Unlike many larger national capitals, Ottawa, Canada offers quick and easy access to scenic country roads, gentle hiking trails and charming small towns.
Editors’ note: The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we travel. When officials ease restrictions, and when you feel comfortable venturing out, we hope our Road Trip stories help you plan safe explorations close to home.
This 137-mile (220-kilometer) Ottawa road trip loops from Parliament Hill through a large swath of Lanark County, immediately southwest of the city.
Theoretically, you could drive it in about three hours—but why rush?
First stop on an Ottawa Road Trip: Pakenham for great beer and a country store
Your first stop on this Ottawa road trip is the village of Pakenham. Grab your camera and take a photo of the landmark, five-arched stone bridge over the rapids of the Mississippi River (not that Mississippi River—this is a shorter, Eastern Ontario waterway of the same name).
Drop into the Pakenham General Store—one of the oldest continuously operating general stores in Canada—for delicious baked goods. It’s currently open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, from 9am to 5pm.
Next, swing by environmentally friendly Cartwright Springs Brewery, where brewer André Rieux uses water from the artesian spring right outside his back door to make his craft beers. The store is open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 11am to 5pm, and beer pickup is available on several other days by prior arrangement.
Almonte: History and hiking
Did you know that basketball was invented by a Canadian? Sure, he was working in Massachusetts at the time, but James Naismith was born and raised in Almonte, Ontario—now, along with Pakenham, part of the amalgamated town of Mississippi Mills.
Naismith is commemorated with a prominent statue on Mill Street in Almonte, as well as a small museum in the Mill of Kintail just outside town. The museum is currently closed, but the four miles (6.5 kilometers) of gentle hiking trails through the woods around the mill are open.
As you may have gathered, Almonte began as a mill town—specifically, as a collection of woolen mills. You can learn about that history at the fascinating Mississippi Valley Textile Museum, itself housed in an old mill overlooking the river. It is planning to re-open to the public on June 30.
Carleton Place: More history and a labyrinth
Here’s something else you might not know: The man who many believe shot down the Red Baron was also a Canadian. Look for a huge mural of hometown hero Captain Roy Brown on the corner of High and Bridge streets in downtown Carleton Place.
A few blocks away, the Carleton Place Community Labyrinth is a free, always-open retreat where visitors are invited to stroll, meditate and reflect.
If you’ve worked up an appetite, pop into the Good Food Company, a charming independent café offering breakfasts, samosas, salads, crepes and beverages. It’s currently open for takeout only from Wednesday through Sunday from 8am to 4pm. You could enjoy your meal in Riverside Park (175 John Street) or Centennial Park (169 Joseph Street); both offer picnic areas and river views. Another option when it reopens is Black Tartan Kitchen .
Perth: Pie, paddling and a drive-in
Save some room for dessert after your Carleton Place picnic, because the Perth Pie Company in the nearby town of Perth bakes up great sweet and savory pies of all descriptions (the pastry alone is to die for). At the moment, you need to order in advance by phone or email for curbside pickup, which is available six days a week from 8am to 4pm (until 5pm on Saturdays). The shop is closed on Sundays.
Work off all that tasty pie with some paddling on the Tay Canal, a small waterway that connects Perth to the much larger Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can rent kayaks, canoes and standup paddleboards by the half-day, day or week at Perth Outfitters, which is currently open daily from 9am to 8pm.
By this point, you’ll likely be thinking it’s time to find a place to stop for the night. Fortunately, the Best Western Plus Perth Parkside Inn & Spa re-opened on June 15 (although the pool, fitness center and restaurant currently remain closed). It has a lovely location overlooking serene Stewart Park and the Tay River.
But don’t go to sleep just yet! About a 10-minute drive away, you can pull your car into the classic Port Elmsley Drive-In for a movie under the stars. Opening hours vary and advance ticket purchase is required.
Smiths Falls: Vintage trains and weed
The last destination on your loop may be the quirkiest stop of the trip—not least of all because it is sort of in Lanark County and sort of not (geographically, most of it is in the county, but politically, it’s somewhat separate).
The town of Smiths Falls has bounced back from adversity over and over. In the latest twist, a former Hershey chocolate factory is now home to Tweed, one of Canada’s largest producers of cannabis. (Canada legalized cannabis in October 2018.) The visitor center is currently closed, but keep checking, as the tour offers an eye-opening look into the operations of a booming business. Note that you can’t buy Tweed’s products at the visitor center; instead, you need to go to one of the company’s retail stores.
Another spot well worth a visit when it re-opens is the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario, home to vintage locomotives and other rolling stock, including an intriguing car once used as a mobile dental office. Housed in an old train station, the small museum is also packed with railroad memorabilia.
If these two places aren’t open when you visit, you can still enjoy watching boats pass through the locks on the Rideau Canal, which runs right through the town and re-opened to marine traffic on June 1. Centennial Park (22 Confederation Drive) has picnic tables and a great view.
From Smiths Falls, it’s about a one-hour drive along highways 15 and 7 back to downtown Ottawa.
What’s appealing to the over-50 traveler?
- As a largely rural area, fresh, local food options on this Ottawa Road Trip are abundant. Highlights include cheese, ice cream, maple syrup (Lanark County bills itself as the Maple Capital of Ontario) and berries.
- All the towns mentioned are very walkable, and the hiking trails at the Mill of Kintail Conservation Area are not challenging
- Distances between communities are quite short, making it easy to take driving breaks.
- Before you go, look at the Province of Ontario’s latest COVID-19 updates.
- Note that, as of June 12, Eastern Ontario—where both Ottawa and Lanark County are located—entered Stage 2 of the province’s re-opening plan. Check out current information on what is open and closed under those rules.
- At the minute, interprovincial recreational travel is strongly discouraged. As well, virtually all discretionary trips into Canada by foreign nationals—including Americans—are currently prohibited. Details are available on the at Government of Canada’s website.
IF YOU GO
- For more information on visiting Lanark County, check with Lanark County Tourism.
- Also, see general information on visiting Ontario.
Photo credits: All photos by Laura Byrne Paquet.
Check out Laura Byrne Paquet’s June 2020 list of other road trips from Ottawa on her Ottawa Road Trips website.
Disclosure: The author has visited the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum and the Best Western in Perth as a guest of Lanark County Tourism.
Editors’ note: This is one in an ongoing series of close-to-home road trips suggested by our GOT Contributors. Also see:
- South Louisiana: Discovering Nature’s Glory
- Townsville, Australia Road Trip: A Patch of Paradise Close To Home
- Grand Country Colorado Road Trip: A Rocky Mountain High
- Carlsbad, California Road Trip: A Chance to Refuel and Recharge
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