10 Best Day Trips from Ottawa
- Renfrew Swinging Bridge
- Spy Rock
- Algonquin Provincial Park
- Chutes de Plaisance
- Bonnechere Caves
- Oiseau Rock Trail
Top 10 scenic day trips from Ottawa
Situated at the point where the Ottowa and Rideau rivers meet, Canada’s capital Ottawa has a population of just over one million in the city proper and a metro population of almost 1.5 million, making it Canada’s fourth-largest city. The seat of the nation’s federal government and home to many foreign embassies and organizations, it boasts several excellent universities as well as museums, galleries and monuments. If you’ve been looking for a cosmopolitan city with lots of art and a lively social scene, you’ve found it.
Downtown Ottowa sprawls out from the Rideau Canal and it’s dominated by the city’s outstanding Gothic-style parliament and complemented by several superb museums and art collection housed in beautiful heritage buildings. There are also lots of gorgeous green spaces and parks here, and despite winters bringing sub-zero temperatures, locals and visitors make sure they make the most of the city’s longest season, with activities like ice sculpting and skating, while in the spring, the city is adorned with floral displays and there’s a lovely buzz about the place (outwith the noise of the bees).
Preparing from your day trip to Ottawa
We’ll start your day trips from Ottawa imminently. But let’s take a quick pitstop to take in some preparation tips for hitting the road in this area and Canada in general.
First off, if you’re planning a few day trips over the next days or weeks, it’s vital to ensure that your car is in excellent working order as it’s probably going to undertake more mileage than usual. So check your coolant and oil levels, make sure that your battery has ample charge, fill up your tank and take note of the fuel stops which are on your route. Check your windscreen washer fluid level and your front and back wiper blades for wear and tear. And last but not least, check that your tyres are above the minimum tread depth – Canadian law states this should be at least 1.6mm and there are even tougher requirements in some provinces.
Remember also to pack warm clothing for everyone in the car, as well as water, snacks and drinks. If you’re travelling with your children, be sure that their phones and electronic devices are fully charged before you leave – unless you don’t mind a chorus of moaning on the way to your destination and back.
Ready for your day trips? Let’s roll.
Only one hour south of Ottowa via ON-416 S, Merrickville is a small town with big charms. Located on the Rideau River, its Boho main street is packed with an attractive jumble of independent boutiques selling everything from local arts and crafts to antiques, glassware and high-quality second-hand fashions. The Goose and Gridiron bar is a great place to grab a beer (or soft drink if you’re driving) and across the town’s small bridge there’s an island that hosts the romantic, tumbledown Merrickville Ruins – there’s a little onsite museum where you can learn all about this former industrial site.
Renfrew Swinging Bridge
How does a visit to a historic scenic spot sound? Renfrew Swinging Bridge is just one hour west of Ottawa via the Trans-Canada Highway/ON 417 W and it’s an absolute delight. Occupying a scenic spot on the Bonnechere River, the bridge (which does actually swing) offers outstanding views of a gentle, burbling waterfall, Renfrew Hydro Station and its stunning neighbouring stone-built mill, as well as O’Brien Park – a lush green space perfect for pleasant strolls and picnics.
A one hour and 45 minute drive south via ON-416 S and ON-401 W, Gananoque is your gateway to the legendary 1000 Islands and St Lawrence River. You can park up your car and take the elevator up the vertiginous 1000 Islands Tower to get your bearings and drink in the dizzying yet delightful panoramic views. Back on ground level, jump on a cruise boat to hop between densely forested islands scattered across the water as far as the eye can see, many of which host fabulous fairy tale castle-style mansions like Singer Castle on Dark Island and Boldt Castle on Heart Island.
How does a day trip to Perth sound? Don’t worry – not the one in Scotland (or the other one in Australia). Nope, this Perth is just one hour’s drive from Ottawa via the Trans-Canada highway/ON-417 W and it’s a doozy. Perth has earned a reputation as one of Ontario’s most beautiful towns and it’s tough to argue against its blend of amazing 19th century architecture and outstanding natural beauty. With over 100 designated heritage buildings and dozens of independent stores, shops and restaurants, there’s lots to keep you (and your belly) busy, with highlights including Coutts Coffee Roastery and Café, and Penny’s Place Diner. Pick up an unusual artisan gift at Red Brick Emporium before you leave.
An awesome scenic spot that’s definitely worth the drive, Spy Rock scenic outlook near Upper Rideau Lake is around one hour and 20 minutes from Ottawa via Highway 7/Trans-Canada Highway. The granite under your feet at this lofty cliffside viewpoint was sheared away when a school bus-sized meteor blasted into the Earth half a billion years ago. So far, so spectacular, but the views it affords across the village of Westport and southeast across the Frontenac Arch biosphere are out of this world too. You can also still see the 2km wide, landscape-rearranging crater itself – pretty special indeed.
Algonquin Provincial Park
At three hours from Ottawa via Trans-Canada Highway/ON-417 W and ON-60 W, Algonquin is a doable day trip if you leave super-early in the morning, but you’ll have a more leisurely time if you stay overnight. You can camp in the backcountry, go mountain biking, boating, canoeing, dog sledding, fishing, picnicking, skiing, swimming and wildlife watching. Park guardians run an excellent summer interpretive program which included guided walks, kids activities, outdoor theatre and public wolf howls (where you travel by car to a favourite lupine gathering place along Highway 60 and howl back and fort to these cool creatures).
Chutes de Plaisance
The day trip delights for nature lovers keep coming with Chutes de Plaisance, just 50 minutes east of Ottawa via the A 50 E. Chutes means waterfalls in French and these fantastic falls are part of Quebec’s Plaisance National Park, as well as being a protected national historical site. In the 19th century, the pounding hydro power of the falls fuelled a sawmill, the beating heart of the local economy. There are also lots of scenic nature trails if you want to stretch your legs before heading home.
Just 30 minutes from Ottawa via the 5 N route, Wakefield is a wonderful day trip (or even half-day) destination. Lots of Ottawans own holiday cottages in this scenic spot because it’s so close to the city, yet a world away from the hustle and bustle. Riverside is the town’s main commercial strip and it offers lovely shops and cafes, as well as beautiful views of the Gatineau River. Take a stroll past the Blacksheep Inn up the steep gradient to the Wakefield Mill Hotel and Spa, a lovely complex next to MacLaren Falls on the La Peche River and don’t leave without checking out the Fairbairn House Heritage Centre.
For something a little different, head into a magical underground kingdom and Bonnechere Caves, 1 hour and 20 minutes from Ottawa via the Trans-Canada Highway/ON-417 W. Located in Eganville, Ontario, these caves have fascinated visitors since they were opened to the public over 55 years ago, but they’re located under a limestone hill which was a tropical seabed 500 million years ago. As well as marvelling at the fossils and dodging bats, you can also dine here – which is rather unusual.
Oiseau Rock Trail
Two hours northwest from Ottawa up the trusty Trans-Canada Highway, Oiseau Rock Trail completes our day trips and it’s a corker of a destination. A 5km hiking trail through the Algonquin forest, it offers eye-popping views from lookouts around every corner and the opportunity to splash around in the Ottawa River and swim in a mountain lake at the summit (probably best braving this in summer mind you!). Bring your hiking boots and plenty of water – this trail has a few tricky sections so it’s not best suited for children.