CANADIAN CANOE CULTUREstream: Rapid's Backyard Bucket List | Rapid Magazine | Rapid Media
Rapid's Backyard Bucket List Photo: Ben Marr

The 15 most amazing things to see, do, eat and explore in the Ottawa Valley

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It’s hard to be humble about our home when the spring thaw begins and paddlers from every corner of the Earth trickle into the Ottawa Valley. Three hours from New York’s northern border and two hours west of Canada’s capital city, the Ottawa Valley is nestled between the world famous Ottawa River and the scenic highlands of Algonquin Park.

The Ottawa River is the obvious main attraction with its deep, wide, high-volume runs and second-to-none freestyle spots, but with four major river systems slicing through the region, the surrounding area is a haven of hidden treasures. For 2016 we’re embracing our ego and sharing 15 reasons why Rapid’s backyard should be on your bucket list. 

1. Quality Spring River Runs

There is play on the Ottawa at any level and at any time, but the Valley is also home to dozens of quality spring river runs. Leave the Rapid office loaded with creekboats and rafts and in less than an hour you could be at the classic Upper Madawaska, Opeongo River, three different sections of the Bonnechere River or Papineau Creek. On Mother’s Day weekend meet downtown Petawawa on the river of the same name for Hell or High Water, one of the largest whitewater races in North America. This save-the-river-through- raising-awareness event rolls into its seventh season; with 1,000 racers it is the municipality’s keystone outdoor festival.

2. MKC: Ontario's Slalom Playground

Thirty kilometers on beautiful winding roads from Rapid’s office is Ontario’s sweet slalom playground. The Madawaska Kanu Centre (MKC) hangs a maze of gates above Chalet Rapids on the Middle Madawaska River, home to the 2015 ACA Open Canoe Slalom Nationals and NORAM Championships. This section is great for kayaks and solo and tandem open canoes, with attainable moves for beginners to practice, and expert-challenging options for the more experienced. Take a course, train on Chalet or make a short day run out of the entire Middle Mad section. MKC has negotiated with the provincial power company for daily water releases Monday through Thursday all summer long. (

3. The Ottawa Valley

“My favourite place in the Ottawa Valley is the Lorne Rapid on the beautiful, powerful Ottawa River. Home to world-class freestyle features Bus Eater, Waikiki and Garburator, the Lorne always creates a spectacle of high-flying tricks. These waves have hosted two Freestyle World Championships, (another took place further upstream at McCoys) but it’s not just a destination for the pros: The Lorne also features smaller currents and a sandy beach island providing ideal conditions for beginners looking to develop their skills. Inspiration Point, a memorial to legends we have lost on the river, overlooks the Lorne, accessible by the mountain bike and hiking trails that carve through the forest nearby.” —Kalob Grady

4. Whitewater Brewing Company

“Brewed by friends, for friends,” is the motto of the Whitewater Brewing Company, located right in the middle of the shuttle from the Ottawa’s put-in to take-out. Three raft guides started the business in 2011 and it’s bubbled into a full-on brewpub with locally sourced grub, live music nights and more. Did we mention they brew great beer? Come for the blonde Farmer’s Daughter, the English-style Whistling Paddler ale, and stay for the Class V IPA and Midnight Stout. Yes, they sell growlers. (

5. Tuesday at the Wilno

Tuesday night at the Wilno Tavern is a cross-cultural sensation you have to see to believe. Halfway between the Ottawa River’s raft companies and Rapid HQ is the little town of Wilno, Canada’s first Polish settlement and home to an eccentric community of draft dodgers, artists and craftspeople. The Tavern is the place to enjoy fresh pierogies and sauerkraut, and on Tuesdays, a greying ‘80s cover band packs the dance floor with local hippies and a hundred rowdy raft guides and paddling instructors.

6. Farmer's Markets

Although the local tourism association has branded the region the Whitewater Capital of Canada, and one of the best rivers in the world carves through it, the Valley is primarily a farming community. Country fall fairs, 4-H clubs, combines and corn fields characterize the area, and the Saturday farmer’s market in the town of Cobden is a great place to get a taste of the local flavour. Enjoy the farm fresh produce, as well as an amazing selection of local art, furniture, preserves, music, jewellery and the best jelly-filled sugar doughnuts ever.

7. Whitewater Rafting

The area’s biggest tourism draw is by far the whitewater rafting. We’ll stop blabbing about the amazingness of the Ottawa River—suffice it to say that thousands of people come from far and wide to get smashed around in rafts and laugh till their bellies ache. It was in 1974 that Hermann Kerckhoff, founder of the Madawaska Kanu Centre, notched the official first descent along with his daughter, Claudia. Over the last four decades, OWL Rafting, Wilderness Tours, Esprit Rafting and RiverRun Rafting have trained and employed thousands of guides, instructors, cooks, bartenders and video boaters. Ottawa River alumni are everywhere—look no further than the top of this magazine’s masthead.

8. Wilderness Tours

Come for the whitewater, stay for the party. Wilderness Tours hosts wild parties during the paddling season. Events include ‘90s Retro Nights, Big Water Weekend, Toga Parties and Stoplight Parties—wear red if you’re taken, yellow if it’s complicated and green if you’re single. Still in school or wish you were, Spicoli? Join the college and university weekends in June. Oh yeah, and they also have a 150-foot bungee jumping tower. (

9. Local Boat Builders

Buying local is easy in the Ottawa Valley, and it’s not just the food and beer. Featherweight Kayaks emerged from garages and barns by the Ottawa River and now paddler-turned-designer and builder Ben Fraser creates carbon freestyle kayaks for some of the best paddlers in the world. Each boat features original artwork by Valley native and freestyle athlete Dave Nieuwenhuis. Custom backbands, hip pads and boat bags are all hand built. With six Featherweights appearing at the 2015 Freestyle World Championships held here on the Ottawa, it’s clear these boats can perform on a world stage. —Carmen Kuntz is a freelance writer and Ottawa Valley kayaker

10. Mountain Biking

Mix it up with some of the amazing mountain biking and road riding in the area. GearHeads in Petawawa is a locally- owned shop that organizes weekly rides at Forest Lea Mountain Bike Trails, and rents and sells equipment (www.gearheads. ca). Just around the corner from the shop, Petawawa’s bike park, The Construction Yard, offers a skills center with progression jumps and a pump track. The Beachburg Off Road Cycling Association maintains non-motorized single-track trails in the Ottawa River area. Valley Cycle Tours runs out of a travel company in downtown Beachburg, where there’s a fleet of bikes perfect for riding the local roads and trails. (

11. Camping on the Ottawa

“While most people think of the Ottawa River as a day run because of easy access to put ins, take outs and park and play options, one my favorite features is the camping. The endless sandy beaches, quiet hideaways on small side channels, warm summertime waters and world class fishing all add up to epic camping, no matter how many days you decide to sleep out on the river. Whether you want a personal getaway from the electronic world or a family overnight adventure, the Ottawa River is the place to do it—it’s a highlight of the summer for me year after year.” —Nick Troutman, (Hometown Heroes, page 42)

12. Races for a Cause

The annual Movember Whitewater Classic race has become, well, a November classic race. Yes, there is sometimes snow on the ground, but it’s for a good cause— the event works with to raise funds for men’s health month. Additional proceeds go to Whitewater Ontario, directed to the organization’s work on river access issues. Wannabe Tom Sellecks and Ron Burgundys race 11 kilometers down the main channel of the Ottawa River, from the put-in to the take-out. With fundraising as the main goal, the race rules keep it simple: there’s a Le Mans start, everyone has to race with a partner, there are no boat restrictions, and the first people with hot chocolate in their ‘staches at the finish line win. Yes, all racers must have a moustache—peel-and-stick varieties accepted and mocked.

13. The Petawawa River

The Petawawa River in Algonquin Provincial Park is a free flowing multi-day wilderness river trip classic for canoes, kayaks, rafts or all of the above depending on the water levels. The summer whitewater canoe weekend section from Lake Travers to McManus Lake offers gorgeous beaches, scenic lake crossings, deep canyons and class II to IV rapids. The Petawawa was a favorite of the late Bill Mason, often featured in his films and books. Starting further upstream on what we now call the Upper Pet means steeper, more continuous whitewater. Although a popular wilderness canoe route, Rapid founder and publisher Scott MacGregor put the Upper Pet on the map as a day run when he and Alchemy columnist Jeff Jackson dragged kayaks five kilometers up the abandoned railway line for “Finding Flow on the Upper Petawawa.” There are even more multi-day runs across the nearby Quebec border on the Dumoine, Noire and Coulonge Rivers.

14. Whitewater Grand Prix

Not only has the Whitewater Grand Prix (WWGP) been hosted on the Ottawa River, the idea itself was dreamed up by Valley-native Patrick Camblin. Camblin, a paddler-turned-event planner, made the first WWGP happen in 2011, with subsequent versions in 2012 and 2014. The event has succeeded in its goal to get whitewater mainstream media attention by publishing high quality video on an ongoing basis throughout the competition and generating enormous social media hype. The event isn’t exactly accessible to the average boater, but draws an impressive crowd of the sport’s elite along with a mob of media and spectators. Qualifiers happen on multiple continents leading up to each Grand Prix, including the local Ottawa XL freestyle competition and boater cross race. The next WWGP is scheduled for sometime in 2017. 

15. Rapid Media

“I may as well live at the river, rather than spend my life driving to it,” I remember telling my brother who’d asked why I’d move to the middle of nowhere. At 26 years old, I’d just purchased my first Apple computer and rented a 600-square-foot cabin in a maple syrup bush. With dial-up Internet and a party line telephone we produced the very first issue of Rapid. Eighteen years, and two office moves later, Rapid is still in the Valley. The magazine headquarters is now located on the bank of the Madawaska River, a 20-minute paddle downstream of Palmer Rapids. Since the 1970s these friendly class II-III rapids flowing through a logging town have been the training ground for tens of thousands of new paddlers, guides and instructors just like me. Palmer Rapids is the home of paddling schools and summertime river festivals. Downstream, the Lower Madawaska Provincial Park, or simply the Lower Mad, is a quintessential one- to three- day whitewater canoe or crossover trip. In the early years of Rapid, I watched an A&E biography on Hugh Hefner. He was quoted as saying that he had to run his magazine out the Playboy Mansion because it fit his lifestyle and the dreams of his readers. That made sense to me. Rapid lives in the Ottawa Valley. —Scott MacGregor is the founder and publisher of Rapid magazine.

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