Take advantage of what Ottawa has to offer for summer fitness
Photo illustration by Mathias MacPhee
Hiking and biking and running, oh my! Which of these classic summer activities will you be taking up this summer? Ottawa has a lot to offer for each one, but if you still can’t decide, maybe one of these student accounts will sway you toward some of the many trails and paths located around the city.
While the four-month break from school is definitely one of the most appealing aspects of summer, what always draws me to the season is the opportunity to finally get back on my bike and resume my habit of long-distance biking.
Biking has long been my primary form of exercise and the one I consider most enjoyable. I bike every day if I can, well into the cold November weather, being halted only by the advent of snow.
Whenever summer is in full swing, a perfect day consists of biking from my Orleans home to different locations downtown, sometimes as far as Gatineau. Ottawa is home to dozens of bike paths beside bodies of water—my preferred route is alongside the Ottawa River. Not only are you greeted with beautiful scenery and other friendly riders along the way, but you can spot all sorts of wildlife: Canada geese, snapping turtles, and moose are plentiful in the area.
I also have a tendency to constantly search for new routes as I go. One option for a quick water break is to bike by the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum, where I quickly learned that the open area surrounding the museum makes for some seriously windy biking.
Once I finally make it downtown, I usually find a spot in a park to sit and either read or just simply ponder. If I’m in the mood to continue, I bike across the Alexandra Bridge and explore the Quebec side.
I make trips like this every summer, and I have yet to grow tired of them. Nothing clears my head quite like an exhilarating bike ride, and nothing tops a day spent traversing the trails.
Take a hike
Once the warm weather hits, I can think of no better exercise than getting outdoors and going for a nice long hike. If you’re living in downtown Ottawa for the summer and need to get away, whip up some trail mix and take advantage of nearby Gatineau Park for a fix of the outdoors.
Gatineau Park has 165 kilometres of hiking trails that range from quick and easy to a hard day’s work. The most rewarding paths are the ones that challenge you a bit; whether you tackle moderate hills or more intense climbing, you’ll feel far more satisfied when you get home at the end of the day.
My personal favourite trail is the Lusk Cave Trail, which ends at—you guessed it—a cave. You’ll need a car (or a friend with a car) to get to the starting point, from which it’s about three hours to the caves and back. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can actually walk and swim through the caves, but this requires guts and water shoes—it can get pretty dark and slippery in there. Lastly, there are two sand beaches on the path back to the parking lot that are perfect for relaxing on afterwards.
Don’t forget to bring lots of water, substantial snacks, and a friend—especially if you decide to go into the caves. Even though some of the best summer days I’ve had are at Gatineau Park, nothing would squash that faster than getting lost or injured with nobody around to help out.
Run your butt off
I find that running is unlike any other sport. In traditional sports, like soccer or football, there is always some sort of end goal, but running is different. Many people don’t understand how you can “just run.” When I first started running, it was tempting to ask myself why I would even bother, but I kept at it, and one day it just clicked.
For me, running provides an escape from everything that is going on in my life. I become stronger with every run, and running becomes less of a challenge with every stride and breath I take. Once you pass a certain threshold of mileage, you will forget that you are running and it will seem only natural to be moving at such a steady pace.
Another thing that I learned to appreciate when running are my surroundings, whatever they may be. Ottawa offers some great scenic trails—especially along the Rideau Canal—but my favourite place to run is in Rockcliffe Park. There are lots of challenging hills, beautiful houses, and a great breeze coming off the Ottawa River.
I love that running is about taking time to be alone and to enjoy the moment and the beautiful summer weather. If I had known running could provide such a mental and physical outlet, I would have started doing it a lot earlier.