Hidden Hiking Gems In The Nation’s Capital

Ottawa: what once was a sleepy city is now under an extreme construction crunch. With road closures and scaffolding at every turn, your work days are spent running from the city’s sprawling revitalization projects, and your nights are spent reliving it as jackhammers provide the soundtrack to your dreams.

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Luckily, a natural refuge has never been more than a hop, skip, and a jump away. Part of the city’s charm is its strategic position on the banks of the Ottawa River, and the long, winding ribbon of trails sewn into the fabric of Canada’s Capital Region.

Everyone knows about the canal and the tree-studded pathway behind Parliament, but these sites aren’t the only things the city has to offer. If you’re tired of the hustle and bustle of Elgin, look for your natural refuge in the following little-known hiking gems.

Mer Bleue Bog Trail:
Nestled within the 20,000-hectare plot of the Ottawa Greenbelt, Mer Bleue Bog is a scenic hiking trail around the ecologically diverse wetland. The bog is over 7,700 years old and makes up roughly 3,500 hectares of conservation area — enough to make it the 2nd largest bog in all of southern Ontario.  

The bog, which is French for Blue Sea, earned its name for the ethereal blue colour of its waters in the early mornings. You can see this effect for yourself by walking the boardwalk around the heart of the bog. Spiralling outwards from there, Mer Bleue Bog Trail consists of 20 kilometres of trails to explore on foot or by ski. You’ll walk by wild blueberry bushes and cotton grass, where fauna of all kinds makes their home.

For those looking for a little bit of a challenge, a 6-kilometre climb up the escarpment leads you to a viewpoint that will take your breath away. Its view of the wetlands is a popular place for a selfie at any time of year, so don’t forget to bring your phone along for the trek. Just remember to keep it covered up in a grip-enhancing skin from dbrand to make sure your selfie doesn’t end in destruction! As important as the Salomon boots on your feet and North Face windbreak around your shoulders, these tailor-made android and iPhone skins will keep your phone in your hands — and safe from a long fall to bog below.

Pinhey Forest Trails:
Another entry from the Greenbelt, Pinhey Forest Trails is a mixture of natural and urban pathways that explore Ottawa’s singular inland sand dune complex. The post-glacial dunes date back 10,000 years and are home to a variety of plants, animals, birds, and insects. First given to the National Capital Commission in 1948, it’s been a leading example of forest conservation practices ever since — the results of which allow us to enjoy its natural beauty now in the new millennium.

Explore just north of 6 kilometres worth of trails, whether by foot, ski, or snowshoe. If you feel up to it, take part in the fitness challenges posted at different fitness stations along the trail. Though smaller than Mer Bleue Bog Trail, Pinhey Forest offers an enjoyable trek through towering trees and ecologically unique dunes.

Shirleys Bay
Just west of the city is another ecologically diverse wetland worthy of a trip. Shirleys Bay is one of the remaining undeveloped wild areas of the Ottawa Valley. It used to be an old channel of the Ottawa River, and it’s still used to control the waters of the river to this day. Now it’s a provincially recognized conservation area consisting of 7 kilometres of trails. 

Home to over 270 bird species, Shirleys Bay is a popular destination for the capital’s avid bird watchers, and you’ll likely spot their cameras before you identify any birds for yourself. Due to its location on the bay, it’s also a prime destination for boating in the summer and ice fishing in the winter.

The hiking trails meet up with two paved multi-use pathways, the Watts Creek and Greenbelt Pathway West. They are just two of the many paths that make up the Trans Canada Trail — a network of trails that connects over 24,000 kilometres of pathways that link up to the country’s capital.

Mer Bleue Bog, Pinhey Forest, and Shirleys Bay are just three examples of the beautiful conservation areas and hiking trails available to you at a moment’s notice. Walk, cycle, or cross-country ski your way along them, and see another side of the Capital Region this year. You get enough of the city during your work week. Once you’ve had your fill of construction, don your toque and hiking gear and head outdoors. There’s no better way to recharge than in the middle of nature.