The weekend is here. You’ve got a full tank of gas, an itching to get out of the city, and a friend or two to tag along. The makings are there for a spontaneous day trip, but where will you go? There are so many great places to explore within a few hours from Ottawa, where you can enjoy both the drive and the destination. Bust out that carefully curated playlist and hit the road to discover the best spontaneous road trip destinations near Ottawa.
Carleton Place – 35 minutes
The Lanark County town closest to Ottawa, and therefore the shortest of drives, is Carleton Place. Whatever you do, make sure you come hungry. Fill your belly at any of the exceptional restaurants in town, like the artfully decorated Smith & Barrel, brunch hotspots Freska and the Good Food Company, or casual fine dining spots Black Tartan Kitchen and Boulton House.
Walk around town to burn off lunch, or see if you can get a lane at Chasin’ Turkeys, a five-pin bowling alley right on Bridge Street. Before you head out, considering visiting one of the two breweries in town – Braumeister or Stalwart – to pick up some goodies for home.
Mississippi Mills – 45 minutes
Mississippi Mills is made up of several communities, including Almonte and Pakenham. Start in Almonte with a walk down the peaceful Riverwalk along the Mississippi River. Wander through Sivarulrasa Gallery, or hit the shops in search of housewares from Pêches et Poivres, unique gifts from Cheerfully Made, trendy clothing from Doree’s Habit, or a good read from Mill Street Books.
Is your stomach growling yet? Your next challenge is to select from the plethora of dining choices in Almonte, including Heirloom Café, Mill Street Crepe Company, and Café Postino, to name a few. Fuel up before you hit the road with a coffee from Gaslight Café or Equator Coffee Roasters before heading north to Pakenham to visit the Five Span Bridge.
Perth – 1 hr
Take a jaunt down Highway 7 to Perth, a picture-perfect town just about an hour from Ottawa. You’ll feel like you’re in a movie when you walk over the classic red bridge in Stewart Park, or sit in the courtyard of the historic Code’s Mill on the Park, sipping a rich hot chocolate from Perth Chocolate Works. Call ahead to Art & Class studio to see if there’s room in any of their classes, or ask about a private painting class for your group.
Don’t leave Perth hungry! Fill up at Fieldhouse, O’Reilly’s Ale House, Rocky River Café, or any of the eateries that beckon. Visit Top Shelf Distillers before you go to browse the flavoured moonshines that you can’t find in the LCBO, or bring back a few beers from local breweries Perth Brewery or Weatherhead Brewing Co.
Smiths Falls – 1 hr
Smiths Falls, also about an hour from Ottawa, is a nice place to get away from the busy city, slow your pace, and just wander. Hungry? Start with “the sandwich of your dreams” at the Pickled Pig, or have a seat at Axe and Arrow Gastro Pub, or Chuckles Jack. Do yourself a favour and save room for dessert at C’est Tout Bakery.
If the weather’s nice, wander down by the locks of the Rideau Canal, a manmade waterway that connects Ottawa and Kingston. See if any movies, concerts, or plays are on at the Station Theatre, a former CPR Railway Station that was converted in 2010.
Calabogie/Burnstown – 1 hr 15
If you like road trips that include a solid hike, meander down the 417 to Calabogie and Burnstown. Head to Calabogie first to work up an appetite hiking to Eagle’s Nest Lookout. You can park your car along Highway 508 and take an easy 30-minute walk to the lookout spot, or start from one of the trailheads on Barrett Chute Road just past Calabogie Peaks Resort for a longer hike.
When you’re ready to refuel, grab lunch at Calabogie Brewing Co or Redneck Bistro in Calabogie, or drive a few minutes down the road for woodfired pizza at Neat Café in Burnstown. If you’re lucky they may have a concert on that night – and if you’re extra lucky, there might still be tickets available!
Pembroke – 1hr 45
It’s a little further than the others but well worth the drive, still clocking in less than two hours from Ottawa. Take a drive out to Pembroke, a small city on the Ottawa River that’s as cute as it gets. Visit the shops on the main street like Pick-it Fence and Local, snapping photos of the dozens of heritage murals adorning the sides of buildings as you go. Call ahead to reserve your spot for afternoon tea, served Saturdays and Sundays at the historic Grey Gables Inn.
We wish you luck in choosing where to eat in Pembroke, but the good news is you’re bound to be pleased with any selection. There’s Ullrich’s, a crowd-pleasing deli, The Nook Creperie, Janna and Kerry’s, Blendz Smoothie Shop… See what we mean?