Two years ago, when I was fed up with the everlasting Canadian winter, I came across an article about the Canada 150 Rideau Trail Challenge, which was about hiking 150 kilometres on the trail before the end of the year. I did not know much about the Rideau Trail at that time, but the challenge immediately interested me. What a great way to have something to do during my weekends and to explore my region!
So I hiked 150 kilometres on the trail, then the following year I decided to continue and to hike 150 more. A little over a week ago, I finally arrived in Kingston and at the end of the trail.
I still have a hard time believing that a challenge that started on a whim two years ago brought me to hike over 300 kilometres across Eastern Ontario. Although there were some difficult times, although I have doubted at times of my motivation to get to the end of the trail, I do not regret the experience.
Beyond this realization, I also grew and learned a lot during this experience. I’m sharing here some of my learnings after this end-to-end hike on the Rideau Trail.
The Rideau Trail is much more than the Rideau Canal.
The Rideau Trail takes its name from the Rideau Canal, which links Ottawa to Kingston in Eastern Ontario. I started my hike at the Rideau Canal locks near the Ottawa River in Ottawa and I finished it in Kingston, not far from where the canal flows into Lake Ontario.
But the Rideau Trail does not just follow the canal. It also follows some of its tributaries and goes through points of interest and significant conservation areas. Thanks to the Rideau Trail, I was able to explore two provincial parks, marshes, forests, lakes, villages and even an old mining area!
The Rideau Trail is perfect for history buffs.
The Rideau Canal has been of significant importance to the region. Built primarily for military reasons (Canada wanted to be ready in case of an American invasion), the canal was mainly used for the economic development of the region. Several towns and villages were built on its banks (including Ottawa) and it allowed the development of the forestry and mining industry in the region (in fact, the hike on the Rideau Trail allowed me to learn that Eastern Ontario was one of the first mining regions in the country!).
The Rideau Trail also connects two significant cities in Canadian history. Kingston (which was Canada’s first capital) and Ottawa (the current capital). The trail passes near the Parliament and the Supreme Court in Ottawa, and by the grave of Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, in Kingston. It cannot get more Canadian than that!
Eastern Ontario is much less flat than I thought.
I’m originally from Eastern Ontario and I often feel that I know the area like the back of my hand. For me Eastern Ontario rhymes with fields, farms, woodlands and marshes. And that’s pretty much the landscape I got on the trail to Perth.
After Perth, the trail became more rugged. There were some ascents, at first rather negligible, then a little steeper. The Rideau Trail goes over the Big Rideau Lake Plateau, through the Foley Mountain Conservation Area, and on the rocky ridges of Frontenac Provincial Park.
The highest point of the Rideau Trail is located at 203 metres above sea level. It’s not much when you think about it, but the Rideau Trail was a good workout in a few places. In fact, a little more than I expected.
The trail is an excellent introduction to the fauna and flora of the area.
There’s the history, there’s also the topography. But now I have to say something about nature I’ve come across during my hike. As I wrote above, I used to see Eastern Ontario as a place where agricultural fields were dominant. I have never seen my region as having a vast natural wealth. The Rideau Trail showed me that I was wrong.
In fact, what’s great about the trail is that it goes through different ecosystems. Pine groves, swamps, forests, beaver ponds, maple groves, clearings, lakes, rocky plateaus … I was amazed by the diversity of landscapes, flora and fauna. I have seen several owls, herons, hawks, woodpeckers, wild turkeys and even a turkey vulture (I had no idea we had those in Canada). I saw a multitude of turtles, frogs and salamanders. I also saw thirty deer, 17 snakes (yes, I counted them all), two porcupines, a fox and … a black bear.
(I still think the snakes were scarier than the bear, but I took the habit of bringing bear bells afterwards).
The trail is pleasant in any season.
Spring is ideal for wildlife viewing and cooler temperatures, summer for warmth and dense vegetation, fall for colours and winter for the luminosity and snow. Personally, I preferred fall because the scenery is beautiful and there are no more mosquitoes.
Following the Rideau Trail is addictive
I was hooked from the first kilometres. It must be said that the trail is rather easy to follow. It is well marked, with orange triangles indicating the path to follow (the full orange triangles indicate the direction to Kingston, those with a yellow point indicate the way to Ottawa). You don’t really need maps or compasses, you just need to locate the triangles (but I would still advise to become familiar with the trail maps online before going on the trail).
For me, who was taking my first steps on a long-distance trail, the Rideau Trail gave me a great first experience and made me want to continue again and again.
Following the Rideau Trail is a logistical challenge.
The trail may not be a big challenge physically, but it does require some logistical organization. Accommodation and campgrounds along the trail are quite limited so if you plan to walk the entire trail in one push, you will need to plan well ahead to find out where to stay overnight.
For my part, I only did day hikes, starting on the Rideau Trail at the point where I left it last time. But that too required some organization. In Ottawa and Kingston, I was able to use public transit to and from the trail. But outside these two urban areas, it got a bit complicated.
Most of the time, I found a place to park my car and tried to cover as many kilometres as possible in one day by calculating the fact that I would eventually have to walk back to my car. On some occasions, I also asked my partner to drive me or pick me up at the trail.
I also always made sure to have enough water and food on me for the day, as refueling points are rather rare on the trail.
My waterproof boots are my best friends.
When I started my hike on the Rideau Trail, I was poorly equipped. I had walking shoes that were appropriate for the Ottawa portion, but once out of town I realized that my shoes did not stand up to the flooded sections of the trail. And there were many of these sections. I remember once, north of Richmond, where I found myself in the water up to my knees. My shoes were constantly slipping in the mud and I almost completely abandoned my plan to hike the Rideau Trail at that point. By the end of the summer, my shoes were completely ruined.
The following year I equipped myself with waterproof hiking boots. There are no words to express how much my hiking experience was improved from then on.
Some sections deserve to be explored further.
The main trail is 327 kilometres. But the Rideau Trail also includes several kilometres of secondary trails. I hiked some of these trails, but I mostly focused on getting to Kingston and the end of the trail. Which means that I still have kilometres of trail to explore. How fun!
Among the sections I want to go back to (and which have probably been my favourites) are Stony Swamp in Ottawa, Foley Mountain in Westport, Frontenac Provincial Park and the Gould Lake Conservation Area near Sydenham.
I would add Murphys Point Provincial Park to this list, for a day where I will have enough courage to face its large population of snakes.
I am stronger than I thought.
I was a rather inexperienced hiker when I started to hike the Rideau Trail. Over all these kilometres, I learned a little more about my capacities and my limits. I especially learned that I am stronger than I thought.
Before undertaking this challenge, the idea that I could hike more than 20 kilometres a day seemed to me insane. After all, I did not consider myself the most active girl. Over time, I realized that not only did I have the capacity to hike more than 20 kilometres, but also that I actually really enjoy it! Hiking the Rideau Trail has given me enough confidence to go hike on other long-distance trails, and last year I was able to hike the 52-kilometre Causeway Coast Way in Northern Ireland.
I also realized that I am rather stubborn, and that when I embark on a project there is nothing, not even flooded sections or snakes, that will prevent me from going to the end!
Do you have questions about the Rideau Trail? Ask them in the comments below!
My journey on the Rideau Trail:
- Km 1 to Km 5 – Year goal: 150 kilometers on the Rideau Trail
- Km 5 to Km 25 – Along the Ottawa River
- Km 25 to Km 35 – In the wilderness of Stony Swamp
- Km 35 to Km 50 – On the country roads
- Km 50 to Km 80 – Marlborough Forest and its horseflies
- Km 80 to Km 100 – Hello Rideau Canal
- Km 100 to Km 125 – A fall hike in Smiths Falls
- Km 125 to Km 150 – 150 kilometres later
- Km 150 to Km 155 – I’m back, and with a new goal
- Km 155 to Km 175 – Entering the Mica Mines area
- Km 175 to Km 180 – That time it was raining caterpillars at Murphys Point Provincial Park
- Km 180 to Km 195 – Hello Big Rideau Lake
- Km 195 to Km 215 – A mountain, a bear and a drought in Westport
- Km 215 to Km 250 – A fall walk along the Cataraqui Trail
- Km 250 to Km 270 – Hiking through Frontenac Provincial Park
- Km 270 to Km 290 – Falling in love with November at Gould Lake
- Km 290 to Km 327 – Kingston and the end of the trail