It doesn’t take long to become passionate about cross-country skiing. When you put on your skis for the first time and push yourself onto the snowy trail, gliding silently forward while the whole world is blanketed in silence, it’s all over. You’re now a cross-country skier and there’s no going back.
And let’s get real: When you live in Canada, winter can last a long time, which is why we Canucks tend to embrace the snow-filled months with open arms. It’s a survival technique, really.
For the cross-country skiers who have been dreaming of the first snowfall since spring, this list of where to ski in Ontario's Highlands is for you.
Madawaska Nordic - Calabogie
Whether you’re looking to stretch your legs or really challenge yourself with a workout, this 18-kilometre network of trails is for you. Located just west of Calabogie, the Madawaska Nordic Ski Trails are well-marked and colour coded for all levels of difficulty, from Green (easy) to Blue (moderate) and Red (difficult).
Getting There: These trails aren’t far from Calabogie – head west on Highway 508 and turn right onto Calabogie Road. Turn left on Viewmount Drive and take the second right onto Crestview. Parking is available at the trailhead, which is also signed.
A crisp, cold beer from Calabogie Brewing Co. will hit the spot after a day on the trail. Once you’ve worked up an appetite you can sate it at Redneck Bistro, just a hop skip and a ski from the brewery. Try their specialty, the Redneck Burger for a gooey, cheesy, bacon-y, and delicious meal. Pick it up to go or gnosh on the way home.
Mill of Kintail - Almonte
Pair this cross-country skiing experience with a visit to the charming small town of Almonte (a 10-minute drive from the trails) for a full day outing. Explore the Mill of Kintail’s 6.5-kilometre network of trails that traverse the 152-acre property, on mostly level land that makes for moderate cross-country conditions. The property is open year-round from dawn to dusk, seven days a week, and visitors pay a small fee of $6 per vehicle.
Getting There: Head north from Almonte on Highway 29 and turn onto Clayton Road, then travel north on Concession 8 to reach the mill. There is a small lot just inside the gate where you can park, or you can drive down to the mill itself and park there. The network of trails can be accessed from the gatehouse or from the mill.
Fuel up before your ski with some take-out: savoury wood-fired pizza from Joe’s Italian Kitchen or sweeter fare from Tea and Cake, a cute little tearoom in downtown Almonte. Browse the cozy independent bookstore, Mill Street Books to stock up on your next great read.
Calabogie Peaks - Calabogie
The three-kilometre round trip Eagle's Nest Trail is good for intermediate skill levels and offers an invigorating winter outing for skiing. Located right at Calabogie Peaks, the trail will take you to the spectacular Eagles Nest lookout, although you may need to remove your skis to hike the remaining few feet to the lookout. There’s a slight incline on the way out, but don’t worry, it will be an easy trip back!
If you don’t have your own skis, this is a good trail to try since you can rent right from Calabogie Peaks. There’s a geocache in the area to add an extra level of fun to your day.
Getting There: The trail is searchable on Google maps, but if you are looking for the three-kilometre route, make sure you access the trail from the parking lot on Highway 508 instead of from Calabogie Peaks which is an eight-kilometre trek.
You can pick up take-out right at Calabogie Peaks’ at Canthooks Restaurant. Another excellent spot for an apres-ski pick-me-up is wood-fired pizza to go from Neat Café in Burnstown if you’re heading that way on the way home.
Mount Pakenham - Pakenham
Enjoy 15-kilometres of scenic snow-covered trails at this Ottawa-area ski hill located south-west of the village of Pakenham. This charming skiing destination is just the spot to introduce little ones to cross-country skiing. Try their Winter Outdoor Wonder (WOW) trail, a snowshoe trail that has fun outdoor activities for kids and adults, including an orienteering activity (kids aged 8 to 14). Snowshoers are asked to stay to the side of the trail so the cross-country ski conditions shouldn’t be impacted.
Getting There: Mount Pakenham is easy to find, located just five minutes outside of the cute little village of Pakenham, and 20 minutes from Almonte. The trails are easily located and well-signed to the right of the tubing area at the base of the mountain.
Drop by Cartwright Springs Brewery, just a short drive from Pakenham, or pick up a pizza from the local favourite, Centennial Restaurant, in the heart of Pakenham.
Opeongo Hills Ski Trails
There are more than 19-kilometres of trails here that are maintained and operated by the Opeongo Hills Nordic Ski Club. Check out their map to select the perfect trail for your cross country outing, but please note that distances are one way. You don't need a membership to ski; the daily fee is $10 per person per day, and payment can be dropped in one of the on-site boxes.
Getting There: The trails are located in Brudenell near Barry's Bay, and southeast of Gorman Lake. There is a parking area at the trailhead. If you don't have your own skis, Hilltop Ski Rentals is located just down the road from the trailhead.
The Opeongo Hills Ski Trails are only a few minutes' drive to the small community of Wilno, where you can explore the Polish/Kashub history of the region, including a food and drink immersion at the Wilno Tavern. Pick up a meal to go: their famous cabbage rolls, Polish sausage and jumbo pierogies are a must-try.