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.

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 below 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.

Today I’m linking up with Budget Travelers Sandbox where you can find even more photo inspiration.

Leigh McAdam

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