Maple Madness: The Local Agritourist visits a sugar bush
Lara Bender is the creator of Agritourism Ottawa, a blog that profiles wineries, orchards, gardens, farm tours, and other agricultural destinations within an hour’s drive of Ottawa. When she’s not hanging out on farms and driving Ottawa’s rural back roads, she’s a product marketing writer in the high-tech industry.
How is it possible that I could have lived in Ottawa for 18 years and never visited any local sugar bushes before this year?
For many years, my idea of being a local tourist was heading into the city to enjoy Ottawa’s many great museums, restaurants, and urban neighbourhoods. It wasn’t until I started my Agritourism Ottawa project that I really started exploring everything that rural Ottawa has to offer. And I soon discovered that I’ve been missing out on a lot, including Ottawa’s fantastic sugar bushes.
This week I made a trip out to Temple’s Sugar Bush, in Ferguson’s Falls, Ontario. Ferguson’s Falls is located in Lanark County, which calls itself the “Maple Syrup Capital of Ontario.” That certainly seems to be true, considering how many sugar bushes are in the region – from large, year-round operations like Wheeler’s Pancake House and Sugar Bush, to small, traditional sugar bushes open only when the sap is running.
Before you head out to a sugar bush, it’s good to consider what you want out of the experience. Is it mainly about the food? Do you want to get out on some trails through the forest? How important is the educational component to you? Does a heritage experience matter to you?
Temple’s is a great choice if you are looking for an excellent restaurant experience, with the opportunity to go for a short walk though the woods. There are no sleigh rides, maple museums, or boiling sap demonstrations, but what they do have is great food and a very well-planned nature trail that families will enjoy.
Let’s start with the restaurant.
The building itself is beautiful – a brightly lit, two-story timber frame building with a giant fireplace at one end. The floors are made from trees damaged in the 1998 ice storm, including maple planks with old tap holes. There are no benches or plastic chairs like many of the pancake houses – this is a real restaurant that is used in the off-season for weddings. Also unlike many other pancake houses, you place your order at your table, rather than lining up cafeteria-style or at a buffet. And your order comes on a real plate, not plastic or paper!
There are many choices on the menu, but my eyes were immediately drawn to the Belgian waffles.
How could I resist something that comes with maple whipped cream, wild blueberry preserves, and my own personal bottle of maple syrup? One look at the plate when it came out told me I’d made the right choice, if not for my waistline, at least for that happy feeling in your brain when you eat something that is JUST. SO. GOOD.
Fortunately I had worked up a bit of an appetite while walking the Temple’s Sugar Bush trail.
This short trail winds through part of the 70-acre property, and takes approximately 15 to 25 minutes to explore, depending on how deep the snow is and how much you stop and look around.
The trail has 11 stops, each with its own nature topic. The Temples have done an excellent job of integrating the forest features into an educational program for all ages. For example, along the trail you will see a hawk’s nest, a yellow birch tree with “stilts”, and a beech tree with bear claw marks. You’ll also have fun trying to identify the many animal tracks in the snow.
Before you leave, you can pick up some maple products at the well-stocked shop at the front of the restaurant. I bought some maple granola, which tastes as delicious as it sounds! There are also maple candies, maple salmon, pancake mix, and maple tarts, not to mention lots of maple syrup.
On your way home, have a quick look around Ferguson’s Falls, which is a very pretty town on the Mississippi River with lots of old log buildings.
And if it’s not too far off your route, try to visit the power dam in Almonte. The river is so beautiful at this time of year, with its mixture of rushing water and ice. Just follow County Road 16/Wolf Grove Rd. into Almonte, and you can’t miss it.
Location: 1700 Ferguson’s Falls Road (County Road #15), Lanark (southwest of Ottawa)
Phone number: (613) 253-7000
Reservations: Not required
Hours: Open daily in March and April, weekdays 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., weekends 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Thanks Lara! Do you have a favourite place on the outskirts of Ottawa? Send us a note!