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Photo by Steve Colwill.

Getting muddy at Mud Lake

By Bruce Burwell on September 1, 2022

Photo by Steve Colwill.

During our first summer of COVID, I wrote a series of 613 geotour pieces on interesting outdoor areas you could visit around Ottawa. Each locale had a unique geological or geographical feature. I don’t know why I didn’t do an article on Mud Lake back then. Perhaps a small lake with a trail around it and a lot of birders didn’t seem exciting enough to bother with. During the last couple of years, I’ve walked around Mud Lake a lot and appreciated its unique geography and wildlife. And during that time, it had some interesting people stuff going on, too.

Mud Lake has a surprisingly short history. It was created from a bay of the Ottawa River in the early 1960s when the Britannia Purification plant was built. If you walk down the trail on the east side of the lake, you’ll see where the earth was moved around to form the lake. I haven’t found out why; was it just to create a trail so that you could circumnavigate a lake? If you know the answer, leave it in the comments!

Today the lake is part of the 60-hectare Britannia Conservation Area. You can view the lake from different spots along the trail and on a rickety wooden bridge where the ducks gather to be photographed. There is also a huge glacial erratic along the trail.

A wood duck at Mud Lake. Photo by Phil Stinson.

If you are a birder, then you already know about Mud Lake; well over 200 species of birds have been recorded there. Given the urban location, it’s an attractive place to go for those who watch and photograph the little creatures. You’ll see people in camo gear with lenses as long as your arm looking for the perfect shot. If you ask, they’re usually pretty friendly and willing to tell you what species they are stalking that day.

During the pandemic, the use of Mud Lake exploded. There are a lot of apartments in the area, and it was the perfect place to go for a walk when you couldn’t go anywhere else. Since it’s a conservation area, there are posted rules about what you can and can’t do there: no biking, no dog walking, stay on the marked trails, and no animal feeding. And by and large, people complied with the rules. Well, except for the animal feeding rule. Animals got fed a lot. Some squirrels looked like they had been inflated with a bike pump!

Sunrise at Mud Lake. Photo by David M A O’Neill.

There were those on both sides of the feeding issue and, like most controversial things, it got debated passionately on social media. Today, if you want to join the “Friends of Mud Lake” Facebook group, you have to promise not to discuss feeding the wildlife.

These days, there are fewer people around, and the squirrels are looking a bit trimmer. So if you haven’t been, go check out Mud Lake. The fall is a great time to walk around the whole lake. (Just leave those sunflower seeds at home.)

Mud Lake. Screenshot.


Parking is available on Cassels Street where there are a couple of trail entrances. The lake is also accessible from several bus routes. From the south side, you can access trails in a few places—including one near a very popular intersection.