Taking the scenic route: Exploring Ottawa’s prime picnic spots one trip at a time

Siu Hong Yu is a scientist working at the National Research Council. Outside the lab he tries to stay out of trouble with live music, food outings, photography, gallery visits, running, hiking, good reads and cinema.

Forget about the federal budget. I needed some fresh air!

With the doom and gloom of cuts and job restructuring in the nation’s Capital, I needed to get out of the city not only to decompress, but also to accomplish a mission. I wanted to scout around for some scenic drives and neat picnic/lookout spots. The wind over the Easter long weekend was chilly and fierce at times, but it’s worth bearing the cold in order to plan for the upcoming BBQ season. What’s more important than spending quality times with family and friends, after all?

Day 1: Crisscrossing the Ottawa River
On the first day of my trip I was planning on sleeping in, but ended up watching the sub rise instead. Not that I was in any hurry to leave. In fact, instead of following the route the GPS recommended, I decided to take the long way to reach wherever I was heading. The day started off with a detour to the Rockcliffe Parkway. I have run and biked sections of it on numerous occasions, but driving the whole thing outside rush hour made me realize how lucky we are to have such a scenic route so close to downtown.

After turning onto the Queensway at St. Joseph Boulevard, I headed east to where the Queensway turns into Highway 17 at Trim Road. I continued along the river for about 20 minutes and then followed the road signs of “Old Highway 17” and “FERRY” and made a left into Clarence. Following the second “FERRY” sign at Dallaire Road, I reached Clarence Island and crossed the Ottawa River on the Ecolos Ferry, a zero-emission cable ferry powered by rechargeable batteries.

The ferry has no propeller, and instead runs on smaller engines and produces less noise and water agitation than conventional ferries. For $7, the ride was smooth and before you know it, you are driving on the Quebec side of the river. I headed east on Highway 148 for another 20 minutes, and passed through Papineauville to reach my first destination, Fairmont Le Château Montebello. On-site visitor parking costs $5 for the first half hour then $10 for the rest of the day. The luxury resort is famous for its unique architecture and history. The lobby itself is well worth seeing and I would love to go back for their Sunday brunch. Out by the waterfront, a young couple was enjoying their walk, playfully snapping pictures of each other while I sat by the marina for a little picnic of pita, hummus and cherry tomatoes. Re-energized, I checked one picnic spot off my list and started off for the next…

Tracking back towards Ottawa, I turned onto the Chemin des Presqu’îles into Parc national de Plaisance. The park is not officially open for the season until the May long weekend. With its lowland ecosystem, boardwalks and guided pontoon boats, it is a birdwatchers’ paradise for sure. While I was in the area, I detoured and headed north on Montée Papineau then made a left onto Chemin Malo to visit Plaisance Falls. Off the road and further downhill, the main falls roared in the afternoon sun. I was truly impressed by the water volume. All the melting snow has to go somewhere, I guess. There are plenty of picnic tables scattered along the trail and a well-positioned lookout platform for the falls.

After making it back onto Highway 148, I headed west for Ottawa, but when it came to crossing the river, I decided to try another ferry, just for fun. I went for Masson-Angers’ Bourbonnais Ferry. It cost $9. The ship was bigger, but the overall experience was much the same as Ecolos. However, I did notice that multiple ferries were operating simultaneously, so the onshore wait time here may be shorter during rush hours.

Before calling it a day, I stopped at Petrie Islands at the end of Trim Road. By then, the wind had picked up and a few kites were flying by the beach. Seagulls were cawing and waves gently hit the shore. Cattails shuffled in the wind. Ah, the open space! I kept walking and caught myself listening to my feet rustling against the dry grass. I didn’t feel like going home…

Day 2: Due South
Whether you are going to Cornwall or Kingston, the 401 seems to spring up from our subconscious as the only way to get there. I had no idea what I had missed by not taking the alternative route! It was time to cruise along the St. Lawrence. After a lazy omelette, I popped in Feist’s album Metals in the CD player and hit the gas (within the legal limit of course). Under a heartwarming blue sky, I was bound east on the 417, took Exit 66 near Casselman and headed south on St. Albert Road. Following the direction for Avonmore, I turned onto Regional Road 27 and then made another left onto Regional Road 6. Not long after, you will turn right to head south, but note that you are still on Regional Road 6. I sometimes wonder how those highway numbers are assigned. Anyways, still trying to reach Avonmore, I made a right onto Regional Road 15 at a T-junction and continued south. Home free! Thank you iPhone navigation. Without a single car in sight, I switched off the music, rolled down the windows and savoured the pothole-free ride in an open field.

After about half an hour, I crossed the 401 on an overpass and reached the Long Sault Parkway along the St. Lawrence via County Road 2. The parkway uniquely links a series of 11 islands to create a heavenly spot for cycling, camping and other family fun. I was certainly taking a mental note of which picnic tables to come back to. Next up was Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary just a little stretch away to the east of Aultsville Road.

The sanctuary is a great spot to hike, canoe and bird watch, of course. Both the Long Sault Parkway and bird sanctuary are part of Parks of the St. Lawrenceand most facilities are still closed until the end of May (campground reservations are now open, though). As a result, I literally had the whole Naime Island to myself, and spent a good hour and a half there for lunch, photo ops and simply soaking up the sun by the water. A few flocks of Canada geese came and went in total bliss.

Legion Way and the cattails

Finally, I sidetracked on Lakeshore Drive between Morrisburg and Iroquois to check out the waterfront residential area and Legion Way near Cardinal for a quick snack before heading back to Ottawa for an Easter dinner.

Mission accomplished.

Your photos are beautiful, Siu! Do you have any favourite picnic spots you want to tell us about? Send us an email at ltottawa@gmail.com.