from south to north following the prevailing winds. One day of the trips agenda is within Frontenac Provincial Park. If this day is omitted, the trip is shortened to five days.

Put-In: There are many places to launch in Kingston. Off of HWY 15 heading north, one can launch at Rideau Marina (48-A Point St. Mark Drive) or at Kingston Marina located at 349 Wellington St., Kingston, Ontario.

Take-Out: Abbott St, Smiths Falls, Ontario at Smiths Falls Detached Lockstation. This lockstation is just located past the junction of HWY 15. On the opposite side of the swing bridge, there is a boat launch. Before leaving a vehicle, please consult with the lockmaster.

Difficulty: Medium. This trip is designed to be fairly easy going. Weather can be a factor on three different lakes: Colonel By Lake, Upper Rideau and the Big Rideau. To avoid problems on these lakes, early morning paddling is recommended.


Day 1:
  • After launching from your choice of locations in Kingston, Ontario, proceed north the sway of the river. As one heads north up the Cataraqui River and into the Cataraqui Marsh, the river narrows and leaves civilization behind. After 6.5 km of paddling, one arrives at Kingston Mills, the southern most lockstation on the Rideau Canal. At this lockstation, staff will be able to sell you a lock pass if you so choose. The best option is to purchase a transit pass. This pass allows the boater to travel in one direction only with no time limit during the navigational year. At a later time, one could use this pass to lock through other locks that have not been paddled.
  • If one does not wish to purchase a pass, the best option to portage is to proceed up the river a short distance placing the lockstation on the left. At the base of the power plant on the left, one can easily lift the boat out to portage. Follow the gravel road up to the paved road and cross to the dock. This places you at the top of Kingston Mills Lockstation and at the lower end of Colonel By Lake.
  • Do not try to portage from the bottom dock at this lockstation. Many obstacles such as stairs will await you.
  • The next leg with take you to Lower Brewers Lock (Washburn) 15.7 km north through a potentially rough Colonel By Lake. This lake transforms itself into the River Styx after going through a short channel. The River Styx is appropriately named. During the building of the Rideau Canal, this area consisted of small sections of rapids. The locks and dams that were constructed flooded this area, removed the rapids, and provided 5 feet of water for through navigation. There are few houses in this area. As one approaches Pete Crow Island, Joyceville Penitentiary passes on the right side. A short distance north, the waterway narrows into a winding channel that leads to Lower Brewers Lockstation.
  • The best place to portage is at the base of the lock wall on the left side. There is a small section of stone wall at the base of the lock wall that is suitable. Portage up the hill and across the road to the log raft. This is an excellent place to stay the night; however, the next lock is only 2.8 km away through a narrow section of canal.
  • At Upper Brewers Lockstation continue up the canal placing the lockstation on your left. Just before the wooden bridge, the shoreline on the left allows easy exit. Portage towards the lockstation and up the grassy knoll (don’t follow the road up the hill) to the waiting log raft on the waters of Cranberry Lake. This is an excellent place to stay the night and to start from in the morning.
  • Total Distance: 25 km.

Day 2:
  • This is an excellent place to get an early start. The first kilometer passes through a channel sided with mixed vegetation and rock formations including a rock named the Duke’s Profile in reference to the Duke of Wellington. A beautiful way to start another day of paddling.
  • As one leaves the narrow channel, the government owned Beaupre Island appears on the left. Paddling along this island provides the paddler uninterrupted scenery ending with two small tower like islands called the “Sisters”. From the tip of the island, proceed down the right shoreline towards Brass Point Bridge. This long bridge connects the two sides of the lake. A great place to stretch ones legs after paddling 6.5 km. There is a bridge master on duty that swings the bridge for boats that cannot pass underneath.
  • The next 17 km is a beautiful area to paddle. As one paddles north from Brass Point Bridge, the character of the land changes to predominately Canadian Shield. Little Cranberry Lake is fairly narrow with rocky shoreline. After passing through a narrow cut, Whitefish Lake opens to the paddler continuing the rough shoreline theme.
  • I would encourage a stop in Morton Bay. Morton Bay is discovered through a narrow opening on the right hand side. This scenic bay is ideal for a picnic, a swim or a hike. The bay is skirted on one side by two large rock outcrops: Rock Dundar and Dundars Mate. From their hill tops, one can see the entire surrounding area. This diversion only adds a short distance to the days paddle.
  • As you arrive at Jones Falls Lockstation, a long foot bridge crosses the lake. The portage here can be difficult. The portage is about an eight minute walk uphill that covers 60 feet in elevation along a gravel road. The best place to take-out is at the base of the lock wall by the docks end. The portage route follows the road to the top lock. It is best to take a look before starting ones portage.
  • After looking around and experiencing a marvelous engineering feat (see historical features), the next stop is Davis Lock 7 km away. Sand Lake starts off with a winding path of water through the Officers Quarters that transforms into open lake. For the best scenery, pass on the south side of Birch Island by paddling in Eel Bay.
  • Davis Lock, also known as the Wilderness Lock, is perhaps one of the best places to stay overnight. The lockmaster prides himself on the beautiful flowers and lush green grass. In the little bay below the old lockmasters house, located on a high knoll, is located a squared log raft ideal for portaging. Before doing so, ask the lockmaster about the best place to set-up camp.
  • Distance covered on day two: 24.5 km.

Day 3:
  • This leg of the trip takes you to Frontenac Provincial Park: the only wilderness park in Eastern Ontario. Heading north will carry you to Chaffey’s Lock. This station is situated in a quite village that existed before the canal was constructed. It also has a small general store to pick up items that might have been forgotten. The best place to portage utilizes a boat ramp just before entering the short channel into the entrance of the lock. At the top end of Chaffeys Lock is another boat ramp. It is best to scout before portaging.
  • After passing through the winding section directly above Chaffeys, the marked channel heads off to the north following the right shoreline of Indian Lake. At this point, I encourage paddlers to follow a different route whether they are heading to Newboro Lockstation or to Frontenac Provincial Park. This route follows the traditional route that existed prior to the building of the Rideau Canal.
  • Following the left shoreline, more or less, the paddler glides into a series of lakes: Benson and Mosquito. The land mass on the right hand side is actually a large island: Scott Island. This route is problematic for large power boats due to water depths and water hazards. After passing through Bedores Creek, you begin to paddle upon Newboro Lake. After crossing the bay to your left, follow the shoreline into Loon Lake that for the first time directs you to the south west. Again, the large boats are powerless to tread here for fear of paddling home.
  • Loon Lake is a pretty lake with few houses. Paddling down the center of the lake will bring you to a paved bridge on the Old Perth Road. After passing under the bridge, an old stone Mill, Bedford Mill, looms ahead. This provides a stretch to scout out the portage after paddling about 14 km. No locks are located here.
  • The portage here follows the road to the left, then up a steep hill to a Parks Canada control dam at the foot of Devil Lake. At this point, you are no longer paddling the Rideau Canal, but part of its vast watershed.
  • Heading in the only direction possible, southwest, paddle to Hardwood Bay located within Frontenac Provincial Park. There are several excellent campsites here. One needs to reserve these spots in advance by calling the Provincial Parks 1-800 number. A great place to explore on the hiking trails. It is well worth taking a day to explore this park through its many trails and portage routes into pristine lakes.
  • Distance covered on day three: 22 km.

Day 4:
  • This is an optional day to explore the secrets of Frontenac Provincial Park. The best way to decide where to paddle or hike is to obtain the parks own information that gives detail information on the lakes and habitat of this beautiful park.
Day 5:
  • This day starts off with a retracing of steps back to the entrance of Loon Lake and rejoining Newboro Lake. The next stop is Newboro Lockstation as one follows the left shoreline. Newboro Lockstation is set on the edge of Newboro: a small and quiet little village.
  • On the opposite side of the cement blue line dock, one will find a large log raft ideal for exiting ones boat. The short portage route heads up the gentle grass slopes past the stone lockmaster office to a fixed top dock usually with a log raft affixed to the end for paddlers.
  • After taking a break for lunch under a tree, the winding canal takes you to the Upper Rideau Lake. This lake is notorious for strong winds and choppy waves. The next lock, the Narrows, is located 8.4 km away. If the wind is picking up, it would be prudent to consult with the lockmaster as to the possible conditions or get him/her to phone ahead to the next station for wave conditions.
  • After passing through the isthmus that joins the Rideau and Cataraqui Watersheds, follow the right hand shoreline to Narrows Lock.
  • If portaging, there is a small gravel beach/boat ramp on the left. On the opposite side, a floater is provided for launching canoes and kayaks.
  • After the Narrows Lock, proceed along the north shore (on your left).
  • Overnight camping can be found at two locations: Murphy’s Point Provincial Park or Colonel By Island. Colonel By Island is located in the center of the Big Rideau Lake. Murphy’s Point is directly on route on the north shore. Overnight camping fees are charged. See Rideau Canal Fees Brochure for camping rates at Colonel By Island. Contact the Ontario Provincial Parks service for Murphy’s Point Provincial Park. There are designated boat-in camp sites.
  • The distance from Newboro Lock to Narrows Lock is 8.4 km.
  • The distance from Narrows Lock to Colonel By Island is 5.6 km and from Narrows Lock to Murphy’s Point Provincial Park is 13 km.

Day 6:
  • If leaving from Colonel By Island, proceed north along the south shore (right hand side). If leaving from Murphy’s Point Provincial Park, follow the same shoreline as Day 5. Both routes converge at the Rocky Narrows (a narrowing of the lake). After passing through the Rocky Narrows, proceed along the south shore (right hand side). After passing under the Rideau Ferry Bridge, paddle down the center of the lake for the shortest route. Eventually, the lake turns into a winding channel through marsh. The channel is marked. If you have a topo, time can be saved by going through the short cut: Mud Cut. It is not marked and not safe for power boaters.
  • After passing through Poonamalie Lock, the marsh lined channel winds its way to Detached Lockstation 4.8 km downstream.
  • The distance from Murphy’s Point Provincial Park to Poonamalie Lock: 17.2 km. The distance from Colonel By Island to Poonamalie Lock: 24.6 km.

Natural Features: This paddling trip is comprised of two types of landscape: lowlands and Canadian Shield. At the outset of the trip, the landscape begins with limestone plain and the Cataraqui Marsh. After passing through Upper Brewers, the terrain is transformed into Canadian Shield characterized by rocky shoreline with mixed vegetation. The lakes have a varying degree of populace.

Frontenac Provincial Park is a wilderness park with many natural wonders. Also, Murphy’s Point Provincial Park has many hiking trails, two sand beaches, and beautiful camping sites.

After passing through Rideau Ferry (first named Oliver’s Ferry), the setting changes from rocky shoreline to marsh. The last 0.8 km. to Poonamalie Lock is a winding man made channel.

Beaupre Island is an abandoned island now owned by Parks Canada. Today remnants of its brief colonized history appear on the southern tip. More importantly, this island is home to the endangered black rat snake. These tree living snakes are in the process of being studied on this island.

Historical Features: The Rideau Canal lockstation was built between 1826 and 1832 as a transportation route to move men and supplies from Montreal and the interior of Upper Canada to Kingston, Ontario without depending upon the St. Lawerence River during a time of conflict with the United States. Lt. Colonel John By, the Royal Engineer in charge, constructed a 202km waterway that connected various locks, river and beaver meadows through a series of locks and dams.

The first lockstation to great boaters heading south from Lake Ontario is Kingston Mills. This four lock station works much as it did into 1832 at its completion. This gateway station maintains one of four blockhouses constructed to protect the Rideau Canal waters from invaders. Today, this building is staffed by a summer historical interpreter communicating the military aspect of the canal. The Anglin building, a past residence of lockmaster Lockmaster Robert Anglin, houses a small museum depicting the difficulties the builders faced when constructing the Rideau Canal.

Lower Brewers Lockstation has one of the last remaining wooden King Truss Swing Bridges used by Lt. Colonel By to cross various sections of the Rideau Canal, as well as, a defensible locksmasters house that is used today as an office for the lock staff.

Upper Brewers Lockstation, constructed by Robert Drummond, consists of two lockstations and one of four hydro electric stations. This stations marks the transformation from limestone plain to Canadian Shield.

Jones Falls Lockstation consists of four large locks each rising 15 feet to the lake above. These locks were the largest locks built on the Rideau. During the constructing a large inverted key stone arch dam was built rising 60 feet out of a gorge and stretch from the granite sides 350 feet. It was the largest dam constructed in North America at the time and the third largest in the world. Following the construction of the waterway, a blacksmith shop was built in 1843 or maintenance requirements and a defensible lockmasters building was built in 1841 to defend the station against aggressors. Today, both of these buildings are staffed during the summer with costumed historical interpreters. Additionally, the blacksmith shop maintains a full time blacksmith producing gifts and preserving the art of blacksmithing as in days of old.

Davis Lock is the Rideau Canals most isolated lock. Because of its isolation, it is a favourite among boaters seeking a tranquil setting. Perched upon the hill top sits a defensible lockmasters house harking back to the days when military advantage was gained by elevation and rough terrain.

Chaffeys Locks, named after Samuel Chaffey, is home to several resorts and a lockmasters house that house a museum run by the local historical society. This is a popular location for the public to view the comings and goings of the boats that travel up and down the Rideau.

Newboro Lockstation is a unique station. It is one of three lockstations that were converted to hydraulic operation in the mid 1960’s. It has the only steel lock gates on the canal and commands one of four defensible block houses built during the construction of the canal. This lockstation was built as an after thought due to the difficulties of construction in this remote area. The Newboro Cut connects the Rideau Canals two watersheds: the Rideau and the Cataraqui. This 1 km canal caused contractors to go broke due to the difficulty in blasting away the granite and the high cost of keeping men employed at this malaria infested station. This is only one of two sites on the canal where the Royal Miners and Sappers were called in too complete the task. Such was the undertaking, that two additional locks, Newboro and the Narrows, were constructed to overcome the difficulties in digging this canal connecting the Upper Rideau with Newboro Lake (Mud Lake).

The Narrows Lockstation was constructed in the shallowest and narrowest part of the Big Rideau Lake. The causeway and the lock divide the original lake into two lakes. This lock has a 0.9 metre lift and one of four blockhouses that were constructed on the Rideau Canal. This very busy lockstation is noted for its wind.

Poonamalie Lockstation is a quiet lock located within 4.8 km of Smiths Falls, Ontario. Originally referred to as First Rapids, Poonamalie received its name from an officer who served in India. The cedars that edge the shoreline of this lock reminded him of a place in India. This lockstation has a pleasant walking trail that leads to a hydraulic controlled dam and a defensible lockmasters house that is still used today by a lockmaster.

As one enters the town of Smiths Falls, one passes under a Scherzer Rolling Lift Railway Bridge that was constructed in 1914 by the Canadian Northern Railway. Today, it stands as a monument to a new age of travel and commerce that surpassed and replaced the importance of canals. A short distance away lies Detached Lockstation.
This canoe route produced by:
Don MacKay
Parks Canada Agency


Comments: send me email: Ken Watson

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