Gatineau Park#6 in Best Things To Do in Ottawa
When you need a break from the city, head to Gatineau Park. Located just 15 minutes from downtown Ottawa, this nearly 90,000-acre park offers a variety of year-round activities, including swimming, hiking, biking, camping, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, in addition to heritage sites and nature interpretation. Among the standout attractions is the Mackenzie King Estate, which was constructed in 1903 by Canada's 10th prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King. You can explore the wooded paths surrounding the estate, peek into its restored cottages (which also feature interactive exhibits) or even stop into the Mackenzie King Tearoom for a spot of tea.
Recent visitors raved about Gatineau Park, calling it a national treasure and a peaceful oasis. Reviewers were particularly fond of the park's many scenic lookouts (especially the popular Champlain Lookout, which offers a bird's-eye view from the Gatineau Hills over the Ottawa Valley). From the lookouts, you can explore connecting hiking trails, such as the path that surrounds Pink Lake, another popular lookout spot in the park.
You'll find Gatineau Park about 5 miles northwest of Parliament Hill, across the Ottawa River in Gatineau, Quebec. You won't have to pay to enter the park, but select parking lots do charge. Vehicle access fees are charged for Gatineau Park beaches, Leamy Lake Beach and the Mackenzie King Estate. You can purchase your daily pass on-site (fees do not exceed CA$11). In the winter, several roads and points of interest may be closed; check the park's website for more information. Hours vary by season, but generally, the visitor centers are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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#1 Rideau Canal
Snaking its way through the center of Ottawa, the Rideau Canal is one of the city's most historic attractions. This 125-mile waterway was originally constructed between 1826 and 1832 to create a secure supply and communications route between Montreal, Québec, and Kingston, Ontario – roughly 120 miles southwest of the capital. It's also a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the city's most beloved features.
During the summer, you'll find the Rideau Canal filled with boats (both private and commercial) and the paved pathways surrounding it crowded with walkers, runners and bicyclists. If you'd like to tour the canal by boat, consider signing up for a trip with Rideau Canal Cruises. Cruises, which take visitors from Chateau Laurier to Dow's Lake (round trip), typically last 90 minutes and take visitors past nearly 30 sights along the canal. You can also borrow a bike from RentABike for CA$10 (around $8) an hour. As the temperatures begin to drop, the canal transforms into the world's largest skating rink, spanning 4.8 miles and featuring a surface area equivalent to 90 Olympic-sized hockey rinks. It's also lined with stands selling hot chocolate and soup, as well as heated huts in case you need a break from the cold.