I spent most of the summer of 2020 kayaking around the Rideau with a few side adventures and writing blog posts in my head about my adventures, but never quite got around to posting them. I figured I’d probably do it through the winter, waiting for kayaking season to begin again. Apparently I didn’t do that either, because here we are with an early start to the kayaking season and I’m back on the water again. Maybe I’ll do a better job of blogging my kayaking adventures through the summer than I did my kicksled adventures this winter?
With all the paddling researching I did last year in my inaugural year of kayaking, I completely missed the fact that there is a lovely creek perfect for exploring just 15 minutes from the house. There are two boat launch spots in Kars, at the far southern boundary of the sprawling city of Ottawa. One is on the Rideau River itself, and the one I’ve been using is behind the Kars Recreation Centre on Stevens Creek. There’s a small dock, and free parking.
On an unseasonably mild April morning, I set out by myself. It was warm enough to be without a jacket but early enough that I saw just one lonely mosquito, and though the Rideau River is still dangerously cold, the small shallow creek was warm enough that I didn’t need any special cold water gear. (If you’re new to paddling early in the spring, be sure to read up on cold water safety.)
The first kilometer or so of the river is bordered by reeds, and when the sun is out there are dozens of turtles basking on the fallen logs. When you come up to Roger Stevens Drive, you’ll see a gas station on the right (wouldn’t it be awesome if you could paddle through to the takeout window?) and on the left is a small tributary that early in the season you can follow for another kilometer or so. It’s only a few inches deep and wide enough for one kayak at a time to pass in most spots, but it was fun to explore.
You’ll pass under a bridge that is Roger Stevens Drive and then see Stevens Creek Farm on the right. On the morning I kayaked, curious horses watched me paddle by with interest. The creek becomes much more scenic as it winds through farm land and past large trees overhanging the banks. Just after passing under a second bridge that is Second Line, I encountered some rocky rapids that signaled a good spot to turn around. I’d made it approximately four kilometres from the launch.
I loved this entire stretch and it reminded me of a smaller version of the Jock River near Richmond. It’s an easy paddle through placid, shallow water with lots of turtles, a mink or otter (it moved too quickly for me to be able to tell which), ducks and geese and many red wing blackbirds. Altogether I paddled nearly 9 km, including poking around at the mouth of the Rideau River and down a tributary for a stretch. A wonderful paddle that I can’t wait to revisit!
A few days later, I launched from the same spot at the Kars Rec Centre but instead went out into the Rideau River by turning left from the launch and paddled upstream for nearly 1.5 km to get to the mouth of Cranberry Creek. It was a lot less scenic than Stevens Creek, comprising mostly reeds and duck blinds. The duck blinds were a bit of a surprise to me – I forget we live on the edge of the urban/rural boundary sometimes. It actually took seeing a few before I realized what I was looking at, and I wouldn’t paddle here around the autumn duck hunt season.
This creek wasn’t as scenic as Stevens Creek, and it was so shallow that I kept touching the bottom with my paddle in places. After about three kilometres from the mouth of the creek, it narrowed down so much that the water was becoming stagnant and I figured I’d followed it as far as I could without risk of getting stuck. It’s quite pretty coming up to the bridge for Rideau Valley Drive – probably the prettiest part of the creek.
These are two great little tributaries that were safe and easy paddles, good for exploring early in the year while waiting for the larger rivers and lakes to warm up. I’m guessing they get quite choked with lily-pads and other weeds later in the summer, so spring is probably the sweet spot for them. I’m not sure I’d bother going back to Cranberry Creek, but Stevens Creek is now at the top of my list for favourite local places to launch, along with the Jock at Steeple Hill Crescent and the Manotick boat launch. With luck and patience, I’ll write about those another day!
Do you have a favourite place to paddle early in the season in Ottawa? I would love to hear about it!