A woman in a yellow kayak paddling towards Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

Ottawa River | Ottawa Tourism

Ottawa Guide for Nature Lovers

A woman in a yellow kayak paddling towards Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

Ottawa River | Ottawa Tourism

Imagine Canada's vast wilderness—its craggy landscapes, unspoiled forests and mirror-like lakes. Now place that wild, natural beauty a stone's throw from the heart of a buzzing capital and you have the city of Ottawa.

Ottawa, the capital city of Canada, has a pulse that beats to the rhythm of nature; trails, skates and bike paths are the arteries through which adventure flows, with the cityscape providing an impressive backdrop. Here, the Parliament of Canada stands as a symbol of history, overlooking the tulip field that blooms in a vibrant salute to the season.

Come and experience firsthand a vibrant and cultural city that stands in celebration of Canada’s natural wonders.

Find your urban oasis in Ottawa’s many parks

Exploring Ottawa with the Parliament of Canada as your compass, you’ll see a city that honours its national heritage and breathes life into its lush surroundings.

At the heart of downtown is Confederation Park. Established in 1967 (the year Canada celebrated its 100th birthday), Confederation Park is not only a quiet sanctuary within the city — it also plays host to major cultural events such as Winterlude, Canada Day Celebrations and the Ottawa International Jazz Festival.

Nestled among Ottawa’s museums, galleries and the bustling ByWard Market is Major’s Hill Park. Few cities in the world have a park of this size and natural beauty within their downtown, with 5.06 acres of parkland to explore by foot or bike. Being Ottawa’s first park, Major’s Hill Park boasts scores of diverse species of trees (many dating back to ancient forests). The views of the Parliament Buildings, Chateau Laurier, National Gallery of Canada, Rideau Canal and Ottawa Locks are unmatched.

Within walking distance is Rideau Falls Park, where the dramatic twin Rideau Falls waterfalls that once powered nearby industries connect the Rideau and Ottawa Rivers. This uniquely Canadian landmark is just steps away from the Prime Minister of Canada’s official residence at 24 Sussex Avenue and is home to several historically significant monuments and memorials. Learn about Canada’s history while basking in its natural splendour.

Stop and smell the tulips

When springtime comes to Ottawa, tulips are everywhere you look. May brings brilliant bursts of red, yellow, orange, purple and white blanket the city’s parks and green spaces. Why so many tulips?

The story dates back to World War II when Canada sheltered the Royal Family of the Kingdom of the Netherlands while in exile. While here, Princess Juliana gave birth to a daughter, Princess Margriet. Upon the royal family’s return to the Netherlands, the Dutch government gratefully acknowledged Canada’s kindness by sending 100,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa—establishing a tradition that lasts to this day. In fact, the tulip is designated Ottawa’s official flower!

From this simple gift grew the city’s annual Canadian Tulip Festival, the largest tulip festival to be found anywhere in the world. This free 11-day event has occurred every May since 1953 and officially announces springtime in Ottawa.

Be sure to bring your selfie stick and biggest smile as you find yourself among more than one million tulips in full bloom, bursting into a city-wide spectacle of colour that even Amsterdam might envy. The festival includes tulip field after tulip field, fresh-cut flowers, arts and crafts for sale and the Tulip Town activity area for the children.

Stay after sunset to enjoy illuminated gardens and a sound and light show every evening on the blacklight boardwalks.

Let the Rideau Canal take you on a journey

The historic Rideau Canal is a natural wonder created by human imagination. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site as one of the greatest engineering feats of the 19th century, the hand-built canal attracts countless visitors from around the world — winter, spring, summer and autumn.

Where else but in Canada’s capital city would you find the world’s largest ice-skating rink? Stretching 7.8 kilometres, skating the world-renowned Rideau Canal Skateway might be the ultimate Canadian experience. Rent your blades at Capital Skates and skim the entire distance from downtown Ottawa to lovely Dow’s Lake, where you can warm up with a tasty “beaver tail” and a steaming cup of cocoa.

As the Rideau thaws, the entire area comes alive with strollers and cyclists while tulips bloom along its banks. In warmer months, the canal is best experienced by boat. Rent a paddle boat for a leisurely hour or two on the water or board your choice of Rideau Canal Cruises which lets you combine your cruise with biking or double-decker bus sightseeing options.

Why not stretch a day on the canal into a week or more? Le Boat provides a Rideau Canal cruise experience like no other. Imagine yourself on a private luxury houseboat navigating the entire 202 kilometres from Ottawa to Kingston, Ontario, past islands and lakes, through the canal’s fascinating network of lift locks and into enchanting small towns where artists, cafes and friendly shopkeepers wait to greet you. Dock your floating home and explore wherever you like along the way!

Explore Ottawa by foot or on two wheels

With its historic architecture and 800 kilometres of scenic pathways, Canada’s capital was made for strolling—or, if you’re feeling more ambitious, hiking or cycling.

The Capital Pathway runs more than 200 kilometres, connecting Ottawa’s endless parks, gardens, museums and all there is to explore. Join the many urban explorers, dog walkers, joggers, skaters, cyclists (and in the winter, cross-country skiers and snowshoers) who wind their way through downtown, the suburbs and out into the countryside.

With so much to see in one city, how do you make sure you don’t miss a thing? Book a tour! Ottawa Walking Tours take you through the rich heritage and history behind the city’s many significant landmarks. Maximize your travel budget by joining Ottawa Free Tours led by local volunteers who know and love the city they call home. These free tours are so popular that even lifelong Ottawans join them!

Bicycling lets you cover even more ground, and Ottawa seems made for cyclists. You can find RentABike and Escape Bicycle Tours and Rentals near most downtown hotels — besides two-wheelers, they offer tandem and electric bikes, and even trailers, so everyone can enjoy the fun. The leisurely Sightseeing Cycling Route is the perfect starting point, with a route that gently winds through Ottawa’s most picturesque sites. Or cycle west along the Ottawa River pathway past the Ottawa Locks, Parliament Hill and the Canadian War Museum until you reach the inviting sandy beaches and parks. Cycling south on the Rideau Canal pathway takes you through the vibrant Glebe neighbourhood, the lush botanical gardens near Dow’s Lake and Little Italy. Last stop, Hog’s Back Falls! Cyclists looking to experience more of an adrenaline rush have lots of off-road mountain biking opportunities available to them.

Engage in thrilling adventures nearby

With so much unspoilt land so close by, the call of the wild is irresistible. Rocky terrain, thrilling rapids and endless blue sky are your backdrops for a genuine true north adventure. Embrace your inner Canadian!

Drive a quick 90 minutes from Parliament Hill to Foresters Falls and experience wet and wild white water rafting on the rapids of the Ottawa River. The river’s history is rich; this is the same challenging route the coureur des bois (early French-Canadian traders) travelled by canoe as they trapped and traded beaver pelts as far back as the 1680s.

Travel in their wake—but safely out of danger in a high-tech 21st-century inflatable raft navigated by an experienced, professional guide. Both Wilderness Tours and its neighbour ten minutes down the road, OWL Rafting, offer 4–6 hour day trips and overnighters ranging from family-friendly to the extreme edge of exhilarating.

Perhaps you prefer ‘urban’ white water rafting? Ottawa City Rafting takes you along the Ottawa River and through the city, with a thrilling, one-of-a-kind view of the Parliament Buildings and downtown core. While pedestrians stroll the city sidewalks nearby, you can be cliff jumping and body surfing—it’s all part of the experience!

What’s next? Why not the sky? Picture yourself soaring at 40 kilometres per hour, more than 35 metres above the majestic Ottawa River. Interzip zipline connects the provinces of Ontario and Quebec (a true cross-cultural experience!) and provides a unique panoramic perspective of the city usually reserved for the once-endangered peregrine falcons sometimes seen circling the skies.

Beyond Ottawa, find endless biodiversity and beauty

Hop in the car (or, if you’d like to reduce your carbon footprint, a bicycle) and trek to the countless parks and conservation areas outside of Ottawa.

Just across the river in the province of Quebec is Gatineau Park, Canada’s second-most visited park and the largest conservation park in the National Capital Region. At 361 square kilometres and with more than 50 lakes, Gatineau Park is a richly biodiverse green space perfect for horseback riding, rock climbing, fishing and canoeing. If one day isn’t enough, overnight camping is available. The Philippe Lake campground is enjoying a complete makeover and is scheduled to reopen this summer. Arriving with winter’s snow are eager skiers, snow bikers and outdoors enthusiasts including competitors in the Gatineau Loppet, Canada’s largest international cross-country skiing event. 

Venture into Ottawa’s National Capital Greenbelt and the most ecologically diverse area in all of Eastern Ontario. This publicly owned, 20,000-hectare area was created in the 1950s to prevent urban sprawl from threatening the delicate natural ecosystems, resulting in an unspoiled, horseshoe-shaped region where time has stood still for generations. Today, the greenbelt protects farms, forests, beaver dams, wetlands and sand dunes—and their inhabitants, such as snowy owls, black-backed woodpeckers and Canada’s iconic beavers—from modern progress. Fortunately, nature-loving and ecology-minded visitors are more than welcome, with several hiking trails suitable for beginners and the more adventurous. Bring hiking boots or snowshoes!

Ottawa is waiting for you! Discover everything that the city and surrounding greenbelt have to offer nature lovers looking to experience Canada at its best. Visit Ottawa Tourism to begin planning your vacation of a lifetime today.

Last updated: May 9, 2024

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