The expanding mountain bike networks of Ottawa-gatineau
The expanding mountain bike networks of Ottawa-gatineau
While the Ottawa River separates Gatineau, Que., from its Ontario neighbour, the country’s capital, the two are connected as the National Capital Region (ncr). It’s the fifth largest metropolitan area in Canada. It celebrates both our national history and its regional culture with heritage elements within its boundaries. Along with the Rideau Canal, which became a unesco World Heritage Site in 2007, there are 24 National Historic Sites of Canada, a collection of national museums, art galleries and the Parliament Buildings for visitors to enjoy.
Sitting at the confluence of three major rivers – Ottawa River, Gatineau River and Rideau River – and lying where the St. Lawrence Lowlands meet the Canadian Shield, the ncr’s geography isn’t just visually beautiful; the diverse landscape lends itself to mountain biking and the region’s trail networks.
“I live just east of downtown Ottawa,” says Sandra Beaubien, president of the Ottawa Mountain Bike Association (omba), “It’s about 30 minutes to three riding areas. You see a few beginners out on hardtails, but it’s mostly trail bikes. It’s definitely a baggy-short scene out here, not the spandex-race scene.”
There are three main mountain bike areas within a short drive of the city: the Larose Forest, east of Ottawa along the Trans-canada Highway; Gatineau Park, north of the capital in Quebec; and the South March Highlands, in the west in Kanata.
“Mountain biking has grown quickly in the past few years,” Beaubien says. “We’ve been on the cusp of more land access for years and we’re starting to see that happen.”
Profits from active logging operations in and around the Larose Forest help fund the United Counties of Prescott and Russell’s mountain bike development plan. The Larose Forest trail network has already opened 16 km of fresh singletrack to the Ottawa area and more is set to open throughout 2018 and beyond. “It was the real missing component to the Ottawa scene,” says Beaubien, “because it’s the best place for families and beginner to intermediate riders.”
The trails weave through a thick pine forest with varying riding surfaces that are primarily smooth and
loamy, with plenty of bermed corners mixed in. All the trails are designated as both multi-directional and multiuse, so mountain bikers must yield to other user groups.
Gatineau Park is home to the capital region’s biggest trail network. Today, there are roughly 101 km of trails that mountain bikers can access. By the spring of 2020, the park plans to turn 50 km of unofficial trails into official routes for both riders and hikers. In the winter, 28 km of trails that riders don’t have access to in the summer are open for fat biking.
“Gatineau Park is a treasure we have right outside of Ottawa,” Beaubien says. “It’s a fine balance to protect it and to use it. More unofficial trails are being adopted this year, but the hope is to diminish the ecological footprint on the park and lower the overall impact trail users create.” The long-term plan also includes restoring other areas to help protect the 90 plant and 50 animal species that are considered at risk in either Quebec or Ontario, including the rare eastern red cedars, eastern wolf and some of Quebec’s only known population of Blanding’s turtle.
Camp Fortune, located in Gatineau Park, is the unquestioned mountain bike hub for the entire region. A $8.70 day-pass ($75 season pass) is required to ride at Camp Fortune, but the trails are well-worth the price of admission. A welcome centre, open daily, provides washrooms, snacks and repair kits at Brian’s trailhead parking lot. A four-person trail crew actively works to keep the trails in impeccable condition.
“Camp Fortune is one of the steeper areas of the park and it has the most technical trails, too,” Beaubien says. “There are lots of rock features and way less soil than the rest of the park. It’s a great place to train.”
South March Highlands have the oldest roots i n Ottawa’s cycling scene. In 2005, omba was founded with the sole focus of securing continued mountain bike access in the trail network. The organization succeeded. The fast, yet technical, trails that are home to a great collection of rocky features became the first sanctioned trails in the ncr. They’re still popular, too, especially on weekends. Beaubien warns, however, that beginner and even intermediate riders can be intimidated. During the winter months, the fat biking access is vast. Larose Forest is groomed, while snowshoe traffic in both South March Highlands and Gatineau Park keeps trails open for fat biking. Gatineau has two winter-only trail networks that run into sections of the park that are currently closed to cyclists throughout the summer. Closer to the city, the 15-km machine-groomed Sir John A. Macdonald Trail along the Ottawa River provides even more opportunities for riding in the snow. omba, which has grown to include more than 500 members and a social-media reach of more than
“Mountain biking has grown quickly in the past few years. We’ve been on the cusp of more land access for years and we’re starting to see that happen.”
2,000 regional cyclists, continues to work to improve cycling opportunities throughout the region. The latest project is a bike park that will soon open in central Ottawa. “The old Carlington Ski Hill has been unused for years,” Beaubien says. “Other groups had applied to develop it, but the city never saw anything it liked. We applied and were approved.” The project is moving forward thanks to financial grants from the City of Ottawa, mec and the Ottawa Community Foundation. Initially, the park will feature a pump track and skills area built by the bmxperts and Sentier Borealis teams. The bike park promises to become a valuable go-to for new riders developing the skills required to take advantage of the challenging singletrack that surrounds the capital region. “All the locals know how good the riding is,” says Beaubien, “but the word just hasn’t gotten out that much.” With new trails and riding opportunities opening every season, it seems the riding won’t stay secret for long.
leftCamp Fortune in Gatineau Park
above Camp Fortune