For many people, canoe and kayak racing conjures images of elite athletes jostling in the water as they strive to push the limits of human performance—not the most accessible pastime for the weekend punter. In fact, canoe and kayak races in Canada run the gamut from ultra-competitive marathons to silly family fun. Races are often held in conjunction with festivals full of opportunities to sightsee, socialize and entertain the kids. Here is our list of the top ten Canadian canoe and kayak races to see—and compete in—for yourself.

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Top 10 canoe and kayak races in Canada

1. White Bear Family Challenge

Temagami, Ontario |

The Temagami Canoe Festival is a three-day family-friendly celebration of music, canoes and culture. It also plays host the White Bear Family Challenge, a fun-for-all-ages paddling race on Lake Temagami. Teams paddle down Portage Bay, around Island 27 and return through Muddy Water Bay for a total of four kilometers. Almost any paddle-powered craft is acceptable, including canoes, kayaks, standup paddleboards, dragon boats, rowboats, dinghies and hollowed-out logs.

2. Clearwater Kayak Fest

Clearwater, British Columbia |

Come for the downriver race, but stay for the infamous after-party. Paddlers come from all over British Columbia to celebrate this river. In addition to the downriver race, the festival hosts a freestyle competition on one of the great play spots in the lower canyon. Paddlers can enjoy all the sections of the river in the beautiful Wells Gray Provincial Park, there’s everything from class I to class V located nearby.

A team of paddlers participate in a canoe race
Photo: Courtesy Greater Montreal Outrigger Challenge

3. Greater Montreal Outrigger Challenge

Montreal, Quebec |

Set against a picturesque backdrop, the Greater Montreal Outrigger Challenge promises high-quality competition as novice and seasoned paddlers alike race on the Ottawa River and Deux Montagnes Lake. The seven-, 16-, and 32-kilometer courses are open to canoes, kayaks, SUPs and rowing skiffs. With changing water conditions and winds, racers may be faced with anything from a calm ride to a true test of stamina and determination.

4. Race the Phantom

Northern New Brunswick

This 24-hour adventure race includes mountain biking, canoeing and kayaking, and trekking. Teams of three or four must navigate from checkpoint to checkpoint over some of the wildest terrain New Brunswick has to offer. Gear is staged on the course at specific checkpoints to avoid the need for teams to bring a support crew. Teams will cover more than 100 kilometers and will be self sufficient for long periods of time in this challenge of endurance.

5. The Upper Ottawa River Race and Paddle Festival

Pembroke, Ontario |

The Upper Ottawa River Race and Paddle Festival is a three-day event celebrating active outdoor lifestyles and the Ottawa River. The festival kicks off with the Reel Paddling Film Festival and continues with a series of canoe and kayak races on Saturday with distances of one, four and 13 kilometers. The festival wraps up with the Stand Up For CHEO—proceeds go to the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

A group of kayakers compete in a flatwater kayak race
Photo: Scott MacGregor

6. Great Canadian Canoe and Kayak Challenge and Festival

Timmins, Ontario |

The Great Canadian Kayak Challenge & Festival is the biggest money kayak event in Canada—last year more than $12,000 in prize money was awarded. From Elite to Novice to Celebrity, and with distance from three to 35 kilometers, there’s a race category to suit every type of paddler. In addition to the kayak races, the festival includes arts and music performances, children’s activities and hot air balloon rides. The festival also features a fireworks display and camping is free for paddlers.

Photo: Courtesy La Classique Internationale de Canots de la Mauricie

7. La Classique Internationale de Canots de la Mauricie

La Maurice, Quebec |

A jewel in the triple crown of canoe marathon racing, this event winds down the gorgeous St-Maurice River. More than 50,000 visitors will attend over four days of cultural and sporting activities. A staple in the racing scene since 1934, this 200-kilometer race features three mandatory stops from La Tuque to Trois-Rivières.

The start of a race at Muskoka River X
Photo: Courtesy Muskoka River X

8. Muskoka River X

Huntvsille, Ontario |

The Muskoka River X is the longest single-day paddling race in the world. Teams will paddle two rivers systems, three lakes and traverse 20 portages for a total of 130 kilometers in less than 24 hours. New for this year is the Coureur des Bois class. These paddlers leave a day early and paddle an additional 90 kilometers through Algonquin Park with an overnight layover, before meeting up with the Classic division again.

9. Ice Canoe Race

Quebec City, Quebec |

Paddlers brave the icy clutches of winter on the St. Lawrence Seaway during Quebec’s Winter Carnival each February. Paddlers must navigate around—as well as up and over—icy floes. Strong winds, troubled waters and giant ocean-going vessels are just some of the other hazards. Distances range from three to six kilometers. The festival also includes ice carving competitions, dog sled rides, horse carriage rides and snow raves.

A group of people paddle in a large racing canoe
Photo: Courtesy Yukon River Quest

10. Yukon River Quest

Whitehorse, Yukon |

Following in the steps of the gold rush, the Yukon River Quest challenges paddlers to a grueling 715 kilometers on the Yukon River, leaving from Whitehorse and arriving in Dawson City two to three days later. It’s the longest annual canoe and kayak race in the world and done under the midnight sun. There are only 10 hours of mandatory rest stops along the way. Paddlers face strong currents, icy water, volatile weather, headwinds and grizzly bears, as well as exhaustion-induced hallucinations in their quest for glory.


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