“That was super”.
My friend FP from the Netherlands left on a Tuesday afternoon after a great week in Ottawa & Gatineau Park. I had invited FP back in November, to refuel after a busy year at his work. He initially suggested to come in December, but I didn’t have a good feeling about how the winter was developing, and for sure the canal would not be open for skating, so I suggested to visit our city in February instead.
FP flew from Amsterdam, via Detroit to Ottawa for less than 500 Euro (about 750 CAD), which is a really good price to fly transatlantic to and from Ottawa, albeit it a longer trip than a more direct one via Toronto or Montreal.
As I wanted to give him the true Canadian experience, we scheduled a busy week of skating, skiing, cycling (cycling!), local coffees and desserts and home cooking. Plus shovelling the driveway!
Skating the Rideau Canal
Being an avid skater, FP was looking forward to skate on the canal, and we had our fingers crossed that the canal was going to be open for skating, as winter had a slow start. Fortunately it was by the time he arrived, albeit not for the entire stretch. The skating was unfortunately not as smooth as in other years and definitely not as smooth as the Dutch canals, which usually freeze over nicely due to the lack of snow, if they freeze at all. But it was still a great experience, despite two falls and a suspected bruised ankle.
Skiing in Gatineau Park
The skiing however was another story. After a mediocre snowfall in December, there was enough snow for proper skiing in Gatineau Park by the time February came around. Karen and I planned several routes in different parts of Gatineau Park.
Our first adventure was a ski towards Huron hut as a warm up for FP. We skied the Fortune Parkway from P10 and turned right into the 1, passing Shilly Shelly hut toward a windy Champlain lookout. Returning via the Champlain Parkway we stopped at Huron hut to toast our cheese sandwiches on the wood stove. Is there anything more Canadian, since Tim Hortons’ fall from grace?
FP had not XC skied much in his life, perhaps twice, but he picked it up really quickly. I had not worried about his skills though, as he loves sports and learns fast. If this is proof: back in Europe, he bikepacked from the Netherlands to Paris (500 km) and to Berlin (900 km) respectively. What a great thought to bike into Paris right underneath the Arc the Triomphe or to Berlin’s Brandenburger Tor.
Complex Sportive/Relais Plein Air/Club Shinouk
Our second ski started from Complex Sportive du Mont-blue in Gatineau at Parking lot P2. (397 Boulevard de la Cité-des-Jeunes), about a km north from Asticou. By bus, it would have taken an hour and 20 minutes, taking the 86 from Fisher to Tunney’s, Line 1 to Lyon, walk to Wellington to catch the 31 STO (CEGEP Groy) bus from Wellington and Bay to De la Cite-des-Jeunes/Talbot (35 stops). So we took a car instead.
Coffee and Desserts at Complex Sportive near Gatineau Park
We had actually not been to this facility before in the 21 years I live here. Since this year, so we learned, there is a coffee place offering coffee (lattes!), teas, lunch and desserts, making it a great rewarding place to finish a trip. Luckily you can also still eat your own lunch in the cozy cafeteria, which has a fire place and sofas. There is also a wax facility and from what I read there is also ski and fat bike rental.
Pink Lake in Gatineau Park
We skied from the Complex Sportive on the 27 and the 29 to the 5 which meanders through a flat area before we took a left turn into the hills on the 15, than another left on the 35 towards Pink Lake. It was quite snowy; we didn’t see much of Pink Lake unfortunately. We are never a big fan of the parkways but we sometimes need it to complete a loop, so we followed the Champlain Parkway to eventually quickly turn on the 29 back to Complexe Sportive.
Lac Taylor in Gatineau Park
On our third ski trip, we went out to P19 at Lac Philippe, to ski via Taylor Lake to Lac Renaud to have lunch at Lac Renaud hut, our favourite hut, with its light and its south west facing large windows. I always find Taylor lake a very beautiful and serene place and for guests it is a wonderful experience to get a taste of Canadian wilderness.
We passed two yards too. We have never rented a yurt, but every year it becomes a bit more appealing. On our way back, we did a 5-6 km detour on the beautiful route to the Lusk hut, bringing the total distance to 20 km.
On our way back by car, we stopped in Wakefield for coffee at Pipolinka, a lovely small local bakery behind Cafe Le Hibou. What a wonderful surprise it was with its home made breads, desserts and savoury foods. Wouldn’t you know, two people walked in who I actually know, a Dutch acquaintance and a former contact from work at the embassy. What is the chance?
SJAM parkway winter trail
A ski holidays in Ottawa is not complete without visiting the SJAM (S-JAM) winter trails along the Ottawa river. A 16 km community driven trail, pioneered by ‘Groomer Dave’, it is maintained for XC and skate skiing as well as walking, snowshoeing and even fat biking. It connects to a number of no charge parking lots and the communities on the other side of the parkway.
It is fairly easy too to go there by bike via the Trillium pathway, which is maintained in winter. Or take public transit. The best place to start from transit is Bayview Station where you can literally ski to and from the entrance of the station. Another good option is Pimisi Station: walk 6 minutes to the war museum and start behind the museum. The museum has washrooms, a restaurant and a ski rack to leave your skies. When I work at those stations as an O-Train ambassador, I regularly see people walking with skies under their arm. How cool is that?
Fat biking in the snow
On a freezing cold Saturday morning, we rented bikes at Remic Rapids from Fresh Air Experience’s temporary shed at the parking lot. The price is not cheap at $40 per bike for three hours: convenience has a price. If you want to do it cheaper, bring your skies too if you are together and swap the bike halfway between the two of you. Three hours is plenty of time.
It was very sunny but there was a bitterly cold wind chill. We feared for the worst and dressed warmly, but we should have known better: cycling in winter is warmer than you think. Soon we stopped and took layers of clothes off, balaclavas went into the backpack and windbreakers around the waist.
“Worst day of the year”
FP was in his element and had to try the slopes along the path. Cycling wasn’t easy as it had snowed 20 cm the day before and the snow wasn’t packed enough yet. It felt like cycling in loose sand on a beach on a 32 mm tire: we worked really hard. Upon return, the Fresh Air person remarked that this was possibly the worst condition this year to bike in. O great, but lessons learned. We still enjoyed it a lot though, but I don’t think I could justify the price of an N+1 bike, so renting is a good alternative instead. (On sale in February at $1700 before tax at Bushtukah)
Coffee and blankets
I wanted FP to get an insight in local businesses too, so we stopped for coffee in several places during the week: Bridgehead, Wild Oat, Happy Goat, Pipolinka and Cafe Les Saisons on Chemin Old Chelsea and Chemin Padden. We went to Farmboy on Merivale and Makerhouse on Wellington (Look for the awesome woolen blankets from MacAusland Woolen Mills in Bloomfield in Prince Edward County); we had bagels both at Kettleman’s on Bank in the Glebe and at the Ottawa Bagelshop and deli in Wellington West. We cooked shepherds pie and butter chicken and we made cookies and carrot cake and scones.
Winter holidays in Ottawa
It was nice to see Ottawa through the eyes of someone who is not only not used to winters like ours but also looks to our winters as an opportunity rather than a burden. We skied, skated, biked (but didn’t snowshoe), visited local food and craft locations and walked through main streets. FP remarked that there is so much to do and so much to market our city to Europeans. His only complaint was the crust of my home made sourdough bread: too tough!
Snowshoe in Gatineau Park
Interested in snowshoeing in Gatineau Park? Read up on a nice trail in the northern section here.