Snowshoeing in the Greenbelt

Year-round outdoor activities in Ottawa's Greenbelt

When you’re in Ottawa, you don’t need to leave the city to access outdoor activities like hiking, cycling, boating, skiing and snowshoeing. You can soak up fall colours, spring blooms, winter snow and summer sun among unique landscapes within the suburban boundary—all for free! And many areas are wonderful birdwatching spots. Use the highlights below to plan your next outdoorsy outing to the six beautiful areas of the National Capital Greenbelt.

Each site offers free parking, picnic areas, washrooms (outhouses or otherwise) and universal accessibility to at least some areas (except Pine Grove, which is not accessible). Dogs are welcome in the two off-leash dog parks, as well as in select locations (seasonal rules may apply). Consult the Greenbelt All Seasons Trail Map for details.

Mer Bleue: A northern boreal landscape

Just a 20-minute drive east from Parliament Hill in downtown Ottawa is Mer Bleue, a unique site where the ecosystem is more typical of the Arctic than of the Ottawa Valley. Visitors of all capabilities and ages can follow the 1.2-kilometre self-guided tour on the universally accessible boardwalk. In addition, you can walk through young and old forests on the easy 1-kilometre Dewberry Trail. Keep an eye out for rare plants, birds and wildlife, and tread lightly—Mer Bleue is one of the most studied bogs in the world due to its internationally-recognized importance as a wetland.

Year-round: Hiking

December-March (weather dependent): Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing

Green's Creek: Steep-sided ravines and plateaus

The unusual geology of Green’s Creek provides views of the narrow creek, its forested steep slopes, and the plateaus that are home to agricultural and urban lands. This site located just 15 minutes east of downtown Ottawa has 5 kilometres of multi-use trails for year-round use, and 4.6 kilometres of multi-use pathways that connect to the Ottawa River Pathway. The area’s most noticeable feature is the steep Green’s Creek Hill which is a popular sledding destination in the winter (lit at night!) and a training spot in the warmer months.

Year-round: Hiking

Warm months: Cycling, in-line skating

December-March (weather dependent): Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, tobogganing

Pine Grove: Trails through the forest

The largest forest in the Greenbelt and one of the city’s most popular off-leash dog parks is only a 20-minute drive south of downtown Ottawa. Pine Grove features 18.4 kilometres of multi-use trails, including a self-guided forestry interpretation trail and a tree-identification arboretum. The vast area is home to various bird species, marsh plants as well as beavers and muskrats. Conroy Pit provides dog lovers a chance to let their pooch run free.

Year-round: Hiking

December-March (weather dependent): Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing

Southern Farm and Pinhey Forest: Cool dunes

Did you know Canada’s capital has an inland sand dune complex less than 20 minutes southwest of downtown? Southern Farm and Pinhey Forest (not to be confused with Pinhey’s Point Historic Site) is a 10,000-year-old, postglacial ecosystem that is home to special plant and animal species. The 6.4 kilometres of sand trails take you through clearings and forests. Note: Sections of the sand dunes are roped-off for restoration and conservation purposes. Please be mindful of the site’s delicate environment.

Year-round: Hiking

December-March (weather dependent): Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing

Stony Swamp: Wetlands, beaver ponds and forests

Stony Swamp is much more than a boggy wetland located less than a half hour from downtown Ottawa — it also features a maple forest, pastures and alvar clearings (rare habitats that support vegetation with little or no soil). This site offers the most trails (over 40 kilometres) in the Greenbelt and includes boardwalks, interpretive exhibits, a historic lime kiln, beaver ponds and other habitats where plants, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and birds thrive. Cycling lovers can access a section of the Greenbelt Pathway West, which joins the The Great Trail of Canada and the Rideau Trail. Stony Swamp’s Bruce Pit is a popular off-leash dog park, and a tobogganing destination in winter.

Year-round: Hiking

Warm months: Cycling

December-March (weather dependent): Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing

Shirleys Bay: Land and water paradise

Thanks to its location on the Ottawa River, Shirleys Bay is an ideal spot for round recreational options including hiking, boating, cycling and birding, as well as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and ice fishing in the winter. Its shoreline location less than 25 minutes west of downtown is part of an important bird migration route for Canada’s arctic and boreal birds. The seven kilometres of accessible trails and two multi-use pathways (including the Shoreline Trail Watts Creek Pathway) make it one of the best birdwatching spots in the region!

Year-round: Hiking

Warm months: Cycling, boating

December-March (weather dependent): Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing

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