There is no shortage of incredible things to do in Ontario in winter, with cross country skiing being one of my favourites! It may not have the adrenaline rush some seek with downhill skiing, but for this winter wanderer – it’s an activity I always look forward to. If you’re a fan of winter exploration, check out these top spots for cross country skiing in Ontario!
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10 Stellar Spots for Cross Country Skiing in Ontario
Also referred to as nordic skiing, it’s the perfect activity to stay fit and active during the winter months. Here are some of the top places to enjoy cross country skiing in Ontario!
Algonquin Provincial Park
There’s a reason this park draws a park year-round and it’s not only because it was the first provincial park in Ontario. Algonquin Park has so much to offer no matter the season with hiking, biking, fishing, snowshoeing and even dog sledding. However, what you may not know is that it also offers some of the best cross country skiing in Ontario!
The park offers four sets of cross country ski trails, three of which are groomed while one is not. The Fen Lake ski trail travels through hardwood bush typically found near the park’s West Gate where its located, offering four loops with easy and more challenging portions. The Leaf Lake ski trail is located by the East Gate and includes some of the park’s best vistas with trails ranging in length from 5 to over 50 kilometres! Then there’s the Old Railway Trail, a 16 kilometre multi-purpose winter trail that follows the abandoned Ottawa Arnprior and Parry Sound Railway that was decommissioned in 1959. Lastly, you have the Minnesing Trail which is maintained for backcountry wilderness skiing and offers skiers four loops.
While the park itself doesn’t offer rentals, you can secure a set of skis at the Algonquin Outfitters Oxtongue Lake store.
Arrowhead Provincial Park in Huntsville
Known for having one of the top outdoor ice skating trails in Ontario, Arrowhead is a popular destination once the snow falls. This is thanks to the variety of winter activities it offers such as snowshoeing, hiking and more – like cross-country skiing!
The park features 28 kilometres of beautifully groomed classic and skate ski trails that range from beginner to expert level. Cross country skiing will allow you to access different areas of the park you typically can’t in the winter, so you’ll be able to see even more of this Ontario gem! Beginners can follow the edge near Big Bend Lookout for great views and those with more experience can check out the beauty of Arrowhead Lake.
If you’re in the area or are planning to visit Arrowhead Provincial Park a few times for some cross country skiing fun, you may want to join the Arrowhead Nordic Ski Club. They plan some fantastic social events like their Full Moon Ski and Sunrise Ski which are only open to members!
Rentals can be acquired at the main gatehouse to the park depending on restrictions and availability. It’s best to call the park in advance to confirm.
Hiawatha Highlands in Sault Ste Marie
Anything in Sault Ste Marie tends to be a favourite for me as I call this Northern Ontario city my second home, but the Hiawatha Highlands honestly stand on their own as a top spot for cross country skiing in the province.
You’ll be treated to over 50 kilometres of gorgeous trails as you wander through the lush boreal forest just north of the city. They have three systems – the Crystal Creek system, Pinder system and Red Pine system – offering trails for skiers of all abilities. Beginners should check out the “New” Farmer Bob Loop which follows a retired maple syrup line and takes you through a Christmas tree plantation as well as the Pinder Trail. There’s even a trail that’s lit at night so you can enjoy some cross country skiing under the stars!
Something to note is that a number of trails are also used by fat bikes, though you shouldn’t run into any trouble as they won’t be on the ski tracks. The Hiawatha Highlands are also a fantastic place to snowshoe so make sure to carve out some time to do that and see Crystal Falls in her winter beauty!
RELATED: For more snowy adventures in the area, check out my guide to the fun things to do in Sault Ste Marie in winter!
Hockleycrest Ski Trails near Orangeville
Home to some of the newer cross country ski trails in Ontario, Hockleycrest is a labour of love. Home to 14 kilometres of classic style trails, they meander through beautiful farmlands and gorgeous forests. As these trails are located on existing Bruce Trail conservation lands, they’re free for the public to use. However, some private landowners are kind enough to allow these trails on their property and it’s thanks to Dave Moule that the trails even exist in the first place! If you can, consider purchasing a Bruce Trail membership or donating to the organization as a thank you for all they do to maintain the trails.
While these trails are free and accessible to all, they are not suitable for beginner skiers. The trails can be quite narrow in some places, meaning there isn’t a lot of room to manoeuvre if you find yourself losing your balance. There are also some tight turns and hills to climb so you’ll definitely want to have a few runs under your belt! If you’re looking to plan a trip, check out the website Dave runs to see what the trail conditions are like before departing.
RELATED: Since you’re in the area, why not head into town and check out some of the great things to do in Orangeville!
Kawartha Nordic Near Peterborough
Just 40 minutes north of Peterborough near the town of Haultain lies the beautiful trails of Kawartha Nordic. Founded by an avid group of cross country skiers from the city in 1976, you’ll enjoy 46 kilometres of both classic and skate trails through the gorgeous wilderness of the Canadian Shield. This is a great spot for beginners as there aren’t many hills and they offer rentals as well as private and semi-private lessons.
Kawartha Nordic offers two main sections: the Tanney Loop which often has more snow and features wider trails perfect for both classic and skate skiing, and the Laderach Loop is for classic skiing only with tighter trails and beautiful vistas. There are also the Secondary Trails that are often used for teaching and programming but can offer a sort of ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ vibe by tacking a variety of these short trails together. If you’d like to ski at night, Kawartha Nordic is another destination that offers 2 kilometres of lit trails!
RELATED: There is so much to see and do in the area that you can easily make a trip out of it. Check out my guide for some ideas of things to do in and around Peterborough!
Madawaska Trail Network Near Calabogie
It’s no secret that the Ottawa Valley is a wonderful destination for winter fun in Eastern Ontario. Just outside the town of Calabogie, you’ll find a network of fantastic cross country ski trails. The Madawaska Trail Network is located across the road from Calabogie Peaks Resort and offers skiers approximately 20 kilometres of classic and skate ski routes.
While you might think you’ll be in for some steep hills with Calabogie Peaks being right there, the hills don’t make it quite this far. The Madawaska Trail Network is actually a great spot for skiers of all skill levels! Beginners should check out the Snow Bunting and Footloose trails while those looking for a challenge should eye up the Hemlock Loop. Access is $5 for an all-day pass or $20 for a season’s pass, just pay at the drop box on your way in. Parking can be found at the trailhead off of Crestview Drive. For current conditions, check out the Madawaska Trail Network Facebook Group.
North Bay Nordic in North Bay
You’ll find some exceptional cross country ski trails in Ontario just east of downtown North Bay! The hills north of Trout Lake can make some of the trails a little challenging but North Bay Nordic has something for every level of skier. You’ll find 50 kilometres of trails, all of which are groomed for both classic and skate skiing.
Most of the trails are labelled by colour. Beginners will feel comfortable starting out on the yellow and gold trails, graduating to the purple once you’re feeling comfortable. The blue, brown, green and red trails are for more advanced skiers as they have some serious climbs and downhill portions. If you’re really looking for a challenge, the 18 kilometre long green trail is not for the faint of heart. Be sure to pack some snacks as this trail takes at least a few hours, but you’ll be rewarded with some stunning views of Trout Lake.
Purchase your trail pass at the clubhouse and if you are in need of rentals, they will make sure you’re outfitted. I’ve also heard the cookies are fantastic so don’t forget to snag one for when you need a little energy boost while skiing!
Sauble Falls near Wiarton
For forty years now, Ski Sauble has created a lovely cross country ski destination just north of Sauble Beach. Located just two kilometres north of Sauble Falls Provincial Park, visitors will enjoy approximately 20 kilometres of groomed classic ski trails.
The trails aren’t extremely challenging, making them great for beginner and intermediate level skiers. However, as you are skiing on the ancient rolling sand dunes of what was once Lake Huron, you will run into some small hills. If you’re new to cross country skiing, the Bunny Trail, Main Trail and Melody Trail are the best places to start. For those with a little more experience, check out the John’s Lake Trail, Dam Trail and Ruth’s Ridge. Don’t miss the fireball lookout over the Rankin River!
Ski Sauble is open from December 1st to April 15th every year as long as the snow cooperates. There is a chalet on site where you can warm up and put on your gear but with the current restrictions, it is closed until further notice. Take a look at their Facebook Page for up-to-date trail conditions. A day pass is $8 and can be paid in cash or via e-transfer. If you have children under 16 accompanying you, they can ski for free! Make sure you register at the kiosk and wear your day pass while using the trails. You can also purchase trail passes at Suntrail Outfitters in Hepworth or at Fretz’s Valu-Mart in Sauble Beach.
RELATED: Wiarton may not be your first thought for a winter destination (unless it’s to see Wiarton Willie!) but if you’re interested in knowing more about the area, check out some of the fun things to do in Wiarton!
Scenic Caves in Collingwood
I have had the pleasure of experiencing Scenic Caves in the summer as well as the winter and, while I might be biased, it truly is magical once the snow falls!
Scenic Caves sits at the highest point of the Niagara Escarpment meaning you’ll be treated to brilliant views across the area and Georgian Bay. Breathe in the snowy beauty as you glide through the 200+ year old forest surrounding you. They have four beginner-level trails, five intermediate trails and seven advanced trails at your disposal. Keep your eyes peeled when you’re out skiing as it’s not uncommon to catch a glimpse of some of the local wildlife like a white-tailed deer and snowy owls!
Trail access includes in and out privileges so you can enjoy a full day of skiing. However, the last admission is at 3:30 pm daily. Reservations are not available in advance as day trail passes (as well as rental equipment) are available on a first-come, first-served basis. You can purchase both on-site at Scenic Caves Nordic Centre.
Windy Lake Provincial Park near Sudbury
Head approximately 40 minutes northwest of Sudbury to the town of Onaping, Ontario and you’ll find Windy Lake Provincial Park. It offers 2 kilometres of cross country ski trails that are perfect for beginners as they snake around the campgrounds and yurts. But Lindsay, that’s not enough to make it some of the top cross country skiing in Ontario? You are correct, but the +15 kilometres it connects to in partnership with the Onaping Falls Nordics Ski Club sure does!
While you need an extra pass in order to utilize these trails, it’s 100% worth every penny. This volunteer organization does an incredible job maintaining the trails as well as making beginners feel welcome in trying out the sport. They also have one of the longest-running ski seasons thanks to their location meaning plenty of time to give these trails a try! However if they shape an Olympian like Devon Kershaw, then you know they’re top quality.
Rentals are available thanks as well to the Onaping Falls Nordics Ski Club who operate out of the ski chalet by the yurt parking lot. While they’re only open on weekends, you can reach out to them at least 24 hours in advance via phone or email and someone from the club will help get you set up.
RELATED: Cross country skiing isn’t all that Windy Lake offers! Check out my guide to winter fun at Windy Lake Provincial Park and you’ll quickly see what I mean.
If you’re looking for a spot to go cross country skiing in Sudbury, you can also head to Kivi Park. This is a great spot for families as they have some fantastic snowshoeing opportunities, a skate trail and more. A visit to Kivi Park can easily be turned into a whole day affair! Sudbury is a fantastic spot to visit in the winter as the city has plenty of fun to offer. Check out my guide to visiting Sudbury in the winter to find out more!
More Ontario Cross Country Skiing Spots
As it is a big province, you can imagine there are a number of places to go cross country skiing in Ontario! Here are a few more options to get your fill of nordic skiing this winter.
Albion Hills Conservation Area – If you’re looking for a spot to go cross country skiing near Toronto, Albion Hills is a perfect spot. They offer a number of route options that will take you past beautiful lookouts, a sugar shack and more. However, this isn’t a good spot for beginners just starting out as you’ll need to know how to climb, turn and stop in order to fully enjoy their trails.
Georgian Nordic Outdoor Activity Centre – A prime skiing location just 10 minutes north of Parry Sound, Georgian Nordic offers 30 kilometres of classic and skate skiing trails. Drink in the views of the granite cliffs iconic to the Canadian Shield, beautiful forest and frozen lakes. A day pass is required to access the trails and rentals are available from the ski chalet daily.
Long Sault Conservation Area – While I have not experienced Long Sault in the winter months myself, I did visit during my trip to Clarington in the fall and I can only imagine how beautiful these trails would be with snowfall! Located in the heart of the gorgeous Oak Ridges Moraine, you’ll find 18 kilometres of cross country ski trails throughout the park. However, it’s best to get there early and after a fresh snow since the area is also popular with hikers, meaning the trails can get trampled by folks not staying off them.
MountainView Ski Centre – Just outside of Midland you’ll find some fantastic Ontario cross country skiing trails at the MountainView Ski Centre. They offer 35 kilometres of both classic and skate skiing tracks for skiers of all skill levels. Beginner and intermediate skiers will enjoy the north trails while advanced skiers will be all about the south trails. They offer weekday discounts on trail passes and have some of the most reasonably priced lessons around. Rentals are available and reservations are required in advance by calling 705-526-8149.
Ontario Provincial Parks – You’ll be surprised just how many provincial parks offer nordic skiing in the winter months. As I mentioned earlier, Algonquin, Arrowhead and Windy Lake are stellar destinations for cross country skiing in Ontario but they’re not the only ones! You can find fantastic trails at Awenda, Bronte Creek, MacGregor Point, Murphys Point, Pinery, Sandbanks, Sleeping Giant, Springwater, Wasaga Beach and more.
INSIDER TIP: Some parks offer roofed accommodation like the cabins at Silent Lake Provincial Park which makes it a perfect destination for a winter getaway!
Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre – If you’re looking for some of the best cross country skiing in Ontario for beginners, Wye Marsh is the place to go. With over 25 kilometres of classic ski trails and no hills, it’s the perfect place to get your bearings on the sport! As it is a wildlife centre, there’s a good chance you’ll see some of the local residents as you explore.
Be Prepared to Hit the Ski Trails
There’s no doubt that nordic skiing is one fun way to enjoy winter in the outdoors. While it may not come with the adrenaline rush downhill skiing does, it can be more of a workout! You might be thinking “well how difficult is cross country skiing?” and you just be surprised by the answer! Moving on your skis across the flat ground can be quite the workout, making it a fantastic way to stay in shape in the winter months. However, it certainly requires some coordination which may not come naturally to some folks.
If you’re thinking about getting started with cross country skiing, you may want to sign up for a clinic or workshop to help you get the hang of it! There are a number of great clubs and resorts that offer them including Horseshoe Resort in Barrie, Scenic Caves in Collingwood (weekends only), Hiawatha Highlands in Sault Ste Marie and many more. Having a class under your belt will allow you to learn proper form and some of the basics like how to get up if you fall as well as proper tactics for turning and stopping.
Unable to take a class? That’s okay, you can still get outside and enjoy some cross country skiing in Ontario! Here are a few things to remember when out on the trails:
- Be sure to follow any directional signage while enjoying the cross country ski trails in Ontario.
- If there are two sets of tracks, stay to the right just like if you were driving on the road.
- If you get tangled up and fall (don’t worry, it happens!), do your best to get off the tracks and damage them as little as possible. Right yourself outside of the tracks and then hop back into them once you’re back on your feet.
- As with falling, step outside of the tracks if you’re unable to stay in the tracks when going uphill and climb outside of the tracks.
- If you come across someone who is slower than you, hop outside of the tracks and give them room to pass. Be polite and give them a heads up that you’re doing so! If you’re being passed, pause and slow down so that those faster can pass you more easily or even better, step off the tracks so the speedy skier can get on their way quicker.
- While both fall under the umbrella of cross country skiing, there is a difference between skate skiing and classic skiing. Some trails will allow both on the tracks but many have designated trails specifically for each style. Pay attention to signage wherever you go to ensure you’re following the right tracks for your style of skiing.
- As with any outdoor activity, please leave no trace and do not litter. If you see anything, be kind to nature and take it with you when possible!
As with all winter activities, it’s important to be prepared for not just the sport but also the weather! Most of the trails on this list are within parks that are manned, therefore there’s a high chance of someone always being around in case you run into trouble – which is an important thing to consider, especially when the temperatures are in the high negatives.
While I’m no professional cross country skier by any means, I follow the same idea as when I dress for hiking in the winter. I always have a thermal base layer like this long sleeve top and these pants from Mark’s. I also have a merino wool base layer set for when it’s really chilly out. Depending on how cold it is, I will then add another fleece-lined layer and then possibly a ski jacket as my outer layer. It really depends on how warm or cold you run when out exploring but having a solid base layer is a must! Don’t forget a warm pair of socks as I found my feet were the first things to get chilly while skiing!
Ready For Some Cross Country Skiing in Ontario?
If you made it all the way down to the end of this post, then I’m going to say that your answer is a resounding yes! There are so many fantastic parks and trails for cross country skiing in Ontario that they’ll certainly keep you busy for a few winters.
Do you have any favourite spots in Ontario for cross country skiing? Is this one of the winter activities on your list to do this year? Let me know in a comment below!
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