Safe and responsible hiking insights to build on your outdoor savvy and habits

Be Bear Aware

Bear spray is a controlled item in Ontario⁠, and can be purchased at local outdoor stores like @cabelas with proof of ID and signature. Carry bear spray in an easy access location and learn how to use bear spray properly. Emergency call 911. Non-emergency call Bear Wise reporting line at 1-866-514-2327 (TTY 705-945-7641 )

If you encounter a BLACK BEAR. First of all, know that black bear attacks are extremely rare. Stop. Stay calm. Do not panic. Slowly back away while keeping the bear in sight and wait for it to leave. If the bear does not leave, throw objects, wave your arms and make noise with a whistle or air horn. Prepare to use bear spray. If you are near a building or vehicle get inside as a precaution. Drop any food you may be carrying and slowly move away. If a bear is in a tree, leave it alone. Leave the area. The bear will come down when it feels safe. Sourced from

DO NOT Run, climb a tree or swim. Do not kneel down, make direct eye contact, or approach the bear to get a better look/picture. Never attempt to feed a bear.

Hiking with Dogs

Insights for dog owners! Dogs are allowed on the four hiking trails in Gatineau Park (Lauriault, Sugarbush, Pioneer, Capital Pathway). Dogs are not allowed on groomed @ncc_ccn ski trails.

Double check nature and wildlife reserve rules prior to setting out. Always keep pups on a leash and on trail (unless in a designated off leash area). Why? Because there’s negative impact on the flora and fauna. @leavenotracecenter and @con_ont can explain better than I!

More over, respect the land managers by abiding by the guidelines. Remember we are guests on the land. Great dog friendly trails? Try Ferguson Forest (plus an off leash park), Stony Swamp, Berryl Gaffney (new off leash park coming next year), Mont Morissette, and Wabun/Limestone lake loop (18k).

Always pick up your pups poop. Have a large ziplock in your backpack for poop bags makes hiking it out easy and smell free. @cityofottawa has three designations: dogs permitted (dogs may be off leash), dogs on leash (dogs are allowed but must be on leash at all times), and no dogs (dogs are not permitted). There are several off leash areas/parks within the city. Visit @cityofottawa for more info. Know your dog’s limit and hike within it. And give them an extra ear rub me, dogs are ah-mazing companions.

Read through the ‘Ultimate Guide to Hiking with Dogs in Ottawa + Region’ for a full description of impacts, insights, and on-leash/off-leash/no dogs allowed trails.

Lookouts + Climbers

See that lookout?! That cliff edge? Kindly consider that it may very well also be a popular climbing route (hey Ottawa, think eagles nest). Which means, while everyone is trying to get the right picture, there are likely climbers below. Do not throw/kick rocks over a cliff. Any cliff. This is a real danger to climbers, and you can be inadvertently risking their lives. Stay away from the edge to avoid even accidental rock falls. 

Hunting Season

Many trails are on lands that are used for hunting.⁠ Know the provincial hunting season, if your planned trail allows hunting, and do not hike during these times. ⁠In Ontario, hunters can use crown lands, provincial parks, conservation areas, municipal forests, provincial wildlife areas, and private land if the specifically permitted. Deer (bow hunt) starts as early as September. ⁠Hunting season is organized by animal and weapon type ranging from September to November each year. ⁠Always wear high visibility clothing when out in the fall.⁠ Visit or and search ‘hunting’ for more information.⁠

Winter Hiking

Three things that make hiking better in winter: poles, gaiters, and spikes. Be aware of snowshoe/ski trail designations and etiquette for shared trails⁠. Trekking poles are for everyone and can provide two extra points of contact to increase stability.⁠ Can help to create walking rhythm + increased speed⁠. Help balance when carrying heavier backpacks⁠. Can be used to probe soft ground, streams/river, snow⁠. Poles have multiple uses (tent/shelter pole or medical splint)⁠. Note that in the NCR between Dec 1st and April 14th: “dogs are not allowed on any Greenbelt trails, as they are open only for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and hiking”. Year round leashed dogs permitted at Greenbelt Pathway East, Greenbelt Pathway West, and Watts Creek Pathway. ⁠Sourced from the NCC.

Cold Water Immersion

Before you jump in, this needs to be considered:⁠ Training from a Certified Wim Hof Instructor like @officialjacobmark with @earthwomxn to learn the methods, best practices, and how to mitigate risk.⁠ It’s not a polar bear dip: the three pillars are breathing, cold water immersion, and commitment.⁠ Allow yourself to experience gradual exposure, like downloading the Wim Hof App and starting with cold showers. ⁠As my wise friend @myjavajournal mentioned today, it’s no place for ego. This is a serious, mindful practice.⁠ Let’s be very clear – there are risks factors with cold water immersion include cold shock, heart failure, stroke, cold incapacitation, asthma, cramps, cold water urticaria, and hypothermia. “As a general rule, get expert medical advice before winter swimming if you have a heart condition, high blood pressure, asthma, or are pregnant.” sourced from @theoutdoorswimmingsociety

Some basic guidelines for cold water fan: Never swim alone.⁠ Always check water safety levels⁠. Do not swim in cold water unless trained⁠. Do not swim from closed beaches/areas⁠. Always check weather conditions⁠. Always abide by posted signs and warnings⁠. @redcrosscanada states “Open water is very different than swimming in a pool – distance is deceiving, and you often have to contend with cold water, waves, currents, drop offs, sandbars, water visibility, undertows, and underwater obstacles, as well as motorcrafts.⁠ River currents, especially when concentrated around rocks, bridge pilings, and in hydraulics or whirlpools at the base of dams, have enormous power and can easily trap even strong swimmers.” ⁠

Deadwood + Driftwood

As for DRIFTWOOD on our beaches⁠, Ontario Parks state: ⁠”Creating driftwood structures is harming a natural habitat. If driftwood is left to lie where it washes up, insects, arthropods, larvae, salamanders, and other critters move in and use the driftwood as a home and food source.” They also mention that “Shorebirds, which face many threats due to changes to their habitats, can be seen on beaches eating the bugs which live inside driftwood. They also use driftwood to hide from predators and protect their nests.”

When it comes to DEADWOOD⁠ in our forests⁠, dead fallen wood should be left in place to rot when possible as it provides habitat for fungi and salamanders.⁠ Standing dead trees are “left as wildlife trees for woodpeckers, nesting birds and small mammals…”⁠ Source: Principals of Restoration Forestry as outlined in Earth, Fire, Water: An Ecological Profile of Lanark County by Dr Paul A Keddy (An excellent and easy read, available at Mill Street Books in Almonte!)⁠

Farmers’ Fields

When we stop to take pictures in a farmers field, sunflower field, or lavender field. Craving that perfect capture for social media, business, or for ourselves. ⁠

A little nudge should prompt the following before you do:⁠ That land is private land – do you have permission?⁠ That crop is someone’s hard work and passion – can you take a picture without harming it?⁠ That yield is someone’s business – if you take a picture how can you return the good fortune? ⁠

Ask permission before stepping on the land. Do not trespass. Only take pictures if you can do so without damage and leave nothing behind. Be kind and pay it forward by giving that farmer/business a shout out on social (like you would for your favourite gym or cafe). Buy their products and #supportlocal. Physically thank them for providing a beautiful backdrop and all their hard work. And for those with a large social media audience – lead from the front.⁠⁠

Crown Land

For Canadian residents, camp for free up to 21 days on any one site in a calendar year.⁠ For non-residents, camp up to 21 days on any one site in a calendar year with a purchased permit.⁠ If camping is prohibited, you could be fined.⁠ A valid fishing license is still required to fish.⁠ A permit is required to create a new trail, build a water crossing, or hold an organized event (Public Lands Act)⁠. “Do not harm, kill, take or collect plants, trees, habitat or other wildlife that is protected under provincial law”.⁠ Sourced from⁠

Crown Land use is not a license to do as we please or exploit the lands, it is an opportunity to connect and respect nature.


Before foraging ask yourself:⁠

  • Is it legal on this land?
  • Can you accurately identify the plant?⁠
  • Is this a species at risk?⁠
  • Do you know what part of the plant is edible?⁠
  • Is it the right season to pick this plant?⁠
  • Can you forage in manner that conserves the species?
  • ⁠Do you know how to prepare the plant for safe consumption?⁠

Did you know that in Ontario, “foraging is prohibited in provincial parks without proper authorization and also in conservation reserves, unless the forager is harvesting for personal consumption. Some municipalities, such as the City of Toronto, ban foraging in city-run parks, forests, and ravines. The province prohibits the harvesting of any plant listed as endangered, threatened, or extirpated.” ~ @ONconservationareas

Ticks and Lyme Disease

Assume that every trail has ticks.⁠ Because it likely does, at least in Ontario, and certainly in Ottawa. This is simply a part of hiking in 2020. In 2018 a @uottawa found that 1 in 3 ticks in our area tested positive for lyme disease. Nymph ticks are as small as poppy seeds, yet the ones most likely to carry the disease.⁠

Prepare & Prevent:⁠ Apply insect repellent with DEET or icardin (use Health Canada approved products only)⁠. Wear long sleeve shirts, pants, sock, and hikers. Tuck those pants into your socks!⁠ Wearing light coloured clothing helps you spot ticks.⁠ Always stay on the path.⁠ Always do a full body check post hike.⁠ (Adapted from Ottawa Public Health)

Hikers Hacks:⁠ Choose trails with wide paths making it easier to stay away from long grass.⁠ Use a sticky lint roller post hike to help remove/identify ticks.⁠ Shower post hike and do a second full body check.⁠ Put hiking clothes in dryer for 10 mins.⁠