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My fiancé and I were guests at OWL Rafting for two days of whitewater rafting on the Ottawa river, and I’m reporting still soaked and thrilled to the gills. Some people recommend premarital counselling to newly engaged couples, while others push checklists of “questions you need to discuss before the wedding.” Nonsense. To truly test your relationship, your compatibility, and the limits of teamwork, paddle an inflatable two-person kayak down the Butcher’s Knife rapid on the Ottawa River and then the tribulations of a marriage will seem like nothing in comparison.
While that makes a great image, I’m kidding. Whitewater rafting on the Ottawa River was that perfect type of thrill that feels deliciously dangerous, but isn’t. While many whitewater hotspots around the world are shallow, with frigid water raging over clobbering rocks, the Ottawa is a big volume river, deep and warm. Being punted from the raft into the rapids by waves was akin to an amusement park ride: something between a water slide, a roller coaster, and the Log Ride. A day at OWL Rafting can be as mellow and hands-off an adventure, or as an intensely dunking one, as you wish.
Day one for us started with sportyakking—paddling an inflatable two-person kayak down the legendary Rocher Fondu section of the river under the guidance of our guides, Tristan and Tanner, who floated alongside in their own individual kayaks. With OWL Rafting in business for 37 years, the guides know the river like an old friend. Before every rapid they told us its particular characteristics, and exactly what to expect. After a half hour of training how to steer the sportyak, we kicked it off with the first rapid, a narrow little chute that spat us out to a small, churning drop. I was nervous at first, but it was just exhilarating, soaking fun.
On day two we paddled in seven-person sport rafts, bouncier and bigger but no less thrilling than the sports yaks. The four hours on the river were made up of many roaring rapids—such as McCoy’s, Garburator, Coliseum—but it wasn’t just about the whitewater. I loved the mellow flatwater paddling between rapids, past crowds of pines on the banks. An osprey nest sat on top of a dead tree like a toupee and small islands with crooked wind-blown pines humpbacked out of the current. It was an almost meditative sort of calm after the adrenaline rush of the rapids, and a reminder that, damn, is Canada ever so beautiful.
After a day’s rafting, all the rafts and their soaked, delighted occupants were towed to a pontoon boat, for a hot lunch and a float back to the lodge. The pontoon experience is unique to OWL, and much preferable to getting on a school bus, wet, for a long drive back to base camp. The amount and quality of food provided throughout the trip didn’t disappoint: steak grilled to our liking, a cornucopia of salads, Steamwhistle beer served with dinner, rhubarb cobbler with ice cream, eggs and bacon, fresh corn on the cob, delectable chocolate chip cookies.
Dirk and Claudia, the owners of OWL Rafting, have a dedicated green approach to running their business. The leftover scraps from meals are collected and fed to the three resident pigs. And, not only were the camp bathrooms the swankiest, cleanest, pine-panelled, most roomy bathrooms I’ve ever encountered in any campsite (or in many hotels), they’re fully compostable, and their water is heated by solar panels. Back at the lodge, there were watercrafts free for guest use, a great little beach, a water slide platform out in the water, or, for those wanting to dry off, a hot sauna and a massive fireplace.
The overnight options were either setting up a tent on the sprawling grounds or renting one of the small wooden cabins with double-wide bunk beds and legit snuggly pillows. It would’ve been the perfect place to watch the Perseid meteor shower if it hadn’t clouded over. The rain drummed on the tin roof of the cabin as we fell asleep, exhausted after a day on the river. It was a terrific trip. There is something elemental, primordial, about throwing yourself into whitewater. The rafting stripped my thoughts down to just the roar of the water, the boil of the rapids, the feeling of the paddle in my hands, and the churning of adrenaline. Life became, for that brief moment, the pursuit of a single essential purpose–to meet the rush of water head-on. To do this kind of adventure in the careful and excellent care of OWL Rafting was an experience that we can’t wait to repeat soon.
What: Whitewater rafting in 12- , 6-, or 2-person inflatable rafts.
Where: OWL Rafting on the Ottawa River. It’s hard to believe that this combination of adventure, nature, and tranquility is just an hour and a half from Ottawa or an evening’s drive from Toronto.
Cost: For two days’ stay, five meals included, and two days of rafting, it’s only $280 per person with the “Millennial” package.
Who: You! This summer there have been bachelorette parties commandeering whole rafts on the river, couples going for a day’s rafting on the way up from Bon Echo provincial park, or groups of friends deciding to combine a weekend on the water with some whitewater thrills. Still, some spots left before the season ends on September 11th!