Winter was slow to arrive in The Great Waterway, with no snowfall between Cornwall and Trenton until the final days of 2015. Each time I took my road bike out of my garage for a spin in late December, I’d look at my snowshoes and cross country skis hanging on the wall and feel a mixture of bubbly joy that I could still ride my bike along our quiet country roads, disappointed that I wasn’t snowshoeing or skiing.
However, with snow finally on the ground, I plan on making up for lost time in exploring the trails winter warriors seek out this time of year. The great news is, with hundreds of kilometers of trails throughout the region, there is always something new to discover, making The Great Waterway a winter wonderland playground.
“The main thing that I like about snowshoeing is that you can do it virtually anywhere in the winter, from the normal trails that you run and hike on in the summer to frozen lakes that you only see in the winter” says Derrick Spafford, owner of Spafford Health and Adventure and organizer of the Dion Eastern Ontario Snowshoe Running Series. Among Spafford’s top snowshoeing trail picks include Frontenac Provincial Park in Sydenham, Summerstown Trails and Marble Rock Conservation Area in Gananoque.
Snowshoeing is also an affordable winter sport, Spafford notes. “Once you’ve purchased your snowshoes, there can be little to no other expense.” Entry level hiking snowshoes cost approximately $100 and are suitable for the flat to rolling terrain you will find in The Great Waterway. Snowshoe rentals are available at outfitters like Kingston-based Trailhead or Little Cataraqui Creek Conservation Area (with daily rental fees between $12 to $20). Your only other expenses are entrance fees to the Conservation Area or Provincial Park you’re visiting, and of course, your post-snowshoe hot chocolate.
Ready to pick up the pace? Try out snowshoe racing, one of North America’s fast growing sports. As Spafford says, it’s a great way to stay motivated and fit during the winter months (especially if you’re inclined to hibernate). Ignite The Night at Upper Canada Village, Dion Frotenac at Frontenac Provincial Park, Dion Summerstown in Cornwall and Dion Red Barn in Napanee are beginner-friendly races set on some of the region’s most picturesque trails.
Cross Country Skiing
Of course, nothing beats the exhilaration of gliding effortlessly across the snow on a set of perfectly waxed cross country skis, with nothing except the sound of the chickadees and the crunch of your poles digging into the snow as you kick and glide through the landscape.
Snowbirds of a hardier feather flock to Sandbanks Provincial Park during the winter months (albeit birds wearing down-filled coats and toques), to ski along the Park’s 10 kilometers of groomed trails. Gentle slopes and curves make this Prince Edward County gem a favourite for beginners, but experienced skiers can double up on the five kilometer yellow trail that winds its way through the Park. At Frontenac Provincial Park, 10 kilometers of groomed trails offer skiers breathtaking views of the Park’s rugged landscapes. Towering rock faces and the hushed tranquility of Frontenac’s backcountry trails are especially peaceful this time of year. Check the Ontario Parks’ Ski Report trail conditions.
Further east in Cornwall, cross country skiers will appreciate the 12 kilometers of groomed trails that wind their way through the 500 acre Guindon Park. Classic and skate skiing trails (a heart-pumping 20 kilometers worth!) can be found at Summerstown Trails in Williamstown. Though it is early in the season, volunteers have been hard at work and the trails are hard-packed and ready for skiing. The fragrant pines are more than nature’s aromatherapy here – they offer protection from the wind, making a family or solo ski here pleasant on even the most bracing of winter days.
Even if you enjoyed our extended fall and already counting down the days to spring, a day spent outdoors in the frosty sunshine is a sure cure for the winter blues. Better yet, plan a weekend stay with us and explore a little longer.