Growing up in Ottawa, I didn’t realize the area in which I lived boasted 2.4 million hectares of breathtaking wilderness. I didn’t know there were 900 lakes and I took for granted the thrills to be had on the surrounding rivers, not to mention the sights to drink-in along any of the hiking trails or cycling routes. The Ottawa Valley was always home to me, but what I’ve learned since moving away more than a decade ago is that it’s a destination for others.
On the Water
As the ice comes off the lakes and rivers throughout the area, adventure enthusiasts unite to tackle the waters of the Madawaska, Bonnechere, Petawawa and Ottawa rivers, the latter of which received Canadian Heritage River designation in 2016 (chrs.ca). In fact, the area boasts one of the longest paddling seasons in Canada, with rivers flowing from early March to mid-December. Spring makes for some of the best and most challenging paddling, when ice is out and water levels are highest—plus, it’s much warmer from the perspective of those who mostly paddle in Western and Northern Canada because the rivers are not glacier-fed. Fun fact: A portion of the Ottawa River played host to the World Freestyle Kayaking Championships three times, in 1997, 2007 and 2015.
Ottawa Valley Tourist Assoc.
Whether road cycling or mountain biking, the beautiful landscapes and communities of the Ottawa Valley are best explored on two wheels. Road cyclists can experience the unique small town charm by following pre-planned routes through the area, guiding you from community to community. For a moderate challenge, start in Brudenell, with a side tour to Foymount, the highest populated point in Ontario. From there, venture through Quadeville and past the famous hideout area of Al Capone before moving on to Letterkenney and passing-by Charlotte Lake. This route spans 46.5 kilometres. For something even more off-grid, try the Minnesing Mountain Bike Trail network in Algonquin Provincial Park, which consists of four loops (ranging from 4.7 kilometres to 23.4 kilometres) and is rated moderate to difficult. The single-track experience will be muddy this time of year, and consists of hilly terrain filled with rocks, roots and obstacles. algonquinpark.on.ca
Take a Hike
Ottawa Valley Tourist Assoc.
Calabogie Peaks Resort is a go-to option for skiing in the area, but available experiences transition with the seasons. While popular for nordic skiers and snowshoers in the winter, intermediate and experienced hikers will enjoy the mountain vistas along the nine-kilometre Manitou Mountain Trail as it winds through pine forests and beautiful wilderness. If you’re looking for something simple, opt for the 2.5-kilometre self-guided interpretive hike on Bear Claw Trail through a hardwood forest, or Lost Valley for a more challenging ascent. Eagle’s Nest is another option for beginners, though the views from the top of a 120-metre cliff make it worth your while regardless of skill level. calabogie.com
Take a Walk
When the snow starts melting, the sap starts melting and visitors are invited to add an element of adventure to maple syrup-making. Take a guided eco-tour from The Deakins on Mountainview Bed & Breakfast (deakinbandb.com), where you’ll learn the history of the area and the 150-year-old trees before having the chance to make your own maple syrup to enjoy with breakfast. For a more independent experience, try Renfrew’s Millennium Trail, suitable for walkers, joggers or bikers. This 3.4-kilometre path follows the route of the CN Railway through the heart of small-town Renfrew and its countryside. Alternatively, try Kiwanis Way in Pembroke—a two-kilometre stretch between Riverside Park and the Pembroke Marina, with scenic views of the Ottawa River. ottawavalley.travel
Tour a Park
While some of the Ottawa Valley’s top provincial parks don’t open for camping until the May long weekend, Driftwood, Fitzroy and Bonnechere are open for day-use during the winter and spring months. You’ll find plentiful options for biking, hiking and canoeing, such as the Dumoine River, which is a popular wilderness canoe route accessible from Driftwood, or hike the two-kilometre Terraces Trail in Fitzroy (moderate). ontarioparks.com
Mark Your Calendars
May 13: BORCA (Beachburg Off Road Cycling Association) Spring Chicken Enduro: This event takes place in Beachburg, the heart of Whitewater Country, and is a combination of mountain biking and running (27 kilometres and 60 kilometres). borcatrails.com
May 13 to 14: Hell or High Water Whitewater Festival. Started in 2009 and now one of North America’s largest whitewater paddling races, this whitewater paddling race/festival on the Petawawa and Ottawa rivers covers all disciplines, including rafting, canoeing, kayaking, SUP, Voyageur canoes and flatwater paddling. No paddling experience or equipment is necessary; participants can put together their own teams or be grouped together with others. hohw.ca
May 19 to 22: Palmer River Fest. Taking place on the Lower Madawaska River, the Palmer River Fest includes paddling clinics for beginners and novices; camping on the banks of the Madawaska River; evening campfire entertainment, music and more. ottawavalley.travel