Ottawa is a city, yes, but it’s a city with a strong connection to the outdoors. Not only is it surrounded by incredible nature, it’s also full of green spaces that are a perfect setting for your next outdoor adventure.
If your idea of a great vacation is spending as little time indoors as possible, here’s what Ottawa has to offer.
If you live your life strapped to the seat of a bike, you’re going to love Ottawa — so much so that we thought cycling deserved its own section in this post. Nearly 500 miles of paths allow riders to avoid traffic and take in some of the most beautiful parts of the city. For visitors, you might want to start with the sightseeing cycling route: a 4.6 mile path which brings you along the Rideau Canal to several major museums and landmarks. Also, every Sunday from late May to early September, 30 miles of scenic roads are closed to drivers and opened up to cyclists during NOKIA Sunday Bikedays, creating the ideal circumstances for exploration on two wheels.
Mountain bikers will also find a home in Gatineau Park, about a 15-minute ride from downtown. In the warmer months, 56 miles of shared cycling and hiking trails provide plenty of challenges to riders. The park is also home to Camp Fortune, an extreme mountain biking facility where experienced riders can enjoy a pump track and more difficult runs.
Since traveling with a bike can be a challenge, sign up for a cycling tour and let the pros equip you, and guide you through the city. Rentabike and Escape Bicycle Tours offer a variety of tours of ranging between 9 and 31 miles in distance. You could explore the city highlights for a few hours or take on the 93-mile Merrickville Tour; it’s really up to you.
Or, you can venture out on your own (this is an adventure guide, after all). Rent a bike or try out one of the city’s VeloGO bike shares. RentABike also has a great list of self-guided cycling routes, so it's easy to get out there and see the city.
Though Ottawa is a major city, you can still feel like you’re in the country from your seat on the back of a horse. The Horse Country Campground offers trail riding programs for beginner and advanced riders, while Wesley Clover Parks is a great option for riding lessons or just enjoying equestrian events as a spectator.
Several local hiking trails will also make you feel like you’ve left the city behind. The previously-mentioned Gatineau Park has over 100 miles of hiking trails. The Pink Lake trail, which circumnavigates a beautiful turquoise lake, and the King Mountain trail, with its 10 lookout points providing views of the Ottawa region, are among the most popular.
Then there’s Ottawa’s Greenbelt, 20,000 hectares of green space encircling the city. Here you’ll find over 90 miles of hikeable trails, bringing you through forests, into bogs, and up mountains.
Some say Ottawa has more golf courses within easy driving distance of downtown than just about anywhere else in Canada. If you like to hit the greens, Ottawa Tourism has a helpful map of more than 30 courses located in and around the city. Highlights include Stonebridge Golf Club’s 180-acre championship course and the beautifully designed The Marches Golf Club.
On the water
When it comes to water adventure in Ottawa, it’s all about rafting the whitewater. You can whitewater raft or kayak right in the city, or head northwest of the nation’s capital to the Ottawa Valley, known as the Whitewater Capital of Canada. The Ottawa River, once traveled by First Nations and fur traders, is now home to pure thrills.
Choose one of the local rafting companies — OWL Rafting on the Ottawa River, RiverRun Rafting and Wilderness Tours are a great place to start. With experienced guides at the helm, safely splash and roll through one of the world’s great whitewater routes. The difficulty and force of the river varies, so you don’t need to be an experienced paddler to enjoy being on the water. Just hop in the boat and enjoy yourself.
In the summer months you can also enjoy the Rideau Canal. Rent a canoe, kayak, standup paddleboard, or paddle boat and cruise through the city on the calm waters. If you're looking for more of an experience, you could try a boat cruise or voyageur canoe trip down the waters where people were skating only a few months prior.
Winter in Ottawa is all about the Rideau Canal. The canal is the world’s largest naturally frozen skating rink, stretching an impressive 4.8 miles long. Skate along the unending rink that sits on top of the canal waters, winding your way through downtown Ottawa with two blades strapped to your feet.
Cross-country ski trails for all skill levels are also accessible around Ottawa. The popular Gatineau Park is one of the area’s most popular skiing destinations, with 50 cross-country trails crisscrossing 124 miles of park land. Mooney’s Bay Ski Centre, just outside of downtown, is another option for cross-country fans. If you’re more of a downhill skier, several mountains can be conquered less than an hour from Ottawa, many just over the provincial border in Quebec.
When the snow falls, the previously-mentioned hiking trails at Gatineau Park also turn into trails for snowshoeing, a favorite activity of outdoorsy Canadians. And for a different type of outdoor adventure, the park also has cabins, yurts and four-season tents for winter camping. Dress warm and stay cozy!
For more on outdoor adventures in Ottawa, visit the Ottawa Tourism website