The little-known Pontiac region is a natural playground for white-water rafting in Quebec. As nature enthusiasts, my husband Eric and I love the Pontiac’s region of spectacular wild beauty so much that in 1989 we moved here. We will never tire of its forests, undulating farmland, rushing whitewater rapids and tranquil lakes. White water rafting Quebec is quite an adventure.
Because we also enjoy city life, we find Pontiac’s proximity to the nation’s capital, Ottawa and its twin city Gatineau further enriches our lives with nearby urban activities.
With Ottawa being less than an hour’s drive away from our farm bordering Gatineau Park and Pontiac region, it means that flying into that city, renting a car, and heading out is easy.
Where is Pontiac?
Pontiac lies in the Outaouais (pronounced Ooo-Tah-Ways) region of Québec. Outaouais is also known as West Québec.
Pontiac is a sprawling territory where small villages dot the landscape; some are located on the Ottawa River which is renowned for world-class whitewater rapids as well as kayaking, canoeing and stand-up-paddleboarding.
What complicates the definition of Pontiac precisely is that it refers to both the Municipality of Pontiac in Outaouais, and also Pontiac County. Both areas offer excellent paddling opportunities.
Where to go? Here are my top picks, covering the adrenaline rush of whitewater to the serenity of paddling still, clear lakes.
Gatineau Park Paddling
Gatineau Park’s Philippe and La Pêche lakes are perfect spots to rent a canoe or kayak – or stand-up-paddleboard (SUP) and explore.
These lakes are easily accessible by car or bicycle from Ottawa/Gatineau and both Philippe and La Pêche have campgrounds where you can tent or stay in a yurt.
Rent a canoe or kayak from Ottawa’s Trailhead or Mountain Equipment Co-op, then drive to the park’s other lakes where rentals are unavailable: Taylor and Meech Lakes.
This mighty river forms the boundary between two Canadian provinces, Ontario and Québec. Unsurprisingly, several outfitters along its Pontiac’s north shore specialize in whitewater rafting, plus kayaking, canoeing, and SUPing.
Esprit Rafting Adventures was touted as “Best Outfitter on Earth” by National Geographic Traveller magazine.
After several watery experiences both in Pontiac and abroad with owner-operator-guide Jim Coffey, we can say Esprit delivers quality adrenaline rushes with experienced, fun guides dedicated to sound eco-tourism principles like Leave No Trace.
Here in Pontiac, Jim offers two-channel day trips on the Ottawa River, canoeing, kayaking, a package of whitewater rafting and bungee jumping, day-trip rafting of the Petawawa River, plus in-your-face riverboarding.
What’s that? Doing the latter means you’ll grab a riverboard; don a lifejacket, flippers and helmet; jump into the rapids – and swim for it.
Seriously keen? Take courses: Jim offers swiftwater rescue, raft guiding training, beginner kayaking, whitewater canoeing, wilderness medical training and more.
Top ten in my books is HorizonX’s full-moon whitewater paddling experience because it’s an out-of-the-world adrenaline rush.
Under the light of the silvery full moon, Eric and I paddled the raft with our group, secure in the knowledge that owner-operator-guide Martin Bertrand is a master at reading the rapids.
In his capable hands, we paddled a tranquil stretch of river, with moonlight transforming the surrounding forest to a silhouette of white pine framing our liquid world.
We disturbed an osprey (fish hawk) surveying its domain and, with a sudden spike to our heartbeat, heard the rushing rapids ahead.
Martin said, “We’ll stop in the eddy at the top left of the rapids to take a look,” which we did. “Ready?” he said, “Then, let’s go for it! Backpaddle!” he shouted!
And then, as the raft righted itself, “Now paddle! Paddle hard! Harder!” and we were off, into the dark tongue surrounded by frothing, raging water. With his shouts spurring us on, we paddled as hard as we could and, screaming in exhilaration, we were through it.
Oh my. Want a rush? Try it!
White water rafting Quebec
Of course, HorizonX also offers daytime whitewater rafting, riverboarding, kayaking, canoeing, plus lessons.
For canoe tripping on the Black or Coulonge rivers, Black River Inn Outfitters will not only rent canoes but outfit you for your experience.
They provide shuttle service to transport you, your boat and gear to the put-in point, and you can park your car at the very (very) rustic inn.
Both rivers have serious rapids. Therefore, either know you need to be a wilderness whitewater paddler fully prepared for shooting whitewater, or sturdy enough to manage challenging portages or be able to line canoes downstream.
Don’t know what I’m talking about? Then you may need a guide or to choose another set of rivers. Seriously.
Or, simply rent a canoe and paddle for the day down the Black River’s tranquil section. Every year, Eric and I do this with friends – a lovely, easy paddle.
Artist Tina Michaud and her partner Jim Gibson – are owner-operators of a beautifully quirky inn called That Canadian Lodge, at Rapides-des-Joachims.
Now, before you try to pronounce that village… we English-speaking (Anglophone) folks have a tricky time with it, so that’s why everyone calls this Québec island settlement “Swisha.”
So, what’s to shout-out about? Bring or rent your canoe or kayak and enjoy tranquil paddling, fishing, or take a workshop with Tina and paint the river landscape.
Watch for eagles, black bear, white-tail deer and other wildlife. Nearby hiking trails mean you can explore the forested trails, find a pretty waterfall, and discover beaches along the Ottawa River.
Stay either in the lodge itself or rent a rustic, private cabin. Whatever you choose, this lodge delivers down-home, no-frills yet wonderfully warm Canadiana back-country charm.
What are you waiting for?
Discover why Eric and I fell in love with the Pontiac… come and explore our neck of the woods. Bet you’ll like it!
Canada has many historic attractions to put on your list. If you’re heading to Quebec, you’ll be charmed if you visit Val Jalbert.
While in Ontario, here are some things to do in Gananoque.
Read “The Canadian” train review for more about travelling between Toronto and Vancouver by rail.