Everything You Will Ever Need to Know about the Rideau Canal

Everything You Will Ever Need to Know about the Rideau Canal

Among Ottawa’s many attractions, the Rideau Canal proudly stands as its most prominent landmark. This man-made body of water is considered to be one of man’s most impressive engineering achievements due to its sheer size and scope. 

The canal has a long history, having been an important military location that would later become a key trade location for Ottawa. Today, it is one of the city’s most beloved locations, a place where both locals and tourists alike visit to explore and relax. 

As an Ottawan, allow me to give you a full overview of the Rideau Canal, what you can do there, and why it’s such a major part of our culture. 

A Brief Overview of the Rideau Canal

The Rideau Canal is a true gem of Ottawa. It’s not just a historical waterway but also an integral part of our city’s identity. 

First and foremost, the Rideau Canal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s no surprise why. Stretching over 202 kilometers, this engineering marvel connects our beloved Ottawa River with Lake Ontario. 

In terms of depth, the canal is typically 4.3 to 4.9 meters (14 to 16 feet) deep. However, this can vary depending on the location and the time of year. 

The deepest part of the canal is at the Dows Lake Locks, where the depth is 7.9 meters (26 feet).

What makes the Rideau Canal truly special is that it isn’t just an empty waterway. No, my friend, it’s alive with history and activity. 

During the summer months, it’s a bustling hotspot for boating, kayaking, and canoeing. 

You’ll see families leisurely pedaling paddleboats and people enjoying picnics along its scenic shores. The canal is flanked by charming pathways, and it’s perfect for a leisurely stroll or a bike ride.

Now, when winter arrives, the Rideau Canal undergoes a magical transformation. It becomes the world’s largest naturally frozen skating rink! 

Locals and tourists alike eagerly await the freezing temperatures, hoping to lace up their skates and glide along the ice. 

It’s a very magical experience to move through the ice, past iconic landmarks like Parliament Hill and the Château Laurier, with the city lights twinkling in the background. For many people, this is an experience that warms the heart in the coldest of months.

But the canal isn’t just about recreation; it’s also a historical treasure trove. Along its banks, you’ll find various locks, many of which are still operated by hand, just as they were in the 19th century. 

The stone walls, the quaint lockmasters’ houses, and the picturesque bridges all speak to a time gone by.

In essence, the Rideau Canal is not just a waterway; it’s a symbol of Ottawa’s beauty, history, and resilience. It’s a place where Ottawans come together, whether for summer fun or winter magic. 

The canal is the place where our city’s pulse beats, where we celebrate our heritage, and where we make cherished memories. 

So, if you ever find yourself in our fair city, be sure to pay a visit to this iconic masterpiece. You’ll be able to see why it holds a special place in every Ottawan’s heart.

Activities to Do in the Rideau Canal 

As one of Ottawa’s most prominent landmarks, the Rideau Canal offers plenty of fun activities that you can do. 

Boating and Canoeing

Boating and Canoeing

The Rideau Canal is a boater’s paradise during the warm and sunny months. Whether you’re a seasoned sailor or a novice with a love for the water, there’s something special about cruising along this historic waterway. 

You can rent boats of various sizes, from paddleboats to larger vessels, at several points along the canal. Pontoon boats, canoes, and kayaks are also popular choices.

As you embark on your boating journey, you’ll be greeted by the stunning natural beauty of the canal’s surroundings. Towering trees, lush greenery, and charming waterside cottages provide a picturesque backdrop to your aquatic adventure. 

Along the way, you’ll pass through a series of locks, some of which are still manually operated, allowing you to experience the historic charm of the canal firsthand. 

These locks, with their stone walls and charming lockmaster’s houses, are like stepping back in time. They add a unique dimension to your boating experience, reminding you of the canal’s rich history.

For those seeking a more intimate connection with nature, canoeing is a delightful choice. It is a great way to explore the Rideau Canal, especially if you’re looking for its more private stretches. 

When you paddle a canoe along the water, you can enjoy the quiet peace it provides, with only the sound of your oars breaking the silence.

As you glide through the water, keep an eye out for wildlife. The canal is home to various bird species, including graceful swans and ducks, which often make for delightful companions on your journey. 

If you’re lucky, you might even spot a muskrat or a beaver going about its business along the canal’s banks.

Picnicking and Relaxing

Picnicking and Relaxing

Going on a picnic along the Rideau Canal is nothing short of a delightful and quintessential Ottawa experience.

The first step in your picnic adventure is selecting the perfect spot to spread out your blanket. The Rideau Canal offers numerous green spaces and charming parks along its length, each with its unique appeal. 

You could opt for a bustling spot near a popular lock, where you can watch boats leisurely pass through. Or you can seek out a quieter, more secluded area where the only sounds are the rustling leaves and the gentle lapping of the water. 

It’s a personal choice, and each spot has its own charm.

Once you’ve settled in, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views. The canal’s tranquil waters reflect the blue sky and the lush greenery that lines its banks. 

Depending on the time of year, you might be surrounded by vibrant spring blossoms, the verdant shades of summer, or the fiery hues of autumn. 

Some favorite picnic spots offer glimpses of iconic Ottawa landmarks, like Parliament Hill or historic bridges, which add a touch of grandeur to your al fresco dining experience.

Scenic Walking and Biking

Scenic Walking and Biking

A slow walk along the Rideau Canal is like taking a peaceful trip through the heart of Ottawa’s history and natural beauty. As you stroll along the well-kept paths that run next to the canal, you’ll feel at peace with your surroundings. 

What’s truly special about these walks is the sense of connection to the city’s heritage. You’ll encounter charming stone bridges, iconic locks, and historic buildings that tell the story of Ottawa’s past. 

It’s as if you’re walking through a living history book, with each step revealing a new chapter.

You’ll also have the chance to talk to other Ottawans and tourists who share your appreciation for this picturesque route. 

The paths along the Rideau Canal are the perfect place for meaningful talks and shared moments, whether you’re walking alone, on a date, or with your family.

If you’re in the mood for a more active exploration, biking along the Rideau Canal is an exhilarating experience. 

Ottawa boasts an extensive network of bike paths, many of which follow the canal’s meandering route. It’s an ideal way to cover more ground while still immersing yourself in the natural beauty and history of the area.

The Rideau Canal offers a variety of routes for cyclists, from the bustling urban pathways near downtown Ottawa to the more serene and secluded stretches as you venture further from the city center. 

Each route has its unique charm, and it’s up to you to choose the pace and ambiance that suits your mood.

As you pedal along, the gentle breeze on your face and the rhythmic sound of your bike wheels on the path create a sense of liberation. 

You’ll have the freedom to stop whenever you please to capture that perfect Instagram-worthy shot. Alternatively, you can simply take in the breathtaking vistas that unfold before you.

Skating in the Frozen Rideau Canal

Skating in the Frozen Rideau Canal

As winter descends upon our beautiful city and the temperature drops below freezing, you can feel the excitement in the air. People in Ottawa can’t wait until the Rideau Canal freezes over and turns into the world’s biggest naturally frozen skating rink. 

It’s a change that happens right in front of our eyes, as the water in the canal slowly turns into a shiny sheet of ice.

The vibrant atmosphere is contagious as skaters of all ages and skill levels lace up their skates. Whether you’re a seasoned skater or a novice, there’s a sense of camaraderie that prevails as everyone shares in the joy of this unique winter experience.

Once you step onto the ice, you’ll be greeted by the satisfying swish of your blades gliding effortlessly. The Rideau Canal offers a smooth and well-maintained skating surface that stretches for miles. 

The scenery is nothing short of enchanting as you skate past iconic landmarks like Parliament Hill and the Château Laurier. 

Take it from me, if you want a truly breathtaking view, go skating during the evening and you will see their impressive lights during the wintery evening.

Along the canal, you’ll find charming rest areas and kiosks where you can warm up with a cup of hot cocoa or indulge in a beloved BeaverTail pastry. 

These cozy stops become essential waypoints on your skating journey, offering respite from the winter chill and a chance to refuel.

Events to Attend in Rideau Canal 

Quite often, the Rideau Canal finds itself being used as the main venue for many of Ottawa’s events. Let me show you a few notable examples. 



Winterlude, as its name implies, is a spectacular celebration of all things winter. It’s an event that warms the hearts of Ottawans even in the coldest of months. 

It is a three-week-long winter festival that typically takes place in January and February, and it shows how much we love the cold season. One of its most famous features is that the Rideau Canal turns into the world’s biggest naturally frozen skating rink. 

Another highlight of Winterlude is the breathtaking ice sculpture competition. Artists from all over the world come to Ottawa to make complex and beautiful works out of blocks of ice. 

At night, the statues are lit up, giving off a magical glow that turns the canal into a beautiful outdoor art gallery. It’s a great example of how the cold of winter can make people more creative.

During the festival, the area around the Rideau Canal comes to life with live music, cultural shows, and events that are fun for the whole family. 

You can warm up in nice, heated tents where you can get sweet Canadian treats like hot chocolate and maple taffy on snow. 

Winterlude also has snow slides, ice playgrounds, and engaging displays for kids, which makes it a great event for the whole family.

For all of us Ottawans, Winterlude is a time for the whole community to get together and enjoy the season. People from all over the world come to the canal to laugh, make memories, and enjoy the unique beauty of our city in the winter. 

It’s a time to bundle up, enjoy the cool air, and connect with other partygoers over a love of all things cold.

Ice Dragon Boat Festival

Ice Dragon Boat Festival

Ice dragon boat races are a fun new addition to the winter sports along the Rideau Canal. Usually, dragon boat races happen in the summer, but ice dragon boat races add a unique twist to Ottawa’s winter beauty.

In these races, there aren’t any traditional dragon boats. Instead, there are sleek, colorful ice dragon boats with runners that make them glide smoothly over the frozen surface.

Watching an ice dragon boat race is a sight to behold. Teams of paddlers, bundled up in their warmest gear, synchronize their strokes to propel their boats across the ice. 

It’s a thrilling competition that showcases both skill and teamwork. The picturesque backdrop of the frozen canal and the Parliament Buildings adds an extra layer of grandeur to the races.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a participant, a spectator, or just someone who enjoys the beauty of winter. This event shows how Ottawa’s winters are marked by strength, creativity, and a strong sense of community. 

If you ever get the chance to watch or take part in an ice dragon boat race, it will make you appreciate the magic of winter in our city in a whole new way.

Canada Day Celebrations

Canada Day Celebrations

On Canada Day, the Rideau Canal is one of the most well-known parts of the celebrations. The calm waters of the canal and the beautiful scenery around it make a beautiful setting for the party. 

Around the Rideau Canal, including Parliament Hill and Major’s Hill Park, there are live music acts, cultural shows, and parties going on all day long. It’s a busy place where artists and singers from all over Canada gather to show off their skills. 

Along the canal, there are often stages set up where people can listen to music and dance.

Then you have the big fireworks show, one of the most anticipated parts of Canada Day. Rideau Canal is one of the best places to see it, and you’ll learn why in a bit. 

As night falls and the sky over Ottawa lights up with colorful bursts, thousands of locals and tourists gather along the canal to watch the amazing show. The fireworks are even more magical because they can be seen in the water of the canal.

Tulip Festival

Tulip Festival

The Rideau Canal is very important to the history of the Tulip Festival. It honors the long-lasting bond between Canada and the Netherlands, which began when the Dutch royal family fled to Canada during World War II. 

The Netherlands sent thousands of tulip bulbs to Canada as a thank-you gift for giving shelter to their monarchs. These bulbs have since grown into the beautiful displays we see today.

While the main festival activities often take place in Commissioners Park near Dows Lake, the Rideau Canal plays a role in hosting various events and activities. 

Visitors can enjoy guided tours, live performances, and cultural displays along the canal’s pathways during this period. 

It’s a place where people from all walks of life gather to celebrate the beauty of spring and the enduring spirit of friendship between nations.

Most of the time, the Tulip Festival is held in May, when spring flowers are at their best. With its pretty paths and views, the Rideau Canal is a natural place to show off thousands of colorful flowers. 

Along the canal, there are colorful tulip beds that make a floral paradise where people can walk, have picnics, and, of course, look at the tulip displays.