A little more than an hour northwest of the St. Lawrence River, dividing Canada from the United States, sits the Rideau Lakes area. A township within the Leeds and Grenville counties, it technically includes Newboro, too — even if Google Maps will tell you otherwise.
This post — our latest dog-friendly destination guide — will feature the Rideau Lakes area but also include nearby towns and cities: Lansdowne, Gananoque and the 1000 Islands, Kingston, Merrickville and Kemptville. No matter where you stay (and, don’t worry, I’ve provided two fantastic dog-friendly options below), you can explore each area as a day trip since they’re all within easy driving distances of each other.
Visiting the Rideau Lakes area with dogs
Encompassing the St. Lawrence River, the UNESCO-marked Rideau Canal, Bay of Quinte and a whole bunch of space north of Lake Ontario, southeastern Ontario is a vast region that is best explored on both land and water. Turn it into a road trip with dogs and you’ve got one heck of an adventure ahead of you!
Dog-friendly accommodations near the Rideau Lakes area
Whether you’re looking for a couple of nights to rest your head in a clean but cost-effective hotel or you want to stay and explore the Rideau Lakes area more extensively, with some added downtime to just relax in nature — with a distinctly luxe vibe — these two dog-friendly accommodations should be at the top of your short list:
Watermark Cottages | Lansdowne/Gananoque
Website | 45-minute drive from Rideau Lakes
About 60 kilometres southeast of the Rideau Lakes area, Watermark Cottages is the ultimate home base for day-tripping around southeastern Ontario.
An old fishing camp back in the 1970s, the place has evolved into a luxurious enclave of uniquely outfitted cottages that share a nice patch of tree-covered greenspace and a waterfront dock on the south side of Collier Island. Part of the dock, which will soon be under construction to repair what’s left after massive floods ripped it like a piece of paper, gently floats and bobs to and fro — with ripples from the St. Lawrence River giving it life thanks to passing boats and wave-runners.
I’m a very picky lake swimmer, requiring absolutely no weeds and a zero-entry option so my hands don’t have to touch an algae-covered ladder to get back to land, so swimming at Watermark Cottages wasn’t an option for me, but I did go out on my standup paddleboard and sat for a long time in the small bay that feeds into the St. Lawrence, a hundred feet or so from the dock.
It was the epitome of peaceful, with birds dancing along the water’s surface and calling to their friends in the distance. I even got to see a bald eagle — nesting nearby, I later learned — dive into the St. Lawrence and catch a fish so big that you can even see its outline on my iPhone photo that wasn’t in zoom mode:
You can bring your own boat to Watermark, but when we were there, the only boat docked belonged to owners Sue and Dave — the nicest couple, who want nothing more than to ensure you really settle in and relax. Despite the beautifully decorated and appointed cottages, they’re also meant to feel like home and be lived in.
With dozens of years running a large camping ground under their belts, they bought the property in 2016 as a retirement project and completely transformed it. Gone are the bug-infested ramshackle cabins; they were stripped down to the studs and totally updated. Now, you’ll find five cottages with various layouts, each with a barbecue and hot tub — plus one with a fully fenced yard — which can be rented individually or together for bigger groups and families.
At Watermark, you’re engulfed in nature with modern conveniences and really, really great bedding. Sue and Dave call it “relaxed luxury,” and I couldn’t think of a better description. There’s even a 400-year-old oak tree on the property for some heritage-style forest bathing, if that’s your jam.
Best of all, dogs are so welcome that they even get their own welcome water bowl with a couple of gourmet treats inside. About 80 per cent of Watermark Cottages’ guests bring a dog or two. Being dog-friendly isn’t just a marketing line here; Sue and Dave bring their own dogs everywhere and want their guests to do so, too. (Just keep in mind that you are a guest; keep your dog’s muddy paws outside and off of furniture like you would at your own home.)
Just off the Thousand Islands Parkway, and mere minutes by car to downtown Gananoque, it’s surprising how much Watermark feels like a hideaway. And we would return in a heartbeat.
Best Western | Smiths Falls
Website | 36-minute drive from Rideau Lakes
We ended up here sort of by accident after cutting our recent Le Boat Canada trip short thanks to an air conditioning malfunction — that happened to coincide with the hottest day on record, globally. And although I don’t consider myself a hotel diva, I wasn’t exactly expecting to be wowed by a Best Western.
I banked on it being clean, which it was; but I wasn’t anticipating such comfortable beds and bedding, dog-friendly rooms on the main floor with easy access to a patch of grass and a free breakfast that was good enough to have seconds — with a fancy coffeemaker to boot. Plus a pool! And all of that at a very, very reasonably nightly rate.
Smiths Falls on its own is pretty cute but even if you just use the Best Western here as a starting point, know that it’s worth booking several nights to string together your Rideau Lakes, Kingston, 1000 Islands and more self-guided tour.
Dog-friendly things to do in & near Rideau Lakes
I’m going to use Westport as “ground zero” for the Rideau Lakes, noting the drive time from each of the surrounding areas to give you a sense of what each day trip might look like. Keep in mind that the drive times to each will be different if you’re using Watermark Cottages as your ground zero instead.
Locations that are close to each other, like Westport and Newboro for example, could easily be combined into a single day’s itinerary if you don’t have extra time but a city like Kingston really needs at least one full day all on its own.
- Wander around the great little downtown zone, full of shops, restaurants, a small brewery (sadly, it’s not dog-friendly) and some lovely lookout points
- Walk through the marina and gawk at all of the boats
- Go shopping — though you won’t find all of the shops in Westport welcome your pup, Pinecone is a great example of one that allows dogs; it’s an adorable store and it happens to sell our favourite human- AND dog-friendly bug repellent (AtlanTick)
- Foley Mountain Conservation Area — hike up to the spectacular Spy Rock scenic lookout that looks out over the Upper Rideau waterway
Newboro (8-minute drive from Rideau Lakes)
- Stroll around its historic downtown core; make sure you visit Kilborn’s — it is a must! It’s like a maze inside, with room upon room of more and more and more categories of things that you never knew you needed. It’s dog-friendly!
- Take a walk to the Newboro Locks and look for the Blockhouse, built in 1832 as part of Canada’s defence system
- Make sure you roam the Stirling Lodge grounds (and peek inside if you can), a grand fishing lodge that’s been welcoming guests for more than 120 years
Gananoque and the 1000 Islands (42-minute drive from Rideau Lakes)
I need to share an important preface about parking in Gananoque. It’s a bit dire, y’all. Unless you’re doing a 1000 Islands City Cruises (for which you’ll pay an additional $9 to park), there are very limited parking options near the Gananoque waterfront. It seems Hornblower — which owns and operates the City Cruises — has either purchased or leased every convenient parking lot and the city has installed paid street parking that only allows a max of three hours.
This is a problem if, say, you’ve booked a four-hour kayaking tour. Or if you have a family member with mobility issues. Or you’d rather not drag toddlers on a 10-minute walk to get back to the action after lucking out on a free spot like we found overlooking Legion Riders Memorial Park.
With that in mind, my best suggestion is to scope out a spot on the street in downtown Gananoque and just walk to the waterfront. We gave up our spot here because we didn’t realize how close it was. Try to get a spot as close to Confederation Park as possible and then you’ll only be a 10-minute walk from Joel Stone Heritage Park.
- Joel Stone Heritage Park — a lovely little park overlooking the water, there’s also a really cute beach here, and it’s dog-friendly! With a few picnic tables and lots of visitors, you’ll want to arrive early if you plan to picnic here or have a “home base” for the day
- 1000 Islands Kayaking — yes, they do have a kayak with room for your small to medium dog to sit up front but that’s not why I’m recommending them. The company also offers private pontoon boat tours of the 1000 Islands; for one flat rate ($225 an hour), bring as many as 10 guests and your dog for this narrated tour that can take you where the big corporate-owned tour boats can’t, such as a really cool wreck from the 1800s. If you happen to do a Sunday afternoon tour, you can even stay on the pontoon boat and hitch a free ride to Half Moon Bay where there’s a Christian-based Sunday service. We aren’t a religious family at all but took the opportunity to experience this century-old outdoor church service, where it’s come-as-you-are and stay-in-your-boat. Dozens of boats pulled up and we all hitched together; babies cried, birds chirped, dogs jumped in and out of neighbouring boats to sniff each other’s butts. It was lovely and I’m glad we put our organized-religion aversions aside to experience it
- Downtown “Gan,” as it’s called, is a nice little strip lined with shops, cafes and restaurant patios and we didn’t come across one that didn’t invite Duchess in
Kingston (50-minute drive from Rideau Lakes)
Once Canada’s capital city, Kingston is everything you could want in a summer day trip with your dog. There’s no way you can really do everything in Kingston in a single day, but since I’m suggesting a day trip, here’s how I suggest spending your time here with your dog:
- Grass Creek Park, Grass Creek Park, Grass Creek Park! If you’re looking for things to do in Kingston with your dog, START HERE. On the outskirts of Kingston, this 95-acre greenspace has a ginormous fenced-in off-leash zone and a nearby dog-friendly beach where happy, confident swimmers can test the waters of Lake Ontario. It’s a fairly steep drop-off so if your dog isn’t used to swimming, this is probably not where I’d try to make fetch happen (#SorryNotSorry; I had to). The area is even being treated with garlic spray to ward off mosquitoes and ticks, which is both comfortable and comforting
- Once you’re in Kingston proper, find a parking lot where you can stay for the day; if you want to follow the self-guided walking tour I have loosely outlined here, I recommend parking near Princess St. between University Ave. and Division St. From here, you can walk south on University Ave. and ultimately loop back to Princess St. Just don’t forget to bring a portable doggy water bottle if you’re going to have your pup out and about all day
- Once you’re at Princess and University, explore the Queen’s University campus — and not just because I went there for school! Start at the massive Stauffer Library (at University & Union) — go inside for a peek if it’s open — and walk south. You’ll see some of the university’s oldest limestone-clad buildings, like Ellis Hall on your right and Grant Hall on your left with its looming clock tower. A bit farther down the road, The Agnes Etherington Art Centre (University & Bader) is free, and there’s even a cool graffiti wall around the corner from it that’s gone up since I lived here. Continue southwest on Bader Lane to see Victoria Hall, the biggest residence on main campus, before veering south on Albert St. to make your way towards the waterfront. You’ll pass Brockington House on your right, which is where I lived in my first year at Queen’s
- From here, cross the road (King St. W.) and you’ll be at Breakwater Park on the Waterfront Trail! It’s so pretty and your dog is gonna love it. So will your kids. Winning! From here, you can walk a long, lovely stretch of the Kingston Waterfront. Be sure to look for the sculpture called Time, which was built on a fault line and supposed to eventually touch — over time (get it?!) — but has failed to do so. I still love it, though
- Use a mix of the Waterfront Trail and King St. E. to walk to the Frontenac Club (which I’ll tell you more about in the “where to eat” section below), and from here continue on to Princess Street and you’re at the base of downtown Kingston, with so much to see and do, like the Kingston sign that requires a photo opp stop. The Kingston Visitor Centre is down here, too, so if this post doesn’t give you enough ideas of things to do in Kingston, that’ll be the perfect pop-in
- I don’t think we came across a single shop on Princess St. that didn’t welcome Duchess with open arms — and most offered her a treat, too! There were even a couple of stores that had their own friendly dogs hanging out inside
- Continue northwest on Princess St. to get back to your vehicle — but not before staying for a meal on a dog-friendly patio (see below)!
Merrickville (52-minute drive from Rideau Lakes)
Oh, Merrickville, we couldn’t get enough of you and you might just be Duchess’s favourite town ever. It reminded me of a slightly more casual Thornbury (in Grey County) and there are enough things to do in Merrickville that you could carve out an entire day for it.
- All but one shop on the main strip that we visited (Mrs. McGarrigle’s Fine Food Shop) allows dogs and several also have water bowls out front. There are some really unique shops here, too, like one whose owners visit Indonesia for a few months each winter and return with local treasures or the Wick Witch Apothecary, which smells like heaven and offers mystical books and tarot decks — as the store name might suggest — plus a range of gorgeous candles and body sprays. We bought a Eucalyptus Mint Hydrating Body Mist and it’s my new post-shower go-to
- The Merrickville Blockhouse Museum is free and very good if you’re a history buff — good enough that you’ll want to devote at least an hour here combing through and admiring the archives
Kemptville (1 hour and 10-minute drive from Rideau Lakes)
- The Rideau Woodland Ramble (yeah, sure, the address is technically Merrickville, but it’s equidistant from Kemptville) — although it might first appear as if this place is simply a nursery, it’s so much more. Yes, you can buy plants here and take advantage of the owner’s expertise, but plan to stay for a while to explore the gardens. There’s a lovely pond, the Totem Trail and Ramble House — one of Canada’s largest glass-enclosed gazebos
- When apple-picking season is in full swing, head to Mountain Orchards with your dog (and the whole fam-damily) for a day of fun — including its forest trails. We didn’t visit at the right time of year to take advantage of the pick-your-own setup but will definitely check it out if we visit in the fall
Dog-friendly restaurants in & near Rideau Lakes
One of the things we love doing most is taking Duchess out to eat with us. We bring along something for her to lie on, a water bowl just in case, and her own dinner or a treat if we’re dining at lunchtime. The best dog-friendly restaurants will not only have ample patio space for your pup to chill but they’ll also offer something I call “puppy perks;” things like dog biscuits and in-house water bowls are just two examples.
We found the Rideau Lakes area full of dog-friendly restaurants and confidently recommend these ones:
Westport & Newboro
- Vanilla Bean’s Cafe &
Creamery — dogs are welcome on the patio here and you won’t go wrong with any choice from the menu. I love the affogato!
- Grab some pizzas-to-go from Scheuermann Vineyard & Winery — which used to welcome dogs on its expansive patio area but sadly no longer does — and ask them for the best nearby spot to enjoy them
- The Opinicon — we visited before this glorious property had been fully restored, but it was well on its way and it was something out of a 1940s movie. It has two patios onsite, both of which are dog-friendly. You can either get takeout from the ice cream shop or from the bar (which we did during our visit and the food was awesome) and enjoy them on one of the patios
Gananoque and the 1000 Islands
- Old English Pub — although there isn’t a lot of room on the patio, there are dog treats readily available and you’re right on the main strip, so the people watching is great! Highly recommend the fish and chips
- Pistachio Cafe — kind of a unique set-up here where there’s an outdoor bar with drinks and snacks but also a cafe inside with a small but delicious (and very well-priced) menu. It’s a pay-first and then your food is delivered to the patio kind of situation. I can’t say enough about the African peanut soup; absolutely phenomenal! The staff will promptly bring over a water bowl and a treat and there’s LOADS of space for your pup to really settle in
- Laverne’s Eatery — I’m including this restaurant even though we didn’t get a chance to eat here. Sadly, there was a sign at the front door the day we planned to eat here and due to a staff illness, they were unable to open for the day. But we walked back to the patio to check it out anyway and, paired with the menu I’d already scoped out ahead of time online, was extra-bummed we couldn’t eat here
- Gan Brewing Co. — lots of picnic tables here and certainly plenty of beer but no food. However, you can bring your own — from wherever you like! And dogs are very welcome to join you
- Pan Chancho Bakery — so much more than a bakery! With a huge (albeit a bit crowded) patio in the back, Kingston’s best bakery also offers a stellar restaurant menu as well. Nothing here will disappoint; the entire menu is an exercise in foodie excellence and has service to match
- Union Kitchen + Cocktails — absolutely fantastic cocktails on a patio that sported as many dogs as people during our visit. Running alongside the busy Princess Street shopping zone, Union’s patio is prime real estate for people-watching. The food is great and the vibe is fun, fun, fun
- Frontenac Club — oh, how we love this place. Definitely another lodging option, too, if you want a luxury boutique hotel stay with your pooch, Frontenac Club is a revamped bank in a quiet area adjacent to downtown Kingston. That gives it the distinct advantage of being away from the noise, crowds and traffic but close enough to walk to it all if you choose. The cocktails and mocktails here are still the best we’ve had in Kingston and the patio offers tranquility, even when it’s full. A water bowl and treats will greet your dog even faster than you’ll get a menu!
I really wanted to be able to recommend the Merrickville coffee shop we tried (The Village Bean Coffee House), but sadly can only do so for the muffins — which were freshly baked and SO good. The breakfast sandwiches were fine, too, but not one of us enjoyed our hot beverages. Sad face.
- Stella Luna Gelato Cafe — worth driving to Merrickville for even if you do nothing else (which you won’t, because Merrickville is simply the cutest), we first tried Stella Luna’s gelato at Pistachio Cafe in Gananoque. There are a LOT more flavours available at the HQ location, plus it has the prettiest patio set among trees and flowers. Even on one of the hottest days on record, we enjoyed our gelato under natural shade with Duchess by our side. This is the only place we’ve been to where the owners went to a legitimate Gelato University in Italy to learn their craft!
- Iron Forge Pizza — excellent apps and even better pizza, Iron Forge has a super-casual patio with a bunch of picnic tables sitting on grass, so your pup will be as comfortable as you are
- Hyde Smokehouse — we only visited one Kemptville restaurant, but BOY! was it a good one. If you like southern-style BBQ, this.is.the.place! Everything we tried, with the exception of one cocktail (some kind of boozy blueberry drink), was truly deserving of being called outstanding
If it’s other day trips you’re looking for, these day trips from Toronto encompass a bunch of locations that are easily accessible from southeastern Ontario (though, keep in mind I wrote that post pre-Duchess so it’s not designed specifically for dog-friendly road tripping).
Have other dog-friendly suggestions in the Rideau Lakes area? Feel free to drop ’em in the comments.
DISCLAIMER: RTO-9 compensated me for this content, but we also added experiences at our own expense. All suggestions and opinions are my own.