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Do you ever think of the place you grew up as a tourist destination? I never really did, until I moved away. From that point on, I turned from resident to visitor when I make my way home. I’ve always been proud of my roots in the Ottawa Valley, a largely rural destination with many small, charming communities, and boundless natural beauty and activity, regardless of season. But winter is particularly special in the region, and it’s due time that more Canadians were made aware of all it has to offer. Let me show you around:
See & do: Pembroke
Also known as “the Heart of the Ottawa Valley,” Pembroke makes a great basecamp for jumping into winter. Itching for an adrenaline rush? This community is a regular stop on the Round Algonquin Park snowmobile route, which navigates through abandoned rail lines, old logging roads and the extensive forests of the Canadian Shield. Anglers will want to try their hand at ice fishing on the Ottawa River, while active outdoor enthusiasts should opt to go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing at nearby Forest Lea Trails.
Wander the streets
Be sure to make some time to enjoy the slow pace of small-town Ontario; explore local shops and restaurants, and along the way, check out Pembroke’s heritage murals, showcasing the area’s history and heritage. We recommend stopping in at Pick-It-Fence to grab your Ottawa Valley apparel.
Test your tenacity
Pay a visit to the Chamber of Secrets, Pembroke’s new escape room and the perfect way to warm up after those outdoor adventures.
Dine at Janna & Kerry's
Food, music and fun come together at Janna & Kerry's Over Easy Bar & Grill, located in downtown Pembroke. Husband and wife duo, Janna & Kerry, prove time and again that they know how to whip up a good meal and great coffee. Check their website for an entertainment schedule; you’ll find local and visiting artists grace the stage on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday nights.
Indulge at The Nook Crêperie
The Nook Crêperie has perfected the art of French-inspired crêpes, bringing "a little piece of Paris in downtown Pembroke." Savoury and sweet options are available and everything is made from scratch. Ooo la la!
Rest your head at Grey Gables Inn
Treat yourself to a stay at the historic Grey Gables Inn. Nothing will round-out a day of outdoor adventure better than some pampering at its onsite spa, whether for a facial, massage or mani-pedi. Sometime between your outdoor fun and adventure, plan to take part in afternoon high tea to add some warmth to your winter escape.
See & do: Calabogie
Ski the slopes
Whether to ski, snowboard or simply après, Calabogie is the best destination in the Ottawa Valley – thanks, in part, to being home to the region’s highest vertical for these winter sports. Take in the beautiful views overlooking Calabogie Lake, where you can also enjoy your time pond skating.
Hit the trails
Snowshoers and cross-country skiers will also appreciate the vast network of trails; we recommend the Madawaska Nordic Ski Network, Manitou Mountain and Eagle’s Nest networks (also great for hikes any other time of year!). It’ll be easy to find a place to lay your head after a long day in the fresh air, with an abundance of lodges and ski resorts around Calabogie Lake on offer.
Grab a pint at Whitewater Brewing Co.
You may have already had a taste of the Ottawa Valley without ever stepping foot in the region; beer from Whitewater Brewing Company is served at many venues throughout Ontario. Though a bit of a roadtrip from Calabogie, enjoy the views as you make your way to this neck of the woods. The company’s motto is “brewed by friends, for friends” so trust us when we say you won’t find a friendlier craft brew pub in the region. Sip a few samples, enjoy a few snacks from the always-changing menu and be sure to take your favourite brews home.
Be blown away by Bonnechere Bakery
Do yourself a favour and plan for lunch at The Bonnechere Bakery in Renfrew. My favourite choice is always a California Chicken sandwich on fresh-baked bread, complemented by either a beet salad or homemade soup. Round-it out with a half-dozen haystacks for the road, and you’ll be feeling delightfully satiated.
Find a cozy place for R&R
Those eager to explore the slopes of Calabogie will find Calabogie Peaks Resort the easiest and most convenient choice. This mountain getaway in Ontario’s Highlands is not only close to the resort, but also a short drive away from local gems ripe for exploration, like Mount Saint Patrick, Burnstown and Renfrew – the trip to each of which is beautiful during the winter season. But while onsite, be sure to sample the Bees Skis honey blonde ale at the Top Hut Café (a small mountain cabin is located at the top of the Lakeview Chairlift), made from the resort’s own honey.
See & do: Barry's Bay
Feel the adrenalaine
Are you the person at whom others scowl for your acclamations of how much you love winter? If so, Barry’s Bay is calling your name. The Madawaska Valley “steals the snow,” so to speak – in fact, you might even call it a winter wanderland. Snowmobilers can spend hours or days riding in and out of forested valleys via the OFSC and locally groomed snowmobile trails, while those who prefer self-propelled exploration should click into a pair of cross-country skis for the chance to glide through the Opeongo Hills Nordic Ski Club (a day pass is only $10 per person).
Enjoy the small town charm
Plan to spend time on a self-guided Heritage Walk through the community of Barry’s Bay (though, given its size, you won’t need much). This charming locale was originally named "Kuaenash Ne-ishing," an Algonquin name for 'beautiful bay,' given its place on the Madawaska River. Stop by the visitor's centre, which is located in a historic train station and also home to an ever-changing display of work from local artists.
Go where locals go
There’s nothing like a night out at the Wilno Tavern, located in the village of Wilno – Canada’s first Polish settlement. Here, you’ll find traditional Polish fare, said to be the best one can find outside of Poland. Tuesday nights at the Tavern are known for its popular Blues Jam, while the first Friday of each month is reserved for a Country Music House Party. Whatever night you choose to be there, allow us to recommend you order the Hearty Combo Platter. (You’re welcome.) Before indulging, you may want to wander around the Polish Kashub Heritage Museum & Park across the street for a glimpse into the areas deep history
Get off the grid
Enjoy picturesque views of nearby Golden Lake from Deacon Escarpment Cabins, Camping & Trails. Aptly named for its location atop the Deacon Escarpment, this off-grid cabin getaway will have you falling in love with winter all over again – especially from the fireplace warmth of your temporary home. Cabins come fully equipped with all necessary amenities and toiletries, though be warned – depending on which option you book, you may have to hike to get there. With over 900 lakes scattered throughout the region, don't forget to pack your skates.