St. Lawrence River, Lachine Rapids (Montreal, Quebec)
park and play of class 3-4
In downtown Montreal, all several hundred thousand cfs of the St. Lawrence River drop through huge rapids, some of which form fantastic glassy surf waves. Two playspots specifically stand out: the 67 Wave and Big Joe/Pyramid Wave. The 67 Wave is further downstream of Big Joe and is good at higher levels. It is more of an April through June spot. It is eddy-accessed and for how large the wave is, it is not a very intimidating place to paddle. Plus the wave is incredible.
To reach the 67 Wave, take Route 15 north from the American border. Stay on it west (Ouest) across the Pont Champlain (bridge) over the St. Lawrence. In the middle of the bridge take the route 10 exit which heads downstream (north). Take the Pierre Dupuy exit from Route 10 (just past the Pont Victoria) and turn right onto Avenue Pierre Dupuy. Pass the Habitat 67 condos to your right and just before the Pont de la Concorde (bridge), turn right into the parking lot for the Parc de la Cité-du-Havre. Park here (but not overnight), walk over to the river, head upstream about a hundred yards along a fence and you’re there.
Big Joe and Pyramid are a few miles upstream of 67 Wave and are the late summer mainstay of Montreal paddling, coming into the best levels in July through October. They are located out in the middle of the river, on the river right side of a ledgy shoal. Swimming here is out of the question and very dangerous. In the summer, locals erect a viewing platform at the upstream end of the shoal. You must attain and carry your way back up the shoal after each ride, but the huge glassy waves are worth the effort. If it’s cold out, however, or if the water is high, this effort is very tiring and intimidating. You will enjoy Big Joe and Pyramid much better on a sunny, low water day.
In order to safely paddle out to the waves you must know the line, follow someone who does, or risk being eaten by a huge hole and missing the waves. If you’re nice you can usually find someone who is willing to show you the way down at the parking lot.
To get there take Route 15 north from the American border and stay on it west (Ouest) across the Pont Champlain (bridge). Once across the St Lawrence take the Wellington exit, stay in the left lane, and then at the first light take a right onto Wellington. At the next light turn left to stay on Wellington. Then at the next light turn left onto LaSalle Blvd. Stay on LaSalle for a while, and when you see rapids on your left, those are them. Park at the Sixth Avenue parking lot on the left.
Richelieu River, Chambly Waves (Chambly, Quebec)
park and play of class 3
The Richelieu River drains Lake Champlain and its vast headwaters, directing all their runoff into the mighty St. Lawrence River. In a town called Chambly the river drops over rapids that form two fantastic surf waves at spring levels (usually March through mid-May). All kinds of wave moves are possible.
Look for the Lake Champlain USGS gage to be above 98 feet for a good level. The front wave is better at lower levels (even as low as 97 feet), but you have to hike up after each ride; it’s still worth it. The second wave is good at higher levels and does have eddy access. This one is a monster, but the level has to be really high.
To get to Chambly take I-89 north to Canada, cross the border, and continue north (Nord) on Route 133 (it is a little tough to stay on 133, be vigilant). After about 35 km (20 miles) get onto Route 112 west (Ouest). You’ll immediately cross over the Richelieu River. Turn right (north) as soon as you reach the west side of the river onto Rue de Richelieu. Then drive north along the river about a mile until you come to Le Parc Des Rapides. This is where the waves are. If you get lost in Chambly, ask nicely for someone to point you towards this park. It is on river left upstream of the lake in Chambly.
Jacques-Cartier River (Tewksbury, Quebec)
4 miles of class 3-4
The Tewksbury section of the J-C is a beautiful run. The granite bed is studded with smooth boulders and lined with dark forests. Warm summer paddling can often be found here down to about -1.5 feet on the bridge gage. Above three feet the river is pretty high, and commercial rafts no longer run. The run is very fun and pushy at that level, but many other paddling options open up when the river is that high (like many of the creeks in the park upstream). At lower levels there is good play and fun lines through many rapids. For information on levels see Fédération québécoise du canot et do kayak. Click on “Produits et Services” and then click on “Info-debit” (“Bas” = low, “Moyen” = Medium, “Haut” = high, “Inconnu” = unknown, “Crue” = flood).
To reach the run drive to Quebec City and follow Route 73 and then Route 175 north of the city towards Chicoutimi. Take the Tewksbury exit (exit 167). Turn left off the exit ramp (under the highway) and follow this road for approximately six miles. You see a large church in a big open area before you turn right. After a few hundred yards turn left onto a bridge over the river. The gage is on the downstream side of the center bridge piling. Turn left again across the bridge and park at the rafting company lot. Use their put-in. To reach the takeout, drive back out to the church and continue along past it. After about four miles you’ll pass a convent, then the road bends right and heads down a hill. At the base of the hill through the trees are the river and the takeout. Make sure you can recognize the spot from the river. Don’t park here. Drive back to the top of the hill and park in a dirt lot.
Other Jacques Cartier Sections: There are several other sections of the J-C worthy of note. At the northern end of Parc Quebecois de la Jacques Cartier is the class 5 Taureau section. The class 2-3 Vallee section forms the spine of the park. Significantly downstream of the Tewksbury section, and upstream of the town of St. Catherine is a short class 3-5 section that runs most of the summer. Upstream of the town of Pont Rouge is the class 3 Grand Remous section which is home to a great playhole, the rouleau des presidents. Downstream of the town is the class 2-3 Pont Rouge section which has big surf waves in the late spring. Just before the J-C drops into the St. Lawrence is the Donnaconna section.
St. John Reversing Falls (St. Johns, New Brunswick)
park and play of class 3-5
When you get to this spot your jaw will drop. The tides range between twenty and thirty feet, sloshing in and out of an enormous basin near the mouth of the Saint John River. The main channel is usually so big it’s frightening (to most), with irregular crashing waves as high as twenty feet and huge unpredictable eddy lines and whirlpools. Paddlers for the most part stick to the side channel on river left (east side) for play options. Try to hook up with some locals to show you around your first time there; you will appreciate it. Scouting will do you little good as the features will change by the time you put on. Most locals are pretty friendly and willing to show you around a bit. The incoming tide is usually more forgiving and has a more reliable big play feature, but both incoming (water flowing upstream) and outgoing (water flowing downstream) tides have big play. A swim on the incoming tide would probably not be catastrophic, but on the outgoing could very likely be fatal. The play is best when the Saint John River is pretty low, so make your trip between June and November. The water is cold ocean water, so dress appropriately. To paddle the incoming tide put on two or three hours before high tide; for the outgoing tide put on two or three hours before low tide. To get there drive to St. John and then follow signs to the Reversing Falls Park. Park you car here.
Rouge River (Calumet, Quebec)
2.5 miles of class 3-5
The Rouge is a great river with wonderful diversity. It has good play at medium and high levels and at low levels it has challenging creeking. Below the put in paddlers enjoy a few miles of playful class 3 and 4 rapids. These end at the Seven Sisters (Les Sept Souers). This section is a wild canyon of class 5 creeking through seven big drops. It is committing and really only considerable by mere mortals at low levels. The portage route is on river right. Seal launch into the river below the sixth sister and run the seventh. Then enjoy another mile or so of fun class 3-4 ledges to the takeout bridge.
To get to the Rouge take Route 15 west of Montreal, then turn onto Route 50 which eventually dumps you onto Route 148. Continue west another 15 miles and you’ll start to see signs for rafting companies. As you enter the hamlet of Calumet turn right onto Chemin de la Riviére Rouge. Follow this road upstream for a few miles as it generally parallels the river until you reach the rafting put in (which is adjacent to a rather calm section of river). You may have to pay to park on raft company property. The takeout is on the west side of the Route 148 bridge over the Rouge.
Ottawa River, Rocher Fendu Section (Cobden, Ontario)
various sections of class 3
The Ottawa is big friendly play. Make the pilgrimage. It is runnable from May to November with great playspots at all levels. Most will choose to visit in the mid to late summer when the water is warm and the river is low. Also, make sure to check the map at the put in to be sure of where you’re going. Much of the Ottawa is lake-drop through a maze of channels and knowing where to go at what levels will help you find the best play. Begin at McCoy’s Rapid with several excellent playspots mostly below +5 feet. Below here the river splits into the Main Channel (river right) and the Middle Channel (river left). Above +5 feet the middle section has the best array of good holes and waves, while below +5 the Main has the best play features. There are many, so don’t use up all your energy at McCoys. High water on the Ottawa (+20 feet) is definitely epic. Expect huge whirlpools, boils, and monstrous wave-holes. To find out the level visit the Ottawa River webiste and click on “River Levels” for the most recent reading on the owl rafting gage.
To reach the Rocher Fendu Section Take Route 17 west of Ottawa City for about ninety miles and then turn right onto Stoppa Road just before you enter Cobden. Stay on Stoppa for a few miles as it turns into Kohlsmith Road. A bit later bear left onto Grant’s Settlement Road. Follow this road (upstream) passing small yellow markers for the roads. Marker number five is for the takeout road at River Run Rafting (where you have to pay for access) and marker number one is for the MKC/Owl Rafting put-in at the top of McCoys (no fee). If you get lost there are many signs pointing in the direction of rafting companies. Ask for directions.