Boating the Rideau Canal is one of the best things to do in Canada, and luckily going through the historic lock system can be done without owning your own boat. Heck, you don’t even need boating experience. Thanks to Le Boat setting up shop in Smiths Falls, Ontario, there is a fleet of luxury houseboats just waiting for you to drive up or down this famous UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Le Boat is the number one provider of boating vacations has been offering canal trips throughout Europe for more than 50 years. When deciding to start operating houseboats in North America, The Rideau Canal was a natural fit. This gorgeous 200 km (125 miles) long waterway is like driving through a little slice of Europe. It’s dotted with quaint villages, historic ruins, scenic vineyards, and beautiful scenery. Not to mention the 200-year-old locks that have been continuously in operation since 1832.
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The Rideau Canal Le Boat Experience
The trip begins with an hour-long introduction to your Le Boat. During this time you’ll be shown how to read the maps and charts, how to use the stove, and where all of the important instruments and equipment are, show you the knots you’ll need to tie up at the docks, but most importantly, how to drive the boat!
Le Boats on the Rideau Canal are very easy to drive. The Horizon Fleet boats are all equipped with front and rear thrusters making it easy to turn on a dime. When pulling up to moor, it’s easy to park between boats are in tight spaces by using the side thrusters to inch into a slot. All Le Boats have throttlers on them so you can’t go faster than 10 km per hour making it easy to cruise and relax throughout your trip.
After your lesson and if you feel confident, your instructor will guide you through the first set of locks teaching you lock etiquette and how to safely pull in. You will have all the tools you need to comfortably cruise through the Rideau Canal on your luxury yacht.
We booked a four-bedroom, four-bath for 3 couples. My parents came with us as well as my brother and Sister in Law. We also had two cats on board. Le Boat is pet-friendly, so you can bring the entire family including the pets along!
Each room has its own bathroom and shower. There is a large sitting area inside that comfortably sat all of us. Even though there are four bedrooms and four baths, I think it would have been crowded downstairs with couples, but there are the upper deck and picnic tables where people can spread out. If the weather is good, it would be easy to fit four couples in the Horizon 4. We cruised during fall colours, so we had some very cold days and nights and spent more time downstairs than we did during our summer vacation on the Horizon 3.
The kitchen has two small refrigerators, and there is a barbecue up top, so cooking is easy on Le Boats. We also brought coolers to store drinks and food as the refrigerators on the Horizon 4 aren’t full size. There is plenty of deck space, so you don’t have to worry about it being crowded.
How to Choose Which Direction to go
Choosing to take a boat trip on the Rideau Canal is the easy part, but choosing which way to go can make for a tough decision. Smiths Falls is located almost directly in the middle of the Rideau Canal. If you go north, you’ll be heading to Ottawa, Canada’s capital city. If you go south, you’ll be making your way to Kingston, Canada’s first capital city. Both are great cities to visit and both directions offer interesting stops along the way, so today, we are going to give you some insight into choosing which way to boat on the Rideau Canal from Smiths Falls.
Overview of North and South
We had the opportunity to drive both north and south and can attest that both are superb trips. They are, however, quite different, so choosing which way to go depends on the type of trip you are looking to have.
When boating north towards Ottawa, there are many more locks to go through. Between Smiths Falls and Ottawa, there are 12 lock stations containing 21 locks. The waterways are narrower and the trip feels more like an actual canal trip than a boating vacation in Ontario. It is possible to get to Ottawa and back on a week-long trip when going in this direction.
When going south, the bodes of water are larger and you will be driving on lakes that are connected by locks. At times you don’t even feel like you are on a canal system, but instead in Ontario’s cottage country. There are more choices of towns to stop at and you can do more of a loop instead of an out and back trip.
Unless you have a lot of time, most people won’t make it all the way to Kingston and instead usually stop at the top of Jones Falls Locks, which is often considered the most beautiful locks on the Rideau Canal. To get to Jones Falls, you’ll go through 8 lock stations (after departing Smiths Falls) with only 8 locks which means you have more cruising time and less time inside the locks.
For more information on cruising south on the Rideau Canal, read our full post here: Amazing Rideau Canal Cruise – A Unique Cruise Holiday with Le Boat
The Trip North to Ottawa
We were most excited to spend the night downtown Ottawa on our boat when planning our northern Le Boat trip. Le Boats park right downtown in front of the Rideau Center with views of the Parliament Buildings and the Fairmont Chateau Laurier. In past trips to Ottawa, we’ve seen yachts moored in the canal and could only dream of making this trip. Now that it is possible to rent a houseboat, anyone can join this exclusive club of boating the historic Rideau Canal.
Day 1 Merrickville (4 hours)
The first stop from Smiths Falls is the town of Merrickville where we moored for the night on the blue line of the Merrickville locks. When mooring in Merrickville, we suggest staying at the top of the locks so you can easily enjoy exploring the town. You don’t have far to go the next day, and Merrickville is definitely a highlight of this Rideau Canal cruise.
This was our favourite stop on our northern Rideau Canal route. Merrickville has everything you could need. Merrickville was voted “Canada’s Most Beautiful Village by Communities in Bloom” and it is very pretty. There is plenty of shopping downtown and we picked up quite a few items for our house. Make sure to stroll its main street and pop into the shops. Our favorite place was the Gray Art Glass Studio where we bought a gorgeous centerpiece for our dining room table and Stella Luna Cafe for gelato. The owner studied the art of making Gelato at Carbigiani Gelato University in Bologna! Dave and I have actually toured that university!
A highlight of visiting Merrickville is walking to the beautiful ruins. The foundation of an abandoned woolen mill is located in a picturesque setting just on the other side of the Rideau Canal from town. There’s a walking trail, beautiful stone foundations, a power generator, and views of the Rideau Canal. Don’t miss walking across the bridge to see them. While docked in Merrickville, you can also visit the old blockhouse that has been turned into a museum.
Day 2 – Burritts Rapids (3 hours)
The next stop is Burritts Rapids. When leaving Merrickville there are three locks and a swing bridge to go through. Once you are through these locks, it’s not long until you are at Burritt Rapids. At Burritts Rapids there is a nice hiking trail, The Tip to Tip. It is a 4.3 kilometer is an out & back trail where you’ll pass the village of Burritts Rapids as you make your way out to the tip.
For us, the highlight here was visiting Rideau Woodland Ramble. If you’ve rented bicycles with your Le Boat (or bringing your own) you can bike to this beautiful display garden and center. It is only 1.7 km from the Burritts Rapids Lock station, so you can also walk there. These gardens are beautiful with walking trails through gorgeous displays. There’s even a labyrinth in the garden where you can take a moment for quiet meditation. There are Japanese maples, quiet ponds, garden gnomes, and the Totem Trail. Make sure to spend some time perusing the gardens and stocking up on supplies for your own garden.
It’s dinner on the boat tonight as you enjoy a beautiful sunset from the lock station.
Day 3 – Long Island (5 hours)
Today is a long boating day so try to be first through the locks so you can make your way to Long Island. Once you are through the Merrickville Locks, it’s smooth sailing as you cruise the Rideau River to Manotick. This is a long portion with beautiful scenery and it is along this route that the big homes start coming into view. We just loved sitting on the deck watching the scenery go by.
Today is a good day to have someone prepare lunch and snacks on board so you can make good time. We wanted to get through the Long Island locks because it is still a long way to Ottawa. But it is important to note that when going through lock stations, you need to be at the locks 1.5 hours before closing. Since we were cruising in Autumn to see the fall colors, that meant that the lock station closed at 5 pm, so if we were to get through, we needed to arrive at 3:30. Luckily we timed this day to happen on the weekend when hours are longer, so by leaving at 9 am sharp, we easily made it through the Long Island locks.
This is definitely a lock station that you want to go through if you can and park at the bottom because it is another long day on the water, so you will want to be able to leave bright and early. If you park at the top, you’ll need to wait for the lock station to open at 9 am.
Black Rapids (1 hour)
We made such good time, that once we got through the Long Island Locks, we decided to push forward to Black Rapids Locks. It is less than 10 km from Long Island to Black Rapids and since we were boating on the weekend, we had time to make it through Black Rapids to stay at the bottom of the locks so that we could push forward to Ottawa first thing in the morning.
It had started to rain, so this was a good time to make up some distance. We moved downstairs to drive from below in warmth and comfort and continued to Black Rapids where we spent the night at the bottom of the locks. We were the last boat through and Now had a very short day ahead of us to Ottawa.
Day 4 Ottawa (4 Hours)
It’s an exciting day because it’s the final stretch to the Capital City of Canada. The homes are closer together and continue to grow in size with floatplanes and motorboats lining their docks. Friendly kayakers wave as you pass and after passing marinas and bridges, the channel narrows as you approach Ottawa. There are two final locks to pass through before reaching the city of Ottawa. Hartwell and Hogs Back locks. At this point, you definitely feel like you are in an urban environment. Cyclists ride their bicycles along the shore, people are walking along the path and crowds stop to watch the boats go through the locks. Luckily you’ve been driving Le Boat for four days by now, so you go through the locks like a pro!
It is now time to make a decision. Dows Lake is just outside of downtown Ottawa, but it is a great place to moor for the evening. The large marina has three restaurants and watersport rentals. This is also the place where you’ll want to pump out your boat and fill up your water. You can park here for the night, but to stay at the Marina, there is an extra cost. (approximately $80)
Day 5 Downtown (30 minutes to 1 hour)
After pumping out and filling our water, we continued on to downtown Ottawa from Dows Lake. This way, we could park in the heart of the city and are within walking distance from most of the city’s top attractions. The cruise into Ottawa is beautiful. Many people pay for a Rideau Canal cruise from downtown, and on Le Boat, you get to drive your own boat on this historic stretch of waterway. From Dows Lake to Downtown, it’s just a 20 to 30-minute cruise, but you do need to wait for one lift bridge. The phone number is on your charts, so call ahead to let the bridge master know you are on your way. They’ll then stop traffic and let you through.
Read all these Ottawa Guides to help you plan your visit
Things to do in Ottawa near Le Boat parking
You now have the afternoon to enjoy all the amazing things to do in downtown Ottawa. We have visited this city often and have many articles on Ottawa attractions. But if it is your first time, you are in a great place because you are within walking distance to the ByWard Market, The Parliament Buildings, The Rideau Centre, and Sparks Street. The ByTown museum is close by and for just $2 you can go inside and walk through this pretty museum that traces the history of Ottawa known then as Bytown
We suggest heading to ByWard Market for dinner. There are plenty of places to eat in the market and be sure to go up to the top of the Andaz Hotel for cocktails on the rooftop bar and amazing views of Ottawa.
Before dinner, take a stroll to Parliament Hill to see the government parliament buildings and to look across the Ottawa River at the city of Gatineau Quebec. On your way back, hop up to Sparks Street. This pedestrian street is great for a stroll and comes out at the War Memorial where you can see the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown soldier at 9 am and 5 pm.
An evening in Ottawa offers countless things to do. One fun thing for the whole family is to take a haunted walking tour. Learn about the city of Ottawa and its history as you stroll to some of its famous sights while hearing fun stories about ghosts in the night.
Day 6 Ottawa (Optional Full Day in Ottawa)
If you only have one day in Ottawa, the best thing to do is to take a tour. We booked an e-bike tour with Escape Bicycle Tours and it was an excellent way to visit all the top Ottawa attractions. What we loved about e-biking is that it is perfect for a multi-generational trip. My parents joined us on this trip and so did my brother and sister-in-law. We all have different levels of cycling, but riding an e-bike levels the playing field. It’s so easy!
We met our guide Andrew at their office on Sparks Street. It’s a fantastic location where you can order specialty coffees, beer, and wine. We had coffee before the tour and wine after. After learning how to navigate the bikes we followed Andrew through the city on the well-appointed bike paths. Ottawa is a very bikeable city. My family was a bit worried about cycling in the city, but their nerves were quickly eased once we started cycling. There were paths throughout the city and when we were in traffic, bikes had their own lanes.
The tour took us across the Ottawa River into Quebec where we saw Canada’s busiest Museum, The Canadian Museum of History. We then cycled across the Alexandra Bridge on the designated bike and walking path to the National Gallery of Canada where we saw the amazing Maman spider installation and took in the views of the Notre Dame Basilica. It was then out to Sussex Drive including to see Rideau Hall, the home of Canada’s governor-general. The tour was beautiful, showcasing the best of the city while enjoying the great outdoors.
After our tour, we had some beer and wine on the Escape Bicycle outdoor patio on Sparks Street. It’s such a great atmosphere, and owner Maria came out to join us for a cappuccino. When visiting Ottawa, make sure to book a tour or bicycle rental with Escape Bicycle Tours, visit their website for details.
In the evening we had a fun family bonding experience at Escape Manor where we worked together as a team to get out of the Asylum. It was the first escape room we’ve ever done and I highly recommend doing it. Especially if you are with your family.
Taking a walk along Bank Street we made our way to Flora Hall Brewing for dinner. This is a fantastic setting in an old garage. The local craft brewery has an extensive menu from falafels and beet hummus to Burrata salads. It’s all open-concept and you can see the vats of beer behind glass where they make their own microbrew. It’s then back to the boat for cocktails on deck with the Ottawa lights glistening in the smooth waters of the canal.
Day 7 – Ottawa to Long Island (3-4 hours)
Today it is time to say goodbye to Ottawa and start making your way back to Smiths Falls. You’ll be backtracking so you’ll be seeing a lot of the same scenery, but this is a fun time to stop at the places you may have missed. Since we b-lined it through Long Island from to Black Rapids on the way to Ottawa, we decided to go directly to stay overnight at Long Island on the way back.
Long Island is a lovely lock station with three locks and a swing bridge. It’s amazing to watch the Parks Canada staff at work. They crank the locks by hand and push the trolley to open the swing bridge in circles. It’s truly like stepping back in time.
From the Long Island Locks, it is a 15-minute bike ride to the town of Manotick. It’s worth going into this historic town with 1860s Watson’s Mill being the highlight. There are several cafes and specialty shops for shopping, or you can simply relax on one of its patios.
Day 8 – Nicolson Locks
Today is a leisurely cruise as you make your way back along the Rideau Canal. It’s impossible to get to Smiths Falls in a day from Long Island, so you can decide where you want to spend the night on the way back. You may want to revisit Merrickville to enjoy some delicious pizza at Iron Forge Pizza, or you may want a night on the water at Burrits Rapids or Nicholsons Lock. We made it through Burrits Rapids and decided to stay at Nicholsons to enjoy an evening in peace and quiet on Le Boat.
Using the barbecue on the upper deck, we enjoyed cocktails and dinner as the sun set over the water. It was the perfect ending to our last night on the boat.
Final Day – On to Smiths Falls
Our final push had us leaving first thing in the morning to get through to Smiths Falls where we backed the boat into the slip. We’ve come a long way baby, 8 days ago we were nervous about driving Le Boat’s Horizon Four and now we’re backing it with precision right into the slip alongside the rest of the fleet.
As one person went to get the carts to help carry our gear, the rest started to unload the boat and get it ready for sign-off. It was a wonderful week with family on the Le Boat Horizon Four and it was bittersweet saying goodbye to it. We highly recommend getting your family or close friends together to share this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Le Boat and Rideau Canal – The Deails
Le Boat is located in Smiths Falls in the center of the Rideau Canal. Boat vacations can go either way along the canal from Smiths Falls and don’t need to go all the way to Ottawa on your trip. We met many people who took shorter three to four-day trips to Merrickville or Burritts Rapids. You also don’t need to spend two nights in Ottawa.
We wanted my family to experience our favourite city in Ottawa, so we chose to spend an extra night in the city, but you can choose to stay as long or as short as you like. The only extra cost for Le Boaters in Ottawa on the canal is the cost of power which is $9.20 per night.
Rideau Canal Hours
When planning your Le Boat route on the Rideau Canal, it’s important to look at lock times. Le Boats can only go 10 km per hour, so you can’t zip from lock to lock. It is meant to be a slow and relaxing boat rip on the Rideau. So, make sure to know how far you want to travel and how much you want to see before booking the number of days from Smiths Falls.
Getting to Ottawa in 3 days is doable, but it is important to make good time between locks and to plan if you are going to stay at the top or bottom of locks. Going through the locks can take a while and if you park at the top but want to move on in the morning, you won’t be able to until the lock opens. We often went through the lock in the evening so that we could park at the bottom and be on our way first thing in the morning.
Lock times change depending on the time of the year and you need to be at the locks 1 1/2 hours before they close as it can take that long to get boats through. So if the locks close at 4:00 pm in the autumn, you will need to be going through by 2:30 at the latest.
- May 21 – June 17
- Monday to Thursday 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
- Friday to Sunday and holidays 9:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
- June 18 – Sept. 6:
- Monday to Thursday 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
- Friday to Sunday and holidays 9:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
- September 7 – October 11:
- Monday to Friday 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
- Saturday, Sunday & Thanksgiving 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
It is free for Le Boaters to stay at the Parks Canada locks, but if you want power, there is a charge of $9.80. You don’t necessarily need power as Le Boats charge all day while driving, but if you want to run the air conditioner in summer or heat in Spring and Autumn, you may want power for peace of mind. If you stay at a Marina, some are included in your rental and others have an extra fee. Just check with the staff before you leave to find out which marinas are free of charge. Some offer free stays for the first two Le Boaters that arrive, so if you want a night at a particular marina, make sure to arrive early.
Taking a Le Boat Vacation on the Rideau Canal is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Going through the historic locks is a dream vacation that is on many an avid boaters bucket list. It is amazing that Le Boat has opened up shop in Canada offering luxury 45-foot yachts to allow the public to experience a trip that was once only available for those who own their own boats. If you are looking for something unique to do in Ontario this summer, put Le Boat at the top of your list!
Visit the Le Boat website for luxury boating vacations in Europe and Canada at LeBoat.com