Sarah and Tim Johnson
For the Gazette
“Dad, before I head back to University, I would like to do something cool with you this summer.”
Words like that melt the heart of any parent but that is what my 19-year-old daughter proposed. But what would be cool – Sarah is super fit and active, and loves walking / hiking over cycling. We have enjoyed many day hikes in Frontenac and Haliburton but you spend half of your day just getting to and from the trailhead. Then I wondered – could you “walk” from Ottawa (where Sarah goes to university) to Picton (our home) using mostly trails?
A search of the internet indicated it was possible using the Rideau and Cataraqui Trail systems. I pitched the idea to resounding support, so we began the planning and preparation.
We set aside seven days between Aug 19 and 26. We packed our packs (~40 lbs and 30 lbs) with the tent and sleeping bags, safety gear, basic food and booked our train ticket to Ottawa. Saturday morning, we stood on the front steps of Sarah’s fall rental, took the obligatory photo and began our adventure.
We walked past Parliament, the War Museum and on up the Ottawa River Pathway – revealing rapids and scenic limestone islands I never knew existed so close to the nation’s capital . It was a hot day, 31°C without the humidex, so we enjoyed a quick dip in the river at Brittania Beach before turning inland. A mix of paved paths and woodland trails took us to Fallowfield after which we followed roads to Richmond (34km).
Our next day, we hiked through the Marlborough Forest ending at Burritt’s Rapids on the Rideau River. The lock master’s assistant offered us a ride to Merrickville – there is no restaurant or store in Burritt’s Rapids – where we devoured a pizza before camping at the historic lock station. We woke to a heron standing outside our tent, grabbed a hardy breakfast and got a ride back to Burritt’s Rapids so we could have a complete hike! Day three followed predominantly woodland trails towards Smiths Falls.
About 4km outside of town we encountered our first rain, but it felt good after three hot and sticky days. We crossed town to our hotel – pre-planning that a hot shower and a bed would feel good midway through the trek. After an amazing dinner at Boomtown Fusion Eatery, we restocked our food supply and turned in for the night.
Smiths Falls marks the official start of the Cataraqui Trail which we followed for our next three days. As we progressed along the trail, the surroundings become more natural with extensive wetlands with herons, turtles and raptors, mature forests with deer, turkeys, partridge, and chipmucks, and some farms. We met our first hiker just outside Forfar – an individual travelling from New York City to Ottawa – an impressive feat nearing completion. After a great lunch of homemade stew and baked goods at the Forfar Dairy we pushed on towards Chaffey’s Locks – our endpoint for the day.
Fatigue was definitely setting in but we woke to the sound of loons and a renewed spirit to carry on. We crossed the scenic Chaffey’s Locks trestle and enjoyed the tranquility of the mature forests, extensive lakes and wetlands, and abundant wildlife. After the obligatory photo at Frank’s Culvert – a natural stream that flows through a massive limestone hill – we pushed on to Perth Road. A kindly local appeared with some cold juice and snacks – which were very welcomed after this very remote stretch of trail. The next day we pushed on through “rural farmland” to Strathcona – the official end of the Cataraqui trail, 102 km from Smiths Falls.
Our final day had us following roads south and west around Hay Bay, across the Glenora ferry and finally into Picton. While we dodged several downpours, we got caught waiting to board the ferry and while several kind souls offered us a lift to Picton, we were so close we knew we had to push on by foot.
As if karma, the sun broke through and our excitement of nearing completion saw our usual pace of ~5 km/hr accelerate (a bit!). One last break at the horse farm, onwards to the Town Hill, a quick stop at Slickers for celebratory ice cream and we were met at home by two very excited golden retrievers and mom/wife Julia.
What a great adventure – 237.7 kilometres walked (323,272 steps for the FitBit crowd) in 7 days. Passed through an amazing diversity of Ontario landscapes and met some wonderful, generous people who reminded us of the kindness that sometimes gets overlooked in our otherwise fast paced lives.
We’re already planning for our next adventure!