Gatineau Park is located less than 4kms from Parliament Hill in Ottawa and is a local Mecca for anyone who loves the outdoors. Gently rising on an escarpment above the Ottawa River, Gatineau Park consists of 363 square kms of rolling hills and steep climbs through woodlands and rock cuts and is Canada’s only federally managed park outside of our National Park system. For cyclists, Gatineau Park is a dream come true presenting more than 32km of paved and often closed-to-cars roads and trails which provide the perfect setting for some triathlon training.
My last trip to the park started on a Wednesday evening in July. In Ottawa on business, I brought my bike on the trip to get in the miles I knew I needed to tackle the Muskoka highlands and the upcoming Bracebridge 1/2 Ironman. Parking at the Lac des Fees lot just inside the park, I quickly unloaded and was on my way up Promenade de la Gatineau in the company of many other riders. Getting your heart rate up on a trip like this is not difficult with several nicely staged climbs greeting you as you head toward the heart of the park.
As I found my legs I cruised along at my own pace easily sharing the road with both cars and riders alike on the generously paved shoulders. Eventually, I came to a stretch of road that was completely closed to traffic for about 4kms near the entrance to Camp Fortune ski hill. At this point my ride turned into a convention of self propelled enthusiasts as cyclists shared the closed road with Rollerblading fitness groups and hardcore Nordic skiers training for the winter. There was truly an atmosphere of freedom as we had the entire stretch to ourselves, flying along without a worry. Eventually, I reached the gate at the main road and once again headed north-west.
Having put 13 challenging kms behind me I was feeling pretty fresh and wanted to see how far I could go with the sun still high in the sky. Pushing on, what little traffic there was thinned out even more and eventually the road began to narrow get a bit choppier as I entered cottage country along Meech Lake. After several twists and turns along the shoreline I finally came across a large gate and several RCMP cruisers who clearly indicated that I could go no further unless I was the Prime Minister having reached the entrance to the summer residence of the PM.
With more than 21kms between me and the parking lot it was now time to put the hammer down and spin for home with the remaining fuel in my personal tank. Once back at the car I broke down the bike, and traded wheels for running shoes just to see how wobbily I would be as I ran along the trail for pedestrians. Needless to say the hills had taken their toll on my quads but eventually my muscles remembered how to run and I called it a night after a few kms.
In total, my ride lasted for about 2.5 hours having covered over 50kms of terrain that rose 870m from the starting point. According to my GPS, the first 12.5kms are the hardest with at least seven climbs that take you to the highest point on the ride around the 9.3km mark. From there you face one more solid climb before things flatten out along the finger lakes deep in the park. Bug spray is a must as is your own water etc. since there are no stores in the park.
I am lucky to live in York Region where I have easy access to several paved country roads that allow me to go for a quick spin. However, if you get a chance to be in Ottawa or Gatineau in the summer be sure to bring your road bike. The trail system provided by the National Capital Commission and the terrain of Gatineau Park helped me improve my climbing and provided me with a great summer evening ride.