I like to think I know the Rideau River and its tributaries pretty well since I hiked the 300-kilometres Rideau Trail two years ago. But as I’ve been focusing lately on visiting all the Eastern Ontario conservation areas, I realized that I only visited one of the ten conservation areas managed by the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority (Foley Mountain). It was therefore my first time visiting the Baxter Conservation Area last weekend.
I think the Baxter Conservation Area is quite popular for the people of Ottawa. Located about 40 minutes south of the city, the conservation area is easily accessible from Highway 416. Above all, there is a small beach on the banks of the Rideau River, apparently one of the prettiest along the river.
But you can imagine that I was not visiting Baxter Conservation Area for its beach. I was there because there are also more than five kilometres of trails that I intended to hike. When I arrived, I therefore ignored the beach, which was starting to fill up, and I set off for the forest and its much quieter paths.
The 80-acre Baxter Conservation Area is a beautiful example of a floodplain on the banks of the Rideau River. The place has a mixed hardwood forests and wetlands. There are eight trails, which you can access near the interpretation centre (which was unfortunately closed when I was there).
I started by following the Fiddlehead Trail (part of which is also accessible for people in wheelchairs). I immediately knew that my hike would be pleasant. The Fiddlehead Trail first follows a long wooden boardwalk. The warm weather was enjoyable under the trees and a light breeze from the river was keeping the mosquitoes away.
From the Fiddlehead Trail, I followed a portion of the Grouse Trail, which eventually led me to an observation platform. The platform allows a view from above of a marsh on the banks of the river.
I could have had a better view of the marsh, but the bridge that gives access to it was closed due to restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic. On the other side of the marsh is another path, this one allowing you to visit the nut grove, an area with many species of nut and bean trees and shrubs. This area is also out of reach due to the pandemic… I was a little disappointed. I guess I’ll have to come back when all of this is over.
Speaking of the pandemic, the conservation area has installed several signs so that the trails are unidirectional to facilitate physical distance. Maybe that’s why I found the trails so quiet.
After the Grouse Trail, I was back on the Fiddlehead Trail that follows the riverbank, before diving back into the forest via the Hare Trail, and then the Maple Trail. The hike was nothing too complicated; the trails are wide, well-marked and very flat. There are several interpretation signs, in English and French.
Most importantly, there is the Rideau River. Highway 416, which you can see (and hear) in the distance, takes away a little of the bucolic charm of the area, but the river, its canal, its history and its landscapes held a special place in my heart since I hiked the Rideau Trail. I was happy to find myself once again near the river, even if it was in the context of an easier and shorter hike. I’m already looking forward to visiting the other eight conservation areas in the area!
Note that there is a $ 7 entry fee to access the site and that the toilets on site are currently closed due to the pandemic.