There are two things I’ve learned recently: cabin fever is real and Spaniels have to run. And run and run.
And that’s how I discovered Ottawa, Ontario is the capital of dog parks. Ok, it’s the capital of Canada, but two awesome leash-free sites – Conway Pit and Bruce Pit – have put the city in contention for title number one.
Road trip with your dog to Ottawa, Ontario!
First, some back story…
Like many, I purchased a pandemic puppy (Yes, purchased. Find out why here) after losing my faithful companion and travel buddy in July of 2020. As if that year wasn’t hard enough.
My puppy is half Springer Spaniel and half Cocker Spaniel, and I was ready for a burst of youthful energy to fill the void in my heart. Or so I thought. I got a little more energy than I bargained for (check out here why doggie daycare saved my life here) but finding trails, leash-free parks and stimulating active adventure is definitely on our radar.
Also, outdoors is the only place we could go during the extended pandemic lockdown of 2020/21.
On the verge of losing my mind in 2021, I planned a short road trip designed entirely with my new dog in mind, primarily because I couldn’t do anything. Ottawa, here we come. Specifically, Nepean, an area of Ottawa outside of downtown away from all closed capital sites that make up a usual ‘must see’ visitor list. (check out dog friendly Ottawa)
Are there leash-free dog parks in Ottawa?
Turns out, Ottawa has raised the bar (or stick) on leash free dog parks. There’s eight within city boundaries (see list ‘Dog Parks in Ottawa’ below), including many in the downtown core that are little more than dog runs – but necessary for quick energy releases and potty breaks particularly if you’re staying at a centrally located hotel, such as the pet-friendly Chateau Laurier beside Parliament Hill.
However, if like me, you want make a doggie weekend of it, stay in Nepean at the Sandman Hotel – a boutique-style pet-friendly hotel along Hunt Club Road. Not only is it a good-value contemporary hotel with fridge and coffee makers, it will put you at the midpoint between two awesome dog-focused experiences: Conroy Pit in one direction and Bruce Pit in the other, both run by the National Capital Commission (NCC), an organization established to keep the nation’s capital a quality outdoorsy destination.
That’s right, for three days including travel time, Victoria was a pup between two pits. And she was thrilled. (Full disclosure: we also took time to visit the Ottawa Arboretum near Commissioner’s Park, home to the annual tulip festival). The arboretum is another popular dog walking spot. Leashes are required, but there might or might not have been many frolicking freely among the tree museum grounds when we were there.
For our first stop, however, we head 10 minutes west from The Sandman Hotel to Bruce Pit, where locals gather.
Bruce Pit Leash-Free Dog Park, Ottawa
Run by the National Capital Commission (NCC), Bruce Pit, 175 Cedarview Road, is part of a cross-country ski trail system. Part of the site is a leash-free, mostly fenced, expansive area you won’t believe is entirely for the dogs.
When I pulled into the Bruce Pit parking lot, I asked where the leash-free park was and one person gestured to the land behind him, ‘it all is.’ We were in the right spot.
So, off came the leash and Victoria beelined it into the open field cautiously but enthusiastically welcoming any dog who approached her. Note there’s no fence along the parking lot section, so it’s best to leash in the field on the way back.
From the field, we followed the trial – and crowd of dog walkers – into the woods. The trails are wide and easy to follow, all circling back (eventually) to the parking lot. At the entrance from the parking lot, there’s a big garbage bin for poop bags and an outhouse facility (for people, in case that’s not obvious). Nearby is a water facet for filling bowls, and usually a few lying around to use.
The trails captivated Victoria, easily for several hours. She bounced like a nymph through the grass. In the woods, she came nose-to-nose (or nose-to-butt) with other dogs, but the fields are big enough to put some space between us and others, if necessary.
As with most public dog parks, Bruce Pit has an online site where regulars post issues with specific dogs – but for the most part, there aren’t many.
Keep in the mind, the fencing around Bruce Pit is wire like snow fence and a really determined dog can get through (or over) in spots. But there’s so much going on in the park that my dog’s attention remained focused away from the perimeter. Remarkably, Victoria stayed within view of me.
A journey into the woods is worth it, even if there are bugs (bring spray) for another reason: At the midpoint of the wooded trail,you’ll find a moving unofficial memorial called ‘Rainbow Bridge Crossing.’Here people hang dog tags and other memorabilia in remembrance of pups who’ve passed along a wire fence. Apparently, it’s common practice for regulars to stop and rub their dog’s tag during each park visit.
Conroy Pit Leash-Free Dog Park, Ottawa
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, Conroy Pit Leash-free Dog Park, Conroy Road, is even bigger, better and more popular than Bruce Pit – however, the parking lot is smaller, which causes some problems during high-volume weekends (although there are plans to add 12 spaces).
Conroy Pit is about an eight-minute drive east along Hunt Club Road from the Sandman Hotel.
One online reviewer about the park said, “my dog literally screams when we pull into the parking of Conroy Pit. He’s obsessed,” which is a heck of an endorsement. If my pup could come here every week, she’d likely do the same.
The Conroy Pit entrance to the right leads directly into 5km of wooded trails, narrower than Bruce Pit but longer, more meandering and through denser forest. Eventually, the trails lead to wider open spaces – the area where the second entrance by the outdoor garbage bin leads to from the parking lot. If you want to enjoy wider flatter pathways bordered by grasses, start at the left-hand entrance.
You can easily weave from wooded trails to open wider pathways – all worn down from so many two and four-footed visitors. Again, wide spaces in half the park allow for dogs to see each other coming, and possibly avoid other dogs if necessary. But there isn’t a single open space similar to Bruce Pit. Also, Conroy Pit has no fence on the parking lot side.
However, Conroy Pit was where we spent the bulk of our time (and visited twice, in fact) because of the variety of exploration options. There is an outhouse here, but no water source for pups to either drink or dive into.
Conroy Pit is also not without its own ‘Canine Crossing’ memorial where dog tags of those who crossed the rainbow bridge decorate a fence. Anyone who doesn’t understand pets are family will after a long walk through this park – and those of us who do understand, will value the family time spent here.
Wait, there’s one more awesome surprise I discovered near Ottawa: the Ferguson Forest Leash-free Dog Park.
Ferguson Forest Dog Park, Kemptville, Ontario
Leaving from or driving to Ottawa via Toronto, you’ll likely take Highway 416 south, so you’ll drive past Kemptville. It’s worth the detour down County Road 43 to Grenville to Honour Way to find the Ferguson Forest Dog Park (about 30 minutes from the Sandman Hotel) in Fergus Forest.
Park across from the dog park and enter through the far-right double gate – voila, you’re in the magical forest. Ok, it’s not magical, but it is full of evenly planted tall coniferous trees (and bugs), so plenty of sniffing potential and sun protection. Behind and beside the small forest is open field ideal for romping and socializing … along with the big surprise: an obstacle course play area, something I haven’t seen at a dog park before.
My puppy climbed up and over the ramps easily, but was extremely hesitant to run through the tunnels. (Unlike my previous dog who ran through drainage tunnels under roads – many times). Spray painted on the biggest concrete tunnel is the best graffiti I’ve seen yet: “no kids allowed.” This is a dog only playground, folks.
There’s a water station, poop bag dispenser, fenced small dog area if needed and a stone wall memorial dedicated to Athena, a two-year-old Great Dane who spent her last day with her family opening day of the dog park, September 17, 2017, before dying tragically of a health condition.
Dogs, family, community … if there’s any doubt those are interrelated, check out the Ferguson Forest Dog Park in Kemptville established by the North Grenville Dog Parks Corporation (now the Ferguson Forest Centre Corporation), and volunteer established, run and financed. (Park bake sale is June 21, 2021, 9 am to 2 pm). Ferguson Forest might very well be the community park model of the future.
Where are the fenced leash-free dog parks in Ottawa, Ontario?
- Bruce Pit, 175 Cedarview Road, Nepean
- Conroy Pit Leash-free Dog Park, Conroy Road, Nepean
- Diamond Jubilee Park, 2810 Findlay Creek Drive, Gloucester
- Don Boudria Park, 655 Decoeur Drive, Ottawa
- Evergreen Park, 906 Denison Cres., Ottawa
- Hampton Park, 645 Parkview Road, Ottawa
- Jack Purcell Park, 320 Jack Purcell Lane, Ottawa
- Shefford Sports Park, 815 Shefford Road, Ottawa
- Sylvia Holden Park, 641 O’Connor Street, Ottawa