Ottawa, Canada’s Capital, is an urban and vibrant destination where you’ll find many cultural attractions, delectable restaurants and lots of cosmopolitan shopping options. But amongst its big city delights, you’ll also find expansive, luscious green spaces that offer adventure and spectacular natural wonders.
Whether you’re looking to go hiking or to get out onto the water, Ottawa and its surrounding region is sure to have an experience for you. Bring some comfortable shoes and discover five of Ottawa’s best natural wonders!
Located at a short taxi ride or bike ride north of Ottawa’s downtown core, Gatineau Park offers more than 361-square kilometres (90,000 acres) of luscious green space that offers about 165 kilometres (103 miles) of picturesque hiking trails that vary in distance and degree of difficulty. Amongst the most popular trails – offering spectacular scenic vistas – are the Pink Lake and King Mountain trails.
- Pink Lake: Though the lake is called “Pink,” this 2.5-kilometre (1.6 mile) trail actually makes its way around a beautiful turquoise, crystal clear lake. According to the National Capital Commission (NCC), Pink Lake is “meromictic,” meaning that its layers of water don’t mix. Due to this separation, Pink Lake’s deepest point does not have any oxygen. Enjoy a 45 to 60-minute hike around this shimmering turquoise lake surrounded by dense forest and majestic rock cliffs. Then, Pink Lake becomes even more magical in the fall season when its surrounding trees explode into a riot of fall colours. You’re guaranteed to get some great photos here throughout the summer and fall seasons!
- King Mountain: Offering more of a challenging incline, this 1.9-kilometre (1.2 mile) trail offers 10 lookouts that provide fantastic views of Ottawa and its surrounding region. This 45-minute hike leads up to the Eardley Escarpment, which provides a beautiful view from 300 metres (984 feet) above the Ottawa Valley. Like the Pink Lake trail, King Mountain becomes even more enchanting in the fall when all the leaves change colour. You’ll want to have a camera with you!
Also, Gatineau Park is a year-round destination! During the winter months (roughly December to late March), you’ll find snowshoeing trails, cross-country skiing trails as well as Camp Fortune, a downhill ski centre.
Canadian Tulip Festival
Taking place each May, this is one of Ottawa’s most popular outdoor festivals!
Grab your camera and either walk or rent a bike to take in more than one million beautiful tulips in bloom throughout the city. Follow the Rideau Canal – Ontario’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site – to Commissioners Park at Dows Lake. This site alone is home to about 250,000 tulips in many different varieties. This festival was first held in 1953 and now, it has about 500,000 visitors annually.
But are you wondering where all of these tulips come from? They are the result of a lasting relationship Ottawa shares with the Netherlands, which started in 1940. Following the Nazi Invasion of the Netherlands during the Second World War, Princess Juliana of the Netherlands took refuge in Ottawa along with her two young daughters, Princess Beatrix and Princess Irene. While in exile in Canada, Princess Juliana also gave birth to her third daughter, Princess Margriet. Ottawa was home to these Dutch royal family members until they could finally return to a liberated Netherlands in 1945.
Upon returning to the Netherlands, Princess Juliana sought to thank Ottawa and the Canadian people with several gifts, including 100,000 tulip bulbs. Today, more than one million tulips decorate downtown Ottawa each May and this lasting gift of tulips is known as the ‘Tulip Legacy.’
With beautiful flowers, live music and fireworks over the water, this is a springtime event that you don’t want to miss!
Located at a short walk from Rideau Hall, the governor general of Canada’s residence, these lovely twin waterfalls mark the spot where the Rideau River and the Ottawa River meet. According to the NCC, this green area was an industrial park in the 1800s that was powered by the now iconic Ottawa waterfalls.
Opt to see the cascades of water from the top or get on an Ottawa River boat cruise and get as close to the falling water as possible. This is a popular tourist attraction and you’ll definitely want a photo, so have your camera ready. Also, if you opt for a guided boat cruise, you’ll be able to take in more iconic Ottawa sights such as Parliament Hill and the Canadian Museum of History, which is Canada’s most visited museum.
A little further from the downtown core but also worth visiting are the Prince of Wales Falls, which are more commonly known as Hog’s Back Falls. Depending on the season and the amount of water needed to fill the famous Rideau Canal, these falls, which are controlled by a dam, switch between a slow trickle and a raging torrent of whitewater. In each state however, Hog’s Back Falls are quite nice to see and present visitors with a lovely photo opportunity.
Stretching and snaking its way through downtown Ottawa, the Rideau Canal is one of the city’s most famous landmarks. Did you know that a large part of this historic, UNESCO World Heritage Site waterway was actually dug out by hand? It’s true!
Visiting Ottawa this summer? Discover the scenic canal by boat. Hop on Rideau Canal Cruises’ electric bateau mouche and learn about the canal as you glide along gently. Alternatively, head to the Dows Lake Pavilion to rent a canoe, kayak or pedal boat and explore the Rideau Canal on your own. Or if you’d rather not be on the water, enjoy the scenic canal by strolling or cycling on the pathways that line its beautiful banks.
This is even a site that can be visited year-round! In the winter months (from roughly early January to late February), the Rideau Canal freezes over to become the Rideau Canal Skateway; the largest skating rink in the world as designated by Guinness World Records. Put on your skates or rent a pair and glide over the 7.8 kilometres (4.8 miles) of ice that extend from Ottawa’s downtown core all the way to Dows Lake. No matter what season you visit in; the Rideau Canal is sure to delight!
West of Ottawa, in the area of Beachburg, Ont., you’ll find the city’s whitewater playground. This area, which is about an hour and a half drive from the downtown core, is home to some of the best whitewater adventure in the world! Did you know that Ottawa River is home to one of the top five whitewater rafting spots in the world?
Here, you’ll find several rafting companies that offer a variety of full-day or multi-day experiences ranging from gentle, family-focused rafting to high adrenaline, expert level adventure. Set out onto the river with your seasoned guide for a day of fun, complete with a barbecue lunch on the banks of the river. This is a favourite activity of visitors and locals alike!
Also, rafting in the Ottawa River region is a Canadian Signature Experience. Determined by Destination Canada, such an experience responds to a traveller’s desire to go beyond the beaten tourist path. The rafting season in Ottawa typically goes from May to September.
These are only a few ideas to get your visit to Ottawa started. To learn more about interesting outdoor activities, browse Ottawa Tourism’s website.