This post is a part of my ongoing series about “Ottawa’s Hidden Treasures.” I love this one because you have no doubt walked or at least seen a part of this route dozens of times before – but have you ever taken the time to walk the entire loop from the Alexandra Bridge to the Portage Bridge and back? Because if you haven’t, I’m telling you — you must!
I’ve had this blog post half-written for a while now, and I just needed to add the pictures to finish it off. Okay, so I was not exactly lacking for pictures. It was kind of a time and organizational thing that got in the way. Because when I first started writing this post, it was looking kind of like this outside:
And now it looks a lot more like this:
Which tells us two things. First, I am WAY behind on my blog postings! But more importantly, it confirms that Ottawa is a spectacularly beautiful city no matter what the season. And whether you’re a resident or a tourist, this walk is too gorgeous to miss.
Our walk takes advantage of an easy 5K loop on paved paths – perfect for strolling, strollers, roller-blading or biking. I like to do it on my lunch hour and it takes almost exactly an hour – when you don’t stop every 15 meters to take a photo. I cannot believe that I’ve worked downtown for the better part of my career and never walked the full loop before this year.
I start at Majors Hill Park, beside the National Gallery, which is conveniently close to where I work. If you follow this route, you’ll walk across the Ottawa River on the 112 year old Alexandra Bridge, which is also known as the Interprovincial Bridge (no wonder we can never figure out which bridge is which!) Did you know it was originally built as a train bridge by CPR, and that it had a dedicated trolley lane for decades? It also has a gorgeous panoramic view of the Parliament Buildings if you stop and look back over your shoulder about 3/4 of the way across.
At the foot of the bridge, find the bicycle and walking path that leads in behind the Museum of Civilization, to the left off the bridge. You’re now on the Voyageurs Pathway, part of the Trans Canada Trail. Follow the path down in behind the curving walls of the Museum of Civilization, back to toward the river, and you’ll see the best views of the Parliament Buildings. I love this spot!
Keep following the path behind the museum and you’ll see the (sadly now no longer operational) outdoor section of the children’s museum, and the ruins of the old EB Eddy digestor tower – a nod to the industrial history of the area. Keep walking, but cast an occasional glance back toward the Parliament Buildings – they’re beautifully framed by trees at certain spots, like this!
Eventually, the pathway will bring you up to the foot of the Portage Bridge, where you can admire (ahem) the monument to bureaucracy that is the government’s Place du Portage complex on your right. Turn left and head onto the bridge and stare at the beauty that is the river to erase the Portage complex from your brain. To your right further upstream you’ll see the Chaudière Bridge and the Asticou Falls – a great way to extend your walk if you’re feeling adventurous. We’ll take the shorter route, though, and make our way across the Portage Bridge. The views of Parliament continue to be stunning from this perspective, and my camera(s) just love them no matter the season nor angle.
As you cross back into Ontario, you’ll see the new Mill Street Brewery in a 140 year old former grist mill on the right (what’s the rush, I’m sure we’ve got time to stop for a beer!) and the ruins of the old carbide mill on Victoria Island on the left. I love this spot. I’m fascinated by the ruins, and find this particular spot one of the most evocative of Ottawa’s history. You’ve got the old grist mill and the carbide mill in the foreground and Parliament Hill in the distance, the commercial heart of the city just over the rise, an homage to the First Nations people at your feet, the government complex behind you, and the mighty Ottawa River flowing through it all. How can you not feel the history of the place?
From here, you have a choice to make. You can walk up to Wellington Street and finish your walk in an urban way, wandering up the sidewalk past the Supreme Court building, Library and Archives, and eventually promenade past the front of the Parliament Buildings. It’s a gorgeous walk in any season, but it will bring you up hill – there’s a reason they call it Parliament HILL.
Or, you can opt for the nature route, and follow the pathway back down to the river. I’ve grown fond of this route, especially this time of year. You see a different sort of Ottawa tourist down here.
And let’s face it, while I do love the energy of downtown, there is something calming about walking along a river path on a sunny summer day – even if you do have to be mindful of the hundreds of other people who also had the same idea.
This may be an outlet for the city’s sewer system, but it’s still quite lovely! One of the many curiousities to see on this route.
As you hug the river, downtown rises up beside you. Soon, the Parliament Buildings seem like they’re towering above you. You can take one of a few sets of stairs embedded into the cliffs behind the Parliament Buildings (not for the faint of heart!) and visit the feral cat colony that lives near the West Block, or you can stick with the river path and catch glimpses of the Library of Parliament perched above you, which reminds me of a whimsical sort of treehouse.
And finally, you’ll end up at the first set of locks where the Rideau Canal meets the Ottawa River. Ahead of you is the Chateau Laurier, of course.
Have a couple of extra minutes? I’ve been meaning to check out the Bytown Museum for years. One of these days I’ll get around to stopping in! To finish our walk, we’ll hike up the steps to Wellington Street, circle in front of the Chateau and return to Majors Hill Park.
I think this may be the most beautiful walk in the whole national capital region. What do you think? Can you think of a better one?