The Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a giant outdoor playground

by | Jun 16, 2017 | Canada, Ottawa | 6 comments

The Rideau Canal is a playground for kids of all ages

You can walk or bike along the entire Rideau Canal from Kingston to Ottawa. If you have at least 3 days, you can take a boat through the canal and its 45 locks.

We cheated! You can too! We stayed overnight in Kingston, on the shores of Lake Ontario, where the Rideau Canal starts. Then we drove to Ottawa where the Rideau Canal spills into the Ottawa River. I walked the final 5 kilometres of the 202 kilometres waterway.

The Rideau Canal was not designed to be a 202 kilometre playground for bikers and boaters. The canal is a ‘Donald Trump’ wall, in reverse, built to keep Americans out of Canada. In 1826, the British feared that Americans would invade Upper Canada (now Ontario). The vital supply line from Montreal to Kingston on the St. Lawrence River was vulnerable to attack along a stretch of the river that borders New York. The solution was to build a canal that bypassed this stretch. The canal opened in 1832. The Americans did not invade. The canal was never used for its intended military purpose.

What do you do with a 202 kilometre military canal when the threat of invasion is over? One proposal was to pave it and turn it into a road. Luckily, this idea was rejected in favour of creating a giant park, with bike paths, beaches, campgrounds, fishing, boating and skating.

Bike or hike along the Rideau Canal … or drive


This is the view of Lake Ontario and Kingston from Fort Henry

The Rideau Canal starts at Lake Ontario in Kingston

I have no photos of the Rideau Canal between Kingston and Ottawa because we drove that stretch.

Rideau Canal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Ten years ago, the Rideau Canal was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The waterway and its locks are still fully operational. It is the best-preserved example of a working canal from the great North American canal-building era.

Note: If I were in charge of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, I would not allow construction workers to use the UNESCO sign as a post for construction fencing. I would highlight the sign and keep it in pristine condition.

Rideau Canal is a National Historic Site

The National Historic Site has excellent information on planning your trip to the Rideau Canal.

To celebrate Canada 150, all national parks are free in 2017.

Free 2017 Discovery Pass

Celebrate Canada 150! Free admission is here!

2017 is the 150th anniversary of Confederation. As Canada’s gift to you, the 2017 Discovery Pass will provide free admission for the entire year to Parks Canada places from coast to coast to coast.

Find adventure, fun for the whole family or a short break from the everyday. There’s never been a better time to make your Parks Canada dream a reality!

Start planning your next visit at

We got our free pass while we were in Ottawa.

Thanks to the Discovery Pass program, there are no lockage fees this year on the Rideau Canal. Other charges apply so check out the fees site for boating on the canal.

You can rent boats at the Dow’s Lake Pavilion

The final 5 kilometres of the Rideau Canal runs from Dow’s Lake to the Ottawa River, just east of the Parliament Buildings in downtown Ottawa.

Dow’s Lake is a small lake that was created when a swamp was dammed in order to flood the canal. Now, Dow’s Lake is surrounded by parklands. You can rent canoes, kayaks and paddleboats for boating on the lake and the canal. After your vigorous boating, you can dine at one of the restaurants in the pavilion.

In winter, Dow’s Lake is part of the largest skating rink in the world. The cleared length of the skating rink is 7.8 kilometres, running from Carlton University to the final locks at the Parliament Buildings. It is cleared and flooded every night. I skated on the canal many times when I lived in Ottawa, many years ago.

Biking is a great way to experience the Rideau Canal

I started my walk of the Rideau Canal at Dow’s Lake because this is the site of the tulip festival. If you missed this earlier post, you can click here to see the fabulous tulip displays at Dow’s Lake.

This final 5 kilometre stretch of the canal is bordered by parklands and biking/walking paths.

When I lived in Ottawa, I biked the canal almost every weekend. Ottawa has been a bike-friendly city for a long time. There are dedicated bike paths in almost all areas of the city.

Since I wanted to see every tulip along the canal, I opted to walk instead of bike on this occasion.

Would you try a standup paddleboard?

If you are looking for a more vigorous workout than in a paddleboat, you can try a standup paddle board. If I tried this, I don’t think I would be standing for very long. There is no swimming in the canal!

The Rideau Canal is a great venue for wedding photos

The bridal party was posing for photos under the bridge that leads to the final leg of the canal.

Many people visit the parklands along the Rideau Canal to see the apple blossoms

This unique heritage bridge was almost destroyed

This heritage bridge, with its distinctive turrets, is a vertical swing bridge.

In 1968, a major public outcry saved the bridge after a plan was presented to replace it with a large modern bridge. The public response preserved the heritage character of downtown Ottawa.


There are many signs along the canal that explain its history and significance

All signs are in both French and English.

The Rideau Canal was carved through rock and swamps

Most of the construction workers who built the canal were French Canadian and Irish.

This monument, at the end of the canal, commemorates the Irish workers and their families who died building the canal. More than 1,000 Irish died in the six years of construction. Most died from disease, malaria in particular, which was endemic in Ontario at that time.

This Irish monument is in Kingston, at the start of the Rideau Canal

The Irish monument in Kingston is a water fountain

These are the final locks in the Rideau Canal

The Parliament Buildings are just to the left of these locks. The Chateau Laurier Hotel is just to the right of the locks. We stayed at the Chateau Laurier so when I arrived at the locks, my walking trip was complete.

The Ottawa River is at the base of the locks.

There is a staircase just to the left of the locks that takes you from the street to the locks. You can walk across the locks. Don’t look down and don’t fall in.

There was no water in any of the locks when we were there. Because of the extremely high water levels in Lake Ontario this spring, the opening of the locks was delayed until this month. They are now open.

If you make it to the end of the Rideau Canal, you can relax in a big red chair

These red chairs are part of a new program started by Parks Canada

What is the red chairs program?

The Red Chair Experience is all about connecting Canadians with nature in our country’s most unique and treasured places. Whether it’s a quiet place to enjoy an awe-inspiring view or an “I made it!” marker at the end of a rugged hike, a Red Chair offers you a place to relax and truly discover the best that Parks Canada has to offer. For more information on the locations of Red Chairs elsewhere in Canada, visit the Parks Canada website.

Where did the red chair idea originate?

Our friends at Gros Morne National Park, in Newfoundland and Labrador, placed Red Chairs around their park almost three years ago. Visitors have been seeking them out and sharing their Red Chair adventures ever since! The Red Chair Experience is growing and we’re excited to be a part of it!

This is the second set of red chairs that I have photographed. Last summer, I took pictures of the red chairs at the Alexander Graham Bell Museum in beautiful Baddeck in Nova Scotia.

Have you discovered any of Parks Canada’s big red chairs?

This is the end of our tour of the Rideau Canal from Lake Ontario in Kingston to the Ottawa River in Ottawa

What a great way to celebrate Canada 150!


Rose Ann MacGillivray

Rose Ann MacGillivray

World Heritage Traveller at
I love visiting World Heritage Sites, celebrating the world’s most fascinating places and cultures, and most of all, having fun on a trip. Join me on the road to fun and fascinating places. Thanks for reading – and remember to add your e-mail below for updates!
Rose Ann MacGillivray