One of the first things you'll notice about Ottawa is how much green space there is within the city's core. In fact, two parks dominate the downtown area, providing terrific sites for outdoor festivals. Confederation Park, on Elgin Street, is home to Winterlude and the Ottawa International Jazz Festival. There are memorials to Canadian history here, including a fountain that originally stood in Trafalgar Square in London and has been dedicated to Lieutenant Colonel John By, the British engineer who supervised the building of the Rideau Canal. The lieutenant colonel was a major influence in establishing Bytown, as Ottawa was formerly known. Major's Hill Park, Ottawa's oldest park, established in 1874, is tucked in behind the Fairmont Château Laurier. A statue of Lieutenant Colonel By stands close to the site of his house, which was destroyed by fire. This park offers outstanding views of the Parliament Buildings, the Rideau Canal, the Ottawa River, the city of Gatineau and the hills beyond, and the National Gallery of Canada. It's also a major site for many festivals and events, including the Canadian Tulip Festival. At the tip of the park, just north of the National Gallery of Canada, you'll find Nepean Point. You can share the view with a statue of Samuel de Champlain, who first explored the Ottawa River in 1613. The Astrolabe Theatre, a venue for summer concerts and events, is located here.
Hog's Back Park is situated at the point where the Rideau Canal meets the Rideau River. A refreshment pavilion, parking, and restrooms are available. Immediately south is Mooney's Bay Park, which has a supervised, sandy swimming beach, a playground, shade trees, a refreshment pavilion, and public restrooms. Cross-country skiing is available in the winter, on 5km (3 miles) of groomed, well-lit trails. In the same vicinity, on Heron Road, west of Riverside Drive and just north of Hog's Back Park, is Vincent Massey Park, a popular place for family celebrations and other large gatherings. Amenities include ball diamonds, horseshoe pits, a bandstand, picnic tables, fireplaces, a refreshment pavilion, playing fields, recreational pathways, drinking fountains, and public restrooms. A parking fee is charged from May to October.
When it's time to let off some steam, there's canoeing or boating at Dow's Lake, biking along the canal or ice skating on it, plus activities outside the city in Gatineau Park.
One of the star attractions in an Ottawa visit is Gatineau Park, which is across the river in Québec. It begins just 3km (2 miles) from Parliament, yet holds some 35,000 hectares (86,486 acres) of woodland and lakes, all named after the Québec notary-turned-explorer Nicolas Gatineau. This park was inaugurated in 1938, when the federal government bought up large tracts of land in the Gatineau Hills to put a halt to logging, development, and forest destruction in the region. Black bear, timber wolf, otter, marten, and raccoon are joined by white-tailed deer, beaver, and more than 100 species of birds.
The park's facilities include 145km (90 miles) of hiking trails and supervised swimming beaches at Meech Lake, Lac Philippe, and Lac la Pêche. Canoes, kayaks, and rowboats can be rented at Lac Philippe and Lac la Pêche. Motorboats are only permitted on Lac la Pêche, where motors up to 10 horsepower may be used for fishing. Most of the park's lakes can be fished (if it's not allowed, it will be posted), too -- a Québec license is required, and can be obtained at many of the convenience stores around the park.
Camping facilities are at or near Lac Philippe, accessible by highways 5, 105, and 366; there are also 35 canoe camping sites at Lac la Pêche. For details on camping facilities, contact the Gatineau Park Visitor Centre, 33 Scott Rd., Chelsea, PQ J9B 1R5 (tel. 800/465-1867 or 819/827-2020; www.capitaleducanada.gc.ca/gatineau), or the National Capital Commission, 40 Elgin St., Suite 202, Ottawa, ON K1P 1C7. Reservations are vital.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.