Discover The Ottawa Valley
Feeling stuck at home this summer? I was at first too. I was supposed to spend the summer working on my first internship at a marketing agency in Downtown Toronto and instead I am working on my family farm in Downtown Douglas. So this transition required a little bit of a pace change. Rather than thrifting on Queen, clubbing on King and exploring the city I’d be boating on the Ottawa, hiking in Algonquin and re discovering the place where I grew up. Coming into summer 2020 I think we all anticipated a pretty low action couple of months. Luckily though, with a few great friends, family and the beautiful Ottawa Valley I was able to make the most of this quarantined summer and create some pretty amazing memories.
The Ottawa Valley is a beautiful region located in Eastern Ontario. Renfrew County forms the heart of the Valley which is where I was lucky enough to be born and raised. This unique place in Ontario is filled with beautiful and natural scenic destinations that are just waiting to be discovered. Below I have listed some of my favourite places I visited this summer in the Ottawa Valley. Hopefully some of these places catch your attention and you can check them out too.
1- The Bonnechere Caves and Fourth Chute Falls
The Bonnechere Caves are one of my favourite places in the Ottawa Valley (Although I may be biased since I have worked there as a tour guide for 3 years). The Caves are all naturally formed by water and made up of 450 million year old limestone. Typically the caves are open 7 days a week for guided tours, but this summer is a little different due to the recent pandemic. Although the caves are not open for visitation right now, you can check out the beautiful Fourth Chute Falls alongside the property. Fourth Chute is a unique waterfall that is great for exploring and taking pictures. The chute is made of large, flat slabs of limestone and it forms terraces on both sides of the river, forcing the water through tightly before it widens out again below the rocks. It is a beautiful gem in the Ottawa Valley and a place that I highly recommend you go when exploring the area.
2) Eagles Nest Lookout
The Eagles Nest Lookout is located outside of the town of Calabogie in the Greater Madawaska area. It offers a gorgeous scenic lookout that is like no other in the Ottawa Valley. On this hike you will find a 1.5 km trail along an old logging road that climbs gradually uphill, through the woods, leading to a spectacular lookout at the top of the cliff. The hiking trail to get to the lookout is short and not too strenuous so it is perfect if you’re looking for an easy hike.
3) Barron Canyon
Barron Canyon is another unique hiking trail that leads to a beautiful scenic view in the Ottawa Valley. Located in Algonquin Park, the Canyon consists of a series of spectacular gorges with granite cliffs towering 100m and more above the beautiful Barron River. The hike is 1.5km total, walking uphill for half the distance and down hill for the rest. Another great way to explore Barron Canyon is by canoe. I haven’t done this yet but it is definitely on my Valley Bucket list!
4) High Falls
Just up the road from the Barron Canyon starting point, you will find the High Falls trail that leads to a unique waterfall in Algonquin Park. High Falls is located on the channel of the Barron River that flows from Stratton Lake to High Falls Lake. This waterfall is not just beautiful to look at, but you can also slide down one section of it and swim at the bottom. High Falls is a great place to spend a few hours or even pack a picnic and spend the day. This hike is a bit longer than the other trails listed before. It can take about 40-60 minutes to hike. The trail is quite rocky, so proper footwear is a must. I also would highly recommend you bring insect repellent depending on the time of the year. The photo below is of my friend Megan and I sliding down the waterfall a few summers ago.
5) Buck Hill
One of the spookier destinations listed here. Buck Hill is a well known and supposedly haunted destination in the Ottawa Valley. Locals tell a story that one stormy night during the depression, a logger returned to his home on the top of Buck Hill. He cautioned his young daughter to remain indoors while he went out to fetch some firewood. Upon his return he realized his daughter had gone outside. The anxious father grabbed his lantern and began to search for his missing child. He searched for hours and was unable to find her. The legend goes that the logger went mad with grief, never gave up his search, and would search the hill every night with his lantern until his death. To this day people say if you go to the top of the hill you can still see the loggers lantern floating through the bush. I have been to Buck Hill two times in my life and can honestly say that some spooky stuff happened. I wish I had a photo of all my friends faces when we went to Buck Hill! I definitely recommend going with a car full of friends some night if you’re looking for a good scare like we had.
6) Balaclava and Newfoundout
Balaclava and Newfoundout are two “ghost towns” in the Ottawa Valley located about 20 minutes apart. I am putting them together in the same section since both are fairly small so I’d recommend visiting them on the same day. Balaclava used to be a bustling lumber community and when you visit, you can still see the worn-down remains of the old sawmill. Once the mill closed down, Balaclava became the ghost town it is today. Although it is not as abandoned as it used to be, it is still a fun and historic destination to visit. Balaclava is located on Constant Lake and you can park your car at the boat launch and take a walk up the road to check out the old sawmill.
Newfoundout was a community where 13 families made their homes up a large mountain ridge on a trail just off the Opeongo Rd. Newfoundout was built in an attempt to colonize the area in the 1800’s. The land was difficult to farm and the topography and weather of the area made it a difficult environment to live in. The area became officially abandoned in the 1950’s. To this day the family's wooden homes and barns still stand. Both locations have some beautiful and historic buildings to see during the day and are very spooky and creepy at night. So depending on what kind of excursion you are seeking, choose the time of day that you visit wisely. Below is a photo of one of the old abandoned homes in Newfoundout.
7) Oiseau Rock
Oiseau Rock is a sheer, rock cliff that rises out of the Ottawa River. This historical record indicates that Indigenous people have considered Oiseau Rock to be a sacred site. From a 5km hiking trail through the bush, you can get to the top of the cliff to see the natural and scenic lookout. At the top of the Rock is a spring-fed lake and a lookout where you can take in great views up and down the river. If you’re looking to cool down after your hike you can climb up some smaller rocks at the bottom of the cliff and jump into the water. This destination can only be reached from the water so your best bet to get there would be by boat.
8) Shaw Woods
The Shaw Woods Outdoor Education Centre is a gorgeous nature preserve located on Bulger Road. This location has a 4 km hiking trail through a protected area of old growth forest. The trail takes you to a beautiful lookout overlooking the Snake River. Walking through this forest is incredibly breathtaking and calming. You can see trees that are 200 years old or more. If you’re curious about what type of flora and fauna you’re looking at, there are plaques along the trails identifying trees and plants. It is one of the few untouched natural wonders left so I would definitely recommend exploring this site. Entry to Shaw Woods is free, but there are donation boxes beside the printed visitors’ guides to help defray printing costs.
9) The Swinging Bridge
The Swinging Bridge in Renfrew is a beautiful destination for a walk or picnic. The bridge is centrally located in the town. It is a great destination to take pictures and is a serene place to spend the afternoon. The bridge is historic to the town of Renfrew as the original bridge was built in 1885. This is one of three swinging bridges in Canada and provides an excellent view of the Bonnechere River. This is a photo a friend took of us having a picnic on the ground below the bridge earlier this summer.
Burnstown is a picturesque village located in between Renfrew and Calabogie. It is home to some beautiful scenic views, unique shops, galleries and eateries. While you’re visiting I would highly recommend you check out the Burnstown Beach, a beautiful sandy beach on the Madawaska River. You can also walk across the Burnstown Bridge for a great lookout over the water. To the left is a picture of me soaking up the sun on the Burnstown Bridge:)
Now I only listed 10 locations but there is so much more to see and do in the Ottawa Valley. Some things you just need to discover for yourself. Thanks for reading everyone and happy exploring!