If you’re dreaming of gliding through snowy forests, beside frozen rivers, or through urban landscapes, you’ll love cross-country skiing in the Ottawa area. With hundreds of kilometres of groomed, scenic trails within the city and in the nearby countryside, the region is Nordic skiing heaven for beginners and experts alike. Pick up your ski poles, clip on your bindings and get ready to explore some beautiful landscapes in and around Canada’s capital this winter. Bonus: Most of the skiing destinations below are free to access!
Note: Due to COVID-19 and other factors, some of the mentions below may not reflect current offerings. Please confirm details with direct sources and stay informed on the current situation in Ottawa.
Just a 15-minute drive from Ottawa’s downtown core in Gatineau, Quebec, is one of the largest networks of winter trails in North America! Gatineau Park features over 200 kilometres (124 miles) of cross-country skiing trails that run through pristine Canadian wilderness. Choose from over 50 circuits of flat, hilly or technical terrain and lengths up to 22 kilometres (14 miles). With over 311 metres (1,020 feet) of vertical drop, Gatineau Park is a favourite ski touring destination.
Admission to Gatineau Park is free throughout the year, but a Winter Pass (seasonal or daily) is required to use the trails for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snow biking. If you don’t have equipment, the Relais plein air du parc de la Gatineau rents all the gear you need and offers direct access to some of the park’s trails. Wooden short-term shelters along the trails are useful for a quick warm-up (subject to availability). In addition, you have the option to reserve an overnight stay in a four-season tent, yurt or cabin!
Mooney’s Bay Ski Centre
Need access to ski services, rentals, lessons and more within the city? Head just 15 minutes south of the downtown core to the Terry Fox Athletic Facility at Mooney’s Bay Park. The Mooney’s Bay Ski Centre offers 5 kilometres (3.1 miles) of groomed, brightly lit trails where you can ski on your own or take classic or skate skiing lessons. Rental equipment is available on site and the ski shop is a great spot to warm up with some hot chocolate.
Britannia Winter Trail
One of the city’s newest urban ski trails, the Britannia Winter Trail, offers nearly 15 kilometres (9.3 miles) of groomed, multi-use trails. Focussed in and around Britannia Park—a roughly 15-minute drive west of downtown—the route extends along the Trans-Canada Trail between the Sir John A MacDonald Parkway and Andrew Haydon Park. Snowshoers, walkers and fat bikers, as well as cross-country skiers, can fuel up with hot beverages and baked goodies at nearby spots such as the Britannia Coffeehouse.
Kichi Sibi Winter Trail
The Kichi Sibi Winter Trail (formerly known as the Sir John A MacDonald or SJAM Trail) is another popular urban skiing destination that snakes along the Ottawa River just west of downtown. The 18-kilometre (11 mile) multi-use route—which features offshoot loops—stretches from the Canadian War Museum westward along vibrant urban communities, including Westboro Village. There are two separate flat, groomed tracks: one for cross-country skiers, and one for snowshoers, fat-bikers and walkers.
You can get a warm beverage and a snack at the Bistro at Remic Rapids, and visit the small Nordic Village which has limited ski and fat-bike rentals as well as rest areas, a firepit and outhouse (subject to availability). Along the trail, you’ll find several parking areas and the handy LRT O-Train Confederation Line. You can also ski right up to the Mill Street Brew Pub for a pint—if you’re lucky, their seasonal Trail Ale may be on tap!
Rideau Winter Trail
Another relative newcomer to Ottawa’s ski trail network, the Rideau Winter Trail loops through parkland beside the Rideau River, just east of downtown. The 9-kilometre (5.6-mile) route is great for cross-country skiing (skate and classic), snowshoeing, fat biking and walking.
Bonus: The groomed cross-country ski trail runs beside the Bridge Public House restaurant at the Rideau Sports Centre. Plan ahead and reserve one of their fire pit packages which include snacks and drinks around a cozy flame; a portion of the proceeds go to support the trail. The pub also serves full meals indoors and on the patio.
Ski Heritage East
Starting about 15 minutes east of downtown, Ski Heritage East’s trail runs some 17 kilometres (10.6 miles) along the Ottawa River and through nearby parkland. The western trailhead is near Blair Road in the neighbourhood of Rothwell Heights, while the eastern end is near Trim Road in the suburb of Orleans. The flat land is groomed for cross-country skiing with additional space for other winter sports. This trail is easily accessible thanks to several parking lots along the way and public transit options nearby.
If you’re looking for a snack about halfway along the route, pop into Shami’s Bakery—a few blocks from the trail—for baklava and savoury Lebanese pies. Near the eastern trailhead, relax with a beer and food at Stray Dog or Broadhead brewing companies.
Ottawa West Winter Trail
This trail located about a 20-minute drive west of downtown combines a portion of the Trans Canada Trail with the Watts Creek Pathway and several offshoot trails. The free, multi-use Ottawa West Winter Trail features a pair of classic cross-country tracks with space in between for snowshoers, walkers and winter bikers. You can explore roughly eight kilometres (five miles) of trail adjacent to Wesley Clover Parks, described below.
Outdoor lovers flock to Ottawa’s Greenbelt, a collection of diverse protected lands that surround the city. Over 150 kilometres (93 miles) of recreational trails support various activities year-round in the Greenbelt, including over 21 kilometres (13 miles) of mechanically groomed cross-country trails. From downtown Ottawa, drive west to Shirleys Bay, south-west to Stoney Swamp, south to Pinhey Forest and Pine Grove, or east to Mer Bleue. Many of these locations are also great for other wonderful outdoor winter activities, such as walking, hiking, snowshoeing and tobogganing.
Wesley Clover Parks
The Kanata Nordic cross-country ski club manages classic and skate trails winding through Wesley Clover Parks, an equestrian park about 20 minutes west of downtown. Snowshoeing trails are available, too. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, trails may be limited to members only on weekends, but anyone can buy a day pass to explore them on weekdays. The club also rents equipment.
In addition to the outfitters mentioned above in or near Gatineau Park, Mooney’s Bay and Wesley Clover Parks, you can rent gear from several businesses and clubs, such as Kunstadt Sports (several urban locations) and Nakkertok Nordic (Gatineau, Quebec).