• Forest trail in Ottawa, Ontario

    Pine Grove Trail in Ottawa, Ont. (Photo: Tanya Kirnishni)

This summer has looked different for everyone, no matter which way you went about it. At Canadian Geographic and The Royal Canadian Geographical Society, we're so used to exploring that we just had find ways to get outside (safely) for a reinvigorating dose of nature. 

We've rounded up a few of our adventures to share with you. If you feel like sharing your adventures, please leave us a comment! 

I rarely travel during the summer months except for four or five long-weekend trips to IndyCar races. As avid fans, we camp at or near the race tracks and explore the areas the race series goes through, but we don't end up with much time to chase waterfalls or explore anywhere else. This summer, while sad that I've been unable to attend any IndyCar races, I've turned it into an opportunity to try something new—yep, I've become one of those COVID-19 backpackers! I spent three days hiking the Niagara Falls portion of the Bruce Trail, a gorgeous cross-province trail. My cousin and I trekked about 35 kilometres, near waterfalls, canals, through forests and across small rivers. Part of the southern Bruce Trail even takes you right through the city of Niagara Falls! It was hard to not stop for a McDonald's milkshake, but I resisted...barely. Thanks to the excitement this trip brought me, I'm planning another backpacking trip in Algonquin Park with my sister for this fall. 

My oh my, what a beautiful city we live in! Ottawa has so much to offer and so many opportunities to connect with the natural world. I spent much of the summer searching for local family picnic areas and walking/biking trails to test out with friends. Among my favourites were the Sugarbush Trail in Gatineau Park and the South March Highlands trail network in Kanata—just enough hills to keep the heart happy. The Ottawa River Pathway and Chapel Hill South bike path were lots of fun and allowed for a fair bit of bird-watching (and geo-chaching!) along the way. The Dominion Arboretum will continue to be a favourite picnic spot of mine for years to come. It never ceases to amaze me how we can live in a city of more than a million people and yet have so many quiet, beautiful outdoor spaces to enjoy. If you're located in Ottawa, I recommend you give one (or all) of these a try—don't forget your iNaturalist app and your binoculars! 

Among the many events that were cancelled this year as a result of the global pandemic, Pride was one of them. While Pride can't be truly cancelled, I was disappointed not to be able to go with my friends—it was a special year for me, as I've only very recently started publicly identifying as bi. My friends (in my "social bubble" of course!) and I planned a last-minute camping trip to Keats Island, just off the coast of Gibsons, B.C., after some other plans fell through—it ultimately became our own little Keats Island Pride celebration. We danced to ABBA around a campfire with rainbow glowsticks, got up early to watch the sunrise turn the coastal rainforest chartreuse green, and hiked to the little summit of the island to gaze across the Strait of Georgia to the mountains of Vancouver Island. It was such a beautiful weekend trip, and it gave me energy for the work week ahead!

This summer, I decided to get outside and explore the areas close to my home. Most summers, I am usually rushing from work, to a sport, then to a social gathering. With more time on my hands, I wanted to slow down and get to know my own backyard. I discovered a local creek and waterfall, a beautiful lookout over the Ottawa River, and a vibrant community garden! By visiting these places weekly throughout the spring and summer, I was able to notice subtle changes that I would have overlooked before: shy trout lilies peeking out to say hello in early spring, grasses taking over a little pond, and minnows that I watched grow throughout the season. I have a new appreciation for the biodiversity in my backyard and the rhythms of nature. When the weather kept me indoors, I brushed off the dusty sewing machine that had been sitting at the top of my closet for years and finally taught myself to sew. I created a little guitar for a friend's child—it is filled with mistakes and uneven stitches but also with love (and stuffing)! I also exchanged puzzles with friends and completed quite a few—the cats especially enjoyed helping out (in the picture you can see Lucy "helping"). I'm looking forward to seeing what changes the fall brings to these special places, and to start a new sewing project! 

Airports and train stations have always infused me with a sense of promise and restless opportunity. This summer, I’ve been left feeling unmoored—no mountains to climb, no castle ruins to explore, and no botanical gardens to gawk at. I’ll be the first to admit that I take travel for granted, and so it’s been a good opportunity to discover places closer to home. Last weekend, a friend and I decided to check out Ottawa’s Pine Grove, a popular forested trail in the capital’s Greenbelt. This trail is infamous for its well-entrenched mosquito population—bug spray could justifiably be considered survival gear. Pine Grove’s buzzing residents aside, my friend and I spent a wonderful afternoon walking among the towering pines—we even had a bit of a scavenger hunt trying to identify all the different mushrooms we spotted in the undergrowth (I can’t recommend enough the iNaturalist app for nature enthusiasts). There's a Japanese practice called “forest bathing,” which perfectly captures that feeling of renewal that comes from being out in nature. This day among the pines inspired me to add several new trails to my must-hike list that I know will be spectacular in fall colours!

I spent much of my free time on gardening projects this summer, expanding our existing tiny raised beds to larger ones and experimenting with different flowers than in previous years. The lack of rain kept me and our water barrels busy in the early morning hours, when I found time to reflect and relax before starting the day's work. I was able to produce more food this year, which was both delicious and satisfying. Other than gardening, we spent much time in the early mornings hiking on the many trails in the Ottawa-Gatineau area as well as taking long walks in our neighbourhood.

Boy oh boy, how life has changed in the last few months! No one would have ever described me as a homebody prior to COVID-19 as my home was a place to sleep and nothing more. Forever desperately wanting a dog, everyone told me, "NO! You're never home." Well...now I'm home. A month into working from home, I started looking into adopting a dog, but very few shelters were putting dogs up for adoption due to social distancing (of course!). So I took to social media and started networking. I told the universe what I wanted and the universe responded. Rehomed from a little farm outside of Ottawa, my soon-to-be partner in crime, Bruce, was waiting for me. 

I went to meet him on a Monday, called my mom for validation, and took him home Tuesday. Turns out, the pandemic for me has been a blessing in more ways than one. As things began to open up, Bruce quickly became a part of everything I did. We started going to dog-friendly patios and I taught him how to swim while at the cottage (and have spent a ton of time there because I could work from home)! Thanks to Bruce, I can't just pick one summer adventure since this summer has been a new adventure for the both of us. 

For me, summer is usually the time that I like to travel internationally. I travel a lot within the country for work during the rest of the year and summer gives me a chance to knock a few things off of my bucket list while schools are quiet. COVID-19 has shown me how much there is to enjoy in reconnecting in a deeper way with my children, grandchildren and my own roots. I’ve returned to what was once my parents’ farm, introduced my grandchildren to the place and activities that their parents loved as children, revisited Jackknife Springs for fresh water, watched my daughter and her horse race in their first futurity, watched my son-in-law in his profession of bull riding, cheered my husband and daughter on as they tanned a hide, and I’ve even had time make dill pickles for the first time in 30 years! My adult kids have been innovative as well. There are so many of them that they can have their own summer “chill at the lake days,” but, in this case, the “lake” is the cattle dugout in the back field. What a gift this summer at home has been.

I only went on one real trip this summer—my roommates and I took a cottage weekend in August and I learned to drive a Sea-Doo! Being from out East, I spent my entire childhood on boats of all kinds but never quite got the chance to learn how to drive them. I got my boating license in prep for the weekend and on Saturday my friend took me out on the water and showed me the ropes. I was worried about the speed at first, but after a little practice I had the hang of it. She eventually let me drive off on my own and I luxuriated in feeling the wind in my hair and bouncing over waves, just like I did as a kid. I spent most of the afternoon riding around the lake and loving every second of it!

We've spent the entire summer at the cottage in the Algonquin Highlands. The word is tossed around a lot, but for us it has really been a period of great delights. With three kids, two cats and a dog, having the opportunity to be so close to nature, for such an extended period of time, has made our COVID-19 isolation a time of family bonding and great memory making. We have marvelled at the blue jay family that has taken over a stand of old white pines, romped around on adventures with big sticks, learned how to water ski, ate ice cream cones for lunch, and our kids played with their cousins! We also took our kids and sheep dog for a short canoe trip into the park and they loved all of it (except the dog, who suffered through it stoically), but mainly the juice bar (a first experience with juice crystals!), sleeping in tents and limited bathing. I personally can't believe that sleeping on the ground can hurt for such a prolonged period after a trip, but that's one of the small differences I noticed between being seven years old and 44. The rest of our stay was enjoyed in equal measures by adults and kids. It has truly been a summer for our family's memory books. I will be forever grateful for this time we've had together.