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CALABOGIE, Ont. — Is the city draining your batteries, weekend warriors?
They you had better boogie on over to the Ottawa Valley.
Calabogie, an hour west of Ottawa and the gateway to the Madawaska Highlands, is a “mecca” for four-season adventuring with a ski hill and numerous ATV, snowmobile and hiking trails offering outdoor enthusiasts plenty of places to play. In the summer, it’s a hot spot for suburbanites escaping the city en route to Calabogie Lake and nearby Burnstown Beach on the Madawaska River.
“It’s a great spot for people passionate about the outdoors,” said Ryan Gilbertson, a tourism development officer with the Ottawa Valley Tourist Association.
With that in mind, my wife and I packed our six-year-old daughter into the car for a couple days of ATV riding, snowshoeing and skiing. While a mid-December snowstorm tacked a bit of extra time onto the drive in, it made for the perfect backdrop to a weekend of winter fun.
Our first stop was to check in at Somewhere Inn Calabogie, our base of operations for the weekend. Surrounded by trees and overlooking Calabogie Lake just outside town, the property is as practical as it is inviting. The rooms are outfitted with enough hooks to host an army of snowmobilers, while the cosy beds, gas fireplaces and charming bathrooms make it easy to settle down after a day in the great outdoors.
Practicality was top of mind for CEO Joel Greaves when he and his wife purchased the motel-style property in 2021. While there are no TVs in the rooms, there are plenty of other ways to entertain yourself, including a seasonal list of outdoor excursions, a downstairs lounge, fire pits and a bar in the lobby selling local craft beer, a unique selection of wine and other goodies.
“The experience we wanted was not watching TV in your room, but looking out the large front windows while you sip coffee and get ready for the next adventure,” Greaves said.
Checking in was quick and painless as an automated text gave us the code to our room. We were able to pull up and unpack right away, which was perfect because a late dinner beckoned at the Redneck Bistro in town.
The pub-style fare was just what we needed after escaping Friday rush-hour traffic in Ottawa. The menu includes gourmet poutines, tacos, mouth-watering burgers and their signature pulled pork egg rolls, perfect for sharing. There are also 20 beers on tap, including their thirst-quenching Redneck Logger.
After a restful night on the inn’s Endy mattresses, we took a 15-minute drive down the highway to Burnstown for breakfast at Neat Coffee Shop. Greeting customers on the way from the parking lot are dozens of posters from concerts that have been hosted at this gem of an eatery at the corner of Calabogie and Burnstown Rds.
The Beaches, Steven Page, Chantal Kreviazuk and The Trews are only a few of the Canadian acts who have performed at Neat’s intimate venue. But getting a ticket isn’t easy with upcoming shows featuring The Tea Party frontman Jeff Martin and Matthew Good already sold out. If we wanted tickets in the future, it was suggested we join their VIP list.
Oh, and the food rocks, too. While my wife and I sipped Canadianos — their take on an Americano, but with maple syrup — and sampled the Wood Fired Breakfast Pizza and Breakfast Sandwich, my daughter Quinn devoured her blueberry-banana muffin. Even the menu gets into the theme with pizzas and drinks named after Bif Naked and Ottawa-area rock band Hollerado.
Energized for the day, the girls dropped me off in Calabogie for my afternoon adventure — an ATV tour with local guide Tom Irwin.
Recreational vehicles are Irwin’s passion, having been born into a family of motorcycle racers: His grandfather competed in Ireland before moving to Canada and opening his own dealership in Cornwall in 1937; and his father, who took over the family business, was a Canadian champion on two wheels.
Irwin, who started riding at the age of five and has won races all over the world, had his turn running the family business before he sold his stake to start Tom Irwin Adventure Tours, featuring a fleet of ATVs, side-by-sides and snowmobiles.
Relying on word of mouth and a five-star Google review average, Irwin has a reputation for taking his clients off the beaten path thanks to the hundreds of kilometres of trails in the area, some of which he has exclusive access to. It means that no two trips are the same with Irwin tailoring tours to a client’s experience and comfort level behind the wheel.
“I want to take people off the beaten path,” he said. “I don’t want to take you to the places you can find on a phone.”
Our three-hour trip included a history lesson on Calabogie and its connection to the old Kingston and Pembroke Railway, which was used to service the lumber and mining industries in the area. A foot of fresh snow was hard to navigate at first for a relative newbie rider like me, but we were ripping through the trails in no time as Irwin’s experience gave me a shot of confidence.
After a spot of lunch on the trail — savoury takeout sandwiches and treats from Oh-el-la Cafe — we were back to climbing the highlands and weaving through local trails, returning to Calabogie in time for some snowshoeing with my daughter at the Eagle’s Nest Trail and a pre-dinner fire and smores at Somewhere Inn.
The day was capped off with dinner at On the Rocks, a fine-dining establishment located at the Calabogie Lodge Resort, where we noshed on the Menage a Trois (a lobster trio featuring claws, mac and cheese and a lobster roll), Almond-Crusted Cod with arugula risotto and saffron sauce and Truffle Parmesan Fries, before returning to Somewhere Inn for movie night in the downstairs lounge.
The next morning included a return trip to Oh-el-la Cafe for takeout breakfast sandwiches, Nutella cappuccinos and a chocolate croissant for my daughter, who devoured every crumb, before a morning of skiing at Calabogie Peaks Resort.
The 24-trail hill, billed as the tallest public ski resort in Ontario, features stunning views of Calabogie Lake and the Madawaska Highlands and is serviced by two quad lifts and a carpet lift. A mild start to winter in the Ottawa area meant that not all of the trails were open when we visited, but we still had enough of a mix of beginner and intermediate runs to entertain ourselves.
Lessons are also available for first-timers like my daughter and in no time she was demanding to fly down the bunny hill thanks to the patience and encouragement of her instructor Marek.
After a quick lunch and a few more trips down the hill, we were on the road back to Ottawa, tired but satisfied with our weekend getaway and already scheming our next escape from suburbia.
WHERE TO STAY
— Somewhere Inn Calabogie; somewhereinn.ca
WHAT TO DO
— Tom Irwin Adventure Tours offers ATV and snowmobile excursions; tomirwinadventuretours.com
— Calabogie Peaks Resort offers skiing in the winter and summer and fall events as well, including fall colours chairlift rides; calabogie.com
WHERE TO EAT
— Redneck Bistro, 12609 511 Lanark Rd., Calabogie, Ont.; redneckbistro.ca
— Neat Coffee Shop, 1715 Calabogie Rd., Burnstown, Ont.; neatmusicandcoffee.ca
— On the Rocks, 729 Mill St., Calabogie Ont.; ontherockscalabogie.com
— Oh-el-la, 636 Mill St., Calabogie, Ont.
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