There’s something rejuvenating about a walk in the woods, but it feels especially good when the canopy is budding and the birds are chirping. Spring always has us itching to get outside, and while COVID-19 precautions are still be an obstacle to far‐flung travel destinations, nearby forests are a reminder that all periods of night must end. This year consider exploring these trail networks, each about an hour’s drive from Ottawa, and the small‐town cafés nearby.
MANITOU MOUNTAIN TRAIL
What’s better than a forest hike? A mountainous forest hike.
From the west end of Ottawa, Manitou Mountain Trail is about an hour’s drive to the town of Calabogie. Drive about 1.5 kilometres past the parking lot at Calabogie Peaks Resort, heading south on Barrett Chute Road. A trailhead sits under an escarpment and points you toward the tall trees of the 9-kilometre trail, which winds through deciduous and coniferous forests and features small bridges over creeks and around boulders.
The narrow valleys were formed when glaciers slowly melted in the area centuries ago, carving the earth as they slowly retreated. Tim Yearington, the Métis-Algonquin artist and wilderness guide who created Manitou Mountain Trail for the township, says he followed the deer. “Deer are pretty smart,” he noted at the trail’s opening in 2009. “They take the path of least resistance.”
To walk the entire Manitou Mountain Trail takes about four hours and ultimately leads to the other side of the mountain and the trailhead to Eagle’s Nest Lookout, a beautiful spot that’s great for snapping panoramic photos.
If you desire a vista and prefer a loop, try the four-kilometre hike up Manitou Mountain from Barrett Chute to the Red Arrow Rock Lookout, which offers a long view of crown land to the south and west. If you choose to begin on the easy-going interpretive Bear Claw Trail at the base of the ski hill, you’ll also have the chance for steeper climbs. There’s the Skywalk Trail, the Mikana Miigwetch (“the path of thanks”), and Lost Valley Loop, which explores hilly undulations among white pine and red oak.
Head to the Juniper Ridge Lookout for an incredible east-facing view that offers hikers a glimpse of the entirety of Calabogie Lake and beyond.
Bites: The Oh-el-la Café (636 Mills St.) offers excellent coffee and an impressive menu of filling and beautiful meals. All goodies are baked in-house, from croissants to Linzer cookies to decadent cakes. It is currently closed but will reopen in mid-June.
FERGUSON FOREST CENTRE
A farm at the heart of a forest — now there’s something to see! One finds just that in Ferguson Forest, a unique mix of wild woods and cultivated land just north of Kemptville that is not only laced with good hiking trails but also offers spaces for dog walkers and young botanists. There are multiple access points along County Road 44, but the easiest one to locate is just two kilometres north of the intersection with County Road 43. From there, Ferguson Forest Trails offers the choice to head north on Chickadee Trail, northeast on Beech Trail, or southeast on Maple Trail.
If your footwear is waterproof, try some of the wilder, swampier trails on Maple, complete with boardwalks and large cedar roots to clamber over. Beech Trail loops in on itself and passes the noteworthy Wolf Tree, a maple of massive proportions. Beech also leads to Link Trail, which heads to the heart of the forest. Where the trees open wide, the Ferguson Tree Nursery grows hardy trees, shrubs, and perennials that are native to Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec, such as spruce, maple, willow, and oak. Several species come right from the forest, and as they are sold to reforestation and landscaping projects, the profits are used to maintain and manage the forest. Take home a sapling as a souvenir of the day!
Another entry point is on County Road 43: as you head west from the 416 and pass Cranberry Hill Animal Hospital, turn right into the fields at the Giving Garden and follow the signs to Anniversary Park. There’s a budding arboretum and a fenced off-leash dog park, as well as the Kinderwood, where kids can learn about forest creatures.
This developing area of green space is a little jewel that keeps getting brighter. Plans for improvement include a labyrinth, a nursery “showroom” forest, a wildflower meadow, and a wheelchair-accessible trail.
Bites: The Crusty Baker (16 Prescott St.) in downtown Kemptville has a wide assortment of European-style scones, pies, rolls, and buns made with organic grains from Ontario and Quebec. A changing menu of sandwiches and soups will satiate appetites after a walk in the woods.
MORRIS ISLAND CONSERVATION AREA
This stunning conservation area offers something for dog walkers, bird watchers, fishing enthusiasts, photographers, paddlers, runners, and hikers. Through a 47-hectare forest along the Ottawa River, hikers follow trails with such names as Old Voyageur and Island Loop, marked with coloured way-finding signs. Each of these lead to lookouts with views of pristine watery landscapes.
The Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority charges $6 a day for parking, which is a small price to pay for such natural beauty and well-kept trails. At first, it might seem that the river is the main viewing attraction, with the best chances to see waterfowl, critters, and amphibians. But there are numerous small bodies of water along the trails, all filled with life, and the inlet bay pockmarked with tiny islands is the epitome of peaceful.
Most trails are great for beginners: the whole area is quite level except Miner’s Trail, which dips and bends near the north end. The Old Voyageur has a wheelchair-accessible portion, as well as accessible washrooms, and the Causeway (where, halfway, you’ll find the fishing platform) is flat and long all the way to the end of the conservation area.
Bites: It’s enough to say that Arnprior’s Mighty Fine Bakehouse (79 Madawaska St.) has really good cinnamon buns. But it should also be mentioned that they have an excellent array of filled croissants, cookies, turnovers, tarts, and scones. Try their takeaway sandwiches (including vegan options) for a hearty lunch while overlooking the water.