Huge Whitewater Rafting on the Ottawa River

“The water is huge right now” our whitewater rafting guide KT said with a giddy smile. “I love hitting it big, so we’re going to try to catch every big rapid we can.”

Large whitewater raft buckling in the rapids

The Ottawa River is world renowned for it's big white water. Guides from all four corners of the earth come to play in its rapids. It seems that wherever we've been in the world, one guide or another has been on the Ottawa River. For the next two days, we'll be conquering rapids with OWL Rafting and we're not afraid to admit, we're a bit nervous!


Staying at Owl Rafting in one of their chalets was an excellent way to relax and unwind before hitting the waves. With Muskoka Chairs lined up on the lawn over looking the calm portion of the Ottawa river, a sandy beach, an all inclusive meal package and hot showers, it's the perfect weekend getaway for people looking to escape the city of Toronto and face the world class rapids.

Our day two whitewater rafting team

Our day two whitewater rafting team

We suited up in thick wetsuits and a paddling jacket to help protect us from the chilly waters. Even though Dave and I have done the polar plunge in both Antarctica and the Arctic Circle, we weren't too keen on getting in cold the water, so we hoped and prayed that we didn't have any boats capsize on the river today.

Whitewater Rafting, Nerves and Excitement

I am always nervous before every adventure and today was no different. There's that fear that you'll fall out of the raft or capsize. But once we got on the water, all my nerves disappeared and I was ready for a great day on the raft.

We signed up for a two-day rafting trip and each day was completely different. Day one started on a larger 12 person raft and day two took us out on a small sporty raft.  I thought that the larger raft would have been less exciting, but it was actually a crazy ride. It seemed to hit the rapids with brute force and we skyrocketted into the air. Surprisingly, the small raft seemed a little more tame. Or maybe I was just a little braver on the second day.


When rafting the Ottawa River, it isn't long before you hit the first set of rapids. As soon as we launched the rafts, we started practicing our strokes and listening to our guide's commands. During our quick training session, we could hear the rapids fast approaching. Just a few minutes into the trip, we were lining up for our run down white water.

We hit every big wave and the boat felt like a wild amusement park ride. KT wasn't joking, the water was huge and she loved hitting it big. Nobody fell out but we all got soaked. Surprisingly the cold water didn't feel as bad as we expected. It helped that the sun came out just as our excursion began.

The next couple of hours went on with more thrills and spills and facing some of the most gigantic rapids we've seen before. Our largest run came when we hit The Staircase. This run had guides get out of their rafts to act as safety for rafters going through one by one. “Only one boat at a time can run this one” We were warned, “this is not a rapid you want to fall out of.”

The Staircase

So we were ready to hang on for dear life. After going through one last set of instructions we set off for The Staircase. KT yelled at us all to paddle hard. We went in with all our might and as soon as we hit the rapids she yelled “Get down” hanging on to the rafts ropes, we went through the massive rapids. At one point we got stuck and felt like we were surfing for a bit. I was at the back nearest to KT and felt a surge of water go over my head knocking me down and if I didn't have a grip, I'd be out of the boat for sure. When I looked back to see what was going on, KT was gone! She had catapulted out of the back of the raft and was dangling by her foot. All the guides on shore scramble to help out and in no time we were in a quiet eddie and KT was back inside the boat laughing like it was just another day at the office.

Rapids so big, it takes two guides to steer

Rapids so big, it takes two guides to steer

We all whooped and hollered, the biggest beast had been conquered and it was an awesome thrill.

Day 2 on the Ottawa River

The next day we moved to a sport raft. We faced all the same rapids again, but this time, our tiny raft was manned by only four of us and our guide. The giant rapids were going to look a lot bigger today.

Between the two days, I think we enjoy the sport raft more than the large raft. The larger rafts are definitely a better choice for first timers because you feel more safe and secure, but if you do decide to do a weekend of rafting, make sure to get a taste of both. I was terrified of what was ahead of us on Saturday morning, but by the time Sunday came around I grew more excited with each set of rapids.


Under the water surfing on day 1 – I'm busy taking photographs

I even joined along in the surfing that I've always hated so much. Surfing is when you paddling into a standing wave and stay in the wave for as long as they can. We tried surfing when whitewater kayaking in Australia, and we were stuck in it for ages. I thought I was going to drown and vowed to never do it again. When it came time to surf on the Ottawa River, I chickened out on day one and watched from the sidelines. Day two however was a whole different story!

Dave coming up for air after surfing

Dave coming up for air after surfing on Day 1

Our guide explained to us that in Ottawa, the water is so big that you tend to pop out of the surf quickly unlike the smaller waves in Australia. Here it's a fun quick surf and you get popped out on the other end. No worries about it not being thrilling enough though, you get to do it again and again.

I join in on surfing fun – braver on day 2

The End of the Day

Whenever we've done other whitewater rafting trips, the day ends on a school bus as we sit in our wet clothes for a long drive back to the main office. With Owl Rafting, the day ends on a huge pontoon boat where a hot lunch is served as you take a beautiful 45 minute boat ride down river to the resort. We basked in the sun as we ate a bbq lunch with a selection of salads and dessert. It was so relaxing. By the time we got to the dock of the resort, we were warm and dry and all we had to do was help lift the rafts about 10 feet from the beach to the trailer.


Approaching the Owl Resort on the Pontoon Boat

Our day on the water was done and we were free to crack open a beer and watch the sun go down.

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