At first glance, a bog doesn’t sound like the kind of place many people would like to visit. Aren’t bogs a bit swampy? Not at all! Here in my hometown of Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, the Mer Bleue Bog is my favorite place to walk. Bogs like “mine” are beautiful, unique ecosystems, home to rare plants and birds, and perfect for an afternoon of exploring. They just need a bit of good PR, and I’m here to help spread the word!
If you’re visiting Ottawa, you have to check out the Mer Bleue Bog. Here’s what you should know before you go.
Where Is The Mer Bleue Bog?
The Mer Bleue Bog is located in Ottawa’s east end. It’s just a 20- to 30-minute drive from downtown, depending on what route you take. If you’re setting your GPS, note that there’s a city street named Mer Bleue Road. You don’t want that! The Mer Bleue Bog is located on Ridge Road.
What Does The Name Mean?
Mer Bleue is French for “Blue Sea.” It’s believed that early French explorers used the name because of the blueish mist that rose in the area each morning.
Just How Rare Is An Urban Bog?
In a word, very! The bog was formed when a glacier moved through the area, carving the land, depositing sediment, and forming the ecosystem we see today.
I reached out to Maryam El-Akhrass and the team at the National Capital Commission (which cares for Mer Bleue and much of Ottawa’s greenspace) to learn just how exceptional this area really is. Maryam told me: “The Mer Bleue Bog and wetland complex is special to both eastern and southern Ontario. It is the largest urban bog in Canada and … it is recognized by the UN as an internationally significant RAMSAR wetland. As a Federally-protected conservation area, this also forms part of Canada’s Aichi Targets under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. The only comparable bog is the Alfred Bog, now a provincial park, about an hour away from Ottawa.”
How Can You See It?
My favorite way to explore is to walk the 1.4-mile Mer Bleue Bog Trail (accessed via parking lot 22). This gentle path guides visitors on a loop through the heart of the bog. A wooden boardwalk lets you move over delicate soil and wetlands with ease. In general, it’s accessible to strollers and wheelchairs, but, in early spring each year, the boardwalk might need some minor repairs.
If you’re up for a longer adventure, the Mer Bleue Conservation Area Loop Trail (parking lot 21) is just under 4.5 miles and it welcomes hikers, skiers, and snowshoers. All in, there are more than 12 miles of hiking trails around Mer Bleue. You can see more route options and maps here.
Editor’s Note: Want to snowshoe around Mer Bleue? Get ready for a fantastic adventure with all our snowshoeing recommendations here.
What You Will See While You’re There
Mer Bleue is one of the best birding destinations in Ottawa. On any given visit, you might see chickadees, red-winged blackbirds, yellow warblers, Lincoln’s sparrows, mallards, robins, and many more. Thanks to the National Capital Commission, I’ve also learned that the rare eastern palm warbler is spotted here (to the delight of birders).
While many people bring bird feed to coax feathered friends into coming close, it’s a better idea to let wild birds stay wild.
Visitors might also spot rare butterflies, painted turtles, beavers, or otters (I had a turtle sighting myself along the last section of the boardwalk). The plant life in Mer Bleue is equally interesting, and the area is home to Black Spruce and Tamarack trees and shrubs like Labrador tea and bog laurels. As you might imagine, bog plants are pretty special, and visitors are urged to stay on the boardwalk.
When Is The Best Time To Visit?
Personally, I love visiting Mer Bleue in the fall. Even late into autumn, when much of the changing colors have faded, it always feels like this is the best place to catch the last bit of the season. Maryam agrees, adding: “The Tamarack trees turn a beautiful gold color in the fall. I find that the mist in the early morning is the best time to visit and gives one the best chance of seeing wildlife. Being COVID-safe while being outdoors is important, there are one-way signs so that people can visit safely. Do bring bug spray in the summer.”
One final piece of advice to consider is that, on sunny October weekends, you’ll likely encounter quite a few family photo shoots along the boardwalk. If you prefer a quiet experience, you’ll want to keep this in mind.
Pro Tip: Stop Off For Wine
While you’re in Ottawa’s east end, be sure to check out the city’s urban winery. Domaine Perrault is just a short drive from Mer Bleue and is the perfect spot to pick up some post-hike libations.