Ottawa residents are outdoorsy folks. Even though our city is famous for its buildings (the Canadian Parliament, national museums, and castle-like hotels among them), Ottawa is really a city of green space. We have ample waterways (including the Rideau Canal which meanders through the city center), lots of urban parks, and hundreds of miles of trails. If you’re itching for a serious hike or just keen for a gentle nature walk, you’ll find it all in Ottawa. These nine hikes are perfect for travelers, no matter their hiking ability, and really showcase the city’s natural beauty and biodiversity. And they just so happen to be nine of my favorites that I keep returning to again and again. I think you’ll love them just as much as I do.
1. Shirley’s Bay
Shirley’s Bay is one of the most biodiverse and undeveloped wild areas, not just in Ottawa but in the entire Ottawa Valley. Yet somehow, this west Ottawa spot flies under the radar of nearly all visitors and a fair portion of residents as well. I had lived in Ottawa for more than 15 years before I heard about it! This special area is a key spot for the bird migration along the Ottawa River, serving more than 270 species of both Arctic and boreal birds. Trail 10 offers 2.6 miles of accessible walking, while Trail 12 is a bit shorter at 1.7 miles.
Pro Tip: The Shoreline Trail at Shirley’s Bay is just .17 miles but it’s pretty special, as it’s the largest marshland in the city’s greenbelt. Note that while leashed dogs are welcome on the other trails, this particular section is dog-free so shorebirds remain undisturbed.
2. Mer Bleue Conservation Area Trail
One of my favorite spots in Ottawa is the Mer Bleue Bog boardwalk, a short loop through one of the most unique urban wetlands in all of Canada. However, there’s more to this area than just this one trail. Those wanting a lengthy hike will want to check out the adjacent 12 miles of trails that make up the Mer Bleue Conservation Area Trail and surrounding paths. It’s an ecosystem all its own! The bog landscape here has more in common with the Arctic tundra than the Ottawa Valley and lucky hikers will see everything from warblers to beavers.
Pro Tip: If urban wetlands are your thing, there’s another walk you might want to try — the grounds of Beechwood Cemetery. Walking and jogging through the cemetery’s lovingly maintained gardens is permitted and there is a small urban marsh and birdwatching gazebo on the property’s west side.
3. Parking Lot 20
Poor Parking Lot 20. It deserves a memorable name, like its neighbor the Mer Bleue Bog. Sadly, the two trails that you can access from Lot 20 have equally prosaic names: Trail 50 and Trail 51. But don’t let these lackluster monikers fool you. These are magical hikes! Coming in at 4 miles and 4.7 miles respectively, there’s a lot of flexibility to increase or decrease your walk depending on what combination of paths you pursue (I personally like a loop of about two miles that takes me along several long boardwalks.) Expect to see a generous display of homemade bird feeders hanging from the old growth trees, lots of chickadees, bluejays, ducks, and geese, and squirrels and chipmunks a plenty.
Pro Tip: One of Ottawa’s best bakeries isn’t all that far away. The Scone Witch is well known for its downtown locations but its commercial kitchen and a small takeout window are located in the city’s east end, about a 10-minute drive from Parking Lot 20. You’ll find it at 1638 Cyrville Road but won’t see it until you drive towards the nearby Home Depot — the bakery is one of several small businesses across from the parking lot. My personal favorite is the cream cheese sandwich made with cucumber and cranberry mango chutney on an herb and onion scone.
4. Terraces Trail
This short hike in Fitzroy Provincial Park, located by the community of Carp in Ottawa’s west end, has a little bit of everything. The route takes hikers past lookouts, old-growth pine trees, a waterfall, and even a whale graveyard. Yes, really! Alas, no skeletons are visible today but there’s plenty of other evidence to demonstrate the power of the glaciers which once moved through the area. Hikers should note that there are a couple of short, yet steep hills as well as a few stairs. This isn’t the kind of hike you can do in flip-flops! Also worth noting is that, despite the seemingly straightforward, short 1.25-mile route, I always seem to get turned around here. If your sense of direction is lacking just like mine, stop by the park office to get a proper map.
Fitzroy’s second hiking route, the .6-mile Carp Trail, is nearby. It offers a gentle walk with peaceful views of the river. The light streaming through the trees onto the water, and along a short bridge mid-route makes for great photos. And no map is needed on this short, simple loop!
Pro Tip: Carp offers one of Ottawa’s oldest and largest farmer’s markets every Saturday morning. Vendors include cake makers, wineries, and crafters in addition to farmers. Keep an eye out for The Doll Lady’s beautiful handcrafted dolls and Agnes The Pie Lady’s luscious butter tarts.
5. Pine Grove Sector
Part of the city’s greenbelt, the Pine Grove Sector in Ottawa’s southeast offers over 11 miles of cycling, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and hiking trails. At 4.4 miles, Trail 43 is the main trail and a fantastic place to start exploring the area. There are interpretive panels on forest management and tree identification and, towards the center of the loop, a marshy area houses beavers and muskrats. In my experience, this is one of the city’s more mosquito-prone trails in late spring — nothing a generous squirt of bug juice can’t remedy.
Pro Tip: The connecting Trail 44 (which runs just under two miles) offers hikers some hidden delights, including “fairy doors” built into tree stumps. If you’re up for a long walk, consider doing both.
6. Shoreline Trail
This gentle hike in Rideau River Provincial Park, just south of the city near the community of Kars, clocks in at about 2 miles. Hugging the Park’s shoreline, hikers will pass by two beaches, a small playground, cabins, campgrounds, and docks. Frogs, turtles, and great blue heron are frequently seen, as are a variety of ducks, blue jays, and even osprey. The walk is flat and easy but keep an eye out for thick tree roots covering the ground in a section I like to call “ankle alley”.
Pro Tip: At the Park office, hikers can sign out fishing equipment as part of the Tackleshare program and try their luck at casting a line.
7. Filmore Park Nut Grove
One of the Ottawa area’s most unusual hikes, the Filmore Park Nut Grove is located within the Baxter Conservation Area, just south of the city. Home to 3 miles of trails, how long you hike before reaching the nut grove is up to you. The most direct route, starting from behind the interpretive center, is about half a mile and crosses over boardwalks and a marsh. Once you arrive at the nut grove, you can expect a gentle loop of about .3 miles, weaving through over 30 species of Ontario nut trees, including nut pines, oaks, walnuts, hickories, buckeyes, hazels, yellowhorn, Kentucky coffee tree, beech, black cherry, chestnut, and hackberry.
Pro Tip: This is a rare Ottawa trail that charges for parking. It costs $7 and you can pay via a machine upon entrance or use a “pay by phone” app.
8. Jack Pine Trail
Hiking the Jack Pine Trail (part of Trail 26) in Ottawa’s Nepean neighborhood provides ample possibilities to explore routes of all sizes. This trail offers hikers three different options, ranging from a short walk just shy of a half-mile to the main loop, which is over 1 mile long. Red squirrels and chipmunks rule the roost and you’ll see dozens scurrying in front of your feet as you walk. It’s a terrific place to spot blue jays and wild turkeys and even great egrets who nest in the wetlands traversed by the trail.
Pro Tip: Those wanting to explore further afield can connect with the rest of Trail 26, which has some 12 miles of paths, and the broader area of Stony Swamp, with over 25 miles to explore.
9. Alf Campbell Trail
Flat and fast, the Alf Campbell Trail is the longest route in the Ferguson Forest Centre, near the community of Kemptville. This peaceful forest trail clocks in at just over 2 miles and is part of a network of more than 12 miles of biking and hiking paths and connects to the popular Chickadee Trail which, as the name suggests, is a prime spot for birdwatching.
Pro Tip: If you’re keen on exploring the small communities around Kemptville, you can find a handy list of self-guided walking tours online. If one hike is enough, you’ll want to visit the Kemptville Dairy Barn, which serves up burgers and fries in addition to all the soft serve, hard ice cream, sundaes, and milkshakes your heart desires.
Canada’s vast forests are great for hiking expeditions: