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Skating on Ottawa’s Rideau Canal – A UNESCO World Heritage Site

I look at the car thermometer. It reads -14 C without the windchill at two in the afternoon.

Then I look at my husband – and he’s got a giant smile plastered all over his face. The one thing he likes to do more than anything else in the world is skate. And one of the best places in the world to skate is on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa – A UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Cold temperatures be damned!

"A mile marker on Dow's Lake"

A mile marker on Dow’s Lake

We’re in Ottawa with a few hours to spare before catching a plane back to Calgary. It’s easy to rent skates at the Rideau Canal so I do. John brought his with him just in case….

Although I grew up in Ottawa skating on this canal it’s been well over 30 years since I’ve been back. I’m a little shaky for the first kilometer but in no time I’ve got the hang of it again.

"There are no shortage of people skating on the Rideau Canal on a Monday afternoon"

There is no shortage of people skating on the Rideau Canal on a Monday afternoon

The 202 kilometer Rideau Canal, the oldest continuously operating canal system in North America (and hence it’s reason for being included as a UNESCO site) was built as a supply route between Montreal and Kingston. Although finished in 1832 it wasn’t until the winter of 1970 – 1971 that the canal was opened to skaters. It’s the largest, naturally frozen ice rink in the world with a skating surface equivalent to 90 Olympic hockey rinks – enough to earn it a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. (The longest naturally frozen rink is on the Red and Assiniboine Rivers in Winnipeg.)

"Rounding the final bend towards downtown Ottawa"

Rounding the final bend towards downtown Ottawa

The area open for skating on the Rideau Canal runs 7.8 kilometres from the National Arts Center in downtown Ottawa past Dows Lake and on up to the Hartwell Locks.

We do 13.2 kilometres in total in about 90 minutes including a break for a Beavertail (fried dough with cinnamon and sugar) and hot apple cider.

"There are several places to buy Beavertails along the Rideau Canal"

There are several places to buy Beavertails along the Rideau Canal

"There are several areas along the canal set up with picnic tables and food stands"

There are several areas along the canal set up with picnic tables and food stands

"Downtown Ottawa is at the end of this section"

Downtown Ottawa is at the end of this section

Of course we have to pose for a picture as well.

"John and I with the Parliament Buildings as a backdrop"

John and I with the Parliament Buildings as a backdrop

"The zero kilometer park outside of the National Arts Center"

The zero kilometer mark outside of the National Arts Center

"1963 Vintage skates seen on a proud skater"

1963 vintage skates seen on a proud skater

"The downtown area is themost crowded section on the Rideau Canal"

The downtown area is the most crowded section on the Rideau Canal

"A beautiful patch of ice on the Rideau Canal Skateway"

A beautiful patch of ice

The Rideau Canal has been a huge tourist attraction for years. During the annual Winterlude Festival in February it draws up to 600,000 people over the 18 day event. And in a typical season the canal sees over one million skater visits.

The canal is a place for people of all ages. You might see toddlers taking their first steps on ice, tweens getting a taste of freedom or young couples out skating hand in hand. And of course there are families and the odd weekend warrior out to break distance or speed records.

The canal season varies from winter to winter. This year we got lucky as it’s often closed by the beginning of March. It’s hard to know when the canal will close this year as Mother Nature is in charge. Check out the Rideau Canal Skateway website for the latest on opening times and conditions.

The Rideau Canal is open 24 hours a day though first aid isn’t available after 10 or 11 pm. It’s free to skate but you’ll likely have to pay for parking. Skates can be rented at Dow’s Lake or at Capital Skates on either the Mackenzie King Bridge or on 5th Avenue.

Despite the cold temperatures I was warm. Bundle up, wear a face mask if necessary and avail yourself of the warming huts along the route.

Have you ever been skating on Ottawa’s Rideau Canal?

Leigh McAdam


Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure - & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project - a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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Join the discussion 14 Comments

  • Mike says:

    I tried roller skating a few times and finally got the hang of it. But, ice skating would likely be dangerous for me and ten times more so for any others around me! :) I would observe from the food stands, Leigh :)

    • @Mike It takes a while to get used to the skating but you could have someone pull you around on a sleigh!! And you would probably enjoy some of the food available along the canal.

  • I have always waned to go skating on the Rideau Canal – even though it has probably been about 35 years since I have been on skates! Not sure how I’d stop though since crashing into the boards is the method that I always found worked best! I might just skate as far as the first BeaverTails hut and call it a day!

  • I recently read another blogger’s adventure during Winterlude Festival. I like how Ottawa has such a great community event in winter and I’ve heard great things about skating at Rideau Canal in winter. I’ve only been to Ottawa in May on a day trip but what a lovely city. I need to try one of those beavertails too.

  • Beth says:

    We hoped to skate on the Rideau Canal when we visited a few years ago, but it wasn’t cold enough. No problem with that this year! We did enjoy the Beaver Tails when we went.

  • Erik says:

    What a great way to take advantage of the absolutely freezing winter we’ve had to endure this year!

  • Navah Mozeson says:

    Love the skating pictures. Would I be able to use your image -giving credit of course and a link to your website- for a website I am creating for a school in Ottowa. Thanks for your consideration.

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