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Looking to get outdoors in Ottawa? Avoid these busy times on the Rideau Canal and other NCC assets

Skaters make their way along the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, Monday, Feb. 15, 2021, during the Family Day long weekend. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Many Ottawa residents might be looking to take advantage of the recent snowfall and upcoming mild temperatures in the city to stretch their legs and get some fresh air over the upcoming weekend.

But too many people with the same idea quickly leads to crowding — a no-no during the COVID-19 pandemic, per public health authorities.

Read more: Ottawa Public Health order clamps down on outdoor hockey, crowd size rules

To help residents plan their weekend recreation, the National Capital Commission (NCC) is releasing weekly stats to advise skaters, skiers and hikers on the busiest times for its most popular sites to help beat the crowds.

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Though the Rideau Canal Skateway lacks a number of its most popular amenities this year, such as Beavertails and other concessions, the 51st season of the iconic downtown rink has still proven popular.

The NCC estimates an average of 19,779 people visited the skateway per day for the week of Feb. 8 to 14, slightly below the daily average of 22,000 visits in the previous season.

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The most popular access points for the canal during that period were Dows and Mackenzie King, the NCC said.

The Crown corporation recommends visiting the Rideau Canal during the week and avoiding peak periods from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

For hikers looking to take in Gatineau Park, the NCC recommends avoiding peak periods between 12 p.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends.

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It also flagged three less-crowded parking lots for visitors to make use of: P11 (O’Brien), P15 (Chemin Cross Loop) and P17 (Trail 53).

Others turning to the Greenbelt for some fresh air are advised to go during the week.

The NCC also highlighted the busiest and least busy parking lots in the Greenbelt: avoid P22 and P20 (Mer Bleue), P18 (Pine Grove), P9 and P5 (Stony Swamp); do visit P19 and P16 (Pine Grove), P14 behind the Nepean Sportsplex (Pinhey Sand Dunes), P13 behind Bell High School and P8 (Stony Swamp).

Another NCC asset that has proven very popular this year has been the Sir John A Macdonald Winter Trail. For the week of Feb. 8 to 14, the NCC said the trail averaged 1,218 visits per day, compared with an average of 314 visits in 2020.

The NCC says it will update its counters on its website to track activity levels at its sites on a weekly basis.

Environment Canada is calling for two days of optimal winter weather in Ottawa this weekend. Saturday will be mostly sunny with a 30 per cent chance of flurries and a high of -4 C, while Sunday is set to be sunny with a high of -2 C, according to the agency’s 48-hour forecasts.

Any skaters looking to avoid crowds at outdoor sites can also register timeslots at the City of Ottawa’s indoor rinks, set to reopen on Saturday. Skating sessions can be booked off in 50-minute blocks on the city website.

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