Snowshoeing in Canada’s capital is the perfect outdoor activity for winter sports newbies. It’s accessible, it’s affordable and it’s a lot like walking—just with bigger “feet”! In fact, it’s so simple that it’s ideal for families with young children, and you can rent equipment.
Although you can simply snowshoe in the nearest park, it’s much more fun to explore the hundreds of kilometres of maintained trails in the Ottawa area. There are options for everyone, including rural paths through snowy forests and urban trails near pubs and shops. And here’s the best part: Many of the trails described below are free!
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.
From downtown Ottawa, it takes just 15 minutes to drive to Gatineau Park, where you’ll find almost 80 kilometres (50 miles) of scenic snowshoe trails. Roughly half of them are shared with snow bikers, so be alert for passing cyclists. In the southern section of the park, closest to Ottawa, easier trails include Trail 29 and Trail 68; if you’re seeking a challenge, try Trail 65 or Trail 76. Most start at parking lots P1 and P2.
A few minutes’ drive further into the park, Chelsea is a popular destination. Gentle Trail 63 takes you past late prime minister Mackenzie King’s summer home and collection of architectural ruins (parking lot P6). Experienced snowshoers might want to tackle Wolf Trail (Trail 62), a challenging 7.7-kilometre (4.8 mile) loop with a 220-metre (722 foot) slope (parking lot P13).
There is never an admission fee for Gatineau Park, but you do need a Winter Pass (seasonal or daily) to use the trails for snowshoeing, snow biking or cross-country skiing. Several public library networks in Canada’s capital region also have passes that members can borrow.
If you need equipment, the Relais plein air du parc de la Gatineau (parking lot P2, with direct access to several trails) rents snowshoes and other gear. Wooden short-term shelters along the trails are useful for a quick warm-up (subject to availability). You can also book a four-season cabin, yurt or tent for an overnight stay!
Located within Gatineau Park, the Camp Fortune downhill ski centre also has a network of loop trails through the forest for snowshoers. Access to the snowshoe trails is free if you rent snowshoes from Camp Fortune or if you’ve bought an unlimited ski pass. Camp Fortune has lodges where you can warm up, get food and use the washrooms.
Britannia Winter Trail
A 15-minute drive west of downtown, you can put on your snowshoes to explore the 15-kilometre (9.3 mile) Britannia Winter Trail. Winding along the Trans-Canada Trail between the Sir John A MacDonald Parkway and Andrew Haydon Park on the Ottawa River shore, the groomed trail is open to cross-country skiers, walkers and fat bikers, in addition to snowshoers. Pop into the nearby Britannia Coffeehouse to warm up with cookies, coffee, hot chocolate and other treats.
Kichi Sibi Winter Trail
The Kichi Sibi Winter Trail (formerly known as the Sir John A MacDonald or SJAM Trail) is another popular winter recreational trail beside the Ottawa River. It’s a little closer to downtown, as it winds westward from the Canadian War Museum past several lively neighbourhoods, such as Wellington West and Westboro Village. The trail actually offers two groomed, flat tracks: one is reserved for snowshoers, fat-bikers and walkers, and the other one for cross-country skiers. In all, the trail includes 18 kilometres (11 miles) to explore, which includes several tracks looping through adjacent parkland.
There are lots of options for fuelling up before, during or after your snowshoe outing. The Mill Street Brew Pub is right on the trail and serves pub meals and craft beers (ask about their Trail Ale!). Alternatively, you can get a snack and a warm beverage at the Bistro at Remic Rapids Park, where a small Nordic Village also offers rest areas, a firepit and basic washroom facilities (subject to availability).
Remic Rapids is one of several spots along the trail with a parking lot. If you prefer public transit, you can easily access the SJAM Trail from the nearby LRT O-Train Confederation Line.
Rideau Winter Trail
One of Ottawa’s newest winter trails, the Rideau Winter Trail runs 9 kilometres (5.6 miles) along the Rideau River in the Overbrook area, just east of downtown. At the river end of Donald Street, you can enjoy drinks and meals indoors or on the patio (weather permitting) at the Bridge Public House in the Rideau Sports Centre. Alternatively, you can book an outdoor fire pit package that includes snacks and drinks, and some of the proceeds will support the trail. The pub is named for Adàwe Crossing, a nearby pedestrian and cycling bridge across the river that will take you to Strathcona Park in the Sandy Hill neighbourhood, where you’ll find additional places to eat before or after your outing.
Ski Heritage East
Extending from Blair Road in the neighbourhood of Rothwell Heights, roughly a 15-minute drive from downtown, to the east-end suburb of Orleans, the Ski Heritage East trail offers 17 kilometres (10.6 miles) of fun near the Ottawa River. Between the tracks groomed for classic cross-country skiing is a flat, wide trail that’s great for snowshoeing, skate skiing and fat biking. In the surrounding parkland, you may also find wide swaths of deep snow for off-trail snowshoeing. About halfway along the route, you can stop at Shami’s Bakery for some energizing carbs, while in Orleans, you can enjoy meals and craft beer at the Stray Dog and Broadhead brewpubs. Drivers will be pleased to note that there are seven parking lots along the trail.
Ottawa’s Greenbelt, a band of protected lands encircling the city, is a magnet for nature lovers. Over 150 kilometres (93 miles) of recreational trails support various activities year-round in the Greenbelt, including cross-country skiing on over 21 kilometres (13 miles) of trails. Snowshoers are allowed to use those trails, with one key requirement: they must stay to the side of the trail, away from the mechanically groomed tracks.
The National Capital Commission recommends six particular Greenbelt trails to snowshoers: the Jackpine, Beaver, Chipmunk and Sarsaparilla trails in Stoney Swamp Conservation Area, near the Bells Corners neighbourhood in Ottawa’s west end; and the Mer Bleue Bog and Dewberry trails in Mer Bleue Conservation Area on the southeastern edge of town. The Greenbelt also has many spots ideal for other outdoor winter fun, including tobogganing and hiking.
Ottawa West Winter Trail
A portion of the Trans Canada Trail, along with the Watts Creek Pathway and several offshoot trails, together form the Ottawa West Winter Trail. This free, multi-use trail, about a 20-minute drive west of downtown, welcomes snowshoers, walkers and winter bikers to share the groomed space between the cross-country tracks. It includes roughly eight kilometres (five miles) of trail adjacent to Wesley Clover Parks, described below.
Wesley Clover Parks
The Kanata Nordic club manages snowshoe trails meandering through Wesley Clover Parks, adjacent to the aforementioned Ottawa West Winter Trail. Trails may be restricted to Wesley Clover Parks members only on weekends due to COVID-19, but anyone can buy a day pass to use the trails on weekdays. The club also rents snowshoes and other outdoor equipment.
For something different, how about combining your snowshoe outing with some wildlife encounters? Parc Oméga in Montebello, Quebec—about an hour’s drive east of Ottawa—offers a 12-kilometre drive-through animal park and a separate area of snowshoeing trails. Takeout meals, snacks and drinks are available.
A 30-minute drive north of downtown Ottawa, Arbraska Laflèche is a four-season adventure park in Quebec’s Gatineau Hills. From Thursday to Sunday, you can rent snowshoes (or bring your own) and buy a day pass for the park’s snowshoe trail network. You can also sign up for a three-hour Snowman Adventure that includes a cave tour, a one-hour snowshoe rally where you solve clues while out on the trail, and a 260-metre (850 foot) zipline ride.
In addition to the outfitters noted earlier in this post, a number of other clubs and businesses rent snowshoes and other outdoor equipment, including Kunstadt Sports (multiple locations) and Nakkertok Nordic (Gatineau, Quebec).