10 Great Outdoor Spots in Ottawa
A magnifying glass, a bag of birdseed and a camera are all you need to become amateur naturalists in Ottawa. No matter where you live in the city, there's a great outdoor spot just waiting for you to get out and explore this summer.
Eco-Odyssée Outdoor Park
Eco-Odyssee's main feature is a complex maze of paddle boat trails, (with canoes available for experienced paddlers) and kids as young as six months can suit up in a life jacket and join their parents in a boat. Download their app to track your progress around the maze, and you'll also be treated to cool animal sounds and detailed animal facts at each marker, making the whole trip come alive. For a gentler option, we love their Wanderer adventure—a two-hour gentle float around the park with a guide book to aid in the spotting of wildlife and native plants. Older kids will love the Discoverer or Observer paths, which provide a more advanced navigation challenge, as well as some Amazing Race style clues to decode and solve.
Fletcher Wildlife Garden
Located just across the street from the Museum of Agriculture and Food, the Fletcher Wildlife Garden aims to cultivate a series of different environments housing a variety of animals and plants. We love their cultivated rock garden and pond, the field of carefully selected wildflowers that provide food for all manner of butterflies and a large amphibian pond where you'll find frogs, turtles, ducks and blackbirds. Keen naturalists will want to check out the junior naturalists club, The Macoun Field Club.
Good to know: leave the stroller at home, allow extra time to explore the swing set and remember the main trail is dog-friendly.
Wild Bird Care Centre
The Wild Bird Care Centre is a little cabin hiding just off the Beaver Trail parking lot (Stony Swamp P8), on Moodie south of Hunt Club. Visit between noon and 3 pm any day of the week to see injured birds being treated by trained, comforting staff. There are recovery rooms for ducks, geese, robins, sparrows, and more—our favourite is the incubator room where baby birds spread their fledging wings. Learn about birds in their museum room at the back and bring some birdseed to treat to any creatures lurking nearby. Afterwards, go for a walk through the green belt woods next door and see if you can spot the old beaver dam on the trail.
Gatineau Park Hiking Trails
We're so lucky in Ottawa to have Gatineau Park right next door—a beautiful place to hike, animal watch, or just be outside throughout the year. In summer, introduce your littlest ones to the forest on the short Pioneer Trail, a stroller-friendly path that begins at the Visitor Centre, where bathrooms and parking make your visit easy. Once they can toddle around on their own, try the Pink Lake Trail, a gorgeous loop around the lake that's a little longer, but still flat, easy walking.
Looking for a little excitement and adventure? Brave kids will love Lusk Cave, located on the perimeter of Lac Phillippe in Gatineau Park. Make a day of it and drive out to the park, then hike up to the cave (a longer walk that is steep in parts). The reward is worth it, though—a rushing water stream carving a path through some pretty cool caves, all yours to explore. Camping is also available nearby in one of the cleanest, most family-friendly spots in the Ottawa area.
Good to know: recommended for grade schoolers and up.
Mer Bleue Bog
The Mer Bleue Bog is an unusual treasure—a perfectly preserved Northern Boreal ecosystem located just outside the Ottawa urban centre. Park on Ridge Road (off Anderson) and head into the bog, and follow the signs that give you a history of how the bog was formed. From there, it's an easy one kilometre loop around the bog on a wooden pathway, with lots of great places to stop and spot beaver dams, unique plants, rare spotted turtles, tons of birds, and if you're really lucky, maybe even a moose or two. At the end of the path there's a great spot for a picnic.
Our favourite picnic spot in town is this little island located smack in the middle of the Ottawa River, just off of the Champlain Bridge. There are plenty of shady tables to use as a home base for the day, and nearby ducks and geese are always eager to nibble on halved grapes, birdseed, or green peas. The big draw, however, is the flat shale rock located along the shallow edges of the river. In late summer, the water is so low and warm, you won't be able to resist trying your hand at making your own balanced rock sculpture.
Officially the Britannia Conservation Area, Mud Lake is a little wildlife reserve located in the west end along the Ottawa River. It's a haven for migrating birds, and you'll see dozens of species there, especially in spring and fall—everything from ducks to hawks to warblers and even, if you're lucky, owls. It's also a hotspot for turtles, frogs, and beavers; you can wander right up to the edge of the lake so watch out for soakers. Park on Cassels Street for good access to the path; sturdy strollers can probably handle the three kilometer unpaved pathway but it's unlikely your kids will want to stay sitting for long.
Dow’s Lake Rentals
From May through September, get out on Dow's Lake and see Ottawa from a whole new angle. There are canoes and kayaks for adventuresome teams, but we prefer the relaxing, easy glide of a pedal boat—it's big enough to hold the whole family. Boats and parking can be found at the Dow's Lake Pavillion. Bring a picnic to round out the day or grab lunch at Malone's Grill inside the pavilion.
Located in the middle of the Ottawa River just off Trim Road in Orleans, Petrie Island has just about everything. The west end of the island is a nature preserve, featuring a short trail that ends in a lookout where you can spot beavers and turtles. The onsite Interpretive Centre and a summertime Junior Naturalist Program are run by the Friends of Petrie Island group. On the east end, don't forget to cool down with a visit to their shady picnic area, and a dip in the river from the nearby sandy beach.
Good to know: save on parking and help keep the island pristine by taking the new OC Transpo island shuttle bus that leaves from Place D'Orleans.