Road trips are so much fun aren’t they? The planning ahead of time, shopping for fun snacks, and of course the actual trip itself is always a blast! We love driving places as a family, since it’s cheaper, and our kids are pretty great in the van (remember when we did an epic 10 day road trip out west with 3 kids, one of which was only 10 months old AND I was pregnant! Yeah, we love road trips that much!). So this year I decided I wanted to drive to Ottawa. I love Ottawa, I lived there for 3 years when I was in University, and have dreamed of taking my kids there to explore the beautiful city. We love to do something fun for our kids to celebrate a great school year, so I thought a road trip Ottawa would be perfect!
Our youngest, at 2.5, has been exhausting me lately, he’s a bit of a difficult kid, and has just worn me down! He often only wants me, so that means I’m stuck at home with him while my husband takes the older kids to do fun activities. So I thought maybe I would just take the two older kids on this trip, and my husband would take the two days off work to spend with the younger ones. This allowed me to be the fun mom, and focus on those two amazing older kids of mine, instead of being the exhausted and short-tempered mom that I normally am with them. It was such a great idea, and worked out perfectly! We had a blast in Ottawa, and I know my kids will always remember the trip and how much fun we all had. And my husband got some quality time with our younger two, taking them to the zoo and beach!
We don’t ever just drive directly to our destination, we always plan fun stops along the way, because that’s what makes road trips awesome; exploring the path you are taking to your destination! We live in the Greater Toronto Area, so I’m going to share with you where we stopped on the way there and back, while traveling along highway 401 and 416.
Stop 1: Batawa Ski Hill Dino Dig site (FREE). If you live in Ontario, you are probably familiar with the TVO Kids channel, they have an awesome show (I think it airs in other countries too) called Giver, where you can nominate your park to get a makeover, and kids from that town help build the new one. It’s awesome, my kids love watching it and have always wanted to visit the parks that are all over Ontario. Day one was all about finding some of these parks. Our first stop was at the Dino Dig park in Batawa ON. Tucked in a forested area at the bottom of the ski hill was a cute little dino themed dig site and play area. Such a neat idea for a park, and a great attraction for the area during the non-ski seasons!
Stop 2: Early lunch/washroom/gas stop at an On Route Station (FREE to stop at, lots of food options available). If you travel along the 401, you are familiar with these rest stops. They are always clean, offer free wifi, and lots of local tourist information. Even though we had packed lots of snack, my kids talked me into A&W, which was pricey (perhaps more than a free standing one), so if you are really looking to save money, skip the food at these rest stops! Bring your own, or find a better deal at another stop off the highway.
Stop 3: South Gower Fitness Trail (FREE). This was another park designed by kids and built on the TV show Giver. It’s a trail that connects the towns baseball diamonds and soccer fields, and has an obstacle course on it. This was lots of fun, and a great little stop not far off the 416 on our way north to Ottawa. On the other side of the 416 is a skate park that was also built by the tv show, but we decided to skip that park since we were getting so close to Ottawa and the kids were anxious to get to the next stop…
Stop 4: Mooney’s Bay (FREE to visit, on site parking does cost a few dollars). We took the scenic route from Kemptville, taking Rideau River Road, instead of the 416. The kids loved seeing the river and all the incredible houses as we drove into the city. Our third park of the day was the giant Canada 150 park that Giver built to celebrate Canada turning 150 years old. This is the biggest park I have ever seen or been too. We had watched all the episodes of the park being built, but seeing it in person was incredible! Each section of the park is themed for a different province or territory’s history, and is so well done and spaced out, even if it’s busy, there is plenty of room for everyone! Mooney’s Bay also has a beautiful beach, spots for fishing, and walking trails, and there is always something going on on the water too. It has paid parking, which was only a few dollars, and well worth it. Lots of shade trees and spots for parents to sit, though you will likely want to follow your kids around to check out how incredible the park is.
Stop 4: Carleton University and the Rideau Canal (FREE). On the way to the hotel, we drove around the Carleton University Campus, so I could show my kids my old stomping grounds: the buildings where my classes were and my old residence building, and all the spots I would sit and study. We then took Colonel By Drive into the city. Driving along the Rideau Canal in the summer is beautiful; but much neater in the winter when it’s frozen and the longest skating rink in the world, we will be back to skate that for sure!
Stop 5: Best Western Plus Suites (Prices vary depending on the night, cheaper than other downtown hotels though!). I picked this hotel because of its location: close to the Nature museum, easy access to the highway and the downtown too! It also had amazing reviews, and cost less than most of the hotels a few blocks closer to the downtown core. We we able to check in an hour early and received a free upgrade to our room! All the staff were super friendly and the hotel was super clean! we unpacked a little (our room had a small kitchenette with a fridge) The kids rested and watched tv, while I had a coffee and dealt with some work stuff and other stuff going on at home.
Stop 6: Lonestar Texas Grill (typical family restaurant prices). This chain has expanded with locations all over Ontario now, but originally it was only in Ottawa, and I’m pretty sure Ottawa still has the most locations! My kids haven’t been since they were really little, so they loved the theme of the restaurant and the decor. I was excited to share the famous fajitas with them, but they weren’t feeling that at all. One had a burger, the other mac and cheese, so this was kind of a bust! I’m sure we could have found a cheaper place to eat, closer to our hotel, but part of this trip was exploring different parts of Ottawa that I hung out in when I lived there, and heading out to the St Laurent Shopping Centre was part of the fun!
Stop 7: Canadian Museum of Nature (FREE on Thursdays). Our hotel was right across the street from this beautiful museum! I intentionally chose to visit Ottawa on a Thursday and Friday so that we could visit one museum for free! Lots of big cities offer deals like this, on nights that are typically less busy, offering free admission to regular exhibits from 4 or 5 pm until close. The museum was free, and the kids had a blast! However, it was very busy! We arrived around 6pm, and the museum was open til 8pm. Two hours were more than enough time for use to sneak through the crowds and check it all out, except the bugs, we skipped the live bugs! And thankfully it was a very short walk to our hotel, because we were exhausted after a very jam packed day!
Come back for day two, with more frugal fun in Ottawa and awesome stops on the drive back home!