Skating the Rideau Canal

Skating on the Rideau Canal is one of those quintessential Canadian winter experiences. One of the upsides of the covid pandemic was that with everything closed over the last two years, we really had to go outdoors and embrace winter activities, like skating. My daughter and I actually got pretty good at skating, considering we had never been on the ice before, so I knew we were finally ready to hit the longest skating trail in the world.

Me showing off my mad skills at the Alton Mill pond in Caledon

There was just one problem – PROTESTORS. Ottawa had been under siege for weeks with the anti-mandate crew, who effectively stopped any visitors to the city and forced the cancellation of all the Winterlude activities, including skating on the canal. We waited, and waited, and waited for it to be over, and finally they all jumped back in their big rigs and hit the road. Ottawa breathed a sigh of relief as they left.

When we finally got to Ottawa in late February it was almost the end of skating season, but it was worth the wait! It was a beautiful sunny day, the conditions were perfect, and we simply walked from the hotel downtown to the canal and went. It was a great experience. So many families were out, some were skating while pushing strollers, some had rented the sleighs to push little kids, and some were even pushing seniors in wheelchairs!

Skating on the Rideau Canal is something you should definitely do in your lifetime, so to help you plan your trip, here are some helpful tips:

When to Go:

So much depends on the weather. If it isn’t cold enough and the ice isn’t consistently solid enough, the canal will be closed. We actually were quite lucky because a week after we were there the canal officially closed for the season. You really need to go in January or February before the deep freeze starts to thaw in March. The Rideau Canal Skateway has a great website that shows daily information about the skating conditions.

Where to Skate:

There are many access points to the almost 8km-long canal, but not all of them are always open, so be sure to check the Skateway website. If you’re staying right downtown it’s easy to simply walk to the closest entry points by the Plaza Bridge or the Mackenzie Bridge. From the street level, you’ll see the stairs leading down to the canal. You can’t miss it.

The view from the Mackenzie Bridge, above the access point

What to do with your Stuff:

It’s all quite well organised and very convenient. At every access point there are benches for you to sit on and lace up, as well as shelves and cubbys for you to leave your boots and bags. I kept my valuables in my backpack, and left our boots in the cubby. Others put their things under the benches. Word of advice – PUT YOUR BOOTS IN A BAG! If it starts to snow while you’re skating, you don’t want to come back and find your boots full of white stuff.

Stairs, benches and cubbies available for the public, at every access point

What to See:

The canal is gorgeous, and the most iconic viewpoint is at the section closest to downtown, with the backdrop of the stunning Gothic architecture of the Fairmont Chateau Laurier. You can also take really good photos from the top of the Mackenzie Bridge, above the access point.

Blinded by the light – take my advice and wear sunglasses! The glare is very bright

Where to Rest:

When you get tired or hungry, or need to use the bathrooms, there are Rest Areas along the canal where you can do “apres skate” and eat a Beaver Tail without even taking your skates off.

Beavertails. Because who doesn’t love an $8 flat donut?

How Far to Go:

That’s really up to you! We skated from the starting point (0.0KM) to the Pretoria Bridge at 2.0KM and then turned back because little one was getting tired. After skating 4KM, both of us were beat and our feet were hurting. If you’ve got really little kids, think about renting a sleigh to push them while you skate.

Resting our ankles at the Pretoria Bridge, at the 2KM checkpoint.

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