We’ve just got more snow than we ever thought could fall from the sky in only one day, and, although a lot has melt away nearly as quick as it came, it truly is a winter wonderland out there. The best way to enjoy the season is to go outside and experience the beauty in these frigid months. In order to help you folks do exactly that, we’ve compiled a list of the best winter hiking and cross country skiing trails in, and around, Ottawa. Here it is!
My favourite trail in the city – the Mer Bleue Bog Trail. I can’t believe that I didn’t know about this place for 27 years! If you haven’t been, trust me – go! The whole trail can be done in under an hour – if you don’t stop to take photos along the way, which you probably will. The place is beautiful. The trail is mostly one large boardwalk through a bog, which is a mix of cattail marshes and what closely resembles a bog typical of the Northern Boreal region. At the end of the boardwalk is a section of forest, followed by an even smaller section of field. A recommendation: plan your visit to align with the sunset. I assure you, there is nothing more beautiful.
A short ways from Mer Bleue Bog Trail, you will find Trail #51 or, as I like to call it, the Powerline Trail. The Powerline Trail is a great one to either walk or ski in the winter. It is a good length, at around an hour and 15 minutes walking, or on skis. For those of you who love birds, this trail is a great one. There are a plethora of super friendly feathered creatures who will eat right out of your hand. There is also a pileated woodpecker who makes his home in the area, who will let you get really close, allowing for some remarkable photo opportunities.
Next on the list would lie at the crux of the Chipmunk and Beaver Trails – the Wild Bird Care Centre: an old house converted into a rehabilitation centre and sanctuary for wild birds who are found injured in and around Ottawa. They do truly awesome work and you can see what they do first hand, seven days a week, from noon to 3pm. They’ve got all kinds of cool birds living there – from seagulls, to crows, a Peregrine Falcon, and hummingbirds kept in incubators. Not to mention a rare oriole, who recently found itself with celebrity bird status.
During any other season, you don’t really want to go to Pine Grove Trail, without first having doused yourself in some kind of heavy duty bug repellent. For ¾ of the year Pine Grove Trail, otherwise known as Jurassic Park, is occupied by pterodactyl-sized mosquitoes, who leave crazy welts all over you. During the winter, though, you can really enjoy the red and white pine forest and get close to the marsh, which follows along the inside of the trail.
The Jack Pine Trail, off P11, has some really neat brick foundations left behind by old stone houses in the early years of the Ottawa Valley. There is also a beautiful marsh area just a short trip off the trail (but you need to know where you are going).
For those who enjoy car rides, Shirley’s Bay is a great spot to cross country ski – especially at night! The trail takes about an hour if you take your time (or are just learning to ski) and, with the exception of one somewhat challenging hill, the route is mostly flat. The trail takes you through all kinds of different areas – both deciduous and coniferous forests, fields, and there are small sections of bridge across a few streams. Also, if you are lucky (and there is no fog), you can also see Gatineau lit up across the river.
I’d hesitate to call Hog’s Back Falls a trail because, frankly, it isn’t, but it does have several noteworthy mentions that make it a must have on this list. Firstly, the falls are located fairly centrally within the city, which means that they are accessible by public transit. Also, the falls and surrounding area are really quite beautiful, dressed in winter’s snow and ice. There are also a lot of friendly forest creatures who will come spend some time in exchange for peanuts. Fair warning: the red squirrels have no problem crawling into your lap to get a treat!
The Arboretum at the Experimental Farm is also, technically, not a “trail”, but is worthy of inclusion for several reasons. First off – its proximity to downtown. Most other trails require a car to get to, but the Arboretum is a short bus trip or even a nice walk away. If you are driving, most of the parking lots at the farm are paid, but there is free parking at Fletcher Wildlife Garden off Prince of Wales. Many people walk their dogs or ski in the Aboretum’s varied terrain. There are gardens, hills, fields and waterfront. Even in the dead of winter, there is still so much life about.
We’ve just under a month of winter left and, with that, a little challenge: go explore all the great spots that exist right here in our beautiful city. Experience what it is like to have a chickadee eat from your hand. Ski under the humm of the monstrous powerlines. Try to get close to the shy deer you are occasionally lucky enough to encounter on your adventures. Once you’ve done all of that, we’ve one more request of you: now that we’ve told you about some of our favourite places, we want to hear about those we missed. Where are some other outdoor Ottawa gems?