Rideau Trail Will Introduce You to Backpacking

The COVID-19 pandemic made me realize that Ontario does not actually have too many backpacking opportunities close to big cities like Toron...

The COVID-19 pandemic made me realize that Ontario does not actually have too many backpacking opportunities close to big cities like Toronto or Ottawa. With the US-Canada borders closed, Adirondacks Mountains as well as other destinations in Vermont, New York and Pennsylvania are out of reach for most Canadians. So unless you're willing to get stuck behind a steering wheel for hours bound to Northern Ontario or Quebec, you're pretty much down to a few options. One of them is the 387 km / 240 mile Rideau Trail connecting Ottawa and Kingston, Ontario.

The Rideau Trail looks nothing like your usual backpacking trail. There are no tall mountains or panoramic vistas. The trail is quite humble in that sense, but there comes its biggest lure. It shows you the real country.
The trail nevertheless delights both nature lovers and history buffs.
It offers iconic white pine trees, sparkling lakes, rushing creeks, and good opportunities to see deer, chipmunks and snakes. By the way, the largest snake in Ontario, the Grey Ratsnake (not venomous), that can grow up to 185 cm / 6 ft, lives in the area.
Closer to Ottawa, the trail mostly cuts through numerous farmlands with some sparse patches of suburban forest.
Despite its name, the Rideau Trail only occasionally "touches" the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Rideau Canal with its famous locks. But when it does, you're sure to spend some time there. Besides, the locks gives you a guaranteed place to camp or refill your bottle of water on a hot day. If you're into fishing, this is where you'll want to catch your pike or bass.
My son and I chose to hike a 28 km / 17 mile stretch of the trail between Murphy's Point Provincial Park and Westport, Ontario. We started early in the morning on Saturday and finished by 3 pm on Sunday. We could not have picked a "better" time to hike. By noon the air would heat up to a crazy 36 C / 97 F. Quite common for July in Ontario.
I particularly like backpacking over car or even canoe camping, because you have to think through exactly what you will need. This includes all gear, food, drinks and clothing. If you take too much, you will hate each additional pound of your stuff as your spine, knees and shoulders will hurt badly. If you take too little, you might end up only eating dry snacks or getting cold at night. 
But what you need for sure on such a hot weekend is plenty of water. I think we took just the right amount - about 3 litres per person. It was probably the first time my son would appreciate how precious the water is for us. The good thing about the Rideau trail is that it offers a plenty of opportunities to cool off in a lake or stream. The treat of the day after picking wild raspberries and blackberries was definitely a swim at the Narrows lock after the last boat passed through. Despite the roads and modern possibilities for travel, the canal is busier than ever after 200 years of existence.
Speaking about the Narrows lock. "Before the arrival of the Royal Engineers, Rideau Lake stretched unbroken for 35 km / 22 miles between Newboro and the entrance of the Rideau River. The was, and is, no reason for this lock with its 1 meter / 3 ft lift, except for two factors - money and human life. The new causeway raised the lake's water level, saving excavation of hard rock, and therefore money, in the long artificial channel leading to the lock at Newboro. Furthermore, by speeding up the work here, many were saved from disease and death from the malarial fever which raged before the water level rose over the swamps behind the new dams", reads the information sign at the lock. Two things struck me: one - how smart the royal engineers were almost 200 years ago, and two - malaria in Canada. I can't imagine how different this country would have been if it was still the case now.
This is not a secret that Ontario with its British heritage, the way we know it today, started in the triangle connecting Ottawa, Kingston and the towns immediately west of Montreal. The towns of Perth, Smith Falls, Merrickville, Westport, all about 200 years old, mean a lot for those into the Canadian history.
The Rideau trail will celebrate 50 years in 2021. I can see how much effort has been put in by the Rideau trail volunteers to make it a continuous path. For those who don't know, this part of Ontario is a prime cottage country which means mostly private land.
In order to connect different parks and conservation areas along the way, the trail volunteers basically had two options: either make a trail lie along cottage or county roads or negotiate with private landowners an ability to walk on their land.
And, I have to say, they succeeded with the latter. When traversing through someone's property, the trail becomes a pretty narrow path that almost forces you to bushwack. We had to rely on yellow triangles that mark the trail. I actually quite enjoyed those sections as they give you a sense of what Ontario might look like when the first settlers from Europe arrived. But beware of ticks - there are quite a few of them, especially in a tall grass.
Walking along cottage roads is less fun. Especially with a gravel bed as passing cars throw up clouds of dust.
Apparently, backpacking along the Rideau trail is not very popular. In two days, we met no fellow hikers. Like zero. I was honestly quite surprised. When my son and I were walking along the cottage road, one driver even stopped and asked us if we were ok and whether we needed any help. People in the area are clearly not used to seeing hikers with backpacks.
Foley Mountain makes the biggest draw for the area. It dominates over a rather flat landscape and offers a nice view of the town of Westport and Rideau Lake.
Ironically, Foley Mountain is where the Rideau Trail officially opened on November 7, 1971.
If you want to learn more about the Rideau Trail or maybe even want to hike it, consider visiting the trail's official website.

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