Winter Cross Country: Skiing in the Heart of the City

Ottawa is a great place for winter activities: Skiing, skating, snowshoeing, tobogganing, hikes, ice fishing.  I find as long as the temperature keeps just below zero and does not dip too far into the negative numbers, the outdoors can be braved with layers and warm accesories.  New snow can create great scenery (while not always fun to shovel!) and we Canadians know that if there's a bright blue sky and brilliant sun, it's probably a double digit day (in the negatives!) - Brrrrrr!!!

While many get in the car to drive out to wilder spaces outside the city like Gatineau Hills, Ottawa offers some great locations right here - both groomed and ungroomed (for those of you who like to break your own trail!).  Many bike paths are used for winter trails by a variety of people.  Here are some great (free) options nearby:

1. Along the Ottawa / Outaouais River N.C.C. pathways

A popular spot for urban x-c skiers (and other active winter folk).  The bike paths offer long uninterrupted paths, which provides beautiful scenery.  In some areas the trail is up near the parkway and at other points it's closer to the water.  If you are not the first one out after a snowfall, there's a pretty high chance you'll find that some brave, intrepid skier has broken a trail already.  Just be warned that along the water it can be windy!

Ottawa River Sunset Photo: Viliam Glazduri (Instagram, Flickr, 500 px) Contributor to Wild. Here.

- Ottawa River Parkway (there are bike paths that can be used as ski trails from Lincoln Fields (and Britannia Park) all the way down to Portage Bridge - SJAM Winter Trail is part of this - see #2 below)
- Rockcliffe Parkway (a nice stretch here is east from the New Edinburgh Boathouse (at Hillsdale) out to the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum along the parkway)
- Outaouais River -Voyageurs Pathway on the Gatineau side* (this trail starts at Boulevard Alexandre-Taché (at Rue Montcalme) in Parc des Portageurs and goes behind UQO and then along the shores of Val Tetreau all the way to Champlain Bridge and beyond)

*this urban section of the Voyageur Pathway offers a great restaurant to visit before or after your ski - EDGAR!

2. Sir John A MacDonald Winter Trail

This community-led initiative has created an amazing winter facility of 16 kilometers of groomed trails right in the heart of Westborough.  The Sir John A MacDonald Winter Trail will have its first full winter this year.  Get the latest news on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (#sjamwintertrail).

This SJAM Winter Trail map (follow link), that is found on the Westboro Beach website, shows a couple of parking options (on River Street, at the War Museum, Champlain Park and at Westboro Beach) and transit stops also (at Bayview and Dominion stations) if you don't live in the neighborhood.

Don't forget that this trail links up to both the War Museum Café (open to 7 pm on Thursdays) and Mill Street Brew Pub (although you do need to cross Eddy Street)!

3. "Centre de plein air" Lac Leamy Park

You can rent cross-country skis here and choose from a variety of trails (both beginner and intermediate) ranging from a 2.5 km loop around the lake to over 7 kms along the Gatineau River and then connecting to the Relais Plein Air Club Skinouk (397 Boulevard de la Cité-des-Jeunes).  The Centre offers free two hour parking, a rest area to warm up and vending machines.  They also rent walking sticks and snowshoes.  Be advised - dogs on leash are also welcome to this park and there may be alot of foot traffic especially around the short lake loop.  Best for skiing after a new snowfall.  Contact the Centre directly to confirm details and hours:
Phone: 819-595-8132
Link to Centre de Plain Air Lac Leamy webpage

4. The Dominion Arboretum

Yes there are lots of dog walkers (and some tobogganers) here but if you get out right after a fresh snow, you'll be able to enjoy breaking your own trail underneath century old trees!  There are *35 hectares (*from Friend of Farm website) to explore in the Arboretum and that doesn't even include the farm lands of the Central Experimental Farm (which might be windy) and Fletcher Wildlife Gardens.  Parking at the Arboretum is free but limited.  The other option is to use the pay parking lot at the south end of the farm (across from Fletcher Wildlife Gardens) and walk across Prince of Wales Drive.

Website Links: Friends of the Farm website  + Map of the Nut Trees of the Arboretum (which shows where parking is).

View from Arboretum

Another very popular location is the Mooney's Bay Ski Centre at the Terry Fox Athletic Facility which is off of Riverside Drive.  Admission is only $3 and they offer 5 km of groomed trails which are also lit for night-skiing.  It's not officially on this list as there is a cost but you can go to the Ottawa Public Library and take out a City of Ottawa ski pass to use for the week.  More details on other opportunities to ski in the city to come!

Cross Country Ski Trail Conditions

Ottawa is fortunate to have a passionate skiing community and the Ottawa Cross-Country Ski Website provides reports on x-c skiing conditions both in town and outside the city.  So if you are going to Mooney's Bay, somewhere in the Greenbelt or the SJAM Winter Trail you can check online first to see what the conditions are like!

Check back for other Winter Activity posts that may possibly help nudge you out of doors!

Wild. Here. Urban Cross-Country Skiing Series 2017

PART ONE - Four Places to Cross-Country Ski in the City
PART TWO - Cross-Country Ski Basics and Local Rental Locations
PART THREE - How to Find Other Cross-Country Skiers


  1. That's awesome that you can just step outside and start skiing! I'm in California and would have to travel to see snow. I hope you're enjoying your white winter :)

  2. Hello Eva! California must be so rich with nature experiences! But yes - no local snow. I'm really enjoying your traveling pieces!

  3. There's a new x-c ski trail in the east of Ottawa now - Green's Creek to Trim Road:

    1. Here is their Facebook page Ski Heritage East:

  4. We have another lovely Urban Winter Trail in the west end:
    The Britannia Winter Trail. Lovely trail along the river from the SJAM parkway to Andrew Haydon Park.