If you are looking for a boating holiday that is out of the ordinary, a luxury houseboat cruise on the Rideau Canal with Le Boat is a fantastic option. Le Boat is the number 1 provider of boating holidays on the canals of Europe and now, Ontario, Canada is lucky enough to have Le Boats cruising along the historic Rideau Canal from Ottawa to Kingston.
Rideau Canal Cruise – Self Drive Houseboat with Le Boat
Cruising the Rideau Canal isn’t high on many people’s radar (outside the boating community) and that is such a shame. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the greatest waterways in the world and cruising it feels like a little slice of Europe in the heart of North America. Dave and I have travelled Ontario from top to bottom and yet, the only time we’ve really explored this famous waterway is while skating on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa. We never knew we could actually self-drive a yacht on the Rideau Canal if we didn’t own a boat of our own. But Le Boat changed all that. Le Boat lets novice drivers explore the lakes and rivers of Ontario in luxury.
Le Boat Deals of the Week
Consider a private house boating boating holiday with Le Boat this year and save up to 20% on your European or Canadian boat rental vacation. https://www.leboat.ca/en/holiday-deals
Le Boat Luxury Houseboats on the Rideau Canal
Le Boat houseboats aren’t your grandparents’ houseboats baby. These state-of-the-art floating yachts are spacious, luxurious, and easy to navigate. Taking a cruise on the Rideau Canal is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and to be able to do it in style at your own pace while driving your own boat is a huge bonus.
Exploring Ontario This Summer? Check out these other Canada guides
Horizon 3 by Le Boat
We hopped aboard our Horizon 3 houseboat that is docked in Smiths Falls, Ontario. This huge boat is perfect for couples and large families going on a vacation. It comes complete with 3 bedrooms, 3 baths, an upper and lower deck, and a massive kitchen. There is a barbecue and sink on the top deck making for great evenings under the stars.
Self Driving a Le Boat House Boat
I was quite nervous to drive a €450k, ($650k CAD) 45-foot luxury yacht but that is exactly what I set myself up to do over the next seven days. Besides, Le boat isn’t worried at all. They’ve made it completely safe for novice drivers.
After we unloaded all our gear (packing list coming soon) we had a lovely visit from Doug of Le Boat who showed us everything we needed to know from using the upstairs deck barbecue to running the air-conditioning and learning how to tie knots and use ropes. But the biggest task ahead was learning how to drive a boat.
Watch the Video: Ultimate Rideau Canal Cruise with Le Boat – House boating in Luxury
Dave and I invited my brother Jim and my sister-in-law Janice to come along for the trip. They are avid boaters with a lot of driving experience, so when Doug asked who needed the lesson, I quickly volunteered myself as I required the most help out of the four of us. Doug went through all the aspects of piloting a boat, and within minutes we were pulling out from the dock for an hour-long lesson.
Do you need Boating Experience to Drive a Le Boat?
Jim and Janice have their boating license and assumed that they’d be the ones driving the boat for the week. But when renting a houseboat on the Rideau Canal, no experience is necessary. You don’t need a boating license and you can drive a Le Boat with ease even if you have never driven a boat in your life. All boats have limiters on them reaching a maximum speed of only 10km per hour, there are bumpers all the way around the entire boat, and you have a secret weapon on the boat that makes even the greenest of boaters look like experts – thrusters.
Thrusters on our HouseBoat
All of the Horizon Le Boats have something called thrusters that help you navigate the waters with ease. Bow and side thrusters make maneuvering the boat a breeze. We could literally turn the boat around in the middle of a narrow channel using our side thrusters and we could ease up to docks without bumping or floating away. Once I got the hang of it, I loved using the thrusters and wondered why anyone would drive a boat without them?
We practiced steering, parking, and driving the boat in a straight line. After getting the hang of things, we moved on to our first lock on the Rideau Canal with Doug aboard to make sure we could all handle our tasks.
Waiting at our first Lock on the Rideau Canal
Jim and Janice were on rope duty, I was driving and Dave was watching everything as he’d be sharing the driving duties with me during the week. Inside the lock, I had the chance to breathe as we waited for the water to fill.
I quickly learned that the neutral throttle was my best friend. I would give the engine some power while in neutral which allowed the thrusters to really control the boat when docking.
Plus, I learned that I could slow the boat down quickly by putting it in reverse. We sailed through the lock with ease (albeit a lot of stress on my end) and once we were out on the other side, we dropped Doug off and began our week-long journey south from Smiths Falls.
Journey Through the Rideau Canal
The Rideau Canal is a 202 km (miles) long waterway running from Ottawa to Kingston, Ontario. It opened in 1832 and is the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is a unique experience to yacht through. All locks (except for 2) are operated by Park’s Canada staff who crank the lock gates by hand. Taking a trip along the Rideau Canal is like going through a living history museum. The 45 locks in 23 lock stations have barely changed in 200 years with the original lockmasters’ houses and blockhouses still intact.
The 202 km of waterways are a blend of not only locks but rivers and lakes lined with million-dollar cottages, communities, and provincial parks. We had an amazing seven-day itinerary from Smiths Falls to Jones Falls.
Rideau Canal Itinerary – Smiths Falls
Le Boat Cruises start in the lovely town of Smiths Falls. You can book tours either north to Ottawa or south to Kingston. We planned a trip south to Jones Falls. If we wanted to push it to Kingston it could easily be done in 7 days, but we wanted to be able to explore the communities along the canal, so we planned for only 2-3 hours of driving each day with lots of opportunities to hike, bike, paddle and explore.
Day 1 – Smiths Falls
Smith Falls is a picturesque town located halfway between Ottawa and Kingston. It has been completely revitalized after the closing of the Hershey Factory in 2007 and it is hard to believe that it fell on tough times for many years. This is a beautiful Ontario destination that should be at the top of your list of places to visit in the province. We never considered Smiths Falls before this trip.
Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario
The Railway Museum is one of the greatest historic railway museums in the country. You can actually spend the night in one of the railway cars and see what it was like to be on a train in the 1950s. Check out details at their website.
There are cars displayed to show how a traveling dentist reached remote communities in northern Canada. There are dining cars and a fully restored station plus we had the chance to ride the train. Not only that I had the chance to drive the train! It is every person’s dream to be an engineer and I had my chance at the Railway Museum. (Dave has driven a train in the past so he didn’t miss out). We also had the chance to see what it is like to drive a hand car. Wow! Once you start, it really picks up speed!
We spent the night on the boat in Smiths Falls and stocked up on some beverages and last-minute food items. Grabbing dinner on The Lockmaster Tap House patio was a great start to our trip. If you are staying overnight in Smiths Falls before you get on the boat, the Econolodge has the best location, but it is in need of an update.
Day 2 – Smiths falls to Beveridges Lock
The morning was spent unpacking and organizing on the boat while we waited for our boat lesson. To make the most of our week on the Rideau Canal, we had a kayak and bikes loaded onboard and we filled up the two refrigerators and every nook and cranny with our food and gear. It was amazing to see how much space was on board.
Jim and Janice had the massive master bedroom as the guests of honour and Dave and I spread out between the two other rooms. One room for our camera gear, one room for ourselves. Our food and snacks fit perfectly in the cupboards and under the seats and we were ready to set sail by 1:00 pm.
On the Rideau Canal
After leaving Smiths Falls we made our way south to our first stop on the trip, Beveridges Lock Station. Beveridges is about an hour and a half from Smiths Falls and it’s a popular stop for Le Boaters on their first night. The drive offers the complete Rideau Canal experience allowing everyone to get used to boating.
We went through two locks where lock masters from Park’s Canada offered help and advice while pulling in. Jim and Janice did amazing work on the ropes, and Dave was beside me at the captain’s chair navigating with the binoculars looking for markers as we made our way through rivers and Lower Rideau Lake.
Navigating the Rideau Canal
It is a lot of work navigating the Rideau Canal when you are new to boating. Plus, it didn’t help that we had a crazy thunderstorm to deal with. My brother Jim stayed up top with me as I drove through the fog and rain to keep an eye out like a good big brother, and Dave had the binoculars armed in search of buoys and markers.
Charts Are Your Friend
Before leaving the dock each day, make sure to have a good look at the charts to map out your route. You will find that you are always looking at the charts for markers and buoys. One person drives and the other is armed with binoculars and charts keeping an eye out for shallows, obstacles, and navigation.
You really do have to keep an eye out for markers and it is important to have your first mate keeping an eye on them with binoculars. (which Le Boat supplies. Albeit, we had two other pairs that we packed which was awesome because everyone could pitch in to make sure I stayed on course. If you go on the wrong side of a buoy or go off course you can run aground. But if you keep your wits about you and follow the map and markers, you’ll make your way no problem.
We made the right-hand turn in torrential rain in the middle of Lower Rideau Lake to Beveridges Lock and were thrilled to arrive after a successful first day of navigation. With our hands frozen and clothes drenched, we puttered into the lock and gave ourselves a pat on the back for a successful day on the water. I won’t lie, that first day is hair raising, but after making it through, the rest of the week was gravy!
Day 3 – Beveridges Lock
Beverages Lock Station is a pretty lock that leads to Perth, Ontario. Most Le Boaters don’t go through this lock as it is a very narrow passage to Perth. So instead, we all parked our boats at the top of the lock station to enjoy the evening. With a full kitchen in the galley and barbecue and sink up top, we celebrated with beverages and a hot grill as we settled in for the night.
There was a lot to keep us occupied here and we went for a bike ride along the trail to check out the nearby Otentiks operated by Park’s Canada. Janice made a note to come back next summer and stay in one of these.
Canoe Through a Lock
Park’s Canada also has two canoes on hand for use. Instead of driving our 45-foot yacht through this channel, we hopped in the canoes and spent a morning exploring this waterway. I can see why Le Boat doesn’t recommend going through this lock with the houseboat. The waters are quite shallow outside the buoys and one wrong move could make you hit bottom.
We heard that a Le Boater didn’t heed the warnings while we were there and had to be towed out losing not only their deposit, but a day of travel waiting to be rescued.
It was pretty intimidating at first to be sitting way down in the bottom of Beverages Lock on a tiny canoe, but as the staff hand-cranked the locks open, the water churned in for a fun thrill ride. In a few minutes, the doors opened and we were off to explore the beauty of the Tay River. We loved our paddling trip. Not only did we have the chance to experience our first locks on a boat we now have paddled through a lock as well.
Make sure you bring some water and snacks and remember that you have to paddle back, so don’t go beyond your limits. The wind really came up during our paddle back and we had a tough go against the wind.
Day 4 – Westport
The weather did a complete 180 the next morning and we awoke to sunshine and happiness. As we basked in the beautiful morning sun, we enjoyed fresh coffee and breakfast on the deck as we planned the day ahead. This was our longest drive of the trip with a three-hour journey to the town of Westport. Pulling out of the dock was a thrill. We were parked between two boats in a narrow channel and I wouldn’t have believed that we could do a complete turn in the middle of the channel if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.
With everyone helping out, I used the thrusters to pull away from the dock. Once we were a safe distance away, Jim undid his rope at the front of the boat while Janice kept a loose grip at the back while I swung the boat around on its axis. Using the thrusters, it turned on a dime and we had done a complete U-turn without hitting another thing in sight.
After leaving the lock, it was a gorgeous day driving from the upper deck. There are two options for driving. If the weather is bad, you can drive from below. (something I wasn’t ready to do on the first day) but when the sun is shining like it was today, there was nothing better than being up top.
We cruised by massive mansions lining the waterway and waived to every boat passing. It seemed that nearly every boat on the water was another Le Boat. The Park’s staff told us they were really grateful for Le Boat being on the Rideau because they keep the locks busy during the week. I can only imagine how slow the days would go if they weren’t letting boats through on a regular basis.
Our first lock of the day was the Narrows. And let me tell you, it lives up to its name. The wind had really picked up once we reached The Narrows and there was a rumor that they were closing it soon. I have to admit, I was a little stressed going through this narrow lock in high winds, but our Horizon 3 worked like a charm. Using the Thrusters, we went through with ease.
Locks are Operated by Hand on the Rideau Canal
This lock is pretty cool because not only does the staff hand crank the lock, they also hand crank a swing bridge on the road. The cars stopped as we made our way through and as the park staff wished us well, we were on our way to Westport.
The Park’s staff is really friendly and are always there to lend a helping hand. While you are sitting in the locks, be sure to chat with them. They give some great advice and insider tips about boating the Rideau Canal.
We had a beautiful breeze heading into Westport keeping us cool and comfortable on our journey. Janice made some snacks for the ride and it was just a bit past lunch when we got into town. I am glad we pushed through quickly to enjoy everything Westport had to offer. There is so much to do here that we could have easily spent two nights. But lucky for us, we’re professional travelers and made use of every spare moment.
The guys and gals at the marina were super helpful and friendly and we felt like old friends by the time we got off the boat. They guided us into our dock, showed us where we could fill up with water, and offered advice on what to see and do. After we settled in, we took a walk into town to enjoy a flight of beer at the Westport Brewery. If you want to do some shopping, Westport is the place. There are some great clothing and gift stores and there is a supermarket to stock up on supplies and ice before you leave town.
The hottest spot in town is definitely Scheurmann Vineyard. We had a reservation booked on the lawn and when we arrived, it was packed with outdoor dining. The beautiful setting had us in a grassy field overlooking the vineyard and Westport Sand Lake. It’s a 20-minute walk from town so you can easily enjoy some wine. After dinner, we made our way up to Foley Mountain for some panoramic views of Westport and the Upper Rideau Lake. Making our way back to the boat, we enjoyed a nightcap on the upper deck before falling asleep to the sound of water lapping gently against the hull of the boat.
Day 5 – Chaffey’s Lock
We felt a bit groggy waking up on day five of our boating adventure along the Rideau Canal. Yesterday was a huge day filled with activity, but we had an easy trip ahead to Chaffey’s Lock. Just 1.5 hours by boat to Chaffey’s Lock, allowed us to take it easy in the morning to do some shopping, enjoy our coffee and explore a bit more of Westport. After stocking up on ice. (As Janice said “Ice is like gold on a boat”) we said goodbye to the staff at the Westport Marina and were back on the Rideau Canal.
We took our time today and after passing through the first lock of the day, we tied up for a barbecue on the deck. As we watched the ducks pitter-patter from one side of the canal to the other, we cooked up some burgers and basked in the warm sun. I think each of us took a short nap before moving on. It was then just a short, scenic drive to Chaffey’s Lock.
We made our way through some picturesque narrow channels as osprey flew overhead. We arrived at the lock in the late afternoon where we pumped out our boat at Browns Marina, stocked up on more ice, and went through the lock to a quiet dock that we had all to ourselves. Breaking out the bikes, we took a ride to see the legendary Opinicon Restaurant.
This historic hotel and museum lend themselves to the Dirty Dancing style retreats of the 1950s. Sadly it was closed during our trip, but it was still worth seeing from the outside. While at Chaffey’s Lock you can also explore the Lockmaster Museum and there is a gallery on the waterfront as well.
The rain followed us again though, so after making dinner under the canopy of the upper deck, we made our way downstairs to the cabin for a night of board game fun.
Le Boat at the Locks
There are plenty of options for activities at night on a Le Boat. Many of the locks offer campfires and you can definitely get out to explore on your own. Le Boats are allowed to dock at any of the locks at night. Most offer power for a fee of $9 and some allow campfires. Some of the docks have facilities and some are located close to town where you can walk in for dinner or drinks.
But make sure to pack some games and cards for nighttime fun. Le Boats also have TVs and you can get some movies and TV shows from the office. We never had a moment where we felt bored and all of our time was filled as much or as little as we liked.
Day 6 – Jones Falls
Most cruises south from Smiths Falls end at Jones Falls. Jones Falls is considered the most beautiful lock on the Rideau Canal and with good reason. This set of locks is not to be missed when exploring the Rideau Canal. The reason most people turn around here though is that it takes quite a while to go through, so many Le Boats park at the top for the night and instead explore the area on foot. There are four locks here and it can take at least an hour to get through. Count another hour to get back and you’ve spent a lot of time in the lock. So instead, it’s recommended to dock at the top and get out to explore its hiking trails and historic buildings on foot.
We didn’t make it to Jones Falls by boat (albeit, Dave and I drove there after our trip to see it) and instead turned around at Chaffey’s lock to spend the night at Newboro. There was a high wind and rain warning on the Rideau Canal and we didn’t want to get stuck out in the storm. Today was so bad that they actually did close the narrows. I’m glad we changed our plans because we instead had the chance to explore Newboro.
Newboro is a cute little lock that has canoes and kayaks on offer. There’s a fire pit and it offers a lovely peaceful setting. But the highlight of Newboro is going into town to shop at Kilborns. Kilborns is a quirky department store that consists of three historic buildings strung together. There is so much more to it than meets the eye. When we walked in we thought it was a small souvenir shop, but the store just kept going on and on selling everything from furniture to western boots. If you want to buy some one-of-a-kind clothing or art, this is the place.
Before heading back to the boat (which is just a short 10-minute walk) stop for a drink on the patio at Stirling Lodge.
Day 7 – Colonel By Island
The next stop on our trip was most certainly our favourite. I think everyone loves Colonel By Island. Named after Colonel By an English military engineer who supervised the construction of the Rideau Canal, (Fun Fact: ByWard Market in Ottawa is also named after Colonel By) Col. By Island is a beautiful place to spend the night on the Rideau Waterways. The island is located on Big Rideau Lake and although there are no facilities on the island there is a lot to do.
Park’s Canada owns the island but have sadly done a terrible job maintaining it. There is a historic building that is going to ruins due to neglect and if they had half a brain, they’d get in there to fix it up. The building was formerly owned by Danny Arnstein the owner of Yellow Cab in New York and Chicago in 1949. The New York Mafia, Rat Pack, and celebrities such as Paul Anka used to frequent the island for holidays.
It is now condemned and you cannot go inside, but you can imagine how grand it once was. There is a tennis court and basketball court on the premises and you can see the grand peanut fireplaces from the outside. I would have loved to be able to go inside. All I could think while walking around the grounds was “how if this were the United States, they’d have this building restored with heritage furniture from the era letting people tour inside to see how the rich lived during its heyday. I hope Parks Canada does something about it in the future.
But Colonel By Island is still worth visiting. There is a 3 km hiking trail that takes you through some of the most unique forests on the Rideau Waterways, it’s an excellent place for kayaking and swimming and you can have a bonfire at night. This was one of the few places on the Rideau Canal where you don’t have to stay at a lock station. There isn’t any power, but the Le Boats don’t need power every night. In fact, they charge up quite quickly just by driving them during the day.
We ran toasters, radios, stovetops, and coffee makers every day and never ran out.
Note: The dock is very loud (it squeaks a lot), so we suggest mooring on one of the balls at night for a better night’s sleep.
Day 8 – Back to Smiths Falls
Our final day took us back to Smiths Falls. Most people do this trip in 7 days, but with our extra day in Smiths Falls to explore the museum at the beginning, we had 8. It was sad to leave the Rideau Canal, I could definitely see doing this again. (as a matter a fact, we’re already planning for the fall colours and a Le Boat Tour in Europe where the company originated.) My brother Jim said he’d love to get back into boating with something like this and I must admit, Le Boat made boat lovers out of Dave and I too! We backed our massive boat back into the slots at Le Boat’s docks in Smiths Falls and the unloading process was made easy with the rolling carts supplied by Le Boat.
If you haven’t explored Smiths Falls yet, make sure to go for a walk from the docks. Downtown is just a short 10-minute stroll where you can visit the Rideau Canal headquarters and enjoy a pint of beer at one of the bars.
Our Le Boat vacation was truly an amazing week-long trip in Ontario that now tops our list of the best things to do in Ontario, Canada. There is nothing quite like it. If you haven’t thought of renting a houseboat before, check out Le Boat on the Rideau Canal. You won’t regret it.
Hot Tips to Know About Cruising the Rideau Canal
- Locks operate from 9 AM to 6 PM so you must make sure that you plan to go through before 6pm if you want to be somewhere make sure to arrive 30 minutes before the locks close to be safe.
- When boating, you are not allowed to have any open alcohol. That is saved for when you are moored at the docks.
- Boat’s don’t use a lot of gas, we did 7 days of cruising and only used about a half a tank.
- Rentals can be booked from 3 to 10 days.
- Pet’s are allowed
- You can rent paddle boards, bikes and kayaks or you can bring your own as well.
- All cabins have their own private bathroom
Le Boats Horizon Line
- You can choose boats from the Horizon 1 to Horizon 5. Depending on the size of your party, there are boats to accommodate 2 to 12 people.
- We chose the Horizon 3 which has 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms. My parents were originally coming with us and we were going to give them the large master bedroom But they couldn’t make it. So it was just the four of us. I actually found it perfect for 4 people.
- We pushed the single beds together in the smaller rooms, but if I were to do it again I’d keep them as two singles because I had to climb over Dave to go to the bathroom each night.
- The boats are very soundproof and once we went to bed, I couldn’t hear a thing. Jim and Janice stayed up later than us most nights and I never knew it!
- Le Boats can dock at all Parks Canada Locks at no extra charge. For power it is $8.90 but you really don’t need it unless you are using a lot of electricity as the boats recharge while driving.
- Make sure to get ice at every stop. There are two small fridges on board, but we kept all our drinks and veggies in coolers. We had food for 6 people for 8 days on the water. (My parents couldn’t come at the last minute, so we were stuck with a lot of food. )
So are you ready to self drive the Rideau Canal? This is the coolest vacation we’ve done and it made a houseboat lover out of us! Where will you be going next?
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2 thoughts on “Amazing Rideau Canal Cruise – A Unique Cruise Holiday with Le Boat”
I am a local filmmaker in Rideau Lakes and am working on a series of short historical documentary films for the Township of Rideau Lakes. The first three are finished and can be found on the website of the Township of Rideau Lakes. The first is about the making of the Rideau Canal, and particularly, about the Narrow’s and Newboro Locks. The second film is about an island on Indian Lake, just north of Chaffey’s Lock, where recovering soldiers from WWI were cared for during the war. The third film is about the election riots in the 1830s in the present-day towns of Delta and Phillipsville. I’m not sure what the next film will be about, but stay tuned.
thank you for the wonderful trip report – we can’t wait, only another 5 weeks before we head to Smith Falls and pick up a Horizon 1 for 10 days. We have done a lot of boat rental trips in Europe ( Ireland, GB, France ) but never did Canada