If you’re looking to go for a good hike, Ottawa and the surrounding Canada’s Capital Region have many possibilities. From urban, paved pathways to more rugged, untamed terrain, there are scenic paths and trails to satisfy the beginner to the expert hiker. Head out to explore the city and let yourself fall in love with its natural green beauty and charm!
If you’re after rugged terrain and beautiful natural trails, look no further than Gatineau Park. Located in Gatineau, Québec, just a short drive north of downtown Ottawa, the park covers 361-square kilometres (90,000 acres) of wilderness and offers about 165 kilometres (103 miles) of picturesque hiking trails that vary in distance from one kilometre (0.6 mile) to 4.5 kilometres (2.8 miles).
Among the most popular trails in the park is the 2.5-kilometre (1.6 mile) Pink Lake trail, which makes its way around a beautiful, crystal clear “meromictic” lake, meaning it has layers of water that don’t mix. Unlike most lakes, Pink Lake is completely shielded from the wind, which keeps its upper and lower water levels from mixing. Due to this separation, Pink Lake’s deepest point does not have any oxygen. Enjoy a 60-minute hike around this shimmering turquoise lake surrounded by dense forest and majestic rock cliffs!
You can also explore the 1.9-kilometre (1.2 mile) King Mountain trail, which features 10 lookouts that provide a spectacular view of Ottawa and its surrounding region. The King Mountain trail is a 45-minute hike that leads up to the Eardley Escarpment, providing a beautiful view from 300 metres (984 feet) above the Ottawa Valley.
Gatineau Park is open year-round and general admission is free, though small fees apply if you want to use the cross-country skiing trails in the winter. The park is a delight to visit in any season, but it attracts tourists and residents alike during the fall, when the green summer leaves turn into a rhapsody of bright autumn colours!
In the winter months (roughly December to March), 55 kilometres (34.2 miles) of trails are reserved for snowshoeing—a favourite Canadian activity. The Gatineau Park Visitor Centre even rents out snowshoes on hourly, daily and overnight periods. Also during the winter, the Friends of Gatineau Park organization teams up with relaxation spa Nordik Spa-Nature to offer a weekly Snowshoeing Under the Stars activity. Hike along the park’s 1.6-kilometre (one-mile) snowy Sugarbush trail by twilight and then relax at the spa’s Nordic baths, which are located just five minutes up the road from the Visitor Centre.
One of the most ecologically diverse areas in Eastern Ontario is the Greenbelt. Here, you’ll find more than 150 kilometres of hiking trails located throughout the 20,000 hectares of green space that encircles the city from the east end to the west end.
One of the most outstanding features of the Greenbelt is the Mer Bleue Bog. Here, you’ll find more than 20 kilometres (12.4 miles) of trails for hiking or cross-country skiing, as well as 1.2 kilometres (0.7 miles) of scenic interpretive boardwalks. One of the best ways to explore the bog is to walk along the Mer Bleue Bog Trail boardwalk that leads you right into the heart of the bog. If you’re feeling more adventurous, why not hike up the six-kilometre (3.7-mile) forest trail? It leads up to a sandy escarpment where you’ll be able to have an amazing view of the bog’s landscape.
Located to the south of Ottawa, the Pine Grove trail is another popular Greenbelt hiking spot. With more than 18.4 kilometres (11.4 miles) of hiking and cross-country ski trails, you’ll be able to explore the largest forest area in the Greenbelt! You’ll also find more than nine kilometres (5.6 miles) of trails for horseback riding, a popular off-leash dog park, and in the winter, a toboggan hill that is lit at night!
Some other places to discover in Ottawa’s Greenbelt that also boast remarkable hiking trails are Green’s Creek, located in the city’s east end, Shirleys Bay to the west and Stoney Swamp to the southwest. Another unique place to explore is Pinhey Forest, where you’ll find a forest established on sand dunes that date all the way back to the last ice age!
If you’re more comfortable in Ottawa’s urban areas, more than 600 kilometres (373 miles) of scenic paved pathways are at your disposal!
Take a walk along the 31-kilometre (19.3 mile) Ottawa River pathway, which follows the water from the historic Ottawa Locks of the Rideau Canal, to Parliament Hill and westward on to the Canadian War Museum. This pathway also provides great views of the Canadian Museum of History, located just across the river.
On a nice spring or summer day, stop at Remic Rapids along the pathway to admire natural rock sculptures. Every spring and summer, local artist John Ceprano creates unique sculptures by carefully balancing river rocks that are available on site!
You can also head south and follow the Rideau Canal western pathway, which flanks the UNESCO World Heritage Site waterway all the way to Dows Lake and Commissioners Park. In May, stop by the park—a Canadian Tulip Festival main site, and home to more than 250,000 tulips in bloom! Ottawa offers eight different paved pathways that twist their way through the city, stretching from the downtown core to surrounding eclectic neighbourhoods.
Whether you’re looking for a challenging rugged hike or a walk through a more urban setting, Ottawa’s hiking trails and manicured pathways have something to offer every level of hiker in every season.