Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Peakbagging in Ottawa?

I just read this great story on OutSideMom.com.

What an inspiring story of a Mom and her daughter's getting out into nature and setting big goals. I just wanted to share it!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Favourite Ottawa hikes with kids

We do a lot of hikes in the Ottawa area, and we often get asked where our favourite hikes are for kids. After sending out a few emails (and compiling this information from scratch each time because of my lack of organization!), I thought I'd put it in a blog post.We have been doing these hikes from when the kids were babies in backpacks up to the preschool/kindergarten age, so my take on appropriate distance will be for little kids. We hike in the winter and summer, and I'll note below when a trail is only summer accessible.

The trails we hike are covered by the NCC Greenbelt Trails networks, the Gatineau Park trail network, and Mud lake (which falls under the Britannia Conservation Area, I believe). The first two have maps available in PDF:
NCC Greenbelt
NCC Gatineau Park (winter, summer: it's important to use the right season map because in the winter a number of roads and trails are closed; usually mid/late-October to mid-May, check their website to confirm)
These maps are also available at the visitor's centres in paper.
I have never found a map of the Mud Lake trail itself, but the Google Map shows where the lake is, and the trailhead is on Cassels St.

The notes I've included here are just from memory (e.g., if dogs are allowed, if there are toilets at the trailhead, etc., so I recommend calling the information numbers for further information or checking the map legends as this information is included in the NCC Greenbelt Trail map)

The following is a list of our favourites, grouped by the trail network but otherwise in no particular order:
1. Mud Lake: This is a really nice little trail, right near the heart of the city. There is free parking on the shoulder of Cassels St. There is always wildlife to see (birds, ducks, turtles, squirrels, herons, fish to see at the dock) depending on the season. This trail should go the whole way around the lake and end further down the road by the water treatment plant, but we've actually never been the whole way around so I can't speak to the second half of the trail. There is also a shorter trail that follows the ridge on the North side of the road (which allows dogs on leash) and you can take little side trails down to the river from there. We usually start at the trailhead on the South side of the road, which circles the lake. There is a nice dock down a side trail about 1/3 of the way around, which is a great snack stop and a good spot to see birds, ducks, and even catfish and turtles in the water.

Gatineau Park (these trails all have parking lots marked with the trail name):
1. Waterfall Trail: You can access this trail in the summer from the Champlain Parkway. This is a nice short trail with the reward of a waterfall at the end! The trail starts by going through a large culvert under the road, which the kids love. Then it follows a creek, which it crosses a couples times with small bridges ending in a waterfall. There is a bench at the waterfall lookout, which is a great snack stop. This trail actually connects with the Lauriault Trail (see below) for those looking for a longer hike.
2. King Mountain: Further up the Champlain Parkway is the King Mountain Trail parking lot. This is a beautiful trail with lovely views and interesting interpretive signs about the geography and wildlife in the area. The loop is a little long, but we've done with the 3-5 year old crowd. Or you can do an out and back to main lookout area. This trail is only accessible in the summer as the Champlain parkway is closed to skiing in the winter time.
3. Pink Lake: Probably one of Gatineau Park's most famous hikes. This is a spectacular trail that circles a very blue lake (not pink, due to minerals in the water). There are interesting interpretive signs and there's a bench about halfway around for a snack. This is quite a big loop for the little kids, and there are a lot of stairs. I found we did this hike when the kids were in backpacks and then we only did it again once they were about 4, and even then they were pretty tired by the end! The trail also follows quite close to the water in parts, so it might not be the safest for the newly-walking age.This trail is only open in the summer. There are outhouses at the trailhead.

4. Lauriault Trail: This trail is also accessed from the Champlain Parkway. It follows a longer route to connect up with the Waterfall Trail (see above), or it's just a nice out and back for those with shorter legs. The route is a bit hilly and has some nice views over the valley. There is one lovely view with a bench that makes a good snack destination. There are out-houses at the trailhead here. In the winter, this trail (which includes the Waterfall trail portion) can be accessed from the MacKenzie King Estate Parking lot (P6) via Old Chelsea and back down Ch. Kingsmere. The MacKenzie King estate is also a cool place to explore the ruins, but note that it's a pay parking lot in the summer months.
5. Sugarbush Trail: This trail is a nice wide, flat trail just off the Visitor's Centre in Old Chelsea. It is accessible in summer and winter, and is actually groomed in the winter to make hiking easy. The loop is doable for this age-group if they're motivated, and there is a bench about half way round for a good snack spot. You could take a jogging stroller on this trail since it's well-groomed. The Visitor's Centre is where you can pick up maps and they have indoor washrooms. This trail is also conveniently located across from La Cigale, a homemade ice cream shop in Old Chelsea. Great for an after-trail treat! Or, if you're hungry for lunch, try Cafe Soup'herbe in Old Chelsea. An excellent vegetarian restaurant with homemade desserts (the have an English menu at the restaurant, just not online). But, I digress...

Greenbelt (these parking lots are numbered for easy location on the map, as all the trails aren't named. These trails are all accessible summer and winter, though some are used for cross-country skiing in winter so you need to be respectful of ski tracks when you're hiking):
1. Mer Bleue Bog trail (P22): A beautiful trail that follows mainly boardwalk through the Mer Bleue bog, a fascinating habit and history with interpretive signs. The loop is a good distance and can be done by pretty small kids. (Though I always brought an Ergo on hikes just in case until my son was almost 4.) This trail is out in the East end, off AndersonRd. There is a covered picnic area just between the parking lot and the trail and there is a very long loop that connects if you're looking for extra hikiing after the bog trail.

2. Jack Pine Trail (P9): This trail is a favourite in the West End. The parking lot is located on Moodie Dr., just South of West Hunt Club. The trail is set up in 3 concentric loops, so you can pick your distance. There are usually hungry chickadees to feed and we've even spotted a deer here once. The trail is part of the Stony Swamp Network, and the two smaller loops cut across the swamp on boardwalk.

3. Old Quarry Trail (P5): Further out in the West End is the Old Quarry Trail on Eagelson Rd., just South of Robertson Rd. There are often deer in this location, as people feed them. They can be quite bold, and seem to like carrots and apples! We've also seen a flock of meandering wild turkey's here as well as the ubiquitous hungry chickadees.

4. Beaver/Chipmunk Trail (P8): This trail is actually just across from the Jack Pine Trail, on the other side of Moodie Drive. This is a somewhat convoluted network of small trails that pass the Wild Bird Care Centre and head down to Beaver Pond. The WBCC is open to the public 12-3pm most days so you can work in a visit there as well! Their list of needed items can be found here if you want to make a donation while your there.
5. Mer Bleue trail (P20): Another trail in the Mer Bleue network is P20 on Anderson Rd. This is a nice trail and you can do a small loop (a little triangle on the map) with little kids. This connects up with a much larger network of loops as well.
6. Stony Swamp Trail (P11): This is another access point to the Stony Swamp trails, which does connect to the Jack Pine Trail, but is a nice loop on its own. 

One warning note: There are often more trails than are marked on the map. The main trail is usually fairly easy to spot, so if you explore off the main trail, make sure you know how to get back. Several of these trails connect up with others, so you can extend your hiking if you like. See the maps for details.

What trails are your favourites? We'd love to add more to our repertoire! If I've missed some information here or you have any questions, feel free to comment.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A little green to the birthday party

So, Q celebrate his 4th birthday last month and it's the first real kid's party I've thrown.

I had a few goals for this party: 1. For Q and his friends to have fun, of course. 2. To keep it from being too overwhelming and ending in the birthday boy crying. 3. To keep the cost down. 4. To keep the party green.

So Q invited 3 of his little friends to come over to our house on his birthday and he and I set about getting ready for the party. We decided to keep the party low-key, so it was basically a play date with a few organized games and cake. I also wanted to involve Q in the planning and making of the loot bags so that he appreciated how special a birthday party was for he and his guests. It also helped build the anticipation for him in the week or two leading up to it.

I think the party was a success and Q and his friends all seemed to have fun! Here's what we did:

1. Made a homemade cake together. Q loved licking the icing spatula the best!
2. Sewed drawstring loot bags from fabric we already had (something like this, though I didn't actually use a pattern...but should have!)
3. Sewed bean bags using flannel fabric and rice (again, I didn't use a pattern, but something like this). Quinn loved to help make these, and they were quick and easy. He used a funnel to fill them with rice and then tested them all out.
4. Emailed invitations (though I can totally understand the appeal of handmade invitations, especially for older kids)
5. The birthday boy also has a special felt crown that I made him a few years ago, that comes out each birthday (instead of party hats).

At the party we played a few bean bag games, with no winners or prizes. A bean bag toss game. We taped a wide ribbon to the floor and the kids balanced a bean bag on their heads and walked on our "balance beam". We also did a bean bag relay, where the kids lined up and passed the bean bags over their heads to each other and into a basket at the end.

The real winner game we played was non-competitive musical chairs. The concept is similar to the version we all remember as kids, but no one is "out". You start with the same number of chairs as kids and each round you remove a chair but all the kids stay in. They all have to continue to pile on to the remaining number of chairs. The kids loved this one and there were big grins and giggles as the number of chairs dwindled each time. Note, use sturdy chairs!

So, those were our few ideas for a fun but green and budget-friendly, non-commercial party. I'll be looking to do this again in about 11 months, so I'd love to hear more ideas!

A Puppet Theatre

For my son, the world is really becoming his stage. His sense of humour has really developed in the last few months and he revels in giggling and making others giggle with his antics.

We were looking through a sewing book recently, and he picked out a pattern to make a puppet theatre. It sounded like just venue for his creativity and performance to shine.

 Now, I love this book because it's just my kind of laid-back sewing.  The author provides hand sketches and measurements, but no patterns, and most of the projects are easy and fun. In fact, it's a little more care than I normally take sewing! I actually followed her instructions to iron seams and turn outs, and what a difference it makes in the final product (probably not news at all to those who sew...but a revelation to me). If it's any indication, my son said "Mummy, I've never seen you iron" when I go the iron out. Out of the mouths of babes.

The puppet theatre involves making a hanging cloth theatre with window and curtains that can hang from a small tension rod in any doorway. It also includes a thin bag to pack it all up in! I was particularly keen on this aspect instead of using a big box that takes up half the living room.

Q picked out the fabric he wanted to use (most of it is from secondhand sheets that we buy at the local St. Vicent de Paul) and helped me measure and mark for the cuts. He even helped iron. After that he lost a little interest and I got to putter at my sewing machine by myself for a couple hours.

We've been taking turns the last two evenings watching and giving puppet shows. It's great fun for all of us and the source of much mirth. We've even instituted a little puppet improv when we're short on ideas, inviting the audience to think of an article of clothing, a mode of transportation, and a food (or some such random combination to include in our shows).