The Ottawa River is one of the world's best playboating rivers. Period.
Runnable from even the lowest of summer flows and the highest spring floods, the river changes dramatically, but it always has something to surf. And you'll find someone to surf with from the time the river thaws until it freezes back over in late December. The water is deep, there are only a few malignant holes, and in the summer the water is bath-tub warm.
At typical summer flows between -3 and 3 feet on the gage there are three rapids with standout surf waves and five more rapids with big wave trains and fun moves.
After putting in at the complimentary OWL Rafting put-in, a short stretch of flatwater allows paddlers to get the shoulders warmed up before the longest single rapid, McCoy's, a Class III+.
Two major holes form the first of three "sections" in McCoy's, and they're known to hand out beatings. Fortunately, the holes aren't known to be retentive to swimmers, only boats. Sattler's, on the left, is worth avoiding, but people commonly "practice" getting beatdown in Phil's on the right. Swims are long, but they end in a large, calm pool. The holes can be scouted from river right, and the most common line is threading the needle between the two. There are eddies on river left and right to stage for section two.
Next up in McCoy's is a sharp bend to the right as most of the flow pushes up against an island on the left. On the inside of the bend is the incredibly fast and steep Corner Wave. Although it's flushy on river left and it can be tricky to catch the eddy, Corner Wave is the type of wave that will make you fall in love with front surfing again. And it will allow you to throw some of the biggest moves of your life.
The final stretch of McCoy's is a large tongue that threads between two more surf waves, left and right Horseshoe. Typically surfed at higher levels, they can be trashy during normal summer levels, and Babyface, just downstream, is much more inviting. Babyface is another steep wave, but it is more retentive and much wider than Corner Wave. It's good below 1 foot and best right around -1 foot. Despite being well overhead, and surging at irregular intervals, Babyface is the perfect beginner's big wave as it is surrounded by a large, deep pool. With tons of eddy service, the one downside to Babyface is the frequent raft traffic that barrels downstream.
With so much to offer, McCoy's is a popular park-and-play spot. Paddlers will park at the put-in, paddle across the flats, and spend their entire session at any combination of the waves before hiking back up the river right shore and paddling back to the put-in.
Those that continue downstream will choose between the Middle and Main Channels, with the Main Channel on the right having the best play. It can be a bit difficult to navigate the many coves before the Main Channel actually begins, so having a guide is best. If you decide to go it alone, keep an eye out on river left for a large dam to block off one of the coves. From there, you'll want to bear to the right through a surprisingly narrow channel. It opens up into more flatwater before reaching the Lorne, home to some of the best waves on the river.
At the Lorne (Class III+), the river gets funneled down through a narrow chute with several big waves. There is a boof on river left for the more adventurous; otherwise the line is pretty much straight down the middle while avoiding the powerful crashing wave at the bottom of the chute. Catch the eddy on the left to go back up and surf the wave known as Garburator.
Between -2 and -0.5 feet, Garb is one of the best waves in the world...if you can remain in control. It's hosted several world championships of freestyle, and it is a favorite among spectators and paddlers. It's fast, powerful, and easy to catch. It also has great eddy service on the left and an access point on the river right shore, so many people choose to park and play here as well. If there are downsides to Garb, they are the (often) long lines in the eddy and the swirling currents just downstream that wreak havoc on paddlers with shaky rolls.
Just downstream is a rocky shoal that is best run on the right. At high levels, the world-famous Buseater wave forms here.
A short pool of flatwater follows, and when the river bends to the left, paddlers will find Push Button (Class II), a short wave train with great eddy service on the right and a remarkably good surf wave. The first or second wave will be better depending on the level, but either way, this is one of the best beginner waves in the world. Experts will find plenty to keep them entertained as well: The second wave often gives up enormous front loops. Push Button can be accessed via the same trail as Garb, so it is another popular park-and-play destination.
The flatwater returns below Push Button, though not for as long. Butcher's Knife (Class III) is next, found on a sharp left hand turn where a jagged and beautiful bedrock wall can be found on river right. The rocks here are especially sharp (hence the name), but as long as you stay in the main flow, they shouldn't be a problem. A wave forms in the top left around 0 feet and below. In the runout, boil and whirlpools fill the river, becoming increasingly powerful as the water level rises.
Norman's (Class III) is next, the river's only gorge-style rapid. It's a long wave train that can be scouted on the left. The later waves push more powerfully toward the left shore than you might expect, so start center or left and drive right of center. The runout here is very boily, so don't get caught celebrating too early.
Coliseum (Class III) follows quickly behind Norman's. Another longish rapid, this one has some holes to dodge. The most significant hole is called Big Kahuna, and it sits dead center in the rapid. Avoid it on the left or the right, or if the water is high, surf it! At very high flows, the Gladiator wave forms here, an experts-only wave that makes features in several kayak films.
Another short stretch of flatwater leads to Dog Leg (Class II), with two channels. The right is slightly more challenging, but both are small wave trains that are generally read and run.
Farmer Black's (Class II) is the final rapid, and it offers some play, but the hole becomes trashy as the levels drop.
Continue downstream bearing right to the River Run take-out, a large beach with a parking area a short ways up the hill. Unfortunately, there is a $5 fee per person to use this takeout.
To shuttle from the take-out from the put-in, return to Grants Settlement Road and turn left. In 6.9 kilometers, turn left into the River Run Rafting Base, following the gravel road to a large boat launch and beach.
To park and play at Push Button and/or Garb, drive from the take-out following Grants Settlement Road upstream for 5.2 kilometers. A small OWL Rafting sign marks a gravel drive that leads to parking at the Lorne.