Five must-visit small towns within 90 minutes of Ottawa

One of the questions I get most often from readers here at Ottawa Road Trips is, “Can you recommend a small-town destination for a relaxing country drive?” Fortunately, there’s no shortage of good answers to that question, depending on whether you like shopping, dining, hiking, music, spas or something else completely. In fact, you don’t have to drive far from Ottawa to get a relaxing taste of village life. All of these spots are within 90 minutes of the city—perfect for those spur-of-the-moment road trips, whether you’re in the mood for a day trip or a weekend getaway.

Chelsea, Quebec

Photo courtesy of Nordik Spa-Nature.

Distance from Parliament Hill: 15 kilometres

Why it’s worth the drive: The ever-expanding, Scandinavian-style Nordik Spa-Nature is one of the best-known attractions in Chelsea, but it’s far from the only one. The village is also home to the Gatineau Park Visitor Centre and serves as a gateway to the park’s 361 square kilometres of hills, lakes, trails, beaches and campgrounds. When you’ve hiked, swum, skied or snowshoed to your heart’s content, you can refuel at the lively Chelsea Pub or browse pieces by local artists at La FAB Arts Centre.

Get more details on Chelsea.

Wakefield, Quebec

Red covered bridge over the Gatineau River in Wakefield with canoes in foreground.

Wakefield’s rebuilt covered bridge is one of the town’s most famous landmarks.

Distance from Parliament Hill: 35 kilometres

Why it’s worth the drive: Music lovers are probably already familiar with the Black Sheep Inn, which books a huge variety of acts into a laid-back, intimate setting all year round. If country inns and spas are your thing, the Wakefield Mill Hotel and Spa provides all the 19th-century charm you could want. Photographers often head to the red covered bridge over the Gatineau River, while culture lovers can catch a show at Théâtre Wakefield or an exhibition at the Fairbairn House Heritage Centre.

Get more details on Wakefield.

Almonte, Ontario

A statue of basketball inventor James Naismith, who grew up in Lanark County, holds pride of place in downtown Almonte.

A statue of basketball inventor James Naismith, who grew up in Lanark County, holds pride of place in downtown Almonte.

Distance from Parliament Hill: 55 kilometres

Why it’s worth the drive: Hallmark keeps coming back here year after year to film cozy Christmas specials, so that probably tells you something about the pretty charm of the place. Add in the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum, great food shops such as Pêches & Poivre and Don’s Meat Market, the Good Food Tour, the award-winning Hummingbird Chocolate Maker, fair trade organic java at Equator Coffee Roasters and, on the edge of town, the Mill of Kintail Conservation Area, and you have enough to amuse yourself for at least a day. Almonte is particularly convenient for west-end residents, as it’s just 25 minutes from the Canadian Tire Centre.

Get more details on Almonte.

Merrickville, Ontario

Stone buildings with red and white flowers in window boxes on St. Lawrence Street in Merrickville.

Beautiful stone buildings line St. Lawrence Street, the main shopping drag in Merrickville.

Distance from Parliament Hill: 85 kilometres

Why it’s worth the drive: If you like history, shopping or paddling, Merrickville is a great destination. For history buffs, there’s the Merrickville Blockhouse (open spring through fall), as well as lots of pretty 19th-century homes and commercial buildings to admire. Shopaholics can choose from all sorts of great stores, including Mrs. McGarrigle’s Fine Food Shop for gourmet mustards and other culinary goodies, Vinyl Destination for vintage records, and Gray Art Glass for blown-glass treasures. For kayakers and canoeists, the Rideau River awaits.

Get more details on Merrickville.

Vankleek Hill, Ontario

Garden Path Homemade Soap Vankleek Hill

Handmade gifts at Garden Path Homemade Soap in Vankleek Hill.

Distance from Parliament Hill: 96 kilometres

Why it’s worth the drive: In a word: gingerbread! No, not the type you make into little man-shaped cookies (although I’m sure those are available somewhere in town), but rather, the type you festoon along the roof of your charming Victorian house. Vankleek Hill bills itself as the Gingerbread Capital of Ontario, and it does indeed have lots of pretty architectural trim. If you visit, you can also check out the town’s historical murals, pick up some gifts at Garden Path Homemade Soap, visit some of the painted farm buildings that are part of the new Popsilos route, cycle the Prescott and Russell Recreational Trail, and slake your thirst at Beau’s All-Natural Brewing Company or Vankleek Hill Vineyard.

Get more details on Vankleek Hill.

These are just a few of my favourites. I’m planning to do lots more of these types of posts, so let me know your favourite town in the comments and I’ll add it to my list for a future post!

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14 Responses to Five must-visit small towns within 90 minutes of Ottawa

  1. Sara December 12, 2017 at 2:47 pm #

    Smiths Falls Ontario – lots to see and do!
    It’s the heart of the Rideau Canal; so many lovely bakeries, cafés (all natural local Artisan food, gluten and nut free), pubs and wine bars; 4 degrees brewery; free public skating over the holidays at the arena; the Station Theatre puts on regular plays; the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario has so many events pictures with Santa & train rides; and most recently home of numerous Fairy Doors (check out their Facebook page for a map).
    Close to Ottawa, picturesque, lots to see & do & eat on a budget!

    • Laura Byrne Paquet December 12, 2017 at 2:54 pm #

      I agree! Definitely a spot to include on a future list!

  2. Laurel Smith December 13, 2017 at 10:45 am #

    Perth, Ontario is a gem of a town: preserved heritage buildings, many fabulous restaurants, lots to see and do, including the Ottawa valley’s only professional theatre company, the summertime Classic Theatre Festival. Tons of awesome events to celebrate the holiday season happening now. Come visit!

    • Laura Byrne Paquet December 13, 2017 at 11:26 am #

      Perth is wonderful! I figured I’d spread out my Lanark County hot spots among multiple lists. 🙂

  3. Catherine Gutsche December 13, 2017 at 10:56 am #

    Whoot Whoot. I’ve been to them all. Time to repeat my visits.

    • Laura Byrne Paquet December 13, 2017 at 11:25 am #

      I’ll have to come up with some more off-the-radar towns for the next list!

  4. Anne Milligan December 14, 2017 at 9:07 am #

    Westport is a great town as well

    • Laura Byrne Paquet December 14, 2017 at 12:07 pm #

      Definitely! I love the nearby conservation area and the goodies at Rosie Yumski’s. Will add it to a future “cute towns” post!

  5. Bruno Doyle December 14, 2017 at 8:00 pm #

    Great list, I’d say it hits the mark 100%. Reading about all 5 brought back good memories, and made me want to go back soon.

    • Laura Byrne Paquet December 15, 2017 at 9:18 am #

      Thanks, Bruno–glad you enjoyed it! It’s only the tip of the iceberg; there are so many other great daytripping towns in the area, and I’ll be writing more posts like these in the next few months.

  6. Holly Massie December 17, 2017 at 2:42 pm #

    Don’t forget Manotick for its history and quaint shops and Osgoode With unique and beautiful Boyd Brothers ❤ Turn of the century cement block homes. Osgoode also has popular restaurant, The Red Dot Cafe and Bar AND the best vintage gift and furniture shop in the Valley, Country Collectibles.

    • Laura Byrne Paquet December 17, 2017 at 4:48 pm #

      Two great suggestions, Holly–thanks! I’ve been to Manotick many times but I don’t know Osgoode nearly as well; clearly, it’s time for a visit. 🙂

  7. Laurie Carter December 18, 2017 at 9:57 am #

    Delighted to see my new hometown of Merrickville has made your list. Couldn’t agree more. Now looking forward to checking out the others. Great post.

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