Best Places to See Fall Colours in Ottawa

Golden hour on Meech Lake during fall

I wrote a similar post last year but in light of travel restrictions, I thought I’d repost a COVID-19 friendly fall colours in Ottawa post. My last post (click here) included a few day trips to Quebec and to our neighbour’s down south (United States), which is becoming more likely to visit this fall season!

I love this time of year. The cooler nights, fall fashion, haunting season, pumpkin spice everything and most of all: fall foliage. Who doesn’t love the oranges and reds and yellows!? I recommend using the Ottawa Fall Colour Report/fall foliage maps available online (suggestion: Google “Place+Fall Foliage Map” or for Ontarians, see here) that show you the progress of colours. The best time to see fall colours in Ottawa is near the end of September/ beginning of October. Ottawa/Gatineau hosts the Fall Rhapsody each year, which also provides a shuttle bus from downtown Ottawa (byward market) to select trails in Gatineau Park. Each area I’ve listed below will have varying colour changing degrees so I recommend the map above when planning your visit.

As a photographer, the best thing you can do is just go out and shoot! There are so many fun things to do in Ottawa, and admiring all the vibrant trees is one of them. But here are some locations for those of you that need some ideas. I’m taking a week off work in October to chase the fall colours!

Major’s Hill Park

A park full of trees with iconic Ottawa landmarks to capture in photos? DONE.
Getting there: find somewhere to park your car in the Byward Market (or, if you’re up for a walk, at City Hall for free evenings and weekends) or hop on your bike and take the Rideau Canal Pathway to the hill.
Tips: Pick up a leaf of every colour, fan them out and take a shot (see below).

Changing leaves in Ottawa at Major's Hill park

Parliament Hill

Parliament Hill itself is under construction but the stairs behind the hill are open until winter! Take a walk behind the Parliment Buildings for some stunning views across the Ottawa River.
Getting there: find somewhere to park your car in the Byward Market (or, if you’re up for a walk, at City Hall for free evenings and weekends) or hop on your bike and take the Trans Canada Trail/Ottawa River Trail along the Ottawa River.
Photo Tip: Walk to the top of the stairs and take a photo of the fall foliage.

Fall autumn colours on parliament hill in Ottawa Ontario

Dominion Arboretum, Ornamental Gardens and Experimental Farm

There is a huge tree in the middle of the Ornamental Gardens that I can’t wait to check out periodically this season for optimum fall colour. The Dominion Arboretum is also an excellent place to check out the changing leaves – there are over 1,000 species of trees.
Getting there: park your car at the Arboretum off Prince of Wales Drive and walk to the Ornamental Gardens or hop on your bike and take the Experimental Farm Pathway.
Photo Tip: Check out the row of trees along Morningside Lane during golden hour.

Mer Bleue Bog Trail

Mer Bleue Bog Boardwalk trail is stunning year round and especially beautiful during the fall. If you’re lucky and head there in the early morning, you may get lucky and see fog rolling in over the bog.

Mer Bleue Bog Trail with red and orange trees at the end of the boardwalk trail

Hog’s Back Falls

I recently discovered a loop from the Rideau River Pathway to Hog’s Back Falls – see here. This is such a fun waterfall in Ottawa, links to both the Rideau River Pathway and Rideau Canal Pathway and is a short walk from Mooney’s Bay and Vincent Massey Park. Stick around for the afternoon and enjoy the thundering sound of Hog’s Back Falls.
Getting there: park your car in the small lot or at Vincent Massey Park for a bit of a walk.
Photo Tips: Stand at one of the lookouts and capture the falls with fall foliage or take a sunburst through the trees.

Sunburst through orange leaves on a tree at Hog's Back Falls

Rideau Canal

I love biking in the crisp fall weather but walking along the paths is also a great way to stop for some photos. If you’re up for it, take out your kayak on the river and check out the colours near the Arboretum or downtown.
Getting there: park your car on a side street, at City Hall (free on evenings and weekends) or hop on your bike and cycle the paths.
Photo Tips: On a still (not windy) day, you can get some amazing reflections on the Rideau Canal. Or, stand on one of the bridges that cross the canal and get the fall colours with the winding canal (the Bank Street Bridge is an excellent location for this).

Rideau Canal and multi-use pathway during fall in Ottawa

Calabogie/Eagles Nest Lookout

A trip to the Calabogie Peaks Resort Fall Colours Chairlift and Eagles Nest Lookout during fall is a must. A perfect day trip with your family, is kid friendly and offers beautiful views of the fall foliage. The Blackbird Cafe is an adorable cafe with excellent food!
Getting there: About a 1.5 hour drive west of Ottawa, there is a small trailhead parking lot for the Eagles Nest Lookout. If you also stop at the Calabogie Peaks Resort, there is of parking at the offices where you buy your chairlift tickets.
Photo Tip: Make sure to capture both you on the rock and the fall foliage below for an epic photo. If you want a sunset fall photo, bring your headlamp!

Woman at Eagles Nest Hiking Lookout admiring the yellow and red and orange trees during fall

Museum of History

This is one of the best views of Parliament Hill in the city. From the museum, you can see Parliament Hill, Fairmont Château Laurier, The National Art Gallery, Alexandra Bridge, and the Ottawa River. With only a 15 minute drive across the river, you’re going to want to put this location at the top of your list!
Getting there: park your car at the Museum of History or along a side street.
Photo Tip: Frame Parliament Hill with two trees by the River or with the aesthetic Museum itself!

Parliament hill seen from the Museum of History in Gatineau with yellow and orange and green trees on the hill

Ottawa/Gatineau Bridges: Alexandra, Portage or Macdonald-Cartier

Another amazing view of Parliament Hill is from the bridges crossing the Ottawa River. Any one of the bridges listed above will provide amazing views across the river.
Photo Tip: Head out in the early morning to try to catch a sunrise or get some moody foggy shots.

Gatineau Park

I suggest checking out the NCC website for a detailed list of how to enjoy the fall foliage experience in Gatineau Park. From what I can see, the free shuttle will run from September 26 to October 25 (on weekends) from Downtown Ottawa and will stop at three (3) places in Gatineau Park. The earlier you can get to the park, the better! I guarantee it will be busy.

Pink Lake in fall with yellow and orange and green trees reflecting in the water

Mont Ste. Marie

Mont Ste. Marie is a ski hill about an hour north of downtown Ottawa. You can buy a chairlift ticket and either ride the lift back down or hike or mountain bike down the hill.
Getting there: You’ll want a car to drive to the resort.
Photo Tip: You can rent a helicopter to take you around the resort.

Mont Ste. Marie chairlift in the fall with a background of yellow and orange and red and green trees

Mont Tremblant Village

I’ve actually never been to Tremblant but have plans to go this year to check out the fall colours! You can also get a chairlift ticket for some spectacular views of the hill.
Getting there: You’ll want a car to drive to the resort.
Photo Tip: Walk to the top of the hill to look out over Mont Tremblant

Biplane Adventure or Helicopter Ride

I did the biplane adventure last year and would love to do a helicopter ride! There are various types of flights for each, so check out the website for the one you would be most interested in.

Ottawa biplane adventure aerial of Ottawa fall colours

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