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For PWC enthusiasts, Ontario’s Ottawa River is a must-ride destination. You can ride the full 700-kilometre (434-mile) round trip between Pembroke and Temiscaming Shores in four easy days. For a quick weekend overnighter, try the shorter 330-kilometre (200-mile) return ride between Pembroke and Mattawa. Here’s what to expect…
The City of Pembroke in the Ottawa Valley is an ideal staging point. Located on Highway 17 between Algonquin Park and Quebec, it’s a charming, full service community (pop. 15,000). For PWC riders, Pembroke has three advantages: a good municipal marina; a riverside location that accesses an uninterrupted 90-kilometre (55-mile) cruise upriver; and a top notch staging hotel, the Best Western.
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For trailering into town, the Best Western Pembroke Inn and Conference Centre is conveniently located at the intersection of Highways 17 and 41, near a gas station and convenience store. This hotel offers ample truck and trailer parking, an indoor pool and hot tub, plus the on-site Westwinds Restaurant. The Best Western is less than ten-minute drive from the Pembroke Marina (follow the blue & white anchor signs).
Marked by a white and green lighthouse, the Pembroke Marina offers fuel, a big boat launch, restrooms and transient docking. It’s well protected with a large breakwater and has plenty of parking for trucks and trailers. There’s even a chip truck!
The ride to Swisha is scenic and varied. The published distance chart says it’s 90 kilometres (55 miles) from Pembroke, but I bet it’s less than that. While the Quebec side of the Ottawa River is mostly hilly wilderness, Ontario features towns like Petawawa, Chalk River and Deep River (fuel at the marina – essential for day trippers, see below). Near Pembroke, channel buoys guide the way past a smattering of cottages on the Quebec shore. An historic lighthouse past the location of old Fort William marks a sharp turn to port as the river swings west past the famous Bird Rock, located on the Quebec shore.
Before Bird Rock, there’s a sandy bay tucked into a point of land where boats often moor. Pull up onto the beach and climb a well-worn path to the Oiseau Rock lookout for a spectacular view and try a quick dip in the cool, spring-fed lake located on top.
From Bird Rock, the Chalk River Nuclear Facilities, a major research and development laboratory, is visible. Passing it on your PWC, the river narrows between ranges of hills before widening out again for the approach to Deep River. Exceptional beaches at various locations along this stretch are handy rest stops.
From Deep River, it’s only 25 klicks more to Swisha, where boats must be transferred from around a hydro dam. This is easily accomplished by calling in advance to Noel Leclerc for a transfer service (trailer holds up to four PWC, takes about 45 minutes, and costs $70 one way). There’s a good launch at both sides of the transfer. Those going on to Mattawa can fuel up at the local station when the PWC are being transported.
From Swisha to Mattawa, riverside services are limited, but it’s only 75 uninterrupted klicks to Mattawa, so fuel shouldn’t be a problem. On leaving Swisha, you enter Holden Lake (a wider section of the Ottawa). Not far along is the mouth of the Dumoine River, famous for canoe adventure trips. Exploration up the Dumoine is possible for about seven kilometres, but take care when water is low. Directly across from this river is Driftwood Bay, home to the Morning Mist and Pine Valley resorts near Stonecliffe, Ontario.
Continuing upriver, glimpses can be had of the railway line and Highway 17 that run parallel to the river. The only location on this leg to detour from the main channel is near the hamlet of Bisset’s Creek. At Rocher Capitaine Island, veer to port to avoid shallow water. Ride toward Highway 17, visible in the distance. Follow the buoys around the highway side of the island back to the main channel.
The next time you see islands ahead, the village of Deux Rivieres is on the port side. Antler’s Kingfisher Lodge is located beside Highway 17 in a small inlet. From there, it’s a straight run about 34 kilometres (21 miles) more to the town of Mattawa.
Here from a river view, the predominate feature is the railway bridge. To access fuel at the Mattawa Marina, pass under the bridge and turn to port. For riverside lodging, the Valois Motel & Restaurant is located to the port side before you go under the bridge. Right on the river, the Valois offers plenty of dock space, a decent launch, plus motel-style rooms with kitchenettes. Its restaurant serves home-style meals and scrumptious desserts.
River access beyond Mattawa is blocked several kilometres upstream by the massive Otto Holden Dam (Don’t get too close and be careful of currents and undertows!) To continue north requires a second transfer and that’s a story for next time.
When you plan your Ottawa River ride, I’d recommend sticking to one side outbound and the other inbound. The waterway is often wide enough that switching sides makes the return journey a new experience. Whatever you choose, this two-day, Ottawa River ride will make some of your finest PWC memories!
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