If you read my blog posts regularly, you know that I love mountains and the great outdoors, but that I also enjoy urban hikes. In fact, I think we sometimes forget that it is possible to enjoy nature without leaving the city! And Ottawa’s green spaces are not to be overlooked.
I live very close to Ottawa and I hike the trails there quite regularly. Of course, there are still several trails that I haven’t explored yet, but this guide can help you if you want to discover the national capital in a different way, beyond the Parliament, the museums and the ByWard Market.
The city of Ottawa is surrounded by a network of green spaces
The Greenbelt is a network of protected natural areas that surround the city of Ottawa. This network is managed by the National Capital Commission and features over 100 kilometres of trails. The Greenbelt protects unique and fragile ecosystems, and also provides some of the most enjoyable places to hike in Ottawa.
I haven’t hiked all of its trails, but I go there regularly in the summer (to hike) and winter (to snowshoe). Among the most beautiful areas to visit are the Mer Bleue bog, the Pine Grove forest and Stony Swamp, and it is possible to visit them in all seasons.
Most trails in the Greenbelt are well marked and easy to follow. The Greenbelt is not serviced by public transit, but several free parking lots provide access to the trails. Trail maps and other information can be found on the National Capital Commission website.
There are two provincial parks within the city limits
Did you know that there are two provincial parks in Ottawa? Not only do these provincial parks protect unique natural features, they also provide opportunities for outdoor activities and camping without even having to venture outside the city limits.
Rideau River Provincial Park is located on the banks of the Rideau River in the southern part of Greater Ottawa. The trail found there highlights the river, its fauna and flora. Fitzroy Provincial Park is located in the west of the city, is bordered by the Ottawa River and has two short trails.
Know that these provincial parks are not operating in winter and there is a fee to access them.
You can chase waterfalls in Ottawa
Well, okay, there aren’t a ton of waterfalls in Ottawa, but the ones there are photogenic! In addition to the beautiful Rideau Falls for which the river and its famous canal are named, it is possible to hike a few trails to get a closer look at Hog’s Back Falls near Carleton University, and Princess Louise Falls in Orleans (a suburb of Ottawa).
And for a unique experience, it is worth driving to Sheila McKee Park in the community of Dunrobin in winter, to admire the frozen waterfalls along the Ottawa River.
A few spots offer some steeper trails
Warning: hiking trails in Ottawa are generally quite flat. If you enjoy easy and long walks in the forest, you will be served. But if you prefer rougher terrain, there are a few good options that can make your legs work a bit.
The Carp Hills and South March Highlands, located west of the city centre, are made up of rock formations that are part of the Canadian Shield and are over a billion years old. They therefore offer an ideal terrain for hiking and mountain biking (and are among my favorite trails in Ottawa).
Long distance trails pass through Ottawa
If you ever have plenty of time and are looking for a hiking challenge in Ottawa, the national capital is the starting point for the Rideau Trail, a 300-kilometre long distance trail that connects Ottawa to Kingston, mostly following the Rideau Canal. I hiked the entire trail a few years ago and I still believe it is one of the best ways to explore Ottawa and its nature spots.
The Trans Canada Trail also crosses Ottawa, following, among other things, a section of the Capital Pathway along the Ottawa River.
And beyond Ottawa?
If all of the above suggestions leave you wanting more, know that one of the most beautiful places to hike near Ottawa is just minutes from downtown, across the Ottawa River. In fact, Gatineau Park is often the preferred destination for outdoor enthusiasts in the National Capital Region. It has hundreds of kilometres of trails, beautiful lookouts and a rich and unique biodiversity.
In addition, visiting Gatineau Park without a car is possible, since the park is located close enough to Ottawa that you can get there by bike or public transport (shuttle services are also sometimes offered in summer and fall)
In short, I hope this post makes you want to explore Ottawa’s green spaces during your next visit to the city!