Watch the blog post video on YouTube!
Cootes Paradise, Hamilton, Ontario is part of Lake Ontario: Hopkins and Borer’s Creek section and is part of the Royal Botanical Gardens.
This is by far my favourite spot to paddle locally and an overall top location! Cootes never disappoints! If you go for a night paddle or early morning you’ll likely see beavers (I wouldn’t recommend this for your first time as the launches aren’t easy and you’ll need to know where you’re going)
Wildlife I’ve seen:
- a ton of birds (bald eagles, blue herons, woodpeckers, geese, ducks)!
- Snapping Turtles
I fully recommend a short river fin for paddling this area! See my blog post here. The short fin will help navigate the shallow waters and help prevent going for a dip due to a log snag.
Free parking! Both launch points have a short walk to the launch point with some obstacles. See launch details below.
Cootes Trail Parking (launch point 1 has a limit of 3 hours but I have never seen anyone get a ticket)
Two main launch points.
1: Under Cootes Dr. in Dundas bridge beside the intersection of Cootes Dr. Trail & Spencer Creek Trail.
- Official 3-hour roadside parking for Cootes Trail.
- You need to plan your driving route here as Cootes Dr. has a median and a few no turnarounds. I’d recommend coming from Olympic Dr. where you turn left onto Cootes Dr and will be on the south and proper side.
- A short walk along the sidewalk/trail and down under or beside the bridge.
- It’s a tricky launch as it’s muddy, rocky, and steep. In early August 2022, there was a small wood platform making it a little easier to launch.
- The creek is typically higher and flows towards the lake in the springtime making it more difficult to paddle back to the launch point.
2: Off Olympic Dr. in Dundas beside Hydro One Transformer Station.
- Parking is free and unofficial but you see lots of people park by the cinder blocks to go fishing. Parking is just on the edge of the Hydro One entrance.
- A small “beach” (muddy and rocky) launch on the north side of the river. You have to get over a cinder block on the trail and sometimes ask people fishing to move (they are mostly down the creek shore)
- Note that West Pond can get caked in algae, too thick to paddle through when the weather has been hot for a number of days. RBG will block the West Pond from the rest of the creek typically mid-summer by which point it’s usually too shallow to paddle out into Princess Point.
You can also launch at Princess Point and paddle in towards what I think is the best part of Cootes (launch 1 & 2). However, I’d suggest launching from one of these launch points first. They put you right in the thick of it and unless you know where you’re going from Princess Point it can be difficult to navigate.
Launch Point 1 Map
Launch Point 1 Parking on Cootes Dr. Looking Towards the Bridge.
The time of year matters! Near the end of the summer into the fall the water levels get low; often too low to paddle making Launch Point 2 (Olympic Dr.) impossible to use. Keep in mind, this location is overall not very deep no matter what time of year. As mentioned above I’d recommend a short river fin. See blog post here.
This area is somewhat protected by the escarpment (northerly winds) and in the summer the vegetation helps a little. Typically winds are coming from the west making the paddle back more challenging. Bayfront Park is a great go-to if this is the case (<20 kph I wouldn’t go to Bayfront if it was stronger than that). You can typically paddle comfortably with 12 kph winds from Cootes launches. Always check the wind! Learn about reading the wind for paddleboarding here.
In the spring the water flows out into the bay making it a relaxing river cruise to start but a paddle back (not a difficult one but if you stop paddling you will move backwards.) If the wind is coming from the east then this helps push you back!
From either launch point head out into the bay. From Launch 1 you can go up Spencers Creek in the spring when water levels are higher but, you’re also fighting a small current. Beyond that, you will need to paddle under the Cootes Dr. bridge out towards the bay. From Launch 2 you can’t paddle up Dejardins Canal unless you launch from the other side of Olympic Dr. I have never tried but it’s shallow and doesn’t look like you could go far.
You can paddle to Princess Point and explore out in the bay more, be aware that it does shallow out in places. Keep an eye on where you came from so you know what route to take back.
There are lots of spots to explore in the bay west of the 403/York St bridges however you need to take a short portage (you can’t paddle due to The Fishway) to get out to Bayfront and into the Hamilton Harbour. See the bottom photo on the Princess Point launch blog. You can learn more about Bayfront and The Fishway here. Organizing a paddle starting at Launch 1 or 2 and ending downtown Hamilton from Bayfront is a fun day! You’ll need to have two cars and drop one off first or organize a pickup.
- There are no washrooms at either launch location. If you have to go you’ll need to hike into the bushes.
- Use a short river fin to avoid log snagging and falling in
- You’ll likely get a little muddy. Especially entering from Launch 1 under Cootes Dr. If you fall in you will get dirty!
- Bring a camera and or binoculars
- Once you’ve gone and have an idea of the launch points and navigating the area, go early for sunrise!
- If you’re paddling out into the bay take note of where you came from!
- If you plan to swim (I wouldn’t recommend that here as it’s primarily wet lands and creeks) or are worried about the water quality check it before you go here. E.coli levels can be high in the summertime. I personally don’t mind paddling when the water quality is low as I’m not planning to swim in it and I wash down my board after each use. Some people tend to avoid the water altogether. Make the decision that’s best for you!
- I can’t say enough about Cootes! Sometimes it’s hard to believe you’re in the heart of Hamilton!
- Great spot for leisure wildlife-filled paddle but be cautious of the tricky entry points and shallow water.
- See some of my Instagram Reels of Cootes Adventures here and here.
Other Hamilton Paddling Spots:
Launch Point 1
Launch Point 2 Map
Launch Point 2 Trail from Parking Lot
Launch Point 2