It doesn’t take long to become passionate about cross-country skiing. Once you strap on your skis for the first time and push yourself onto the snowy trail, gliding softly and 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.
Once you’ve discovered the pure bliss of gliding over a snowy trail, you’ll be waiting impatiently for the snow to fly each year.
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. And that’s okay, because there’s plenty to keep us busy when it comes to outdoor fun when the snow starts to fly.
For the cross-country skiers who have been dreaming of the first snowfall since spring, this list of where to ski near Ottawa is for you.
Madawaska Nordic (75 minutes from Ottawa)
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.
Apres Ski: 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.
Mill of Kintail (60 minutes from Ottawa)
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 of outdoor and indoor fun. Owned and operated by Mississippi Valley Conservation, the Mill of Kintail is a 152-acre area located north-west of the town of Almonte. A 6.5-kilometre network of trails traverses the 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. Also on the property is the restored studio and home of Robert Tait MacKenzie, and the Naismith Museum.
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.
What to Do: There’s plenty to do during your visit to Almonte to make this a full day’s outing. Fuel up before your ski with a savoury wood-fired pizza from Joe’s Italian Kitchen or sweeter fare from Tea and Cake, the cutest little tearoom in downtown Almonte. Browse the cozy independent bookstore, Mill Street Books, or tour craft alcohol producers at Dairy Distillery and Crooked Mile Brewery, both located at the northern edge of Almonte just before you leave town.
Calabogie Peaks (75 minutes from Ottawa)
The three-kilometre round trip Eagles 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.
What to Do: You can dine right at Calabogie Peaks’ on-site restaurants, Canthooks or Black Donald’s Pub, where you can savour a cold and refreshing local brew and hearty fare to fill your ski boots. Another excellent spot for an apres-ski pick-me-up is Neat Café in Burnstown if you’re heading that way on the way home. Try one of their deliciously cheesy wood-fired pizzas with fun names like Ziggy Stardust or John Lennon – if you’re lucky you might end up there on a night featuring a live musical performance.
Mount Pakenham (60 minutes from Ottawa)
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.
What to do: You won’t need to travel far to find enough to keep you busy in Pakenham. Drop by Cartwright Springs Brewery, just a short drive from Pakenham, or stop for a hearty lunch at the local favourite, Centennial Restaurant, in the heart of Pakenham.