A bog in the heart of the city? Mer Bleue is Ottawa's best secret hike.
Plants from the Arctic tundra, a secret "sea" left over from the ice age, and one of the rarest micro-climates in Canada? You can find it all on the outskirts of Ottawa and - even better - it's completely free and accessible to visit! The Mer Bleue Bog is one of my favourite places in the city and I guarantee you won't find it listed in any guide book. Let me tell you what makes this place so special and why it should be on every visitor's bucket list.
The name "Mer Bleue" - or "Blue Sea" - came from early French explorers and they were referring to the blueish mist that rose over the area. There never was a sea at Mer Bleue, but the river, marsh, and bog are the result of a glacier that moved through the area, carving out the land and depositing the sediment that would go on to form the foundation of the peat-based bog that remains today.
The term "bog" might conjure visions of a slimy swamp, but we're talking about bogs in the scientific sense. There's nothing slimy or swampy about Mer Bleue! The area is sparkling clean and is an example of a beautiful, pristine nature preserve. And while the ground may be moist and spongy in some areas, the majority of your hike takes place over a boardwalk that has been newly refurbished.
(Two important things to keep in mind: You should never leave the boardwalk as the surrounding eco-system is too fragile to survive hikers. And don't be alarmed if the boardwalk sways or moves a little bit- it's designed with some flexibility to move with the soft earth and to float on flooded areas.)
I wish I could have captured the incredible sounds of Mer Bleue to share with you. The area was both incredibly quiet, without a single indication that you were anywhere close to the city, and yet it was alive with sounds. I heard birds and frogs singing, the gentle rustling of the reeds rubbing against each other, and plenty of mysterious splashes - but despite my best efforts I never managed to see what exactly was being so active in the water.
One likely culprit for a splash or two? Beavers! These industrious little creatures left a dam for us to discover. And this isn't the only place where I saw evidence of their handiwork. There were several felled trees bearing the tell-tale signs of being gnawed down by beavers.
I spent a lot of time staring at the water, convinced that if I stayed still for a long amount of time I would see them in action. But I think they were on to me! Fortunately, the rest of the wildlife wasn't so shy. We saw several birds, include a blue jay, some chipmunks and red squirrels, and a butterfly - sadly they were all too swift moving to catch on film.
The beauty of Mer Bleue is subtle and subdued. The highly acidic soil of a peat bog means that only certain kinds of plants can survive and the birch trees that manage to take hold will always be skinny and spindly. There are plants found here that are normally much more at home in the Arctic tundra. This is the kind of beauty that I love - the soft grasses, the fluffy moss, the reds and golds and greens of the shrubbery. It's not a wildly colorful botanical garden and I think I love it all the more because it's so unusual and unique.
I would rate the Mer Bleue Bog hike as an easy activity that would be suitable for people of all fitness levels. The newly restored boardwalk is in great shape and the graded path before and after the boardwalk is well groomed. There is a slight incline where the boardwalk ends and the trail resumes. Visitors in a wheelchair or with mobility restrictions would likely be able to complete the loop if they had someone with them to help guide them up the hill. Very young children, however, might find it a bit restrictive to stay on the boardwalk the entire time.
The facilities by Mer Bleue Bog are basic but all the important things are covered. There's an outdoor toilet, a covered picnic table area, a free parking lot, a map showing other hikes nearby, and bilingual signs explaining the nature and history of the area. There's no place to get fresh water. While this is a gentle hike, I recommend bringing some along to be safe. The boardwalk is in direct sun and in the summer that bugs make an appearance, so like all hiking in the area, some sunscreen and bug spray will help ensure your comfort.
If birdwatching, ecology or geology are among your interests, a hike in Mer Bleue is an absolute must-do. But you don't have to have a background in science to love this hike. It's beautiful, peaceful, and energizing.
I love that such an incredibly unique piece of nature is hidden beside the heart of downtown Ottawa, less than a 20 minute drive from Parliament Hill. It gives you a real sense of the Canadian wilderness even if you don't have the chance to leave the city limits.
I hope you'll be following in my footsteps soon!
How often do you include outdoor activities in your travel plans?
Do you have any favourite hikes that you recommend in your own home town?
Read more about what I love in Ottawa!
Inside Ottawa's Tulip Festival
A Day at the National Gallery of Canada
Buttery Bliss on the Ottawa Croissant Crawl