If you own, or have access to a canoe, kayak, paddleboard or rowboat, you are in luck – our waterways are open!
Under the provincial stay-at-home order, local marinas and some boat launches are closed, but there remain many ways to access and explore our local waterways using your paddle or oars.
“We live in a region surrounded by water, big and small. It takes very little to feel like you’re far away while out on a micro adventure exploring new routes,” says local paddler, Michelle Bloom.
“I enjoy encouraging others to get out and see what we have at our own fingertips here in Simcoe County.”
One of the best places to start is the Orillia and Lake Country Tourism website. Once you click on “paddling,” you’ll find everything you need, from detailed routes, access points, outfitters, and even how-to and safety tips.
“Our paddling guide lists 14 different paddling routes,” explains Kris Puhvel, executive director with Orillia and Lake Country Tourism. “Most of the routes are beginner-friendly, with some options for intermediate paddlers, too.
"From the pretty and meandering Coldwater River to the more expansive routes on Lake Couchiching and Lake Simcoe, there are lots to choose from,” he explained.
Jane Bonsteel, an experienced canoe-tripper and kayaker who moved to Orillia recently, says she often paddles the routes from the Lake Country guide. With years of experience exploring canoe routes all across Canada, she said some of her favourite local routes are in the Coldwater to Georgian Bay area.
“I particularly like the launch from Lawson Line (near Coldwater). This route begins along the meandering North River – where there’s always lots of birds – and takes you out into Matchedash Bay and Georgian Bay," she explained.
"Waubaushene is also a good launch point to get into the protected area of Georgian Bay, with its many little islands and lots of turtles.”
Bonsteel noted the launch from Irish Line in Severn Township is also good, especially for a quiet paddle into MacLean Lake or a bigger excursion into Gloucester Pool.
“Paddling in this area is especially enjoyable because everything is just so close. You have everything from a small river like the Black to the big water and big views of Georgian Bay less than an hour away.”
Janet Grand, who is longtime paddler and former owner of The Bird House Nature Company in downtown Orillia, says the Black River is her favourite.
“I’ve been canoeing on the Black River for over 40 years,” said Grand. “It’s wild and fairly easy to paddle. I love it because it has so much diversity, from rocky sections to fields, wetlands and even a heron rookery.”
A good access point for the Black River is from the Black River Wilderness Park (once it opens) or from Poplar Lane in Washago, which also provides access to the Green River.
For Bloom, the Green River is an absolute gem. Although she spends most of her time on the water as a standup paddleboarder – especially on Lake Simcoe to catch a sunrise or big sky sunset – Bloom says the Green is “a marvel in a canoe or kayak.”
“When the wind direction doesn’t work for standup paddleboarding, or I just need to get away to something different while staying close to home, I head to the Green River in Washago," said Bloom.
“It’s truly like being on top of an aquarium and the clarity of the water allows you to take in loads of aquatic life. The Green is also filled with turtles, beavers, loons, herons and so much more,” said Bloom.
There are also routes that begin right within the city of Orillia. Thankfully, the City of Orillia has kept launching areas for canoes and kayaks open during the current lockdown.
“I enjoy going for a paddle on Lake Couchiching; it allows you to see Orillia from an entirely different vantage point,” said Bonsteel.
Some of the routes in and around Orillia can be accessed from Couchiching Beach Park, Tudhope Park or Atherley Community Park.
A local entrepreneur, Al Knell, helps people access Lake Couchiching through his “Breath of Fresh Air” rental service that he offers at Couchiching Beach Park.
“We’re basically a curbside pick-up business, renting kayaks and paddleboards by the day and half-day. We were able to adapt our service last summer, in response to COVID health guidelines, and we look forward to offering a safe way to get on the water again this summer, once it’s allowable and safe to do so.”
Randy Reyce of Orillia regularly paddles on Lake Couchiching, making his way down to the lake by using his electric bike and trailer to pull along his small kayak.
“I really enjoy getting out on the lake; there are so many areas to explore and wildlife to see,” said Reyce. “I would recommend kayaking to everyone,” he added. “Once you’re out on the water, it just feels like you’re floating on a cloud.”
Bloom also says that getting on the water is something she does to explore new areas and take in the environment around her.
“I’m happiest while on the water, either with others or on my own. The physical and mental health benefits of paddling are tremendous and it’s something that has brought an extra special sense of purpose to my life.”
All of these avid paddlers encourage others to give it a try and offer some helpful tips. In addition to checking out the Orillia and Lake Country website, their suggestions include learning about wind direction, avoid traversing large bodies of open water (wind can be tricky), knowing your level of expertise, and investing in the right gear.
Plus, don’t attempt whitewater paddling unless you’ve had lessons, and never forget your PFD (Personal Flotation Device).