Cross country skiing is our favourite winter activity. Thankfully we live in Ottawa, a city surrounded by green space, with ample ski trails to keep us busy. Also, winter in Ottawa lasts almost 6 months, so there is plenty of time to get out and enjoy the plentiful powder.
Gatineau Park, a short 15 minute drive from downtown Ottawa has one of the largest network of cross country ski trails in all of North America! Talk about convenient! The trails are professionally groomed daily which, for us, is absolute magic. Gatineau Park is also conveniently located right by the Chelsea Pub. Everyone who knows me knows of my love affair with the Chelsea Pub. When does one deserve a beer more than after a good workout in the great outdoors? Its a pair crafted in heaven, I say.
This year we tried the trail to the Champlain Lookout, parking at P10 and the trail that heads to Pink Lake from P5. Both trails are mostly on the Gatineau Parkway- a road through the park during the spring, summer and autumn months that is converted into groomed skiing trails come the long, snowy winter. The bonus of the Gatineau Parkway trail is that it is wide enough to accommodate both classic cross country and skate skiers. The Parkway is lined with beautiful, thick forest blanketed in heavy snow most of the winter.
Trail to the Champlain Lookout
This trail is very popular- with good reason. Its a great length, a combination of up and downhill and you pass three lookouts with great views down on to the Ottawa valley. Its about 10 kilometers, round trip.
Skiing from P10 is a steady climb for about 3 kilometers up the Promenade du Lac Fontane and then on to Promonade Champlain. Dont worry: it's worth it. There is ample signage, so picking the right trail is nice and easy. Your first spot to stop and catch your hard earned breath is the Huron Lookout. A little further up is your next selfie stop, the Etienne Brule Lookout. Slightly further still you’ll find the Champlain Lookout and its lofty panorama. We continued along on a small loop to the Huron Shelter before flying back down Promenade Champlain to P10. See? All that hard work was definitely worth it! Next stop- the Chelsea Pub!
Trail to Pink Lake
The trail to Pink Lake is a slightly shorter route (about 6-7 kms) and can be reached by parking at P5 or P6. While we did ski to the Pink Lake parking lot for a lookout over the lake, we liked this trail because it was less busy for equally as awesome skiing. We started at P5 which made the trail a bit longer and took the Gatineau Parkway all the way to the Pink Lake parking lot. It was easy to follow and spectacularly beautiful.
Again the trail started with an uphill stretch and then had a few small ups and downs on route to Pink Lake. Like the trail to the Champlain Lookout, the climb at the beginning made for a super fun effort-free descent back to P5. Don’t worry: just because it was a shorter trail doesn’t mean you don't deserve a pint at the Chelsea Pub!
Stop in at the Visitor Centre and the helpful staff will help you pick the perfect trail for your day at Gatineau Park.
Other Skiing Options in Ottawa
There are also groomed trails at Mooney's Bay that we like to check out every winter. Trails are shorter, as you’re right in the city. They are less forested than Gatineau Park, but right along the river and groomed for easy skiing. Mooney’s Bay is much cheaper (about $4 vs $16, as of March 2018) than Gatineau Park, and if you live in Ottawa, closer.
Pine Grove is where we ski most often. Its close to home, free and the trail winds through a dense forest. The only downside to Pine Grove is that the trails are created and maintained just by people skiing there. Trails can be quite rough and inconsistent and the possibility of people walking in them is high. Plus, its nowhere near the Chelsea Pub. All that taken into account, Pine Grove is still where you’ll find us three times a week- all winter long.
Depending where you live in Ottawa there is probably a NCC Greenbelt space close to you! Check it out!
Gatineau Park costs $16/ day for day pass
Mooney’s Bay is $3.50/day
Tip: If you are a member of the Ottawa Public Library you can borrow ski passes for both Gatineau Park and Mooney's Bay for 7 days! If you do happen to score a Gatineau Ski Pass consider yourself very lucky- they're a hot commodity!