One of the great joys of boating is exploring new places, including vibrant waterfront communities. Sometimes you find pretty views or a great spot for ice cream, other times you discover exciting new destinations worthy of extended exploration.

So where do you go if you want to explore Ontario with your boat? Here are our picks for Ontario’s top boater-friendly communities – places with great facilities for boaters, loads of things to see and do, great dining and shopping options, and all of it within easy walking distance of the town docks.

Sault Ste. Marie
Water Property Building Nature Infrastructure

Drawing its name from its position facing a major rapids on the St Mary’s River between Lake Superior with Lake Huron, Sault Ste. Marie – French for St Mary’s rapids – is the third-largest city in northern Ontario after Sudbury and Thunder Bay. Long an important transportation center on the Great Lakes, today the city of Sault Ste. Marie remains an active boating community.

Visiting boaters can find plenty of space to dock at the Roberta Bondar Marina, named for Sault Ste. Marie native and Canada’s first female astronaut. Anchoring the waterfront, the marina sits in a cove between the white, tent-like Roberta Bondar Pavilion and the six-story Civic Centre, making it easy to spot from the water.

As a lively city, Sault Ste Marie has plenty to see and explore, including the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Museum, the Sault Ste. Marie Museum and the Art Gallery of Algoma. It’s also home to the Algoma Central Railway, which operates the Agawa Canyon tour train, one of the Soo’s most popular attractions.

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Where Sault Ste. Marie is a major urban centre, tiny Killarney – population 397 – might draw even larger numbers of visiting boaters every year with its natural wonders and unspoiled beauty. In every direction, Killarney is a Group of Seven painting come to life with its rocky outcrops, resilient pines and crystal-clear waters sparkling in the sun.

Located on the north shore of Georgian Bay to the east of Manitoulin Island, Killarney is well known as one of the world’s top destinations for cruising boaters. But the little town is more than just a jumping off point for exploring the North Channel, with plenty to offer starting with no less than six excellent marinas including Killarney Mountain Lodge, Channel Marina, Gateway Marine, Killarney Marine, The Sportsman’s Inn and Roques Marina – plus a number of additional docks and launch ramps.

Killarney is also blessed with an abundance of great places to eat. Most of the marinas offer dining with a view, while The Pines Inn and the Killarney Bay Inn are known for their pasta dishes and prime rib, respectively.

Killarney is a haven for artists, photographers, and those who enjoy outdoor recreation. The George Island Wilderness Trail is a 7.5-kilometer hiking loop that’s well worth exploring, along with nearby Killarney Provincial Park, which offers a number of hiking trails from mild to wild.

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Perched on the northern shoreline of beautiful Lake of the Woods near the Manitoba border, the delightful community of Kenora is one of Ontario’s best-loved boating destinations.

Once known as Rat Portage – a throwback to its trading post days during the fur trade, when valuable muskrat pelts lined its waterfront docks – Kenora today is a vibrant city with great fishing and a surprising range of dining and shopping opportunities.

Boaters will find marine equipment, docks and launch ramps at Musky Point Marina right in town, Devil’s Gap Marina or Bare Point Marine, both located south of Kenora’s downtown, or at Change of Latitude Marina and Tall Pines Marina, just west of downtown. Other options include a wide range of waterfront resorts located within a short drive of Kenora, offering a bit more privacy while remaining within an easy boat ride of town.

As a major boating hub, Kenora is well set up to accommodate visiting boaters, with everything from restaurants like The Boathouse and the Waterside Restaurant and Lounge, to grocery stores like the Kenora Safeway, all providing direct waterfront access and their own docks.

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Appropriately known as the Sunshine City, the bustling municipality of Orillia might be one of Ontario’s best-known boating communities – in part for its position just an hour north of Toronto on a narrows connecting lakes Simcoe and Couchiching on the Trent-Severn Waterway.

Orillia is also known for its spectacular waterfront, and for the sheer scope of dining, shopping and attractions located within walking distance of its extensive municipal marina. We’re talking more than 150 shops and boutiques, dozens of restaurants and salons, and a thriving arts district with a growing number of fine galleries.

Orillia is also home to interesting attractions like the Stephen Leacock Museum and national historic site, along with a full calendar of fun events like the annual Scottish Festival at Couchiching Beach Park, the Mariposa Music Festival, or the annual ‘Christmas in June’ extravaganza that includes a boat decorating contest.

Boaters will be most interested in the Port of Orillia’s large municipal marina, however, with its outstanding facilities including dockage, launch ramps and more. There’s ice cream within sight of the docks, and even free Sunday evening concerts in the adjoining lakeside park.

Prefer to wet a line? Orillia’s waterfront holds plenty of bass and pike, along with jumbo yellow perch – to the point its annual Perch Festival attracts thousands of visitors each year.

Smiths Falls
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One of the most popular stops for boaters exploring the historic Rideau Canal, the community of Smiths Falls was built around the waterway, which is a key reason so many of its amenities are so easily accessible from the water.

From the Victoria Park Marina and Visitor Centre, located steps downstream of Rideau Canal Lock 31, visitors can stretch their legs on the Smiths Falls Heritage Trail, or enjoy a nice bike ride along the water. Or head into the downtown to browse a range of shops or enjoy restaurants from fast food to fine dining. If craft beers are more your taste, 4 Degrees Brewing Company has multiple flavours on tap – all brewed on site with local ingredients.

History buffs will want to check out the town’s former CN station, which today serves as the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario and provides a fascinating insight into the impact of the railways on Smiths Falls and the Rideau Canal. You’ll also want to stop by the Rideau Canal Visitor Centre for a more detailed look at the canal and its history. For lighter entertainment, the Smiths Falls Community Theatre offers a wide range of programming through the boating season.

If you don’t have your own boat then no worries, as you can rent a cruiser in Smiths Falls from boat sharing company Le Boat, and explore the historic Rideau Canal on your own in absolute comfort.

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The gateway to the Thousand Islands, Gananoque is one of the most treasured boating communities in Ontario in no small part due to its proximity to this spectacular cruising area.

The town boasts of having more than 1000 reasons to visit, and that’s no exaggeration. The Thousand Islands are truly one of the world’s most beautiful cruising areas, and perhaps the easiest way to get the lay of the land, so to speak, is with a sightseeing cruise. Thousand Island Cruise Lines provide narrated tours of the immediate area pointing out all the key sights, like the nearby Thousand Islands Bridge, while providing interesting commentary on the area’s rich history.

For a bird’s-eye view, helicopter tours provide an exhilarating view of the Thousand Islands from above, providing a unique perspective on this boater’s paradise. It’s also worth checking out the 1000 Islands History Museum, for an in-depth look at how the area developed into today’s modern transportation hub.

Visiting boaters will find plenty of space to dock or launch at the Gananoque Municipal Marina, located just west of the confluence of the Gananoque and St. Lawrence Rivers. The marina is easy walking distance to downtown Gananoque’s attractions, including the Gananoque Inn and Spa and the Thousand Islands Playhouse, which presents a range of top-quality theatrical productions year-round.