Stretching from Algonquin Park in the north to the Adirondacks in the south, the Frontenac Arch is a ridge of granite rock known as “The Bones of the Mother” in Mohawk tradition. A billion years ago, it was part of the largest chain of mountains in the world, and today you can still see remnants of those towering masses in the rugged cliffs that hug the region.
At the crossroads of it all is the Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve (named so by UNESCO), a 2,700 square-kilometre area in the heart of The Great Waterway where five forest regions merge, lakes and wetlands dot the landscape, and the wildlife is, arguably, as diverse as anywhere else in the country. Bordered by Westport, Brockville, Gananoque and Sydenham, the biosphere is home to more than ten conservation areas, provincial parks and official trails open throughout the winter.
Read on for a breakdown of the winter trails at each and then head out with your boots, skis or snowshoes to get up close to this geological gem.
Charleston Lake Provincial Park
With a rocky lake, forest landscape and the highest peak in the county, Charleston Lake Provincial Park shows the arch at its most diverse. The park is closed for camping for the season but its seven trails are still open. Ranging from the easy 1.8 km loop known as the Beech Woods Trail that takes you through mature, mixed forest to the difficult 10 km Tallow Rock Bay that goes through meadows and rock barrens, there’s a trail here for everyone. friendsofcharlestonlakepark.com
Frontenac Provincial Park
At 70 square kilometres and encompassing 22 lakes, Frontenac is the largest provincial park in the region. Cross country skiers can explore the park on the Big Salmon Lake Road, an easy 3.5 km trail with gentle slopes and curves, or the Corridor Trail, a moderately difficult 4.5 km trail bordered by trees with several steep hills. Most snowshoers enjoy the moderate 3 km Doe Lake Loop and easy 1.5 km Arab Lake Gorge Loop. frontenacpark.ca
Murphys Point Provincial Park
Murphys Point is about 20 km south of Perth on Big Rideau Lake. The Tay Valley Cross-country Ski Club grooms and track sets 20 km of trails for skiing, including 4 km for skate-skiing, 14 km for classic skiing and 8 km for backcountry skiing. Two warm-up chalets are maintained. Suggested snowshoe routes are along the three other non-groomed hiking trails. ontarioparks.com/park/murphyspoint
Little Cataraqui Creek Conservation Area
Winter is the most popular season at this 394 hectare site that encompasses wetlands, fields, forests and, of course, Little Cataraqui Creek. There are 13 km of groomed cross-country ski trails here and even more for snowshoers. Equipment is available for rent at the Outdoor Centre, and they even offer cross-country ski lessons. crca.ca
Foley Mountain Conservation Area
Located atop a granite ridge overlooking Upper Rideau Lake and the picturesque village of Westport is Foley Mountain, one of the best spots for snowshoeing in the biosphere. There are seven trails of varying length and difficulty. “Some are flatter and others are more challenging with hills and rockier footing,” says Area Supervisor Rebecca Whitman. “There is a trail here for all levels of snowshoer.” rvca.ca
This 15 km trail, which you can hop on and off from at 6 different access points, is perfect for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. It’s found within Kingston’s city limits and extends from Binnington Court Trailhead to Orser Road. You’ll pass through meadows, forests, rock cuts and wetlands. cityofkingston.ca
The Cataraqui Trail follows the former Canadian National Railway line from Strathcona near Napanee to Smiths Falls — a distance of 104 km. Dotted with 48 access points, the trail gives hikers, skiers and snowshoers a diverse cross-section of the biosphere. This is also a popular trail for snowmobilers, so stay alert out there. cataraquitrail.ca
Passing through 387 km of terrain ranging from placid farmland to the rugged Canadian Shield, the Rideau Trail extends from Kingston in the south to Ottawa in the north. It is only intended for hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Visit rideautrail.org for all of the access points. rideautrail.org
Jones Creek Trails
This 12-kilometre trail network ideal for cross-country skiing is found within the borders of the Thousand Islands National Park. There are nine different trails that range from 0.7 km to 3.9 km in length. You’ll be taken from pine ridges to birch lowlands and from creeks and wetlands to forests dramatically changed by beavers. pc.gc.ca
Triangle Ski Club
Located about 20 minutes from downtown Brockville, the Triangle Ski Club has 35 km of cross-country ski trails for beginners, intermediate and expert skiers. 17 kilometres of those trails are groomed. There are also three loops totalling 6 km in length for all ranges of snowshoer. Depending on the path you take, you’ll passing by lakes, wetlands, old pine forests and rocky crags. triangleskiclub.org