Canada’s wow-factor waterways

Emerald Lake, British Columbia

Canada’s shimmering expanses of rivers and lakes are the beating heart of a travel experience.

From British Columbia to Quebec, the country’s wonderland of waterways beckons. Stunning lakeside lodges and resorts are the starting point for outdoor adventure, from grizzly bear viewing and world-class kayaking, canoeing and rafting in autumn to ice skating and ice fishing in winter.

Each province has cinematic rewards born of lakes and rivers. Your holiday starts here:

Wild about British Columbia

To see the salmon run on Vancouver Island in British Columbia (BC) between August and December is to embrace nature’s vibrant, vigorous life cycle. In Stamp River Provincial Park alone, some 40 million salmon make their epic journey.

Whistler, too, is surrounded by lakes and rivers waiting to be explored. Stand-up paddle boarding on Alta Lake will have you immersed in spectacular scenery while canoeing on the River of Golden Dreams is a chance to explore unique water ecosystems. Water-loving thrill seekers can experience the power of nature with a whitewater rafting adventure.

BC prizes its wilderness lodges. The Great Bear Rainforest is one of the best places to observe grizzly (brown) bears. Great Bear Lodge is celebrated for its spectacular beauty, silence and solitude. The floating Knight Inlet Lodge  is an Indigenous-owned wildlife viewing experience (dine on crab, salmon and prawns from glacier-fed waters) while Sonora Resort, in the heart of the Discovery Island archipelago on the rugged West Coast of BC, pairs elegant five-star eco-adventure with an extensive wine cellar.

Niagara Falls, Ontario

Ontario over the top

What Ontario lacks in ocean, it makes up for in bountiful lakes and rivers. The province’s 250,000-plus lakes contain about one-fifth of the world’s fresh water.

See the natural wonder that is Niagara Falls every which way: by cruise boat, catamaran, zipline, helicopter, from an observation tower or bedrock tunnels.

Other outdoor adventures in the Niagara region include hiking, biking, paddling, and fishing. The charming town of  Niagara-on-the-Lake is a must-do side trip. It’s a fertile region where award-winning white and red grapes are grown. Explore the area’s 35 wineries by bicycle and ink in January’s Icewine Festival which celebrates the famous dessert wine produced from grapes that have been frozen on the vine.

Thousand Islands is a group of more than 1,800 islands in the St Lawrence River, straddling the border of the US and Canada. A prime spot for sunsets, storybook castles, golf, diving, boating and wine tasting, they can be explored on foot or by bike, water and helicopter.

Nestled among forests, parks, and fields, Ontario’s waterways offer excellent canoeing and camping (from May to October) whether you are a newbie or a pro. Some 75 parks in Ontario offer canoe rental and more than 7,500 interior campsites. Top spots for canoeing and camping in Ontario include Charleston Lake Provincial Park, Grundy Lake, Algonquin Park, Killarney Provincial Park, and Temagami.

Tadousac, Quebec

Quebec from the water

The Québec-Lévis ferry connects St Lawrence River’s north and south shores, taking in Québec City’s varied architecture, harbour bustle and city lights.

Québec City’s waterways will also deliver you to the Grosse-Île historical site and whale-watching from the charming village of Tadoussac, the primary destination for whale watching in Quebec, and  the Saguenay Fjord where whales fatten up for winter.

Baie de Beauport, a five-minute drive from Québec City, offers summer on steroids in a unique maritime environment on the St Lawrence River. Enjoy beach volleyball, soccer, canoeing and kayaking, and water games, along with windsurfing, sailing, stand-up paddleboarding and kite surfing.

Emerald Lake, Yukon

Call of the Yukon

At 3,190km long, the Yukon River is a major watercourse, and home to trumpeter swans, mink, moose, bears and wolverines, not to mention one of the world’s longest salmon runs.

Visitors to Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon, can spend the day on the river spotting relics of steamers, cabins, and gold dredges from the 1896 Klondike Gold Rush.

Freshwater fishing here is on the angler bucket list. From spring through autumn expect to find nibbling on your line northern pike, Arctic grayling, inconnu, and rainbow trout in Tagish Lake, Little Atlin Lake and Lake Lebarge, the latter made famous by “the Bard of the Yukon”, British-Canadian poet Robert Service (1874-1958), in his poem The Cremation of Sam McGee.

The Tatshenshini River, in the boreal forest of south-western Yukon, serves up rafting, canoeing and boating expeditions, perfect for exploring the Yukon section of the Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Wilderness Park, the wild heart of one of the largest bio-preserves in the world. A river adventure encounters glaciers and lakes filled with huge icebergs. Look out for bald eagles, grizzlies feeding on spawning salmon, and even the rare blue glacier bear.

During winter in the Yukon, the lakes become a dog sledding, ice fishing and ice skating wonderland.

But don’t expect ice fishing huts or museums by the shores of the jaw-droppingly green Emerald Lake in southern Yukon, its glaciers carved out 14,000 years ago. Just make a pitstop on the South Klondike Highway, and soak up beauty.

Emerald Lake, British Columbia

Northwest Territories the home of Canada’s Whitewater rafting

The Northwest Territories NWT is home to the best whitewater rivers in Canada, and every year thousands of paddlers make the trek to see what all the fuss is about.

Hire a raft, canoe or kayak, pack a dry bag, and enjoy as much wilderness wonder as you can handle. Ride the blood-pumping Tartan Rapids of Yellowknife River. Seek out Fort Smith and the Slave River. Add to list the Keele River with its alpine tundra, alpine plateaus and the majestic backdrop of Mackenzie Mountains. Consider, too, the Nahanni River which passes through four imposing canyons.

The 370km Mountain River is said to be one of the best wilderness rivers for canoeing. It’s an offshoot of the powerful Mackenzie. Six canyons highlight the wild terrain, which is home to sheep, wolves, and bears.

Nahanni National Park Reserve, NWT

Alberta lakeside

Alberta is famous for beautiful turquoise lakes with mirror-like surfaces that reflect picturesque vistas. See them up close and at their best from a canoe, paddleboard, kayak or, in winter, on ice skates.

Among the standouts is Lake Louise, the most famous of the jewel-coloured lakes in Banff National Park, and home to the historic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise Hotel. Also here is the glacier-fed Moraine Lake, overseen by the luxurious Moraine Lake Lodge.

The richly coloured Peyto Lake stretches down the Icefields Parkway and attracts all kinds of nature enthusiasts. Pyramid Lake, 5km from Jasper, sits at the base of Pyramid Mountain; cross its long wooden bridge to Pyramid Island.

Waterton is nestled beside the serene Waterton Lake. Explore it by renting a watercraft, taking a scenic cruise or relaxing on Emerald Bay.

Lake Abraham is known for a spectacular winter phenomenon: stacks of pearl-like bubbles trapped between layers of ice. Framing these beautiful bubbles are deep cracks, inverted walls of ice, and milky ribbons of snow in the glistening, frozen water.

Location, location, location

Hotels, lodges and cabins surrounded by lakes are the icing on the holiday cake. These are some to lust over.

Emerald Lake Lodge, in Yoho National Park, British Columbia, is an immersion in peace thanks to limited wi-fi, phone and TV! Built of hand-hewn timber and with massive stone fireplaces, the dining is elegant, and there are reading rooms and a games room. It’s steeped in history.

The five-star Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in the heart of the Canadian Rockies of Banff National Park is buffing and polishing: there’s a new state-of the art Thermal Wellness Facility in train, and upgrades to the spa. Popular as always is the Kids Adventure Camp.

Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is located on the shores of Lac Beauvert in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, the town of Jasper just a few minutes away. The resort features an award-winning golf course, eight on-site restaurants, and a 929 sq m spa.

Southern Lakes Resort is your base camp for exploring the rugged beauty and vastness of the Yukon’s landscape. A lakefront cabin here will recalibrate the soul.

You want remote? Gangler’s North Seal River Lodge is located in the heart of a vast, virgin fly-in-only area 320km from northernmost Manitoba. Fish for northern pike, lake trout, walleye, and arctic grayling. The exclusive watershed stretches over two million hectares of wilderness, a gateway to 100 lakes and 12 river systems. There are no roads here, few people, no commercial fishing, and no other lodges.


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