Built between 1826 and 1832 to offer secure passage for British ships from Montreal, the Rideau Canal—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—is an engineering masterpiece. It extends for 126 miles (202 kilometers) between Ottawa and Kingston. Ottawa’s most visited stretch lures boaters, cyclists, and strollers in summer, and ice skaters in winter.
Ottawa visitors will almost certainly encounter the Rideau Canal at some point during their trip, as the waterway cuts right through the heart of Canada’s capital city and is visible from Parliament Hill. Bike tours of the city often follow the Rideau Canal Pathways, which extend along both sides of the canal, and many walking tours include a visit to the canal’s edge. You can also embark on Rideau Canal sightseeing cruises, or join a kayak or canoe excursion. In winter, rent skates and glide around the vast, well-maintained Rideau Canal Skateway, formed by a cordoned-off part of the canal.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Bike and boat tours on the canal run from May through October.
- If you’re going in winter, bundle up, as temperatures frequently drop below freezing.
- Fishing is allowed on some parts of the waterway, including Dow’s Lake. An Ontario fishing permit and outdoors card are required.
How to Get There
If you’re staying in downtown Ottawa, the best way to reach the canal is on foot. From Ottawa’s main train station, ride the 61 bus. Alternatively, a taxi from the station will take 15 to 20 minutes.
When to Get There
Ottawa’s peak visiting periods are January, February, and June to August. Even during its busiest times, the canal rarely feels crowded. If you want to see it at its most peaceful, go early in the morning.
Rideau Canal Skateway
Every winter, a 4.8-mile (7.8-kilometer) stretch of the frozen Rideau Canal transforms into an open-air ice-skating rink. Designated the world’s largest naturally frozen skate rink by the Guinness World Records, the hugely popular Rideau Canal Skateway attracts an average of 20,000 visitors per day. The skating season’s length and dates vary according to weather conditions, but typically the rink is open from January to the end of February or early March. You can rent skates from canal-side huts, some of which also sell hot chocolate, hot apple cider, and BeaverTails, a fried-dough pastry topped with cinnamon and sugar.