Grand River Canoe and Kayak Rentals: Who Do You Choose?

Canoe and kayak rentals on the Grand River offer a variety of services. Today, rowing in the Grand River basin attracts more than 30,000 people a year. This river system is the largest watershed in southern Ontario with 300 kilometers of paddling. A person can take a 2-3 hour day trip or a week trip… it all depends on the time window. The river is open from April to November and offers some of the best canoeing experiences within an hour west of Toronto.

The biggest feature attraction of the Grand River is the ability to drive an hour from Toronto and experience a day in nature…and still be in your own bed at night. Or if you’re looking for overnight weekend adventures…it’s easy to complete two days of paddling this river.

Renting a boat to explore the Grand River is an excellent option because the rental prices per day are cheap. All Grand River businesses use ABS plastic boats that are versatile, safe, and nearly indestructible. People can rent per trip, which means you pay a set price to paddle a specific route on your own. Or rent a canoe/kayak by the hour or rent by the day if you are going on a multi-day trip.

“Trip” rentals work like this… the customer parks their vehicle at the trip departure point and then travels upriver to paddle back to their vehicle. As of 2007, a three-hour canoe trip costs about $60 for a two-person canoe with all equipment provided, plus upriver shuttle travel. Additional people in the canoe are an additional $5-$10 each, depending on whether you are a child or an adult. Single kayaks can be rented for around $45-$49 per person with all equipment and transportation included. An important terminology used by outfitting companies for day charter boats is called a “self-guided trip.” A self-guided trip is where you paddle the route without a guide…and it’s the cheapest way to do it.

There are six outfitting companies that offer paddle tours in the valley, and they all have websites. Three of the outfitting companies specialize in self-guided canoe and kayak trips. The other three companies specialize in guided kayaking, canoeing, or rafting trips. The three companies that offer self-guided canoe/kayak trips are:

“Heritage River Canoe and Kayak” operates from Cambridge to below Brantford on the Grand River. They rent a great selection of kayaks and canoes. They have river kayaks, sea kayaks and two-seater kayaks. They have 14 to 16 foot canoes that are very sturdy to support people weighing over 250 pounds. Heritage River also offers self-guided paddles on the serene Oxbow section of the Grand River. This canoe rental company offers speed and excellent customer service. (

“Canoeing the Grand”, which operates from the West Montrose/Kitchener/Paris sections of the Grand. They rent kayaks and canoes…and they offer 15-foot canoes that are very sturdy to support people over 250 pounds. They offer good customer service and are the only canoe rentals on the north section of the Grand River. (

Another company that offers rentals is “Grand Experiences”, located in Paris. This company is located on the Grand River below the Paris Dam. They operate from Cambridge to Brantford and offer a variety of canoe and kayak rentals. (

There are four key things to consider when taking a self-guided trip…the weather, the distance rowed, the weight capacity of the boat, and the level of paddling skill.

The weather is the first and most important thing to consider. All equipment companies accept cancellation due to inclement weather. If you are unsure about the weather, always check with the supplier before you arrive. The weather at home may not be the weather on the river. When calling the outfitter for a weather update, tell them your skill level… be honest so they can give the best risk assessment for safe paddling on the river.

Don’t get caught out rowing the maximum distance for the maximum dollar. This mentality is a big mistake. Long hours on the river combined with the use of different muscles… lack of steering skills… bright sun or an unexpected headwind create exhaustion. Many “dollar for distance” customers find themselves exiting their boat eager to get behind the wheel for their trip home. If you are inexperienced or new to the river…always choose the shortest trip to enjoy the day.

Remember to ask about the weight capacity and length of the rental boat. If you weigh more than 250 pounds, it’s good for self-guided providers to know your size. Most rental canoes are rated at 800 pounds with a good seat. Canoe lengths range from 14 to 16 feet and the length is not critical for day trips. On overnight trips, the longer canoe has more gear.

As far as paddling skill level…the Grand River is perfect for beginners with a taste of everything…calm pool sections, gentle swifts, and fast, navigable waters. The river averages 2 to 3 feet deep between West Montrose and Brantford. The Grand can be like two different rivers with fast to slow moving water above Brantford and very slow moving water below Brantford.

Self-guided day trips can range from 3 to 7 hours. The most beautiful section of nature to paddle on the Grand River is a 3-hour trip between Glen Morris and Paris. All three companies offer this route. For a unique 6-7 hour paddle…the trip from Glen Morris to Brant Park offers the best of the Grand. Below Brantford is a section of calm water called the Oxbow…this is a relaxing 3-4 hour cruise of serenity. If you’re new to Grand River… why not ask the owner what kind of water is comfortable for your paddling skills and let him recommend a trip?

The Grand River is known for its close-to-nature experience and it’s always a joy to paddle… but it’s information and customer service that make or break a trip.

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