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Sports & Play

Canoeing in and around Toronto

Posted by Guest Contributor / May 8, 2012

Canoeing TorontoCanoeing in Toronto? Despite what many might think, Toronto is a paddling paradise. Some might say it's an urban canoeists wet dream. In a good day of paddling, the sights you'll likely see over the gunwale of your boat range from gritty urban decay and graffiti murals to hidden beach hideaways and curious wildlife. Toronto has river systems, lakefront beaches, and islands in the stream. Escaping the dull grind of city life is as easy as renting a canoe. Of course, the most frustrating aspect of renting a canoe is getting it from the rental shop to the water.

Still, here are my top six picks of local equipment shops that rent canoes.

Harbourfront Canoe and Kayak Centre
This place might be the most expensive but I guess there's a convenience fee for being able to rent a canoe from somewhere right on the water and just a short paddle from a day of exploring the Toronto Islands. Canoe rentals are $30 by the hour or $60 for the full day. I recommend going with the full day. I would only rent for an hour if my hat blew off on the ferry and I wanted to paddle out and rescue it before it sunk.

Mountain Equipment Co-op
MEC rents general purpose canoes on a price curve dependent on how long you'd like to rent them for. It's $30 for a single day, with each additional day added on at $20 per day, or you can rent for a full week for $140.

Toronto Adventures
Located about a five minute walk from Old Mill station, Toronto Adventures offers rental canoes, and guides tours down the Humber and Rouge River and around Cherry Beach/ Leslie Spit. Canoes are $40 for the first hour, and $25 for each additional hour. Their location makes them a perfect destination for a spontaneous trip down the Humber to the lake. They also deliver boats anywhere in the GTA if you can give them two days notice.

The Complete Paddler
Found near Islington and Evans Avenue at 919 Oxford Street, The Complete Paddler is a highly specialized shop with a full range of water gear. They offer Kevlar Tripping Canoes to rent for $40 per day, or $37.50 per day for multiple days. Like there other two options, canoe rentals from The Complete Paddler include PFDs, paddles, and other safety equipment.

Exclusive Sport Rentals
Currently based in Vaughn, but with plans to expand to Toronto this year, Exclusive is more of a Dial-A-Boat service for Torontonians who want to paddle around their own city (1-855-91-SPORT). With more than 8 canoe models on offer with varying price points and purposes - ABS canoes for white water, or fiberglass canoes for quiet lake paddles - Exclusive delivers rental equipment all over the GTA. Prices vary by boat, so you'll need to know what type of craft you're after, or let them suggest something for the trip you're planning.

Toronto Island
On Centre Island, during the summer months, you can rent a canoe from the Boat Rental near the Shrubbery Maze. There is a limited supply, so be sure to get there early.

Now that you have a canoe, where to paddle? Here are my favourite launch options.

Scarborough Bluffs
The Scarborough Bluffs are one of the most geologically distinct landmarks on the coast of Lake Ontario. The water is often choppy, and the beach here is littered with neatly sanded beach glass. Conditions can get quite rough. Local freshwater surfers come out on windy days to ride the rollers drifting in from open water. Pick a calmer day to paddle out from here.

Secret Beach
The Secret Beach runs immediately west of Bluffer's Park. It's called the secret beach colloquially because of the secret entrance through a hole in the fence alongside the R. C. Harris water filtration plant. Secret Beach is a remote series of manmade breakwaters that soften the threat of erosion from oncoming waves. It's a quiet, rarely-trodden, sandy beach where you'll often spy tents set up as temporary homes behind the wild-looking tree line. Old flotsam and jetsam wash up here constantly, and there's a beautiful piece of graffiti worth seeing on an old cement drainage outlet. If you're approaching from the west in the faltering evening light, you'll likely find local kids around a roaring driftwood fire. Join them if you like, but keep an eye out for the bylaw police.

Kew Beach
Paddling west from the Secret Beach, the boardwalk picks up and meanders along the sandy coast of Kew Beach. It's potentially the most interesting people watching turf you'll paddle past. Dog walkers roam unleashed; joggers cut through stroller pushing crowds; cyclists and rollerbladers speed along the designated cement pathway. And out on the water your canoe and you will glide past all this action in utter calm with the rippling water lapping lazily at the sides of your boat. In the heat of summer, power boats creep the volleyball courts at Ashbridges Bay, so be sure to keep your eyes open and steer clear of potential run-ins. There's a roped in swimming area closer to the beach. Watch for kids swimming out to tip you.

The Don River
I thought the Don River was a perfect place to put in for a paddle on a sunny day, but it's actually one of the only places I recommend you avoid. Sections of the river are absolutely beautiful, but its southern end is bordered on either side by highways with bridges looming overtop and litter blowing in over the banks and through the effluent pipes. Watch carefully for the dams that cut up the river run. You'll be steering clear of floating brown clumps when your bow will suddenly drop three feet and you'll be getting wet, and not the good kind of wet.

Toronto Island
Whether you launch your canoe in the East, or paddle in from the West, all paths converge on Toronto Island. The Islands are carved with little river systems. Birds and turtles and carp nest and spawn on sandy beaches and in warm, shallow pools. There are forgotten city relics to investigate, like the old sand filtration system. There are also beautiful bridges and fountains throughout the main island's waterways. It's a destination for urban paddlers because it feels like you've left the city completely, but without the stress of driving for hours. Approaching from the east takes you past Cherry Beach and around a few beautiful, uninhabited islands. Approaching from the west is a bit more awkward, as you'll navigate the oft populated nudie beach around Hanlan's point with its ubiquitous fleet of high powered boats toting high powered binoculars. You'll also need to carefully avoid the Island Airport. The Toronto Port Authority restricts boat passage through an area called the "exclusion zone," marked out with white "Keep Out" signs. Entering the Exclusion zone is punishable by a $10,000 fine.

Humber River and High Park
If you prefer river paddling to lake paddling, the Humber is a perfect place to put in. There's a slight current to mind, but trust you'll float quite comfortable down to Grenadier Pond past the lush greenery and surprised wildlife. If you launch your boat at Bloor Street and head south down the river, you're instantly on a beautiful river run. The Humber takes you down through parklands, alongside bike trails and the beautiful High Park, and out to Lake Ontario on the west side of the Harbourfront. From here, you're a relatively short paddle on to Toronto Island.

Did I miss any place? Add your recommendations for where to get a canoe or where to paddle in the comment thread below.

Like all activities on open water, canoeing can be dangerous if you're inexperienced or caught off guard. Make sure you wear the appropriate safety gear, like lifejackets, PFDs, or any other equipment recommended by the rental company you choose. Always stick close to shore when out on the lake, and avoid wearing heavy clothes that weigh you down in the water. Keep a safe distance from any water traffic that poses a threat, like motor boats that drag large wakes behind them, or sculling and rowing groups out training on the water. Above all, plan accordingly so that you're not out on the water after the sun sets. Trying to paddle home in the dark is not safe at all.

Writing by Tristan Steiner. Photo by andycamera in the blogTO Flickr pool

Discussion

43 Comments

chris / May 8, 2012 at 02:19 pm
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Hey there

you can get rental canoes and kayaks at the complete paddler - it is just west of downtown at Islington & Evans - they will also provide you with paddles and safety equipment.
www.completepaddler.ca
Depends / May 8, 2012 at 02:29 pm
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I've defecated in all of these bodies of water. Also in seal pond at Markham Zoo.
Brendan / May 8, 2012 at 03:20 pm
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I'm fairly certain the canoes rented from the Toronto Islands are not permitted to enter open waters, as per the rental agreement. However, there's plenty of fine paddling to do through the islands' waterways.
David Newland / May 8, 2012 at 03:59 pm
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For years I blogged about my exploits paddling the peaceful waters of Toronto's urban landscape.

You've missed out on the Rouge River, which you can enter at Glen Rouge Campground, or at the mouth of the river. Either way it's a nice lazy paddle either up, or down the river.

The Don is not for paddling - except once a year, when 200 canoes make their way from Eglinton to Keatin Channel in the Paddle the Don event.

If you want to go a little more afield, the Credit River from Port Credit up into the golf course is quite lovely if there's enough water.

Cherry Beach is the easiest way to put in if you're paddling to the outer harbour, Leslie Spit, or Toronto Island. I frequently put in there to go for a meal on the island; it's faster than the ferry.

I don't recommend open water, as around the bluffs, etc in anything but the calmest weather. Waves and canoes don't mix.
Greg / May 8, 2012 at 04:21 pm
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I frequently row my canoe to buffalo.. It's only 45min from centre island's south side and perfect on a warm afternoon. Try it out!
Awestruck replying to a comment from Greg / May 8, 2012 at 04:31 pm
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How do you climb the falls?
Iain / May 8, 2012 at 04:32 pm
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MEC does rent canoes daily as you note. They also offer a package deal whereby you only pay for two days if you pick up on a Thursday and return on the Sunday. All safety gear is supplied.

Happy Paddling.
Benedict replying to a comment from Greg / May 8, 2012 at 04:48 pm
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I'll let you know how it goes!
Benedict replying to a comment from Greg / May 8, 2012 at 04:51 pm
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GREG! That's a 100 km canoe trip OVER NIAGARA FALLS. And you do it in 45 minutes? You must have biceps and triceps like HEMLOCK BEAMS.
brenda bendover / May 8, 2012 at 08:08 pm
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Depends / MAY 8, 2012 AT 02:29 PM
"I've defecated in all of these bodies of water. Also in seal pond at Markham Zoo."


EVERYONE, don't feed this troll! This defecating, disgusting of a human being, who is filled with bloody diarrhea, is just asking for attention.
iSkyscraper / May 8, 2012 at 09:42 pm
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Interesting reading this from the perspective of someone who now lives in New York.

While there may be a way to rent canoes in New York, they are very rare -- I've only seen them at Parks Dept events. NYC is a hard-core kayaking town, and an impressive one at that. There are multiple points along the (gorgeous) waterfront that offer free sit-on-top kayaking. Not $30 an hour. FREE. Two examples:

http://www.downtownboathouse.org/
http://www.bbpboathouse.org/

Paddling around the Statue of Liberty one Sunday morning on a three-hour tour while dodging cruise ships remains a highlight of my mariner life.

Does Toronto have kayaks as well as canoes? And does it have anything like the volunteer-boathouse model where the public can paddle on short jaunts for free? If not, I strongly, strongly anyone interested enough to be reading this post to try and start one. Whenever people visit me in New York I take them paddling in the Hudson, and they can scarcely believe it. Toronto needs this as a free activity.

Granted, starting a volunteer boathouse typically requires (wait for it) a boathouse. This in turn requires free rent from the city and some philanthropic capital funds. Both are in rather short supply in Toronto (trying to picture Rob Ford in a canoe or kayak...) but I'm sure there would be ample willing volunteers. In any case, think about it. And good luck.
impressedbypoop replying to a comment from Depends / May 8, 2012 at 09:44 pm
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Impressive.
Abby replying to a comment from Depends / May 8, 2012 at 10:35 pm
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You can't be serious?!?!? Please tell me your joking!!
Ratpick / May 8, 2012 at 10:42 pm
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If you float down the Humber River, you will most certainly not arrive at Grenadier Pond. It is not on the river.

And even if you DID portage over to Grenadier Pond, the bulls can fine you for putting your boat in.

The suggestion of paddling to the islands is not really a sound one. You can do it, but you'd have to be in open water or in the inner harbour, neither of which are particularly friendly to canoes. Stick to the lagoons, rivers and sheltered channels.
drew / May 8, 2012 at 10:47 pm
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Paddling around Frenchman's Bay in Pickering is always nice.
Sharifa / May 8, 2012 at 10:47 pm
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I really want to do a canoe trip from Toronto to Niagara on the Lake some time this summer! Don't think I could pull that off in 45 minutes though. :)

http://www.facebook.com/sharifamohamedrealtor
iLowRise replying to a comment from iSkyscraper / May 8, 2012 at 11:00 pm
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I strongly recommend New York City gets a recycling program before tooting the flugelhorn of some make shift kayak free program.
iSkyscraper replying to a comment from iLowRise / May 8, 2012 at 11:44 pm
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Jeez, jealous much?

NYC has a recycling program, by the way. Not as good as Toronto's, of course, but the river quality is not too bad at all these days.
johnny replying to a comment from Sharifa / May 9, 2012 at 12:29 am
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Its about an hour and a half run to Niagara on the Lake from Ward's island.. I do it all the time in the summer. Just be careful doing it at night, I was nearly mowed down by a freighter 30K from Toronto.
johnny replying to a comment from Sharifa / May 9, 2012 at 12:30 am
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For fun times try a paddle boat to Rochester leaving from Centre Island. You can do a steady pace and get there in 2 hours. Bring some beer, a Hibatchi and a radio and your set!
Mary / May 9, 2012 at 02:49 am
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I usually prefer a backstroke to Buffalo from the mouth of the humber river. Gives me a good hour workout!
Jesus / May 9, 2012 at 08:40 am
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I usually walk to Buffalo from the island airport.....
alex / May 9, 2012 at 09:20 am
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I wouldn't recommend going from Humber into the lake, that area is full of goose crap and smell terrible.
Doreen / May 9, 2012 at 09:24 am
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Nice photo and great information. All canoe and kayak rental places should be obliged, by law, to provide life jackets as part of the rental fee.

It's great that Canda and the USA encourage small craft on their urban waterways. It's not so in the UK.
fring / May 9, 2012 at 05:55 pm
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Unleashed dog walkers?!?!?! A stroller pushing a whole crowd, nay, numerous crowds!?!?!?!?!? Get me to Kew Beach!!
Mario / May 14, 2012 at 08:29 am
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Anyone used "Exclusive Sport Rentals"? Their canoe and kayak selection looks impressive.
Reesor Chick / May 14, 2012 at 08:51 am
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Are there any canoeing spots in Markham?
Mike / May 14, 2012 at 09:32 am
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Thank you for sharing! Could you also write an article about stand up paddle boards (SUP) in Toronto?
Rachel / May 14, 2012 at 05:21 pm
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I've put in at Cherry beach and paddled along the shoreline of the Leslie Spit to do some bird watching. Best to pick a clam day and be sure to keep a good distance from the areas that are filled with cormorants (they'll poop on ya) and don't get too close to any nesting swans or geese.
Art / July 6, 2012 at 10:43 pm
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Why this boating ban on Grenadier pond persists is mind boggling. If you come upon the pond from any angle, you can instantly see how perfect it is for canoes and kayaks. Calm water, just large enough. There used to be boat rentals up until the end of the 1980s. The city really has its head up you know where with many of these rules. I mean, seriously....
Nicole replying to a comment from David Newland / July 25, 2012 at 09:46 am
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Hi, do you know if you can rent a kayak at rouge beach?
Luc-Eduard / October 29, 2012 at 08:22 am
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I have my own canoe so I can't speak of where to rent, but I love to put into the Humber around Kleinburg neighbourhood in Vaughan (makes a great pre-paddle lunch at The Doctor's House resto or visit the McMichael Gallery). I usually go straight down to the Lake; it makes for a smooth, easy paddle with some gorgeous scenery up in Vaughan and further downstream.
Greg / March 9, 2013 at 11:43 am
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The Rouge River is navigable in spring and fall, or after a heavy rain in summer. Over the past 15 years I have paddled downstream from 14th avenue in Markham all the way to the lake, though not in one pass. Usually I put in at finch and take the canoe out at Twin Rivers Rd. Before I start the trip i look at the sandbar under the bridge; if it's above the waterline then forget about paddling, the river is too low.

Paddling from finch to twin rivers usually takes about 60-90 minutes, starting from steeles adds another hour. The run downstream from twin rivers to the lake is MUCH slower as the river widens and the current isn't pushing as much.

Here is a video clip shot back in September, in a part of the river between the bridges at Sewells Rd and Finch Ave. Watch for the large salmon swimming downstream at the 30 second mark and a great blue heron taking wing about 4 minutes in. http://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=plcp&;v=MSOcuE3pHqE

I have also spotted deer, foxes, loons, swans, kingfishers, beavers and wild turkeys along the river through this area over the years.
Note: make sure you are paddling the river, and not the little rouge creek which is slightly to the east.

Before you set out: this is a trip for an experienced river paddler, not a newbie. The valley is surprisingly remote in places and the river often changes drastically from one rainfall to the next. It's not uncommon to come around a fast-flowing bend in the river only to find a freshly fallen tree blocking you path and requiring a very hasty portage through heavy brush. Make sure your boat is fully prepared, a heaving line and a life jacket can make a big difference sometimes on this run,
Simona / March 21, 2013 at 04:22 pm
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Any good place to rent in or around Richmond hill?
Canlı Tv Izle Trt 1 / June 4, 2013 at 08:27 pm
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Incredible! This blog looks just like my old one! It's on a completely different topic but it has pretty much the same layout and design. Outstanding choice of colors!
Jason / June 11, 2013 at 01:31 am
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Ratpick...... why would you suggest that paddling the islands is not recommended when they actually have paddling groups and trips that go to the islands from harbour front all the time.
And what are people using to canoeacross the lake to Buffalo/NOTL etc. Is the lake not really rough out there?
I own a 12' Fronteir fishing kayak (ride on) which is very stable but not sure about the middle of the lake
Jason / June 11, 2013 at 01:34 am
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I also just camped at the Glen Rouge Campground on Saturday and there was nowhere there to put the kayak in the river. The river also looked very low with bottom only inches in some spots. We ended up going the next day to Port Credit.... always a great paddle there.
I am looking for great paddling locations to go to that have launching and are safe to bring kids along.
looking for canoe routes replying to a comment from David Newland / June 17, 2013 at 07:42 am
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Hey David Newland,
What's the link to your blog? I'd be interested to get some more info on canoe routes in TO. E.G. how exactly to you get from Cherry Beach to the island waterways? Is it safe to paddle through the Eastern Gap?
jonnymedia / July 7, 2013 at 08:36 am
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Just a heads up to readers. Those comments about going from the islands to Buffalo/niagara in less than an hour or even two is laughable. Unless you're sponsored by Rolex or something. Please , no matter how dumb, saying such things could endanger lives. And I know, and I don't need to try. I know how far can get with my little racing sailboat in 45 minutes
Curb / July 13, 2013 at 01:21 pm
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Can anyone recommend a place that provides rentals on the water (I don't have a vehicle to transport a canoe from one place to another).
A place for a novice within 50km of Toronto would be ideal.
Thanks!
elaine replying to a comment from Curb / July 13, 2013 at 08:17 pm
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You might want to look in to folding canoes and kayaks.I have a 20 pound pakboat kayak that is perfect for the rivers-Rouge,Credit ,Humber and small lakes.I have had it in Algonquin,Kawartha and Silent Lake and it has been great.A bit of a nuisance to put together -but I tell myself that the other option is not going at all.If you can carry a heavier boat then there are folbots and kleppers.
Mike / July 30, 2013 at 12:51 pm
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For photos and commentary on local Toronto canoe trips, check out our blog:

urbanvoyageur.blogspot.ca
Abdur Razzak / February 26, 2014 at 08:39 am
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This is wonderful article about paddle with nice clear sample image. I already have noted some information to gather my knowledge about paddle. I have some experience about paddle steamer in Bangladesh.

We have a fleet of century old paddle steamers in Bangladesh which are still in operation. They were built in the colonial period and still serving as a passenger boat. An overnight journey on those boats is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You can check it here if you are interested: Paddle steamers in Bangladesh

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