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A Gold Medal Day: Cross Country Skiing in Algonquin Park

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I’m on a working-holiday kind of trip through eastern Ontario and Quebec….in winter. The first stop on our itinerary was Algonquin Provincial Park, about a three hour drive northwest of Ottawa. We had two nights at a lodge – the Adventure Lodge – just minutes from the park boundary and the Leaf Lake Ski Trails.

"Sunset from the dining room at the Adventure Lodge"

Sunset from the dining room at the Adventure Lodge – located on the Madawaska River

"The Madawaska River just outside Algonquin Park"

The Madawaska River just outside Algonquin Park

I don’t know too many people who willingly opt for a winter holiday in Canada – let alone in a park where one of the major winter attractions is simply cross country skiing.

Skiing in Algonquin Provincial Park

But trust me, Algonquin Provincial Park, is an underrated winter gem. It’s exceptionally beautiful. The trails are lovingly maintained. Warming cabins are heated by wood – and are warm before you arrive. There’s a very good chance you might see a moose, a wolf or a pine marten. And Algonquin Park has the best trail signage of any cross country ski place I have ever visited.

John and I spent the better part of a day on Sunday – just after the men’s gold medal hockey game – skiing. We were out to have our own gold medal kind of day but by the end of it we were chuckling to ourselves when we compared our times to the Olympic gold medal winner’s time.

All told we did about 26 kilometers of cross country skiing – by taking the outer loop on the Leaf Lake Trails. It took us about 4 hours to ski it – somewhat off the gold medal pace of the Russian who won the gold for the 50 kilometer cross country ski race in a time of 1 hour and something like 40 minutes. Apart from not training solidly for four years, we missed someone handing us freshly waxed skis and nutrition packed refreshments. We also weren’t wearing Lycra so I suspect the drag from our down vests and baggy ski pants factored into our slow times as well.

"Each intersection has signage and a a map!!"

Each intersection has signage and a a map!!

We didn’t have any crowds cheering either as we only saw ONE other skier all day. We did see a couple of rangers on snowmobiles – one taking a group of Canada Goose folks (the people that make some of the warmest winter parkas on the planet) around and another ranger, Kirk, who kindly groomed the trails just ahead of our arrival – and gave us the lowdown on the park as he’s worked in Algonquin Park for over three decades.

"John and Ranger Kirk just outside the hut on the Pinetree Loop"

John and Ranger Kirk just outside the hut on the Pinetree Loop

But why should you drive to a deserted park in the middle of nowhere in the winter?

I’m hoping the photos of our cross-country skiing experience in Algonquin Provincial Park answer the question.

"We did a surprising amount of climbing on a never ending series of hills"

We did a surprising amount of climbing on a never ending series of hills

"One of the beautiful ice waterfalls we saw along the trails"

One of the beautiful ice waterfalls we saw along the trails

"Interesting snow blobs on this rock face"

Interesting snow blobs on this rock face

"Superb skiing on the Pinetree Loop - called the premiere ski trail in southern Ontario"

Superb skiing on the Pinetree Loop – called the premiere ski trail in southern Ontario

"The view from the cabin on the Pinetree Loop"

The view from the cabin on the Pinetree Loop

"Rangers light the fires so the cabins are warn when you arrive - highly civilized"

Rangers light the fires so the cabins are warm when you arrive – highly civilized in my opinion

"Blue jays galore can be seen in Algonquin Park"

Blue jays galore can be seen in Algonquin Park especially if you put out some bird seed. We saw about a dozen of them.

"Passing by another interesting rock face"

Passing by another interesting rock face

"All the trees in one area had the same snow collection pattern on their trunks"

All the trees in one area had the same snow collection pattern on their trunks

"It's worth looking up occasionally"

It’s worth looking up occasionally

"Dee's Cabin - Another one of the warming huts"

Dee’s Cabin – another one of the warming huts

"John pretending to cross the finish line"

John pretending to cross the finish line

"It was a day with on an off sunshine and snow flurries"

It was a day with on and off sunshine and snow flurries

"One of the open meadow views we enjoyed"

One of the open meadow views we enjoyed

"I loved the openness of the woods"

I loved the openness of the woods

"Expansive views at the high point on the Fraser Loop"

Expansive views at the high point on the Fraser Loop

"More climbing - with useless wax"

More climbing – with useless wax – but what a great workout

Some Useful Algonquin Park Cross Country Skiing Information

There are three areas within Algonquin Provincial Park for cross country skiing. The Leaf Lake trails are considered to be the best of the lot but they are close to the east entrance. Not everyone wants to drive across the park – especially in winter conditions so you may have to try the Fen Lake Ski Trail near the West Gate or the Minnesing Trails at kilometer 23.

The Leaf Lake Trails offer multiple loops of varying difficulty. The difficult ones require a lot of climbing but the reward is some awesome downhills. There are enough easy loops close to the trailhead that skiing here can be very enjoyable for families.

There is a daily fee of $16 per vehicle to access the trails, and considering the state they are in I think it’s very reasonable. Trails are normally open from late November until late March.

If you go be prepared for winter conditions. Take warm clothing, hot drinks and extra food and make sure you’ve got a shovel in your car.

And if you’re super keen to prolong the experience try some overnight camping in a yurt at the Mew Lake Campground. It’s open year round. The Couple’s Resort, a five star resort, just outside the eastern park boundaries is another lodging possibility.

I was very impressed with the cross country skiing in Algonquin Park. John and I certainly felt like we’d had a gold medal day despite our times. And good news for you ski lovers as next year there will likely be an additional 15 kilometers of trails added to the Leaf Lake network.

Leigh McAdam

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Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure - & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project - a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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Join the discussion 34 Comments

  • Leigh, this is a fabulous post. You captured Algonquin Provincial Park in winter. I haven’t skied the park in winter but I have dogsled a designated trail and it was an incredible experience.. Thank you for sharing.

  • Muza-chan says:

    The ice waterfall looks amazing…

  • Sophie says:

    I know lots of Norwegians who would very willingly opt for a winter holiday in Canada, and especially where the major attraction is cross country skiing. :)

  • budget jan says:

    I think the Blue Jay shot is superb and the snow pattern on the tree. I can imagine how wonderful it would be to arrive in a pre-warmed cabin. That is a gold winning idea.

    • @Jan Thanks re bluejays shot though I think I have a better one. It was a treat to arrive at a cabin kind of chilled at lunch time and find a fire roaring in the stove. Algonquin Park is an outstanding one to visit.

  • Bob R says:

    I’ve been to Algonquin twice and both times spent the majority of the time either on water or on the way to water, so it never even occurred to me that this would be great XC ski country. The area is amazing in the summer. Thanks for showing its winter charm.

    • @Bob I went canoeing in Algonquin last May and would like to return to explore for a few weeks one fall. However winter definitely offers its own pleasures and skiing and fresh air is definitely one of them.

  • bettyl-NZ says:

    What fabulous shots! I’m not a hiker, but I do appreciate your photos. The snow pattern on the trees is quite intriguing!

  • Mike says:

    I went to the Adventure Lodge page and those cabins look really nice! Of course I always worry about there being enough food. I’m not a huge person or anything by any means but I love to eat! So much of the park reminds me of several areas outside of Yellowstone Park in the winter. Wow, on that gold medal timing…that guy was scooting! Enjoyed reading this, Leigh :)

    • @Mike The cabins smelled wonderful as you could have a wood fire. Food portions were large – especially on the first night we were there. There was also a fridge in the room. I would agree that it’s a little reminiscent of Yellowstone – without the geysers. Truly the place had a special feel about it.

  • Incredible winter views, everything looks so untouched and peaceful. You got to share the forest with the animals alone it seems! I also admire you for venturing out on such cold days – it has been absolutely frigid here lately!

  • Marcia says:

    Definitely a gold medal day, Leigh. The Olympic skiers have nothing on you.

  • This last weekend I cross-country skied 54 kilometers in 5 hours and 34 minutes. The times the Olympians make is just crazy. I blame my time almost four times slower than them on the drag my fanny pack creates.

    Algonquin Park looks amazing. I love the idea of heated and warmed huts along the trail. I have seen a lot of trail shelters along the way that are just structures to get out of the wind. I never stop as you just get cold, but these have a fire. I might have to come to Algonquin and pack some brandy or scotch in my fanny pack and enjoy the fire in a warming hut.

    • @Ted I think you did amazingly well on your ski time and agree that the fanny pack is likely to blame,

      Algonquin Park is amazing – and to enter a hut with a roaring fire on a cold winter’s day is a real treat. I can also say that Gatineau Park near Ottawa has some amazing “huts” as well and they also have the fires going.

  • You have so many scenic photos of Algonquin park that I can definitely see what’s the draw. I especially like the blue jays and that snow collection pattern that you say are on many of the tree trunks. Are the warming huts just for a break before you continue for the day or do people overnight in those? I guess I’ve never watched cross country skiiing, so I didn’t realize there could be climbs and downhill sections.