We’ve been fortunate over the years to see some amazing bodies of water in our travels, from secluded white sand beaches to crater filled wonders with water so clear it looks like you’re floating on air.
If you’re like us, when you think of coastlines, Canada might not be the first country that comes to mind however, Canada has nearly four times more coastline than its closest competitor. At over 200,000 km of coastline, it truly has the longest coastline in the world. Couple that with our estimated two million lakes and that makes for a lot of great boating, no matter how you crunch the numbers.
We’ve also been fortunate that we’ve been on the water in a lot of places in Canada, from busy lakes in Manitoba’s cottage country to cruising on Lake Ontario to paddling secluded bays in the Yukon’s northern wilderness. With that said, here are 10 of our favourite Canadian destinations to boat this summer.
Okanagan Lake, British Columbia
We may be a little bit biased, as we call Kelowna home now, but I think Okanagan Lake is truly one of Canada’s most beautiful places. It’s a long (135 km), deep (242 m) lake, and the supposed home to legendary lake monster Ogopogo. When you’re not on the water, there are world-class wineries to visit, great farm-to-table restaurants, and roadside stands chock full of Okanagan-grown fruit and veggies. Access to the lake is easy, with multiple boat launches throughout the valley.
We also need to mention the nearby Shuswap Region here in BC. Touted as the houseboat capital of Canada, it features warm water and miles and miles of interconnected lakes. Located just north of the Okanagan Valley, every year thousands of Canadians explore the Shuswap on rented houseboats, many kitted out with amenities like hot tubs and waterslides.
Barclay Sound and the Port Alberni Inlet, British Columbia
We saw Port Alberni for the first time this year, and were wowed by the beautiful scenery and relaxed vibe. The Port Alberni inlet is about 40 km long, and runs from the Pacific Ocean at Barkley Sound to the town of Port Alberni.
Barclay Sound and the Alberni inlet are probably best known for spectacular salmon fishing. You can find the Sockeye Salmon run in the Port Alberni inlet in June and July, but you can fish the deeper Barclay Sound for Soho and Chinook salmon year-round.
Haida Gwaii, British Columbia
Formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, Haida Gwaii archipelago is one of Canada’s most pristine wilderness areas. With less than 5,000 full-time residents, Haida Gwaii will suit you if you’re looking for seclusion and remote wilderness. It’s a bit remote by boat, but well worth the trouble, as you may see humpback and fin whales (thanks to a rebounding population). If you go in early July, you may just spot thousands of Steller sea lions congregating at the Southern tip of Haida Gwaii at Cape St. James.
While in Haida Gwaii, Hot Springs Island is worth a stop for a soak in its natural hot springs, with secluded inlets, ancient cedar and spruce, hot springs and white-sand beaches. While you’re nearby, check out the SGang Gwaay UNESCO World Heritage Site – it’s an example of one of the final remaining authentic west coast First Nations villages.
Southern Lakes, Yukon Territory
The Yukon’s Southern Lakes region is a network of lakes, rivers and glacial streams surrounded by mountains and boreal forest. The lakes are bordered by small communities like Carcross and Atlin. For a truly memorable trip you can even follow the old steamboat run down the Yukon River all the way to the Klondike Gold Rush town of Dawson City.
The larger Southern Lakes are serviced with marinas, docks and all the conveniences of home, or pick a remote spot and enjoy the wilderness to yourself. You can access the Southern Lakes region, including Marsh Lake and Bennett Lake, via the Alaska Highway and the South Klondike Highway out of Whitehorse.
Sylvan Lake Provincial Park, Alberta
I grew up in the landlocked prairies of central Alberta, where large bodies of water are a rare sight. Every summer, Albertans like me towed their boats to the hugely popular Sylvan Lake for their summer vacation.
Sylvan is a shallow lake that’s located in Sylvan Lake Provincial Park, about 18 kilometres west of the City of Red Deer. In the summer, Sylvan is packed with boaters seeking a break from the summer heat. While it may not be an idyllic, wilderness boating vacation, there’s definitely a fun, party vibe, and plenty to do with a 1.6 km long sand and grass beach, and a large waterslide complex by the water to keep you busy.
When most Canadians think of Saskatchewan’s iconic prairie landscape, boating isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.
All you need to do is look at a map of the lake-covered Northern part of the province to lend credence to Tourism Saskatchewan’s claim that Saskatchewan has over 100,000 lakes and rivers. Most of Saskatchewan’s lakes are north of Prince Albert, and their relatively remote location means that most are well stocked with fish.
Whiteshell Provincial Park and Cottage Country, Manitoba
My husband grew up boating on the lakes outside of Winnipeg every weekend during the summer months. As a family, we’ve had our share of fun on our pontoon boat in Winnipeg’s cottage country. For Winnipeg residents, weekends at the cottage are an institution, and boating is a huge part of that tradition.
You’ll find cottagers on Lake Manitoba, braving the bigger waves, and on smaller lakes like Lac du Bonnet, where the waves are calmer. The Whiteshell Provincial Park is less than an hour away from Winnipeg as well and includes over 200 lakes, so finding your perfect spot is as easy as pointing at a map and heading out.
If you’re a history lover, the Chaudière-Appalaches is a perfect fit.
Running for over 200 km along the St Lawrence River near Quebec City, the Chaudière-Appalaches region includes five of the most beautiful old villages of Québec, including Lotbinière, Saint-Antoine-de-Tilly, Saint-Michel, Saint-Vallier and L’Islet.
With a population of over 400,000 people, you’re sure to find other boaters as well as cruise boats enjoying the waters here.
Northumberland Strait, Maritimes
Stretching roughly from Point Escuminac, N.B. to Cape North, P.E.I., the Northumberland Strait is most appealing in summer months when the temperatures are warmer. There are plenty of anchorages and marinas open from May to October every year.
When you step ashore, make time to stop by a local restaurant for fresh-caught lobster, take in a seaside golf course, or visit Jost Vineyards, the province’s oldest and largest winery.
There’s even a local legend of the Ghost Ship of Northumberland Straight, which has reportedly been sighted sailing ablaze throughout the straight. Legend says it’s a schooner with pure white sails, and was even immortalized on a commemorative stamp issued by Canada Post in 2014.
Lake of the Woods, Ontario
Spending just one weekend in Kenora, a small city on the northern shore of Lake of the Woods in Ontario, was enough to get us hooked. The water by Kenora was crystal clear, and crying out for a boating excursion.
Outside of the city of Kenora, the area around Lake of the Woods is generally rugged, and a great place to explore nature. With its 14,000 plus islands, Lake of the Woods is a vast lake (the 6th largest in Canada after the big five) reaching from the deep, clear waters of the Canadian Shield in Kenora down to the sandy bottoms near the US border.
Thousands of Canadians have cabins here, but the sheer size of the lake means that if you pick a quieter destination, you’ll only see a handful of other boaters out on the water even on the busiest of days.
Want to learn more?
You can search the Discover Boating library to find boat marinas and ramp locations, body of water names, parking facilities, directions and types of launch ramps.
About the author: Micki Kosman writes about travel, tech, family and fun with her husband Charles on The Barefoot Nomad. From hot air ballooning through Turkey to snorkelling with sea turtles in Mexico to riding camels in Morocco, they prove that you can have great adventures with your kids.