Outdoors

Ottawa on Foot: Walk Along the Ottawa River and Rideau Canal

Wanderers at heart will love the 370-plus miles of pathways throughout Ottawa that pass some of the major sites of the city. Many of these miles are found along the two main routes, the Ottawa River and the Rideau Canal. For the fitness trackers out there, that’s a lot of steps for your FitBit to count!

Lace up your walking shoes and hit one of these top routes.

The Ottawa River Walking Path

Distance: 3 miles, one way

Make your way to the Bytown Museum in downtown Ottawa, where this path begins. You can stop inside the museum for a background on the history of the city or get your walk started by following the path west along the river.

Look up to your left and you’ll see imposing, Gothic-style buildings on the hill. That’s the parliament of Canada, where politicians debate all things Canadian society.

ottawa walking trails
Keep an eye out for Parliament in the distance. (Photo: Alamy)

Across the river — which is actually the neighboring province of Quebec — you’ll see the most-visited museum in the country, the Canadian Museum of History. Its impressive architecture represents a turtle head (symbolizing Mother Earth to First Nations peoples), the outcropping bedrock of the Canadian Shield and a melting glacier.

Keep walking and you’ll approach grassy Victoria Island on your right. Notice the tepee, wigwam and longhouse, and maybe even some First Nations dancers dressed in their native regalia. This is Aboriginal Experiences, a program that educates visitors about the long history of the First Peoples from their own perspective.

Back on the mainland is the Mill Street Brew Pub, a great stopping point for a snack and pint of local brew in an old gristmill. They’re best known for their Organic Lager, but take a risk and order the Walker’s Blueberry Wheat for something different. For food, try the chicken and chorizo pot pie.

After your well-deserved break, hit the path again and pass by the Canadian War Museum on your left, where you can learn about Canada’s military history, or simply wander through the interpretive signage outside.

Keep strolling and you’ll eventually find yourself looking curiously at balanced rock “sculptures” on the beach. If you see a man pondering the scenery with rocks in hand, that’s artist John Ceprano, who can be found here in summer months piling rocks into creative shapes to the delight of onlookers.

The Rideau Canal Walking Path

Distance: 4 miles, one way

ottawa walking trails
Take time to observe this UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Photo: Alamy)

Running through the heart of Ottawa, the Rideau Canal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and offers a chance to observe a well-preserved series of dams and locks — many of which are still hand operated today.

Boats traverse the canal when there is a significant drop, while in the winter the canal freezes over and is dubbed the “World’s Longest Skating Rink.” If skating isn’t your thing, you can watch the locals skate to work while sipping hot chocolate on the sidelines!

Start your walk at the Ottawa Lockstation, where boats are let through in incremental “steps” down to the Ottawa River. Walking southeast on either side of the canal, you’ll pass the National Arts Centre on your right and Shaw Centre (for conventions) and the Department of National Defence on your left.

Soon you’ll pass by the Ottawa University campus on your left, but don’t get distracted by the throng of students: Focus on Corkstown Bridge, a pedestrian canal crossing with hundreds of padlocks bolted to its railings.

Why? They’re “love locks” put there by couples to express their affection. But more importantly, there’s a great photo op of downtown Ottawa from the middle of the bridge looking north.

Continue walking and you’ll pass Lansdowne Park, 40 acres of land with a sports stadium, farmers market, outdoor concert space, recreational activities, stores and restaurants.

As you continue to meander along the canal, you’ll come across Commissioners Park. If you’re here in May, more than 250,000 tulips will light up the greenery. It’s so beautiful the city created the Canadian Tulip Festival to celebrate. Blooming annuals keep the park colorful all summer long.

Last up on the route is the Dows Lake Pavilion, where you can rest your feet at Malone’s Lakeside Grill for a casual meal of pizza and burgers or Greek and Italian food. If you still have energy after that, rent a kayak, canoe or stand-up paddle board from the pavilion to experience the canal itself.