I’m the type of person who wants to try just about everything at least once. Well, you likely won’t catch me skydiving or bungee jumping anytime soon, but pretty much everything else is fair game. Whitewater Rafting seemed like such an extreme sport to me, but I was up for the challenge. Lucky for us, there was a spot in our own province where we could go whitewater rafting in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Well, it was near Ottawa, down the Ottawa River to be more precise. And it’s known as one of the best spots to go rafting in the world! (This was according to one of our guides who had worked for various rafting companies all over the world).
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We arrived bright and early at 8:00am. As the site of RiverRun Rafting is in Forester Falls, Ontario (about 5 hours outside of Toronto), we drove up the day before and stayed overnight in Pembroke. There aren’t any hotel options in Forester Falls as it is an extremely small town; however, you can stay overnight in the neighbouring towns of Renfrew, Pembroke, or even Ottawa (though Ottawa is still about an hour and a half away).
The drive to the rafting site from Pembroke was a half hour away. You’ll need to drive to this one as there isn’t any public transit to the site as it’s out in the wilderness of Eastern Ontario. There’s also the option to stay overnight in the cabins or campgrounds at the RiverRun Rafting site. We didn’t opt to stay on site as I had read some mixed reviews online about the lodging, so I can’t make any claims as to whether it is a good or bad option. But, at least the option is there for you if you’d like!
We rafted in August. Normally, this is a very hot and humid time of year in Ontario. This year, it was not. It was pouring rain and was even a little bit chilly. Fear not – you can rent a full wet suit for $15! With the wet suit on, we were both kept warm throughout our entire rafting adventure. As for the rain, we were a little bit concerned at first.
The tours ran rain or shine because it really doesn’t matter what kind of weather you’re having. You’re going to get wet regardless of the weather. I actually really liked that it was rainy outside once we were out on the water. Something about the rain added to the atmosphere of the trip. While we were paddling through the calm stretches of water, the trees were shrouded in a faint mist. It was quite beautiful.
Once we were all suited up, we went to a brief safety seminar. The main guide did instill a bit of fear into us (“you could DIE out there today!”), which was followed with, “if you remember the rules and be safe, you’ll be fine.” And, “we’ve never had anyone die here before.” Phew.
We were all wearing life jackets and helmets, and were instructed to always hold the top of our paddle as the most common injuries occurred when rafters got hit in the face with another rider’s paddle! Ouch!
Even though most of the rapids were not very deep, we were instructed to keep our legs up if we ever got flipped into the water. There were experienced guides on every raft to help us along, and there were also a few other guides in kayaks to help us back to our raft if we fell out. Thankfully, no one was injured, no one had any troubles, and we all had a fantastic time.
You’ll notice that these photos look a little…grainy. Well, we were told not to bring any cameras, cell phones, or personal items on the raft with us. After a few moments of being out on the water, I could totally tell why! You would definitely lose anything that you brought with you down the river. The guides told us that at least 5-6 GoPros are lost down the river every year. With that said, some people took the chance and brought their GoPro with them – we will have to do this once we get one!
For everyone else, the company shot a video of our adventures with a camera that wasn’t the greatest quality – and I took still images from this video for the blog. I highly recommend that you watch the video that I edited together at the bottom of the article for the full experience!
You could choose to ride in a 6-person raft or a 12-person raft. The 12-person rafts were geared more towards families and they weren’t designed to flip over at all. It would be a good introduction to whitewater rafting if you were hesitant to try the sport, and it was a great option for children. However, the 12-person rafts didn’t go through every rapid. We went on the 6-person raft, and I was glad that we did even though it was our first time rafting! I would highly recommend choosing the 6-person raft. We saw people of all ages on the 6-person rafts, so even though it looks on the extreme sport side of things, you can do it!!!
We went through six sets of Whitewater rapids in total, with some gentle paddling down the river in between the rapids. With many of the rapids, we got to paddle back and go through them multiple times, especially the first one. This was great as we were all still practicing our maneuvers. There were several different commands, including which direction to paddle, and when to get down in the boat or hold on. We were given a training session in the boat briefly before we set out on our journey, and it was fairly straightforward.
On our first set of rapids, we managed to surf on the whitewater! It was amazing. Even our tour guide said that it was very rare for that to happen! We only had three people in our boat for the first half of the day, so it might have been due to a smaller amount of weight on the raft. Regardless, it was awesome.
After that, we kept trying to go back and “surf” the waves again, but it didn’t happen the same way. Instead, we flipped into the water several times! A couple of times, I went flying out of the raft and into the water. Every time, I managed to let go of my paddle. Thankfully, our guide was always able to retrieve it for me.
There were a couple of times where our raft flipped completely over, and Justin and I ended up beneath the raft! After being a little disoriented, we were able to flip the raft back over and climb back inside. It was easy to haul a passenger back into the raft after they had fallen out; you could just grab the top of their life jacket and pull them back in!
For those who got separated from the boat, there was a bag of rope that the guide could toss at you, or you could hold on to the back of a kayak and get towed back to the raft. Every 6-person raft flipped over several times that day, and everyone got tons of water in their face at some point. After I got over that initial fear of the unknown when we approached that first rapid, I quickly got over any anxieties that I had. My adrenaline was pumping and I was paddling hard towards each rapid wondering what was going to happen next!
Halfway through the day, we stopped at the side of the river to a pavilion where lunch was served. There were lots of vegetarian and vegan options! We enjoyed some veggie burgers along with some rice salad, salad greens, and some potato chips.
It was a really satisfying meal as we’d used a lot of energy out there rafting for the first half of the day. There was a bonfire, which was ideal on a chilly summer day. It was great to socialize a bit with some of the other adventurers.
At this point in the day, we were shifted to a different raft as some other people joined for a half-day of rafting. This time, we were with four other people (instead of just one other person!) plus our guide, and it was just as enjoyable.
One of the first fun activities that we did after lunch was some cliff jumping. I’d never done this before, nor had Justin. It wasn’t that high up…but when you got up on top of that rock edge, it felt pretty high up! Unfortunately, the video cut off before it showed me jumping off the ledge, but it did capture Justin taking the leap.
The river was rushing quickly below, so we bobbed down into the water and back up while being pushed down the river. The guides were at the side of the river with bags of rope to throw at us, as we had to fight against the current to swim back to shore.
Justin and I didn’t have any problems doing this, but some people did! We watched on the shore as some people didn’t even try to swim back to shore, and just kept floating away. Some of the guides in the kayaks had to chase after these people, and some of them ended up on another shore some distance away. We got back in our rafts for a “rescue mission” – saving those who ended up being stranded! Then, we had to shift back into our original rafts, which meant some people having to jump from one raft to the next! It was all quite humorous – we were having a good laugh over the whole ordeal.
One of the rapids towards the end of our day was dubbed, “The Molester”. You can only imagine the experience we had in this one. The raft would somehow be caught in the whitewater while being shifted and twisted all around, without letting go! Eventually we managed to escape those crazy rapids.
Towards the end of the day, we were treated with more serene views as we slowly paddled back to the start. We survived!
I highly recommend giving Whitewater Rafting a try, especially in the Ottawa area. I also highly recommend planning your tour with RiverRun Rafting. They have the most 6-person rafts out on the water, which is definitely the most fun and adventurous experience. The guides are all really experienced, knowledgeable, helpful, and make your day really enjoyable. When we got to the end, Justin and I were already discussing when we would come back next, and how many friends we should bring.
RiverRun Rafting put together a video of our day for us to watch once we were all back at the main grounds. The concept of the video was great, but it wasn’t the greatest quality. This could have been due to the rain; regardless, the company itself thought the video wasn’t up to their standards so they gave a copy to everyone for free. Normally, the video is $29.95 for purchase. While it was nice to get a free video of our day, it would have been better if the video was a little higher quality. With that said, I edited down the 20 minute video to a little over a minute, showing the best highlights of our day. To view the full whitewater rapids experience, I definitely recommend that you watch the video and watch us flip around into the water!
Here are a few tips to make your day more enjoyable:
- Rent the wet suit if it is cold. You won’t regret this!
- Don’t wear cotton. We were told that cotton doesn’t dry out really nicely, so it is better to wear a bathing suit with some sort of synthetic clothing on top. Of course, this really doesn’t matter too much if you’re in a wet suit as I simply had my bathing suit on underneath.
- Wear water shoes. Don’t wear flip flops. You will lose your shoes down the river if you do! Water shoes are the best option for footwear. We got ours at Walmart for less than $10.
- Listen closely to all of your guides’ commands and follow all of the rules. For safety purposes, this one is a no-brainer!
- Go with the flow and have fun! Enjoy yourself out there!