Ontario is the most active boating province in Canada. Home to three different great lakes and hundreds of provincial parks, some of the best freshwater boating in the world exits in Ontario.
Some lakes are within an hour's driving distance of Toronto while others would be a day of driving. With thousands of pristine lakes to choose from, it makes it hard to narrow down the list to just the 15 best lakes.
- Lake Simcoe
- Harris Lake / South Magnetawan River
- Lake Superior
- Georgian Bay (Lake Huron)
- Lake Ontario
- Lake of the Woods
- Rainy Lake
- Lake Nipissing
- Lake Erie
- Lake St. Clair
- Lac Seul
- Lake Muskoka
- Lake Temiskaming
- Lake Joseph
- Charleston Lake
1. Lake Simcoe
Only an hour's drive north of Toronto, you'll find the boater's paradise in Lake Simcoe. Lake Simcoe is the fourth-largest body of water wholly in Ontario, covering 744 km².
What makes Lake Simcoe such a gorgeous lake to boat on is its clear waters. On clear days, the water takes on an ocean-like green color, with clear sightlines down dozens of feet. The lake is so clear, that it is a favorite spot for sight fishing.
The clear water warms up the lake beautifully in the summer to enjoy swimming from the many sandy beaches in Barrie, Innisfil, and Orillia.
These warm temperatures also make it perfect for water sports like fishing, canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding.
2. Harris Lake / South Magnetawan River
Harris Lake is a hidden gem in Ontario. Although this area is not commonly known as cottage country, it certainly is an area made for cottaging! The relatively small area is home to many cottages for lovers of the lake.
Harris Lake is located Northwest of Parry Sound, just outside of Point au Baril (300km north of Toronto). It is primarily accessed by the Harris Lake Marina and adjacent public marina. Services on the lake include cottage rentals and boat rentals.
Harris Lake connects to the South Magnetawan River through a narrow entrance at the very East end of the lake. The pathway is deep enough for most outboard motors to get through, but some larger boats may have clearance issues.
The South Magnetawan opens up into a dozen kilometers of low-inhabited water that glassy calm on most days. This is a favorite canoe route for canoers with several shoreline camp spots, portage trails, and hiking trails to explore the backwoods history.
For anglers, Harris Lake and the South Magnetawan River offer a variety of fishing and shallow water spots that you can sneak through with your trolling motor. The max depth of the lake is 19.8m (65 feet), and it is a prime spot for Northern Pike, Walleye, Largemouth, and Smallmouth Bass.
For those looking for a true Canadian lakeside getaway, Harris Lake is the perfect little spot.
3. Lake Superior
Lake Superior is the largest lake with fresh water in the world. In fact, it's so big, that it contains 10% of all the fresh water on Earth. The North Shore of Lake Superior in Ontario runs along the 700km span of the Trans Canada Highway between Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay.
Along this Northern Ontario route, there are numerous provincial parks and national parks that you can visit, including the world-renowned Pukaskwa National Park. These parks offer some of the best hiking trails in the province overlooking the icy blue waters of Superior.
Lake Superior is a favorite spot for boaters looking for a rugged adventure following along the path of the voyageurs. However, boating on Lake Superior is a job for a sea-worthy vessel. Waves on Lake Superior have been recorded up to 29 feet, and it has been the site of over 350 shipwrecks including the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, memorialized by Gordon Lightfoot.
4. Georgian Bay (Lake Huron)
Georgian Bay is located in the northeastern arm of Lake Huron. This beautiful freshwater bay is characterized by its windswept pines that grace the shores and sandy beaches.
In fact, Georgian Bay is home to the longest freshwater beach in the world. This is where you will find the Wasaga Beach tourism area, a very popular destination for day trips and getaways in Ontario.
Georgian Bay is also a full-service boating area, wrapping all the way around from Killarney in Northern Ontario to the Bruce Peninsula and Tobermory.
Along Georgian Bay's 1,240 miles of shoreline, you will find tons of boating hotspots like Honey Harbour and the Blue Mountains. You can also enjoy many other activities including local breweries, spas, hiking, kayaking, and even tree-top adventures.
5. Lake Ontario
What would a list of the best lakes in Ontario be without the lake that shares the province's name? Lake Ontario is one of the five Great Lakes of North America and is most often seen as the mirror reflecting the iconic Toronto skyline.
However, Lake Ontario got its name because it covers such a large area of Ontario. The lake spans the province from the Niagara escarpment, to Hamilton, to Toronto, and all the way to Kingston. Just outside of Kingston, tourists and boaters can enjoy the beautiful Wolfe Island for a getaway.
Lake Ontario is also an absolute playground for recreational boaters. You will see all types of boats including fishing boats, powerboats, large sailboats, and everything in between.
Lake Ontario also plays another important role in the province. It provides drinking water to 9-million people. In fact, more Canadians live in the Ontario watershed than any other watershed in all of Canada.
6. Lake of the Woods
Lake of the Woods is sometimes referred to as the 6th Great Lake. It covers an expansive 1,727 miles with 25,000 miles of shoreline.
Lake of the Woods is located right on the Manitoba border. The lake is so large that it even spans into Minnesota, USA. With over 14,550 islands, it a popular destination for canoeing, ice fishing & camping.
Lake of the Woods is a renowned sailing destination. It is home to the Lake of the Woods International Sailing Association Regatta (LOWISA), which is an internationally acclaimed racing and cruising event held annually out of Kenora, Ontario.
7. Rainy Lake
Rainy Lake sits on the border between Ontario and Minnesota. About 70% of the lake calls Ontario home and the other 30% is in the USA.
Rainy Lake is another sizable lake on this list (there are many in Ontario!). It covers about 92,100 ha and has 2,200 islands.
A unique feature on Rainy Lake is a mermaid statue that is only accessible by boat. Boaters love this excursion as a day trip. The statue was built in the 1930s and is located in Silver Island Narrows, near Copenhagen Island.
Another historical point of interest on Rainy Lake is Fort Frances, which is the oldest settled community west of Lake Superior.
For boaters, Rainy Lake has many accessible boat launches to get out and explore in your own vessel, or you can rent a houseboat to enjoy leisure cruising and fishing.
8. Lake Nipissing
Lake Nipissing is a fisher’s promise
land lake with a rich history. Approximately 67 km and 26 km wide covering approximately 130 km of shoreline, it is home to 40 different species of freshwater fish.
In the days of the fur trade, Nipissing was accessed by coureurs des bois (logrunners) and later voyagers via the French River which is now considered a very popular tourist destination for all outdoor activities.
The east side of the lake (known as the West Arm, Warren Bay, and Mashkinonje Provincial Park region) is very shallow, though its large number of uninhabited islands, waterways, fishing grounds, and inlets make it a very appealing place to fish privately and take shelter from strong winds and the sun.
Boating on the lake you will find numerous sport fishing lodges, campgrounds, restaurants off the main shoreline. West Nipissing is a vast body of water that connects to the east side of Nipissing. The lake is fed by a vast region of inland lakes and rivers from Temagami and drains through the French River system into Georgian Bay.
Boaters with large enough vessels can travel from one end to the other in a day’s span and explore popular waterfront marinas found in North Bay and Sturgeon Falls for a quick drink, swimming, or a fish & chip.
Unlike the east, West Nipissing is considered very deep with a max depth of 210 ft. Boaters should be aware of the fluctuating depths and are recommended to have a depth finder equipped while navigating on this lake.
9. Lake Erie
Lake Erie is designated as one of the Great Lakes. It sits below Lake Ontario and Lake Huron at the most southern border between Canada and the United States.
Because of its southern spot, Lake Erie is a beach destination and is known as the Caribbean of Ontario. Lake Erie actually sits on the same latitude as northern California, and beachgoers flock to Port Dover, Rock Point Provincial Park, Long Point, and Turkey Point to catch some rays.
This warm climate makes the Lake Erie region home to wildlife species that are not found anywhere else in Canada. More than half a million people visit Point Pelee National Park every year to catch a glimpse of the unique ecosystem and plentiful bird watching. Point Pelee extends into Lake Erie and is the most southern tip in all of Canada.
Lake Erie is a great lake for boating. The warm breeze and clear green waters will make you think that you are out on the ocean.
10. Lake St. Clair
Lake St. Clair is another Ontario lake that shares its border with the United States. It is located near the most southern tip of Ontario and crosses in Michigan. This lake is situated about six miles (10 km) northeast of the downtown areas of Detroit, Michigan, and Windsor, Ontario.
Lake St. Clair is part of the Great Lakes water system and connects Lake Huron to Lake Erie.
Lake St. Clair is a large lake covering approximately 440 square miles, making it a prime boating destination. The lake is so large that there are parts that you cannot even see the shore.
The lake also has many services for boaters. Around the lake, you will find lakeside restaurants, places to drop anchor, and fantastic swimming and fishing spots. Many boaters enjoy crossing the lake for dinner in another country and being home in time to tuck the kids in.
11. Lac Seul
image credit: https://www.muskychasers.com/explore/guides-charters/fishing-guides/ontario/ben-beattie-outdoors/
Lac Seul is a large, crescent-shaped reservoir in Kenora District, northwestern Ontario, Canada. In the 1920s Lac Seul was home to a gold rush that turned its neighboring community of Hudson, Ontario into a bustling gold rush town.
Today, Lac Seul is a destination for boaters and anglers. This lake is absolutely legendary for the fish. In the lake, you will find ample walleye, muskie, and northern pike. And they are big! Get your camera and fish scale ready.
However, keep in mind though that Lac Seul has its own fishing regulations. It is located in a Fishery Management Zone 4.
Lac Seul is the second largest lake located wholly in Ontario. It runs west-east between Ear Falls and Sioux Lookout-Hudson. In total, it covers a massive 560 square miles.
12. Lake Muskoka
Lake Muskoka is located in the heart of Canada's cottage country, known as Muskoka. The lake is located between Port Carling and Gravenhurst, Ontario, and is lined with cottages.
Muskoka is often called the “Malibu of the North” or the “Hamptons of the North” and with good reason. A-listers like Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, and Justin Bieber have cottages on Lake Muskoka.
The lake is relatively small, covering about 120km² (46 sq mi). It is the perfect lake for powerboats, jet skis, or enjoying some real estate cruising by canoe.
The autumn boating season is also spectacular on Lake Muskoka. The area boasts fall colors in all its Canadian glory.
13. Lake Temiskaming
Lake Temiskaming is located right on the provincial boundary between Ontario and Quebec, Canada. The lake forms part of the Ottawa River and is 110 kilometers in length and covers an area of almost 295 km².
Lake Temiskaming is a very fun lake to boat on. There are public boat launches and marinas in New Liskeard and Haileybury (both part of the City of Temiskaming Shores).
The lake itself is very deep with a max depth of 216 m. Some parts of the lake are extremely deep close to shore, like on the edges of the Devil's Rock cliffs. The rock goes straight down into the water and even large boats can cruise close to the edge.
Visibility on Lake Temiskaming is low, so if you're an angler, make sure to bring along some Lipless Crankbait. Lake Temiskaming is packed with northern pike, sturgeon, lake trout, walleye, smallmouth bass, bullhead, carp, burbot, perch, and whitefish.
14. Lake Joseph
Another cottage country favorite from Muskoka is Lake Joseph. Lake Joseph is a smaller lake sitting at only 54.6 km². Even at this small size though, Lake Joseph fits in some stunning luxury cottages and vacation rentals around its entire perimeter.
Lake Joseph is home to what is known as Billionaire's Row, a string of ultra-luxury cottages, including the lavish lake house of Shark Tank's Kevin O’Leary.
For residents and visitors alike, Lake Joseph is a calm and exceptionally clear lake to boat on. It has plenty of inlets and curves to explore, and it is like a real-life cottage magazine. It is also a wonderful lake for canoeing and kayaking. The glassy waters at sunrise and sunset are what Canadian postcards are made of.
Being in the center of cottage country, there are also lots of things to do around Lake Joseph including wineries, bakeries, spas, and premier golf courses.
15. Charleston Lake
Charleston Lake is a gem known for its beauty. It is home to over 100 islands, and over 100 miles of diverse shoreline graced by beautiful granite and sandstone rock. Charleston Lake is very close to Ottawa, about a 1 hour and 40 minutes drive away, and drains in the St. Lawrence River.
Hosting nearly a thousand summer and permanent residences on the shoreline, Charleston Lake is a lively area for summer getaways, camping, fishing, and boating.
The east side of the lake is perfect for a paddle and hike up Blue Mountain with an incredible panoramic view of Charleston Lake Provincial Park. The perfect size lake for a day of boating and exploring.
As you can see from this list, there is no shortage of freshwater lakes in Ontario to explore! In fact, Ontario has 250,000 lakes that contain about one-fifth of the world's fresh water.
Whether you want to launch your own boat, rent a boat, do some kayaking, canoeing, fish, or just good old exploring, there is a lake in Ontario for that!
Ontario is a large province and well worth exploring the natural wonders it holds, and what better way to do that than from the water.