The Ottawa region is one of the top whitewater destinations in the world. Known for world-class adventure companies, epic whitewater, and a variety of river trips for all experience levels, whitewater rafting in Ottawa is the adventure you’ve been looking for.
Your rafting trip will take place on the Ottawa River, a mighty waterway offering thrilling rapids, pristine scenery and warm water. While some people choose to paddle the rapids themselves, we recommend going with an experienced rafting company to make sure you get the right level of excitement, adrenaline, safety and success.
No whitewater experience is necessary; you’ll learn everything you need to know before hitting the first set of rapids. In fact, more people raft the Ottawa River than any other river in Canada every year.
[This article is part of the Ultimate Ottawa Valley Adventure Guide. Find all the resources you need to plan an adventure-filled trip to the Ottawa Valley.]
What to expect
Your rafting trip can be tailored to what you are looking to experience. It might be a family-friendly roll down the river, or a high-adrenaline descent. It’s based on the tour you choose, the section of the river and the time of year you choose to go whitewater rafting in Ottawa.
Your standard whitewater rafting tour starts with a drive 90 minutes northwest of Ottawa along the Ottawa River (only the urban rafting experience, which we’ll get into later, doesn’t have this requirement).
Once onsite, you’ll fill out the required paperwork, and then do an orientation, during which you’ll get a safety demonstration, don your personal safety devices (helmets and life jackets), and get the rundown about the day’s events on the water. You’ll be briefed on the parts of the trip that require your crew’s teamwork and attention, and when you can relax and enjoy the views.
After you take to the water, you’ll get into the groove of paddling to your guide’s rhythm (or them with yours). With the sun warming your face, don’t worry, you can expect to get wet, especially if you are at the front of the boat. If you don’t want to be splashed, you may want to tell your guide this in advance.
The action centers on a 10-km-long stretch of river known as Rocher Fendu (Split Rock). Here, the river forms two distinct channels, careening through a maze of 175 wild islands and rollicking Class III–V rapids—including a 5-meter-high waterfall—with something for every adventure appetite. Depending on which trip you chose, you’ll plunge down the rollercoaster rapids of the Middle Channel, or dig deep in the challenging Main Channel—home to some of the largest commercially run, white-knuckle whitewater in North America!
Most trips include a lunch, or a cool drink as you float down a flat part of the river. You may even have the opportunity to try cliff jumping.
Best whitewater rafting in Ottawa
The acclaimed whitewater resorts of the Ottawa Valley make it easy for first-time river rafters to experience everything this outstanding river has to offer. In addition to Ottawa River rafting day trips, most companies offer riverside accommodations, meal plans, multi-day packages and other adventure activities.
Family-owned and operated since 1981, OWL Rafting is one of the oldest and best-known Ottawa River rafting companies. Friendly and experienced guides, delicious food, a peaceful waterfront location and a terrific variety of one- and two-day rafting packages make this whitewater resort a top choice for families. Trips are rated low-, medium- or high-intensity, so it’s easy to choose a just-right experience.
OWL Rafting is also the only Ottawa River rafting resort that ends each day of whitewater rafting with a scenic pontoon boat cruise down the lovely Lower Channel. Enjoy a barbecue dinner aboard as you return to OWL’s beachfront resort on Voyageur Bay. Still have energy to spare? The resort offers a choice of additional activities from their beach, including kayaks, canoes, standup paddleboards, beach volleyball, disk-golf and a bike pump track. Accommodation options include riverside camping, rustic cabins, new cabanas and an RV park.
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Founded in 1975 by Ottawa River rafting pioneer Joe Kowalski, Wilderness Tours is the original whitewater rafting company on the Ottawa River. Nearly five decades later, Kowalski and his team of passionate river guides and resort staff have made Wilderness Tours the top raft and kayak resort in Canada, introducing some 2.5 million guests from around the world to the magic of the Ottawa Valley. Being first on the river enabled Wilderness Tours to help establish the environmental movement that has kept this section of the Ottawa River wild and pristine for future generations. To date, the Wilderness Tours Land Trust has protected over 5,000 acres of the river corridor from development, with the goal that someday it will be designated a national park.
Their programming runs “mild to wild” with one- to five-day programs. With the largest adventure resort in the business, which can accommodate up to a group of 500, their “après rafting” experience can include lounging by the pool or fireside, bungee jumping, rock climbing, mountain biking and more. The adventure at Wilderness Tours can begin as young as 7 years old with family programs “that have been kid-tested for over 20 years.” You must be a minimum of 50 pounds to enjoy the river portion of the resort. Wilderness Tours has cabins, lake houses and beach houses to accommodate up to 12 people per space.
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Ottawa City Rafting
If you don’t have a day to drive and paddle, but want to get on the river, Wilderness Tours’ new family-friendly urban whitewater rafting venture, Ottawa City Rafting, is a novel way to see the sites in Ottawa. Paddlers aged 5 and up can experience a three-hour whitewater rafting tour in Ottawa starting just 10 minutes’ drive west of downtown Ottawa at Britannia Beach. The interpretive trip of the river’s living history from First Nations to loggers and up to today, is an added bonus to the river rafting. The optional river float and optional cliff jump are also a bonus. One trip highlight is seeing Parliament Hill from this totally unique vantage point.
The company also runs scenic, two-hour float trips from their Britannia Beach location to downtown Ottawa. This trip involves paddling inflatable tubes through smaller rapids and relaxing lazy river sections. The minimum age for this trip is 12.
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RiverRun Rafting & Wilderness Resort
RiverRun Rafting occupies the same superb 165-acre, riverfront location—right at the take-out for Ottawa River rafting day trips—as Wilderness Tours, which relocated to the shared site in 2020 after acquiring RiverRun. Offering the same amenities as its parent resort, RiverRun Rafting experiences include high-intensity, six-passenger sport raft day trips, medium-intensity day trips aboard bigger 12-passenger rafts, and low-intensity family rafting day trips in eight-passenger rafts. After a day on the water, guests can explore the resort property’s 4,000 feet of beautiful shoreline and hike to old-growth forest and spectacular river views in the adjacent Ottawa River Provincial Park.
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Esprit Whitewater Rafting
Looking for double the rapids and excitement in a single day of Ottawa River whitewater rafting? Esprit Whitewater is the only river outfitter that offers rafting on both the Main and Middle channels of the Ottawa in one epic day. Ranked by National Geographic as one of the Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth, Esprit’s guests applaud the outfitter’s small-group Ottawa River rafting trips, which use only 14-foot sport rafts for the best whitewater thrills. Founded in 1992 by award-winning whitewater leader and eco-advocate Jim Coffey, Esprit remains committed to river conservation.
From their riverside basecamp location on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River, Esprit offers both day trips and an outstanding variety of multi-day packages, including combinations of rafting and zip-lining, bungee jumping, horseback riding, cycling, canoeing, SUP and kayaking. For the ultimate adrenaline rush, combine rafting with a day of riverboarding. Pioneered by Esprit, riverboarding is an “in-your-face” whitewater experience—armed with a rigid foam board, flippers, helmet and lifejacket, you’ll follow your guide down the river, kicking your way though towering waves and foaming holes. Overnight guests can choose from riverside camping, hostel accommodation or comfortable rooms, suites and self-contained cottage options.
A relative newcomer to the Ottawa River rafting scene, Quebec-based Rafting Momentum boasts a variety of accessible day trip and overnight rafting packages for families and adrenaline junkies, with some of the most competitive prices on the river. Enjoy a full day on the water, and then relax and relive the excitement with a video screening of your trip and a delicious barbecue meal at Rafting Momentum’s welcoming basecamp, housed in a beautifully crafted barn. Overnight guests can choose from camping, rustic cabins or off-grid, self-contained cottages.
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HorizonX is a Quebec-based rafting outfitter that’s known for their unique rafting style and trip options. For starters, HorizonX runs the smallest rafts on the Ottawa River—paddling these sporty, six-person rafts guarantees a wet and wild ride. HorizonX also boasts the only after-dark whitewater rafting trips on the Ottawa! Choose from Happy Hour rafting (weekday evenings from 5–9 p.m.)—four hours of action-packed adrenaline with no other rafting groups in sight, plus viewing the sunset on the river. Or, if you dare, try Full Moon Rafting through Class II rapids—the only experience of its kind in Canada. Overnight guests enjoy HorizonX’s riverside basecamp, meal plan and relaxation zone with hot tub. Choose from camping sites or rustic river-view cabins.
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Ottawa River rafting family options
A whitewater rafting getaway on the Ottawa River is perfect for adventurous families. Everyone gets a paddle, so everyone gets to participate. Gentle rafting trips rated low-intensity are suitable for children as young as 5 (must weigh at least 50 pounds/23 kilograms). Higher intensity rafting trips, including most trips using six-person sport rafts, are suitable for children ages 13 and up (minimum weight is 90 pounds/40 kilograms).
Families looking for a small-boat Ottawa whitewater rafting experience will find Esprit Whitewater offers the greatest flexibility—their Two-Channel Day Trip permits youths ages 12 and up to paddle sport rafts on both the Main and Middle channels, while children ages 7–11 can enjoy a morning of rafting the Middle Channel followed by an afternoon of adventure activities at Esprit’s basecamp.
Consider a resort-based family package if you are looking to spend a couple days river rafting while enjoying tasty meal plans, cozy accommodations or camping, and the multitude of other outdoor activities these riverfront rafting resorts have to offer.
Is whitewater rafting safe?
Safety is always a concern when embarking on any extreme sport, and that is one reason it’s recommended to go with a reputable company that has decades of experience. Yes, there have been worldwide whitewater rafting deaths, but these are most often when people use their own boats and are not on guided tours. In one 1998 study, whitewater rafting was found to be safer than recreational biking, swimming, whitewater kayaking and scuba diving.
In actuality, some whitewater rafting trips in Ottawa will seem fun but dull (read: very safe) for the adrenaline junkies, but for them there are more extreme adventures available (which are also safe, but may involve accelerated heart rates, and some good stories to tell). Just don’t lie to yourself about what type of experience you’ll be comfortable with. Peer pressure sucks, but you might be happier on an easier experience on the river while your friends choose the Full Monty.
To be safe on the water, it’s important to follow the guide’s instructions. They’ve been doing this for a long time and are there to make your trip as enjoyable as possible. Injuries while whitewater rafting are few and far between. The most common injuries are bumps, bruises and scrapes. Each raft carries a first aid kit, and all guides are certified in First Aid and CPR.
For safety reasons, people under 50 pounds cannot raft, and people under 90 pounds are typically not recommended if you are taking a walk on the wild and wet side. That doesn’t have to end your adventure though, as some sites offer daycare.
When is Ottawa’s whitewater rafting season?
The Ottawa River boasts the longest, warmest whitewater rafting season in Canada. Hydroelectric dams above and below the whitewater section of the river ensure there is plenty of water volume to create the Ottawa’s famous rapids, even in late summer when other rivers are unrunnable. Ottawa River rafting trips run from May to October, with each season offering something unique. Visit in the summer (July to early September) for the warmest water and best swimming, body surfing and cliff jumping opportunities. Summer water levels average about 250 CMS (cubic meters/second) or 8,800 CFS (cubic feet/second), with water temperature reaching a pleasant 22°C (71°F).
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For warm-blooded thrill-seekers, spring (May to June) on the Ottawa River offers the biggest waves, gnarliest rapids and Greyhound bus-sized hydraulics that can swallow an entire 12-person raft. Peak spring flow can be in excess of 4,500 CMS or 176,500 CFS, with water temperature hovering around a bone-chilling 4–6°C (39–42°F).
Fall (September to early October) can be a beautiful season for Ottawa River rafting, with the changing leaf colors of the surrounding forests. It’s also a quieter time on the river, which means less time waiting for your raft’s turn to run the rapid and more time to surf each wave. Expect heavier flows than summer, and warmer temperatures than spring.
What to bring and wear for Ottawa River rafting
Ottawa River rafting outfitters provide all mandatory safety equipment—including helmet, life jacket and optional wetsuit for early/late season trips.
Aside from the basics including a bathing suit and/or swim shorts, it is also recommended that you have a rashguard or sun-protection shirt, waterproof sunscreen, a towel and dry change of clothing. You’re also going to need shoes that will stay securely on your feet (this means leave your flip flops and Crocs at the campsite). Bring water shoes, or sport sandals with a secure adjustable back strap. Also make sure eye glasses/sunglasses are secured. Check with the company about having your cellphone with you, whether it has to be in a gearbox, or if you can keep it on your person.
OWL Rafting also has a list of what to bring for colder days, including wool socks, a wool hat, a light wool or synthetic sweater, a paddling jacket (and or light windbreaker), and synthetic or wool bottoms (no cotton—it stays wet and can make you cold). On windy days it can be helpful to bring a pair of synthetic gloves with grips on the palms. Some companies rent/provide water shoes or wetsuits.
Finally, it’s a good habit to bring tip money for the guides. It is not mandatory, but if they’ve done a great job, tipping is a great way to thank them for providing you with a fun and safe trip.
How to get to Ottawa River rafting
The whitewater rafting resorts on the Ontario side of the Ottawa River are clustered around the rural hamlet of Foresters Falls, a 90-minute drive from the city of Ottawa. Travelers with their own vehicles can take the Trans-Canada Highway west to Renfrew and then follow signs indicating the rafting resort of their choice.
If you are traveling by bus from Ottawa, Ontario Northland can bring you as far as Cobden (1 hour, 40 minutes). From here to the rafting resorts, you’ll need to book a ride with Whitewater Bus Lines (613-646-7257).
On the Quebec side of the Ottawa River, Esprit Whitewater offers convenient, same-day return shuttles from Ottawa/Gatineau to their rafting basecamp near Davidson, Quebec. Esprit also offers an affordable, one-way shuttle service from Pembroke for travelers arriving from the north.
From Toronto, Ottawa’s river rafting resorts are a five-hour drive east.
Ice Bus offers an express bus service from locations in Toronto to central Ottawa (4 hours, 15 minutes).
Train service from Toronto to Ottawa with VIA Rail takes around 4.5 hours.
Flights from Toronto to Ottawa (1 hour each way) are offered by Air Canada and WestJet.
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Where to stay near Ottawa River rafting
For the easiest, no-hassle Ottawa River rafting experience, stay at the whitewater rafting resort of your choice—all of the outfitters listed above offer a range of camping, rustic cabin and cottage accommodation.
If you’re looking for an off-site option with more amenities or luxuries, yet still close to the action, check out these Top Cottage Rentals Near Ottawa.
Located right on the Ottawa River near Foresters Falls, just a 10-minute drive from Ontario’s rafting resorts, the Whitewater Cottage Resort offers a wide range of accommodation options for all types of budgets and groups. Choose from rustic or deluxe cabins, waterfront chalets or a luxury log lake house.
Nearby camping options include Bona Vista Campground on Muskrat Lake in Cobden, and Logos Land Resort, also in Cobden. Along with cabins, camping and RV sites, this family resort features a motel, self-contained villas, a water park, zip-lines and golf course.
Try “glamping”—or glamorous camping—in the beautiful Ottawa Valley forest at Elements Luxury Tented Camp, just minutes from the river and the rapids.
Wilderness Tours is one of several outfitters that’ll provide you with a wild ride down the Ottawa. | Photo by: Destination Ontario
I have enjoyed white water rafting with Wilderness tours twice with my kids and it was a great day each time. But a few years ago I went with some friends to Esprit white water rafting located on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River near Davidson Quebec. In my opinion it was even a greater time doing 2 runs, one which the other companies don’t do. So for a little higher adventure you might want to check out Esprit.