A lot of tourists come through Toronto to see the big city but the true gem lies in the outdoors in Canada’s wilderness in Ontario’s Highlands. There’s nothing more quintessential Canadian than hopping into a canoe on a gorgeous summer day and hitting the whitewater.
Many I’m sure are familiar with whitewater rafting, going down rapids in an inflatable raft, but what if you could take it to the next level with tandem canoe? Yes, it’s as crazy as it sounds but I am proof that even someone that has as little experience in canoeing can learn and conquer the rapids.
We tested our non-existent skills in canoeing and were thrust into the whitewater with Madawaska Kanu Centre (MKC) in Barry’s Bay, Ontario.
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A Thrilling Weekend
You take a deep breath. The sun glistens above the surge of cool, fast moving water. The trees that line the river’s shore rustle as if to cheer you on. Your ears perk up to the sound of rippling white water ahead. You turn to glance at your partner in the canoe and tip your head. It’s game time. As the current furiously draws you in, it’s pure muscle memory from here on out as your canoe jostles with the whitewater rapids. Before you know it, you make it to the other side to the hollering of your fellow paddlers. You finally relax that tiger grip on your paddle and send a fistpump to the sky.
If the feeling of adrenaline and adventure check your boxes, Madawaska Kanu Centre’s weekend canoe clinic is just what you need. Here’s a look at how our two days went.
Day 1: Twists And Turns
After a hearty breakfast, we assembled into our groups and were introduced to our instructor, Eric. The focus of the day was on technique and so the first part of the day was spent on the flatwater, learning bow and stern paddle strokes. It was all about control. Turning right, left, and straight. From there, we even had the chance to experience what it’d feel like to flip over and how to rescue a capsized canoe.
When we started the day, we were an absolute mess, creating the largest unintentional S-shapes when all we wanted to do was go straight. I remember thinking “Oh boy this is going to be a long day!” However, Eric’s patience and calm allowed us to improve quickly and learn from our mistakes.
After lunch, we made our way to Palmer Rapids where we got familiar with stronger currents and how to leverage eddy currents to get into safe spots along the river. We practiced over and over eddy turns, ferries, and S-turns. We came out of the day feeling more confident in our skills and ready to tackle what was to come on Day 2.
Day 2: Roaring Rapids
Back at Palmer Rapids for Day 2, we pretty much picked up where we left off but this time, after only a few practice runs in mild current, we were set on hitting the biggest rapids of the day.
I’ll be honest and tell you we weren’t feeling particularly confident on this day especially as we watched Eric crush the whitewater with ease.
Holding nothing back, we rocked it though and we couldn’t have been happier. That feeling of accomplishment and rush of exhilaration took the cake as the best part of the trip.
Second try, well…you’ll just have to see what happened below.
The rest of the day we powered through numerous rapids and maneuvered through a number of eddy turns that were either well executed or way off.
With the sun beating on us, it was also great to be able to jump in at anytime and cool off.
I am not going to lie, there were some struggles and lots of paddling for two days, but we came away with huge level ups in skills. The challenge of the experience made it that much more rewarding and fulfilling.
Accommodations & Facilities
What you have to realize about MKC is that it is an all-inclusive experience. Any course you decide to take includes access to all facilities, accommodations and meals.
MKC has accommodation options fit for any budget, including lodge rooms, dormitory, camping, and cabanas. We stayed in the cabana named Petawawa which is set in the middle of the forest behind the main resort. With meshed windows, a queen sized bed, and simple furnishing cut from fresh wood, it’s really just you and the wild outdoors when you’re in one of these.
In addition, their shower and toilet facilities were really clean, and the shower has strong hot water. There is also a sauna and cold pool to relax those tensed muscles after a long day of paddling, which is a nice added bonus.
What impressed me the most about MKC was just how good the meals are. I especially appreciated their focus on providing healthy and locally sourced foods.
A hearty breakfast awaits every morning with an assortment of items that change up daily and a fresh pot of local coffee. While we were there, one day consisted of our choice of cooked-to-order eggs and the other, fresh baked croissants with ham and cheese.
Depending on the paddling schedule, lunch is either served back at the resort or on-site. We’re not talking about sandwich boxes here. Instead, expect to be served up fresh thin-crust pizza and hot off-the-grill sausages. To top it all off, at the end of paddling, they surprise paddlers with gourmet bakery snacks that are to die for.
It only gets better for dinner back at the resort chalet. Having exerted a lot of energy during the day, the chefs come up with creative and healthy feast of dishes each night topped off with even better deserts.
Tip: Bringing your favourite adult beverage is not only recommended by suggested by MKC. The resort has a large communal fridge for everyone to use so make sure you take advantage.
Want to prepare yourself for a canoe or kayak trip? Or just want more paddling experience? Other than the two day weekend course, MKC also offers a 5 day Monday to Friday course in kayak or canoe! Go on, challenge yourself and tackle those rapids!
This post was brought to you in partnership with Ontario’s Highlands, however the opinions expressed in this post are my own because we had such a wicked time at MKC.