Sometimes I don’t have to look far to find outdoor adventure. My home town of Ottawa is the capital city of Canada and often goes overlooked as people flock to the bright city lights of Toronto or the old world charm of Montreal. Ottawa may be a smaller city in size but that’s what makes it a mecca for the outdoors. It’s full of green spaces and surrounded by water ways. Gatineau Park in Quebec is just a 10 min drive from downtown, the nearest ski hill not much further away. There are even outdoor activities you can do right in the city. What other urban area can you leave the city center and be carving up the slopes just 20 min later or be out snowshoeing through a winter wonderland? Here’s a list of the top 5 outdoor winter adventures that are available in and around the Ottawa area.
Skating on the Canal: Every year the Rideau Canal freezes over to create the world’s longest skating rink. This 7.8 km long UNESCO World Heritage site curves its way through the heart of the city, starting at Dow’s Lake, finally ending downtown at a series of locks (also a UNESCO World Heritage site as its the oldest continually used canal system in North America) that allows the water to flow into the Ottawa River. As a celebration of this amazing man-made creation and to celebrate winter, a festival called Winterlude descends upon the capital near the start of February each year. Ice sculpting competitions, outdoor concerts, Beaver Tails (a delicious deep fried pastry!), other culinary delights and lots of hot chocolate will keep you warm and entertained. If you don’t have your own skates or are visiting from out of town, they are multiple skate rental locations along the canal.
Winter camping in the Gatineau’s: Gatineau Park is located in the province of Quebec just outside the City of Gatineau, which sits along the Ottawa River on the opposite shores of the City of Ottawa. The Gatineau’s consist of many snowshoeing and cross country ski trails that wind their way up and down the escarpment that overlook the Ottawa Valley. There are many cabins and yurts scattered throughout the park that you can hike/ski/snowshoe to and stay overnight. Most lack electricity and running water so except to bring in your own water and use an outhouse. But the location of these yurts and cabins in the woods is absolutely beautiful and it definitely feels like you’re on a winter expedition! The wood burning stoves inside the yurt will keep the place warm and cozy through the night so your ready to explore a winter wonderland in the morning. Keep in mind that you need to make a reservation ahead of time (usually by November) as they go fast.
Snowshoeing in the city: In Ottawa’s west end there is a network of snowshoeing/ cross country ski trails right in the city. They are in beautiful wooded areas that take you through the forest and onto boardwalks over swamps and creeks and is a great way to connect with nature. Jack Pine Trail is a favorite of mine and is run by the Ontario Trails Council. You’ll be able to spot many local flora and fauna, especially birds. You’ll find bird feeders in various locations along the trail and if they’re full of bird seed, it will be a feeding frenzy with the little birds swooping in to get a treat. The chickadees are especially social and if you bring some of your own bird seed (they especially like sunflower seeds) they will land right on your hand to feed.
Dog-sledding: Yes, you can even go dog-sledding not far from Ottawa! There are a few places within a 2 hr drive of the city that you can check out. When I went, I used a wonderful company called Escapade Eskimo where we had the chance to drive our own dog sleds through the Boreal Forests of southern Quebec. Spending the day outside in the forest with a team of beautiful huskies will keep you warm in the colder temperatures and give you a once in a life time experience!
Skiing/Snowboarding: There are many small ski hills within a 1/2 – 1 hr drive of Ottawa, most located in the hills of Quebec. Mont St Marie is about 1 hr drive from Ottawa and is one of my favorites (but I may be a bit biased as I volunteered with the Canadian Ski Patrol here for 3 yrs and is how I met the love of my life!). But if your short on time or want to try night skiing, other options include Camp Fortune, Ski Vorlage, Mount Cascade and Edelweiss which are all within an easy 20-40 min drive from the city. If you’re willing to go a bit further, Tremblant is about a 2 hr drive from the city and is one of the largest ski resorts in the east, boasting 875 m vertical drop. You can easily do a day trip to this world class resort and there are many accommodation options if you want a fun weekend getaway.
So if your thinking of visiting Ottawa this winter, bring some warm clothes and get outside! There’s a lot to see and do while your visiting and it’s a great way to keep warm and explore the outdoors.