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For fishes with bicycles: Ottawa’s best bike-accessible swimming holes

By Andrea Grant on August 10, 2010

Guest post by Andrea Grant – who certainly doesn’t let her gills and fins get in the way of cycling around the capital all summer long.

It’s hot out – we know. You’re uncomfortable and sweaty – we can tell. You’re stuck in the city with only a bike and some bus tickets, and your only post-work saviour is a cold shower, a Slurpee, and the air-conditioned comfort of your grocery store. Right, Ottawa?

No way. Here at Apartment613, we’re surprised by how many of you car-free folks are still spending your hot summer soirees amongst the concrete and pigeons, when there are so many fabulous lakeside and riverside mini-vacations to be had. In fact, one of the most fantastic things about this city is that there tons of swimming options close to the urban core. So we’ve taken it upon ourselves to share the best swimming holes around – all within cycling distance from downtown. So wipe that sweat off your brow, kick off your flippy floppies, and jump in!

#1: Lac Leamy. Everyone seems to be familiar with the casino on this small lake in Gatineau, but I’m surprised by how many long-time O-dot dwellers don’t know about the beach. There’s a supervised swimming area, washrooms and change rooms, and even ice cream vendors (!) on the weekend. As long as you’re mentally prepared to chill alongside a melange of families and drunken teenagers, this place is a gem.

Approximate cycling time: 20 minutes from the Byward Market

Best route: Bike through the back parking lot of the Lester B. Pearson (Foreign Affairs) building, over the Macdonald-Cartier bridge, weave your way along the bike paths through Jacques Cartier Park, and follow the well-marked route to Lac Leamy.

#2: McKay Lake. This beautiful little lake is hidden in the heart of wealthy Rockcliffe Park. Born out of an old quarry, it now features mansions on one side and a mini-hiking trail on the other. Of all the swimming options listed here, McKay Lake is easily the most demure. So leave your rowdy self in your apartment, be zen and cycle here on any hot day.

Approximate cycling time: 15 minutes from the Byward Market

Best route: Bike over the St. Patrick Bridge to Beechwood. Take Beechwood (which features bike lanes for about half the distance) past the entrance to the cemetery and turn left onto Whitemarl. At the end of Whitemarl, turn left on Pond Street. Down the hills and on your left, there will be a green wooden sign and a gated entrance to the “Caldwell-Carver Conservation Area.” This gate opens onto a path to the water. This is the only public access point to the lake, and it’s open from 7am to 8:30pm.

#3: Westboro Beach. The closest and best spot to swim on the Ottawa River, this beach is a great reward after a bike ride along the river pathway. It’s a well-maintained National Capital Region recreation zone, which means supervised swimming and generally clean facilities. An ongoing oddity of the Westboro Beach scene is the fast food restaurant (a satellite of Moe’s Newport Restaurant, home of the Elvis Sighting Society) which often serves fancy mousse and cheesecakes alongside more standard fare of fries and hamburgers. Check out the change rooms with massive retro pointed ceilings.

Approximate cycling time: 35 minutes from the Byward Market

Best route: Head west from the canal locks along the Ottawa River bike path – a ride that’s both easy and beautiful. Watch out for geese and rock sculptures along the shore.

Photo courtesy Sherralee on Flickr.

Photo courtesy Sherralee on Flickr.

#4: Britannia Beach. Britannia is a great, great place to swim and hang out. However, it’s quite a bit further from downtown, making it more of a weekend bike ride destination. It can also be accessed by OCTranspo (bus route 16 Britannia).

Approximate cycling time: 50 minutes from the Byward Market

Best route: Speed along the Ottawa River pathway, all the way to Britannia.

#5: Mooney’s Bay. Mooney’s Bay is an urban beach in full form – with huge sandy spaces, a large supervised swimming area, change rooms, washrooms, and packed crowds, it’s the full deal. I like it as a south-of-downtown swimming option, particularly after a scenic ride down the Rideau Canal bike path.

Approximate cycling time: 40 minutes from the Byward Market.

Best route: Start on the eastern Rideau Canal bike path and continue for the full length of the canal, past Hog’s Back Falls and the locks which mark the start of Mooney’s Bay itself. There will be a small but easy-to-navigate detour as you approach the beach, which is well-marked.

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