Winter in Ottawa can be cold, snowy, icy, slushy and just miserable after 3 months in with still more to go. But there is one amazing and fun bright spot in it all, the Rideau Canal Skateway. I’m not a fan of winter. The long nights and endless cold really take their toll on me. Sure snow can be pretty but I’d be happy only to see it at Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, I love Ottawa but we get pretty harsh winters here. Thankfully we also know how to have fun in winter when the 7.8km long Rideau Canal gets turned into the world’s longest skating rink every winter (for as long as the weather is cold enough to keep it frozen). I only learned to love skating a few years ago and I’m still not very strong so I’ve yet to skate the entire length of the canal but the section around Patterson Creek in the Glebe is so pretty that I don’t really feel like I need to. This winter I’ve managed to make it over to the canal a few times and here are some of my photos. Also find my tips for visiting the Rideau Canal Skateway at the bottom of this post!
Tips for visiting the Rideau Canal
Check the condition before going. The ice conditions of the Rideau Canal are updated usually twice a day in the morning and afternoon. I usually don’t go unless the conditions are listed as good or very good since I’m not a great skater and I don’t like having to worry about big dents in the ice. Keep in mind if you’re visiting from away that warm weather can close to canal temporarily to preserve the ice.
The canal is divided up into sections named after their access points, so if you hear someone taking about Fifth they are referring to the access point at Fifth Avenue in the Glebe neighbourhood.
If you don’t have your own skates there are 3 places along the canal you can rent them (Rideau, Fifth & Dows). There are also washrooms at 5 points along the canal and a few skate huts to comfortably put your skates on, otherwise there are benches at each access point.
Don’t forget to bring some money for a Beavertail! Although you can get this delicious fried sugar cover dough treat in the Byward Market any time of year it taste best eating it on the canal after a skate. You can find Breavertails at Rideau, Concord, Fifth and Bronson.
Bring a bag to put your boots in. I always bring a backpack and disposable plastic bags to put my snowy boots in to carry while skating. Some people just leave their boots under the benches but I’ve always found this to be a bit brave and it’s also not practical if you get on and off at different access points. A backpack just makes thing easier and comfortable.
Dress warmly! It can get cold and windy on the canal so dress in layers.
Skating season is short so don’t wait around for a sunny day to get out there. The canal skating season is getting shorter and shorter with climate change. This year has been exceptional with the freezing cold weather we’ve been having through January and February but usually the canal will open sometime in January and close intermittently when there is warm weather and then usually closes for good around Family Day (3rd weekend in February).
Avoid weekends if you can since they are always the busiest and often result in poorer ice conditions. Weekdays are best and weekday evening have the added bonus of a potentially pretty sunset.
Follow canal etiquette. Stick to the proper side of the canal just like when you drive on the road. Don’t stop abruptly to take a photo in the middle, check behind you first or move off to the side. Give people space, you may be a great skater but not everyone is so give them space and don’t weave around them. Hockey sticks aren’t allowed on the canal.
If you can’t skate or don’t want to you can walk along the canal. The snowy parts at the side of the canal are safe to walk on, just be careful not to get in the way of any skaters if you are crossing the canal.