Soaring above Ontario’s Lakes in a Seaplane

Published 11 July 2016

Angela Griffin

Angela Griffin

Often, one of the best ways to get a feel for a new place is to see it from above. From a bird’s eye view, you can take in the landscape that stretches before you in its entirety, understanding its size and layout, especially useful if your time there is limited. Without exception, first thing I’ll do on arriving into a new city or national park is to ascend its tallest building, climb its highest bridge or hike to its best lookout point.

Rice Lake, Ontario

Rice Lake Ontario (image: Angela Griffin)

A bird's eye view

From one of my first ever trips abroad – a weekend in Dublin when I went up the Guinness Storehouse tower – to my more recent helicopter flight over New York City, I’m always seeking out new ways of seeing the world from the sky.

I’ve flown in rickety little planes over Borneo; I’ve ridden a hot-air balloon over the Namib Desert, a microlight over Victoria Falls and a hanglider over Interlaken. I’ve taken the cable car up Mont Blanc, hiked to the top of Mount Sinai and even paraglided off a mountain, all in pursuit of a new perspective on the topography below. But in all my years of globetrotting, I’d never been in a seaplane.

So when the opportunity arose to take a scenic seaplane flight over one of Ontario’s lakes, I jumped at the chance.

Seaplane docked on Rice Lake

The seaplane docked on Rice Lake (image: Angela Griffin)

Elmhirst’s Resort

We had arrived at Elmhirst’s Resort near Keene, on the shores of Rice Lake, the night before. We checked in pretty late, just in time to see the water glitter from our cabin window in the last moments of twilight.

When I woke up in the morning I still hadn’t got a handle on my surroundings. I pulled back the curtains and there, just a few metres from my room, was 20-mile-long Rice Lake, bathed in bright sunshine. After a breakfast of blueberry pancakes with maple syrup and bacon, tasty but perhaps too heavy for a bumpy seaplane ride, we headed down to the departure point at the end of the row of cabins. The plane was just floating there, docked by the jetty and tethered by a short rope, like it was any old boat or canoe.

Me looking out of the seaplane window

Me looking out of the seaplane window (image: Angela Griffin)

Meeting the pilot

The pilot introduced herself and asked for volunteers to go first. I didn’t hesitate. There were six of us flying that morning and the tiny plane had room for only two passengers at a time. My flying companion was six foot five; I’m pretty short, so we fitted. Just.

After running through the health and safety briefing, the pilot showed us how to fasten our seatbelts and pointed out the exit. As the plane was not much bigger than a bathtub, and had just one door, I thought it was pretty obvious where the exit was, but I guess she had to follow procedure.

Take off

The three of us put on our headsets as the propeller started to turn, slowly at first and then much faster. We chugged slowly into the centre of the lake, where there was more space for take-off. “It’s a beautiful morning for flying,” announced the pilot through the headphones. And it was: the sun shone on the barely rippling water, and the sky loomed tantalisingly over us, huge and blue.

Canoeing on Lake Rice

About to canoe around one of Rice Lake's islands (image: Angela Griffin)

As we picked up speed along the surface, I willed the plane to take off. Visions of frantic hovercraft-style bouncing, wobbly ascents and sudden splashdowns filled my mind. But in the end it was nothing like that at all. The water dropped away gently, so smooth that I barely noticed. Once we had gained enough height, we could see both sides of the three-mile-wide lake, and had a good view of its various forested islands, many of which are privately owned, and one of which we had canoed around before breakfast.

Views from the seaplane

Rice Lake's islands from above (image: Angela Griffin)

Ontario's lakes

Ontario is home to approximately 250,000 lakes; that’s one for every 54 Ontarians and almost two for every one of the state’s bears. Before European settlers arrived in 1782, Rice Lake was used by the native people to grow and harvest rice. They called it Pemadashdakota, which means ‘lake of the burning plains’. Today the lake is justifiably popular with Torontonians escaping the hustle and bustle of the city, either for the weekend or for a longer summer jaunt. Elmhirst fills up in the autumn too, when a colour wheel of reds and golds decorate the trees. Time slows down here, and stillness takes over, save for the occasional motorboat or seaplane breaking the peace.

Keene countryside from above

Views of the Keene countryside from the plane (image: Angela Griffin)

Lake views

We floated gently, rolling green hills spreading out for miles around us, meadows and fields bisected by hedgerows and pockets of woodland and farms, not unlike rural England. Even though we swooped quite low, the cows were not bothered by our passing overhead as the plane made a large loop around. We spotted various fishing boats bobbing about below, fishing being a very popular pastime here all year round. In winter when the lake freezes over, ice fishing takes its place, as well as skating and snowmobiling.

Seaplane on Lake Rice

Our seaplane touches down on Rice Lake (image: Angela Griffin)


As the resort came back into view, the plane descended slowly, creeping closer and closer to the surface. The touchdown was so subtle I couldn’t tell we’d landed until I heard the splash. With a greater appreciation for Ontario’s glorious countryside, we thanked our pilot, disembarked and watched the next pair take off into the sky.

Explore the lakes and forests of Ontario with one of Round the World Experts’ Canada Journeys; give our Experts a call today for information and to book.

You might also like:

10 of the Best Things to Do in Canada

The 10 Best Views from Aeroplanes

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