A Quick Guide for Your Whitewater Adventures in the Ottawa River

A Quick Guide for Your Whitewater Adventures in the Ottawa River

What adventurers love about Ottawa is that you can easily dive into the heart-pounding world of whitewater fun in the Ottawa River! It’s nestled in Canada’s capital region, and this pristine waterway beckons thrill-seekers from far and wide. 

From leisurely family floats minutes from downtown to the adrenaline-pumping class III to V rapids, the Ottawa River delivers unforgettable adventures! 

Whether you’re craving a refreshing summer splash or a wild ride to set your heart racing, Ottawa is your gateway to the ultimate whitewater escapades. 

But before you go on your adventure, we’ll tell you everything you need to know to enjoy yourself to the fullest while staying safe!

When to Have the Best Whitewater Adventures in Ottawa

When to Have the Best Whitewater Adventures in Ottawa

If you’re looking to have some whitewater fun in Ottawa, the best time to do it is usually around May to September every year. 

During these months, the upper Ottawa and Madawaska Rivers, just a short drive west of downtown Ottawa, transform into a haven for whitewater enthusiasts

This picturesque stretch of waterway, adorned with lush green forests and breathtaking Canadian Shield rock formations, becomes the epicenter of paddling excitement.

Here, you’ll also discover renowned paddling outfitters like OWL Rafting, Rafting Momentum, and Wilderness Tours. Each one offers an array of half-day and multi-day whitewater packages, all depending on how much fun you plan on having! 

Whether you prefer the rustic charm of camping, the comfort of cedar wood cabins, or the hospitality of B&B accommodations, there’s an option to suit your style. 

Regardless of your choice, one thing is certain – your journey along the Ottawa River will be nothing short of magical!

Whitewater Adventures in the Ottawa River

Whitewater Rafting

Whitewater Rafting

For those adrenaline junkies who just love having heart-pumping adventures, whitewater rafting in the Ottawa River region is an adventure like no other. Here, you have a plethora of options to tailor your experience precisely to your taste. 

The Ottawa River’s intricate network of channels and its diverse range of rapid classes mean that river guides can offer a wide variety of rafting adventures.

But if you prefer a more relaxed encounter with nature, you can also opt for a gentle float on a large raft. You’ll still get a delightful splash to keep things exciting. 

You can brave the class V waves on a sport raft – or choose something in between these extremes if you’re aiming to get your fill of thrills. 

The size of the boats and passenger capacity vary, and private bookings are usually available to accommodate your group’s preferences.

But whitewater rafting here isn’t just about the rapids because, depending on your chosen trip, you might have the chance to swim, body surf, and float in the waves. 

You can even take on cliff jumps, explore the shoreline, and marvel at cascading waterfalls along the way. Rest assured, all the necessary gear is provided, and most trips include meals served right on the boat or by the water’s edge.

And when the day’s adventure winds down, many outfitters offer the option to unwind with local craft beer, a hot tub or sauna, and maybe even a live band performance. 

Kinds of Whitewater Rafting

Kinds of Whitewater Rafting

Due to the Ottawa River having so many channels, you can choose from three types of whitewater rafting levels based on their intensity. So it’s advisable to take the level that aligns with your experience level and just whichever is most comfortable for you.


There’s no shame in being a beginner and or just wanting to play it safe, which is why low-intensity whitewater rafting is perfect for enjoying the thrill at a more relaxed pace. 

In these adventures, your guide takes the helm of a 6 to 7-person raft, providing expert navigation and instructions on paddling techniques. This means you can fully immerse yourself in the stunning surroundings without the need for strenuous physical effort.

One of the best things about low-intensity rafting is the minimal risk involved because raft flips or passengers falling out are exceedingly rare. 

These trips are typically available from June to September when the river’s channels are at their calmest. It features Class II and III rapids that provide just the right amount of excitement without being overly challenging.

During your low-intensity rafting adventure, you’ll have opportunities for optional activities like body surfing and swimming. 

These outings aren’t just about the adrenaline rush; they also offer chances to connect with the river and its natural beauty in a unique and memorable way. 


Once you’ve got some more experience under your belt, taking a medium-intensity whitewater rafting adventure is the next thing to do! 

It’s tailored for individuals with some swimming skills and a comfort level with water activities, as there’s a higher chance your raft may flip during these exhilarating trips. 

These excursions typically employ a 12-person raft, expertly guided by a seasoned professional who’ll ensure your safety throughout the journey.

Active participation is a key component of medium-intensity rafting, meaning all passengers must be prepared to paddle and navigate the river’s challenges as a team. 

This level of rafting also offers thrilling opportunities for body surfing, floating, and even cliff jumping for the more adventurous spirits.

It’s important to note that medium-intensity rafting trips have specific requirements for participants. Children must be at least 13 years old and weigh a minimum of 40kg (90lbs) to join in the adventure. 

These trips are generally available from May to September, allowing you to enjoy the Ottawa River at its most dynamic and captivating.


As you can expect, high-intensity whitewater rafting trips are the epitome of excitement for those seeking an adrenaline-pumping adventure on the Ottawa River. 

These experiences are not for the faint of heart and are best suited for individuals with exceptional swimming skills and a high level of comfort in aquatic environments. 

It’s important to note that high-intensity rafting is not recommended for first-time rafters due to the challenging nature of the rapids.

During high-intensity rafting trips, you’ll find yourself in smaller rafts, either 6 to 7-person sport rafts or two-person sport yaks, under a seasoned professional’s guidance. 

Active and vigorous paddling is a must, as these trips take you through the most thrilling and tumultuous sections of the river. 

Participants can also still look forward to optional activities like body surfing, floating, and even cliff jumping for the most adventurous souls.

Just like the medium-intensity, participants should be at least 13 years old and weigh a minimum of 40kg (90lbs). These heart-pounding adventures are available from May to September.

Whitewater Kayaking

Whitewater Kayaking

If rafting doesn’t sound like something you’d enjoy, there are also whitewater kayaking opportunities you can take advantage of at the Ottawa River!

For beginners looking to learn whitewater kayaking, the Downtown Ottawa Instruction program offered by OWL Rafting’s Madawaska Kanu Centre is an ideal choice. This program is conveniently located less than a 5-minute drive from downtown Ottawa. 

Lessons take place at a spot known as The Pumphouse, which is just around the corner from the Canadian War Museum

It’s worth noting that it’s a renowned training ground for many Canadian kayaking athletes, making it a fantastic place to start your kayaking journey.

For more experienced whitewater kayakers, Ottawa has something special to offer at Champlain Bridge Wave, fondly known as The Wall. It’s located just off Bate Island and is less than a 10-minute drive west of downtown Ottawa. 

The rapids here feature a standing, ever-flowing wave that attracts surfers and freestyle whitewater kayakers from all corners of the globe, particularly in the spring. 

If you’d rather be a spectator, you can easily access the site by biking from downtown Ottawa along the scenic Ottawa River Pathway or by driving to Bate Island.

Approximately 2km upstream from The Wall, toward the Quebec side of the Ottawa River, you’ll find another popular playspot for freestyle kayaking. The Deschenes Rapids in this area flows through the cement ruins of an abandoned electricity facility.

This creates challenging waves, making it an exhilarating experience for skilled paddlers seeking a rush of adrenaline.

What to Wear on Your Whitewater Adventure

What to Wear on Your Whitewater Adventure

The kind of equipment to wear when going on a thrilling whitewater rafting adventure in the Ottawa River largely depends on the time of year you plan to go. 

The river’s conditions vary from cool to comfortably warm during different seasons, and rafting companies typically provide guidelines to ensure you’re adequately prepared.

For cooler days in May, early June, and September when the water temperature is cooler, it’s essential to wear secure footwear such as: 

  • Sneakers
  • Sport Sandals
  • Water Shoes (avoid flip flops or crocs)
  • Wool Socks 

A wool or fleece sweater also helps maintain your body heat, while a nylon windbreaker provides protection against splashes. Full wetsuits are often available for rent during this period to keep you snug. 

As the weather warms up from mid-June through August, you can opt for a more relaxed outfit. Sneakers, sports sandals, or water shoes are still essential to protect your feet. 

A bathing suit is perfect for those warm days, paired with quick-dry clothing for added comfort. Don’t skimp on sunscreen to avoid sunburn, and depending on the weather, you might choose to wear a full or half wetsuit, which is typically available for rent.