Changes Make Planning Your Upper Ottawa River Ride More Challenging…

Scenes like this make the Upper Ottawa River ride one of a kind.

The Upper Ottawa River ride is on generally smooth waters that run wide and deep. Photo by Trish Robinson.

Related: Upper Ottawa River Ride Video

I’ve had several inquiries recently about an Upper Ottawa River ride update. These prompted me to do some investigation about the current status of this awesome tour and here’s what I discovered…

The Upper Ottawa River ride is a shadow of its former self – but still well worth doing. As detailed on my website, the 654-km PWC ride on this waterway between Pembroke and New Liskeard took 4 days (there and back). It was so awesome that I’ve completed the entire ride or portions of it eight times over the years and posted several other articles. Never done this ride? Understanding this update may be easier if you check out the tour articles first.

The Ottawa River Waterway

Late afternoon serenity at the Valois Motel dock in Mattawa after completing the 1st day of the Upper Ottawa River ride. Photo by Trish Robinson

This phenomenal river ride was possible thanks to the creation of something called the “Ottawa River Waterway”. It was an organized system of six launches, docks and transfer trailers from the western side of the City of Ottawa northwest to Mattawa. This coordinated set up allowed boaters easy passage around the six locations where thru access would otherwise have blocked on the Upper Ottawa River between these towns (Note: the by-pass at Témiscaming mentioned below was not part of this system).

You may have noticed that I’m using the past tense. That’s because while the Ottawa River Waterway website still exists, the organized system does not. Apparently, when the federal government dollars that funded it for ten years ran out, some of the participating municipalities opted out, leaving this ambitious project in ruins.

Upper Ottawa River Ride Still Doable

Transfer around dams on the Upper Ottawa River ride is by loading PWC's on a trailer.

Trailer transfer of PWC’s at Swisha during the Upper Ottawa River ride. Photo © by Craig Nicholson.

The good news is that doing parts of this Upper Ottawa River ride are still possible. To the best of my knowledge, the navigation buoys and markers remain in place along the waterway. A trailer transfer is still available for some of the four locations between Ottawa and Pembroke. Call the reservation number and talk to Jerry to find out what’s possible. These locations are:

  • Fitzroy Harbour, Ontario
  • Lavergne Bay
  • Portage-du-Fort and Bryson, Quebec
  • Chichester and Desjardinsville, Quebec

Frankly, I only rode Ottawa to Pembroke once because there were too many transfers that took too long to complete. So my focus has always been on the Upper Ottawa River west of Pembroke. From Pembroke to New Liskeard there are only three dams to get around and they are:

  • Rapides-des-Joachims (Swisha), Quebec
  • Mattawa, Ontario
  • Témiscaming, Quebec

But even this ride now takes more planning & coordination by PWC riders than it used to, including each PWC carrying a full fuel caddy. Here are the challenges to overcome for an Upper Ottawa River ride from Pembroke to Mattawa and back (as of July 2023).

DAY 1 – Pembroke to Mattawa (165 km one way)

90 km – Pembroke to Rapides-des-Joachims (commonly referred to as “Swisha”)

Fuelling up at Lance’s Convenience while on the Swisha transfer trailer. Photo © by Craig Nicholson.

Launch from Pembroke Marina. Hydro dam blocks thru passage of boats at Swisha, but to arrange transfer of PWC’s around the dam, call Roger at (819) 918-9913 no less than 3 days in advance of your ride day (note: link to transfer schedule above is dated 2021, but info still valid as of July 2023). Also, boat ramp, docks, Lance’s Convenience store & land-based gas are also available at Swisha, next door to the boat launch, so fuel up while PWC’s are on trailer during the transfer. No fuel is available on the water at Swisha. Note: Gas on route at Deep River Marina (double-check hours & availability in advance).

75 km – Swisha to Mattawa

The Upper Ottawa River ride is blocked by several massive dams like this one at Mattawa.

It’s a no-go to get around the hydro dam at Mattawa. Photo © by Craig Nicholson.

It’s a clear run the entire way to Mattawa, but the hydro dam just north of Mattawa blocks onward passage of boats. No trailer transfer is available to get around the dam, plus the ramp on the north side of the dam is closed to public access. So this is effectively the end of the waterway for any craft cruising west from the Ottawa or Pembroke areas as even if you have your own trailer, there is no other public boat launch on the far side of the dam. This makes the 56-kilometre river ride from Mattawa to the next dam at Temiscaming a no-go.

The Mattawa Waterfront Marina has a boat ramp and docks, but no gas is available on the water. We were able to arrange fill up while staying and docking overnight at Valois Motel & Restaurant by paying a guy to bring full jerry cans to the docks at the hotel for our return ride (talk to the manager, Olive, to arrange in advance while making room reservations). Note: Gas on route at Antler’s Kingfisher Lodge (double-check hours & availability in advance).

DAY 2 – Mattawa to Pembroke (165 km return ride)

Same info as above in reverse order.

Impressive rock cliff of Bird Rock (located between Pembroke & Chalk River) looks great from the water and even better when you climb to the top! Photo by James Prisciak.

Other Upper Ottawa River Ride Options – Témiscaming to New Liskeard (103 km one way)

Another tour that’s still doable on the Upper Ottawa River is to launch from the Témiscaming Marina (on the north side of the dam) for the return ride north to Lake Timiskaming, with fuel available at Ville Marie (83km) or Temiskaming Shore (Haileybury Marina, 12 km north of Ville Marie) or New Liskeard Marina, 8 km north of that). Lakeside lodgings at Waterfront Inn with docking available at New Liskeard Marina next door.

So there you have it, folks. Hopefully, this Upper Ottawa River ride update on the status of PWC touring will be helpful for those looking for a great jet ski adventure. But as always, do your own homework to double check and verify that nothing’s changed – and remember, riding the Lower Ottawa River should also be on your bucket list!

Like this ride? Check out my other Sea-Doo Rides!

Riders should reconfirm the routes and services mentioned in this article as they may have changed since publication. Any map is for reference only and any marked lines or locations are not intended as an exact or accurate depiction of positions.

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