Many seasoned travellers will assert that their most memorable experiences have taken place well off the beaten path.
And though the urban areas of the nation’s capital have much to offer for visitors and residents alike, the region is also laden with hidden gems in its more rural stretches.
As the city’s destination marketing organization, Ottawa Tourism is tasked with ensuring visitors get to enjoy the full range of what Ottawa has to offer.
“Often, if you go to any other North American city, you’d be driving for hours before you get to a country experience,” says Catherine Callary, Ottawa Tourism’s senior director of destination development.
In contrast, Ottawa’s rural experiences are anywhere from a 15 to 40-minute drive away, depending on where you’re heading.
“And it’s an easy drive – it’s not a white knuckle sort of drive,” jokes Callary.
Though the Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) is based in Ottawa, it nevertheless encourages visitors to check out attractions from throughout the region, even if it means heading outside the city limits.
While some rural communities fall within the City of Ottawa’s jurisdiction, such as Dunrobin or Cumberland, there are many more just beyond. These include the scenic towns of Vankleek Hill, home to Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co., and Almonte, among many others.
Choose your own adventure
Winery tours. Museums. Whitewater rafting. Whether you’re interested in food, culture or sport, Ottawa’s rural locales have activities to match virtually every interest.
To make it easy to find the hidden gems scattered throughout the countryside, Ottawa Tourism created its interactive Rural Routes map, available at www.ottawatourism.ca.
The DMO has broken down the region’s rural offerings into groups, each of which caters to a niche experience. Categories include: Foodie, Farm and Agritourism, Outdoor Recreation, History and Heritage, Artisan Products and Studios, Family Friendly, Breweries and Wineries and Entertainment.
Hosted through Google Maps, it allows users to peruse the many options available to them, select those they’re interested in and then customize their own “self-guided” route.
The map features businesses such as Cassel Brewery, the Diefenbunker Museum and Fulton’s Pancake House and Sugar Bush.
“It’s a living and developing web page, because we’re adding new things to it all the time,” says Callary.
Bike lovers can also enjoy self-guided tours, courtesy of the City of Ottawa. The municipality has curated 15 ride routes for cyclists to choose from, the majority of which are centred in or pass through rural parts of the city.
“Each one of the self-guided tours has tourism attractions dotting them all along the way,” says Callary. “It’s really another great way to experience rural Ottawa.”
Ottawa Tourism’s membership is composed of businesses with a stake in the region’s tourism trade, including restaurants, hotels and other such organizations. The DMO offers promotional and development opportunities for its members.
Of its 400-strong membership, there are approximately 50 identified as rural businesses.
To help attract new and repeat visitors to the areas outside of Ottawa’s urban centre, Ottawa Tourism has a rural tourism committee. The group meets regularly to discuss pertinent issues for rural businesses, and to collaborate on bringing in more visitors.
With the relatively short drive from the city’s urban centres and an abundance of options to choose from, Ottawa stands as a great destination for those who want to experience what the city has to offer in terms of shopping, restaurants and entertainment, but also spend time outdoors.
Callary points out that Ottawa has close to 1,200 farms in its surrounding area, one of the highest concentrations for an urban centre in Canada.
The region is also ripe with outdoor adventure activities, ranging from the many trails in Gatineau Park to OWL Rafting on the Ottawa River.
But even beyond the array of choices for those hoping to escape the bustle of the city, there’s one other big draw of rural tourism.
“It’s the people that make these experiences. Often you’ll find that people in rural Ottawa have chosen to be there to pursue their passion, says Callary.
“They’re very happy to tell visitors about those passions and their unique stories.”
For Ottawa Tourism, one of the best outcomes is that visitors experience what the city has to offer and become Ottawa ambassadors, encouraging friends and family to plan a trip to the nation’s capital.
Ottawa’s rural routes a favourite for tourists and locals Ottawa Tourism’s interactive map helps plan rural excursions
For more information on rural experiences in Ottawa, visit www.ottawatourism.ca.