I follow a lot of bike blogs. Specifically, a lot of family biking blogs. Something I started noticing was a lot more family bike camping trips and short overnight trips referred to as the “S24O” (Sub 24 hour overnight AKA “the greatest thing ever”). Here’s some family camping trips that I used as inspiration for our trip:
- Kidical Mass camping trip in Portland
- CarFree Days camping in Washington
- More bike camping from Portland
- A Simple Six from West Virginia is in too
Basically, in any given weekend, someone in my Twitter feed is going bike camping with their kids. And if they could do it, why couldn’t we?
I spent a lot of time researching where we could go bike camping that would be a reasonable distance from downtown Ottawa that would avoid busy roads or steep hills. Like the Path Less Pedaled people said, finding a suitable destination was the hardest part. There were only two parameters for the trip: to sleep in a tent in the woods. Sounds simple.
My shortlist included the following destinations:
- Gatineau Park, Lac Philippe
- Fitzroy Harbour Provincial Park
- Breezy Hill Camping in Pakenham
- Nepean Municipal Campground
- Parc de Plaisance in Quebec
One by one, each of the options was knocked out of the running as I did a few solo test rides. Lac Philippe was out of the running once I found out that the “bike trail” that gets you to the campsite is a mountain bike trail and not suitable for our bikes.
The Nepean campground was close, but online reviews said there was a lot of noise from the Queensway. We definitely didn’t want to hear the Queensway in tentland.
Pakenham and Fitzroy Harbour were in the running until I did the ride out to Almonte. I really didn’t like the experience of biking on a shoulderless road and both of these destinations would require a lot of rural Ottawa shoulderless country road riding.
I was feeling a little doomed. Early on, @TKleinWalsh suggested Parc de Plaisance in Quebec – and while it looked beautiful, it was farther away than I was hoping to travel since we’d be pedal powering our gear there. Yet in the end, the combination of the Ottawa River Pathway and Quebec’s “Route Verte” won us over. Not to mention all of the biking amenities within the park itself.
So, we gathered our gear (recently purchased since we are first time campers) and packed up our bikes. I rode our Kona MinUte with our Wike trailer full of camping gear. The husband towed the boy in his WeeHoo behind his sporty Kona Dr. Dew. (I think he got the easier task!)
The 67km trip took us under six hours including stops for snacks and lunch. The route was fairly good except for one spot on the Ottawa side. Leaving Ottawa, you can stay on the river pathway system all the way to Trim Road in Orleans. But there is a stretch between Trim Road and Cumberland along the Old Montreal Road that is shoulderless and a disappointing missing link in the eastern Ottawa biking network.
On the return trip, I may have yelled over heavy traffic “I HATE CUMBERLAND”. I’m sorry about that. Well, not really. You guys just like to drive your cars fast. And it ruins that ‘quaint folksy rural village’ image you’re trying to portray. I’m sure Cumberland is nice if you drive there. You should probably drive there. We bought some roadside wild garlic from a man near the ferry. It seemed rude not to stop.
We used the very efficient and speedy Cumberland to Masson-Angers ferry to cross the river. (A steal at only $2 per person for walkers or cyclists.) Biking onto a ferry was an exciting highlight of the trip for both four year olds… and non-four year olds alike.
On the Quebec side we followed the “Route Verte” along Highway 148. Biking along a highway isn’t super fun, but the shoulder was wide and in good condition. The “Casse-Croute” Ti-Ronfleur in Masson-Angers was an excellent lunch spot for hot dogs and coffee.
I saw my first giant snapping turtle along the Highway 148. It really freaked me since I initially thought it was road debris. We paused for Slush Puppies in Thurso (since the big Montreal bike trip, a road trip slushie seemed like a good tradition to keep). Thurso has a grocery store, so it’s a good place to pick up any last minute nibbles. From Thurso, Parc de Plaisance was just another 10km away.
The town of Plaisance is really going for the bike-friendly image. Here’s their town sign along the highway. It was certainly reassuring. There’s a gravel bike path that’s off the highway, but we were feeling the weight of our cargo and opted to continue on the smoother paved road shoulder.
Arriving at the Park, you get another cyclists are welcome indicator. The Park is part of VeloQuebec’s “Bienvenue cyclistes” program. They’ve put a lot of effort into building a bike path network across the park, but there are also small sensible details that make it bike-friendly like bike racks at the hiking trail heads. Of course, you can rent bikes to use at the park or bring your own. This year they even advertise that there is always a camping spot if you arrive by bike.
There’s something very satisfying about rolling into your site and unpacking your “house” out of bike trailer. We had a roomy 4 person tent, air mattresses, sleeping bags, three days of food and cookware all packed into the Wike. I carried our clothes in the MinUte’s panniers.
Bike camping means your site feels a lot more spacious too. We had a very nice treed location (as per the boy’s camping directives); however it was also adjacent to some standing water. Let’s just say, I was glad I packed AfterBite and could be found with my Buff wrapped around my head. Mosquitoes, they love me.
The MinUte was a great bike to have in the park to get around. We unhitched the WeeHoo and Wike trailers and the boy simply rode on the back deck of the MinUte to get around with us. It was nice to lighten the load.
Coming up next in Part 2: Biking, hiking, turtles and oh dear, canoeing.
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