Nottawasaga River Canoe Route

One of Ontario's most historic routes suitable for paddlers of any experience


The Nottawasaga River Canoe Route has been paddled for millennia and it was always an important trade and transportation route for the various First Nations peoples.

The name literally translates to “Iroquois Outlet” as it was along this river that the fierce warriors of this warlike tribe came north and conquered the Quendat inhabitants of Georgian Bay and beyond.

After the English conquest and subsequent American Revolution the river once again became a major supply route for the British outposts in the Northwest. In fact, the world’s longest street: Yonge Street was begun to connect the stronghold of York (Toronto) to Lake Simcoe for it was then just a short portage to the Nottawasaga River Canoe Route for the final journey to Georgian Bay and the Upper Great Lakes beyond.

The route also became an important lumbering route as acres and acres of pine logs were floated to the various sawmills downriver. In fact most of the small communities you will encounter along the route were probably founded upon the lumber industry.

With the ending of the limber industry and the advent of first railroads then the automobile the river has evolved to become a recreational asset unlike any other as paddlers get to make the journey where warriors, voyageurs, missionaries, soldiers and explorers once dipped their paddles.

The Nottawasaga River itself starts in the Orangeville Reservoir and flows north through two counties for approximately 121 kilometres (72.6 miles), emptying into the Nottawasaga Bay on Georgian Bay.

Navigate able for approximately 79 kilomteres (47.4 miles) beginning at the hamlet of Nicolston just outside New Tecumseh (Alliston) and ending in Wasaga Beach kayakers and canoeists will pass through some beautiful scenery including:

  • Niagara Escarpment
  • Wetlands, bogs, fens
  • Hardwood forests
  • 25 metre (78 feet) feet high bluffs
  • historic sites
  • Unique parabolic sand dune formations
  • Meadows and fields

Location of the Nottawasaga River Canoe Route

Accessing the Nottawasaga River:

No public transportation options are available so the Nottawasaga River Canoe Route is only accessible by car.

The river runs north for over 120 kilometres (72 miles) so there are many places where you can access it but the three most popular are in the communities of:

  • Nicolston just outside Alliston (New Tecumseh)
  • Angus
  • Edenvale

All three are accessed off Highway #400 the main transportation route to the north from the Toronto area.

  • Nicolston take exit for Highway #89 West
  • Angus take exit for Highway #90 West
  • Edenvale take exit for Highway #26 West

Nottawasaga River Canoe Route Sections

The journey is broken down into three distinct phases that almost everyone could complete one in a day.

Of course for those attempting the whole journey it could easily be done over a long weekend.

    • Section 1 – Nicolston to Angus

      At 32.5 kilometres (19.5 miles) this would be the longest of the three routes and does include some rapids that depending on water levels some less experienced paddlers may wish to portage around. Note that all portages are short.

      Putting in somewhere near the Nicolston Dam paddlers also pass through some 25 metre (78 feet) high sand bluffs close to Essa Centennial Park. Much of the riverbank areas along this stretch are protected so there is a good chance of encountering various species of animals.

      This section ends at the Town of Angus where limited accommodations are available. Estimated time to complete = 8 hours. Suitable for novice to intermediate paddlers.

    • Section – 2 Angus to Edenvale

      At 19 kilometres (11.4 miles) in length this may be the shortest of the three routes but it definitely isn’t lacking as a great canoe and kayak route.

      In this section paddlers pass through the vast Minesing Wetlands Conservation Area.

      A huge 6000 hectare (14825 acre) nature preserve of some of the most environmentally sensitive wetland areas in the entire province there is a great chance of encountering various wildlife as the giant swamp is a known home to over 220 species of birds, amphibians, reptiles, beavers, marten, deer and more.

      The undisturbed ecosystem is also home to over 400 plant species including some extremely rare orchids.

      There is also rich in history for it is here that the early explorers and voyageurs joined up with the Nottawasaga Canoe Route after completing the 9-mile (15 kilometre) portage from Lake Simcoe near Barrie.

    • They would do some by traveling along one of the two side routes that are still available to paddling enthusiasts:
    • Mad River Canoe Route

      A nice 18 kilometre (10.8 mile) trip that flows parallel to the Nottawasaga until joining up with it just before Willow Creek and ending at the Elmsvale Conservation Area.

      Very easy to complete in under 4 hours at times in summer the water levels are too low for this to be a viable route. Check the website for water level information.

    • Willow Creek Canoe Route

      One of the most popular portions of the route the side route travels for 19 kilometres (11.4 miles) along one of the most historic waterways in the province.

      Located at the end of the historic 9-mile (15 kilometre) portage from Lake Simcoe’s Kempenfelt Bay to Fort Willow at the headwaters of the Willow Creek this route has been traversed by such luminaries as the missionary Brebeuf and arctic explorer John Franklin.

      Very easy to complete in under 4 hours expect to see a large amount of varied wildlife on this route that ends at Edenvale Conservation Area.

      Note: that while portages are usually not necessary on this portion of the route low water levels may mean that paddlers will have to get out of their craft and carry them for short distance.

Fort Willow

Almost a forgotten footnote to the time of history this small wooden palisade located halfway between Lake Simcoe and the Willow Creek access point to the Nottawasaga River Canoe Route at one time during and just after the Water of 1812 it was at one of the most strategic points in the country as it was in front of its gates that most trade and military supplies passed.

Today the fort sits in a virtually forgotten location near the small community of Springwater.

A small replica of the fort is on site and during the summer months local students dress in suitable period attire manning the walls and various shops.

A nice short detour if you are planning to take the Willow Creek canoe route.

  • Section 3 – Edenvale to Wasaga Beach

    At 23.5 kilometres this is the longest portion of the route but also one that offers the most scenery wise.

    Beginning at Edenvale Conservation Area paddlers navigate through dense forests, open meadows and through the small Jacks Lake to a series of rapids that are easy to chute through no matter what your skill level. At least 3 portages are required on this route but all are very short.

    You then pass through the largest parabolic dunes in Ontario before passing by historic Schooner Town and Nancy Island Historic Site. Paddlers can continue to the mouth of the river at Wasaga Beach and see the world’s longest freshwater beach.

    The final stretches of the route pass through Wasaga Beach Provincial Park visit my page for more information.

    The journey can be completed by paddlers of any experience in about 5 – 6 hours.

Camping along the Nottawasaga River Canoe Route

Unfortunately camping on public land along the Nottawasaga River Canoe Route is very limited

  • Edenvale Conservation Area

    Located in the small community of Edanvale camping is available to canoeists and paddlers only and a group camping site is also available can be reserved. Contact 705-728-4784 for more information. The conservation area is also a well known fishing destination.

    There are however a few private campgrounds available along or close to the route.


If one canoes along this route than it goes without saying that you must stop at one point and throw a line into one of the best fishing rivers in Ontario.

The upper headwaters and tributaries of the Nottawasaga River Canoe Route are noted for their brook trout while the larger river itself has an abundance of steelhead and the greatest diversity of rainbow trout in the Province.

The lower portions of the river hosts:

  • smallmouth bass
  • largemouth bass
  • northern pike
  • walleye
  • sturgeon

The river’s mouth supports the greatest Chinook Salmon spawn on Georgian Bay and for that matter the whole Lake Huron’s ecosystem. There are a couple of fishing parks on the river just south of Angus and each September the town hosts the annual Essa Salmon Festival and Derby. For more information visit: Salmon Festival Derby


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