When you’ve got outdoor gems like the Sandbanks and the Rideau Trail in your backyard, you want to take advantage of them all year long. And for my money, there’s no better way to do that in the winter than with two skis strapped to your feet and two poles in your hands. Sure, cross-country skiing is really good for your health, but it’s the terrain that makes the exploration worth it here. From the Bay of Quinte to the Thousand Islands, there are over one hundred ski trails, each with its own unique combo of frozen lake, snow-covered Canadian Shield, cedar forest and way more. Here are details about two of the best spots to strap ’em on in each region (and, in a few cases, nearby places to rent equipment).
Bay of Quinte
I’m biased when it comes to cross-country skiing and Vanderwater Conservation Area—it’s where I learned to ski—but for me it’s easily in my top five favourite spots to clamp in. Located on 635 acres that borders the Moira River, there are 15 kilometres of un-groomed trails here that run along steep ridges and hardwood forests above, and through thick cedar forests below. Another spot with a diverse set of ski trails is the H.R. Frink Conservation Area. Alone, each of the ten or so trails is less than 2 kilometres long, but some can be combined into three-, four- and five-kilometre loops that pass by frozen wetlands, through deciduous forest and beside the mighty Moira.
Prince Edward County
In the County, head to Sandbanks Provincial Park, where there are about 10 kilometres of groomed, gently-sloping trails that mainly pass through forests. Added bonus: the cabin with a stove and hot plate to warm up in. For a more diverse slice of Prince Edward County, check out the forty-nine-kilometre-long Millennium Trail, an old Canadian National Railway (CNR) line that goes from Carrying Place to Picton. Because the trail passes through communities like Wellington, Bloomfield and Picton, it’s a great way to turn an afternoon journey into a multi-day tour.
Land O’ Lakes
Frontenac Park is one of the most serene areas to see the southern edge of the Canadian Shield up close, and it’s one of the only places in the region that has set tracks (6 kilometres of them). Explore the park on the Big Salmon Lake Road, an easy 3.5-kilometre trail with gentle slopes and curves, or the Corridor Trail, a moderately difficult 4.5-kilometre trail bordered by trees with several steep hills. The Cataraqui Trail is another abandoned CNR line, but it runs from Strathcona to Smiths Falls (104 kilometres). With forty-eight access points, the trail gives you a diverse cross-section of the Frontenac Arch Biosphere.
Rideau Heritage Route
The Rideau Trail is a 387-kilometre path from Kingston to Ottawa and a feat of beauty made possible by public and private landowners and the Rideau Trail Association. The terrain ranges from placid farmland to the rugged Canadian Shield, but the Rideau itself is never far away. Bonus: no motorized vehicles allowed. The Rideau Trail runs through Murphys Point Provincial Park for about 6 kilometres but if you have the time, explore the rest of the park, especially when there’s fresh powder. Twenty kilometres of trail are groomed and track set here, including 4 kilometres for skate-skiing and 14 kilometres for classic skiing; there’s 8 kilometres for backcountry skiing, too.
At 394 hectares and the most happening conservation near Kingston, Little Cataraqui Creek Conservation Area doesn’t seem so “little” anymore. Winter is its most popular time, and, with 13 kilometres of groomed trails, and rentals and lessons available, understandably so. Don’t forget the K&P Trail, however, a 15-kilometre former rail bed that although is within Kingston’s city limits offers plenty of peace and quiet. The snow-covered rock cuts, frozen wetlands and no motorized vehicle policy help keep things serene. Try Trailhead in downtown Kingston for rentals.
Brockville’s Triangle Cross Country Ski Club is a ski-lovers dream. With 35 kilometres of forested trails for beginners, intermediates and experts—17 of which are groomed and track set—along with rentals, lessons and social events on offer, there isn’t much more you need. Southwest of the Triangle is the 12-kilometre Jones Creek trail network that’s part of Thousand Islands National Park. Though not groomed, the scenery is what sells these trails: pine ridges, birch lowlands, frozen creeks and wetlands, and snow-covered forests dramatically shaped by beavers.
Cornwall and the Counties
Just west of Cornwall lay 20 kilometres of groomed trails at Summerstown Trails, a network of trails for beginners and intermediates that mostly flow through forests. Lessons and rentals available. For an even richer wildlife experience than what you’ll find at Summerstown Trails, head to the Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary 11 kilometres east of Morrisburg. There are over 8 kilometres of groomed trails here, and on each you’ll likely come across at least a few of the one hundred and fifty bird species that call this place home. Rentals are available, and don’t miss out on the guided moonlight skis, which happen once per month.