Fresh air, a great workout and a winter sport that won’t gouge your wallet? No longer just “skiing for people who don’t have access to mountains”, cross-country skiing is experiencing a surge in popularity as people realize how fun and versatile it is. No pow? No problem. Only have a couple of hours to spare? Get at it.
No matter where you live in Canada, there’s a cross-country skiing sweet spot near you. We’ve listed Explore Editor David Webb’s top groomed and backcountry picks in each region, so that you can get out there and get gliding. Spandex optional.
Before you venture into the backcountry...
For the ill-prepared or inexperienced, venturing into the backcounty can be dangerous. Now, factor in winter conditions. Rapidly changing weather and risk of avalanche post a constant danger. Be prepared.
Rules for backcountry safety:
- Be avalanche aware - check conditions before you leave. Know the warning signs and always remain in visual contact of your partners.
- Reliable communications: The trails listed below will lead you through areas of spotty-to-no cell coverage. SPOT Satellite GPS Messengers can send emergency responders your GPS coordinates so that you can easily be located in an emergency, even when you are well beyond cellular service. It can also let family and friends know you’re OK when you just want to check in. Better safe than sorry.
- Pack proper gear, wear layers and reflective clothing.
- Know when sunset is, especially if you do not intend to winter camp.
- Carry rescue equipment and know how to use it. If appropriate, know how to self-rescue from a crevasse.
- Never go alone and pick partners who have skills, fitness and experience.
- Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return.
Whitehorse Nordic Centre
Eighty-five kilometres of groomed track for classic and skate skiing and 20 kilometres of ungroomed single track are just some of the offerings at the Whitehorse Nordic Centre. Wax rooms, a sauna and change rooms are a few of the amenities on offer, along with equipment rentals and lessons. Drop by on Sunday afternoons from January to March for “Easy Like Sunday” — a volunteer-run warming tent complete with bonfire and hot chocolate.
Old Ingraham Trail
Yellowknife, Northwest Territories
The Yellowknife Ski Club maintains an impressive network of cross-country skiing, race and biathlon trails along the Old Ingraham Trail. The club also provides a chalet, lessons and a large canvas backcountry tent that is free for use by members. Check out the 2 kilometres of night-lit trails, and watch for northern lights.
Kluane National Park
© Parks Canada / Fritz Mueller
With its stunning combination of lakes, rivers, forests and mountains (including Mt. Logan - Canada’s highest peak), it is easy to see why this park forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are six designated nordic trails in Kluane National Park, ranging in length from 5 to 85 kilometres. These are wilderness trails, and are not groomed. Amenities and accommodation are available at nearby Haines Junction.
Blachford Lake Lodge
Martina Gebarovska & Blachford Lake Lodge
In 2011, the wild, pristine beauty of Blachford Lake captured the imagination of royal couple William and Kate, who chose to spend a portion of their honeymoon there. In the winter it offers a different, sparkling-snow-and-northern-lights kind of beauty. With marked groomed and ungroomed trails to explore along the 17-kilometre-long lake, cross-country opportunities abound. Equipment rentals and guides are available for guests of Blachford Lake Lodge — royal or otherwise.
Baffin Island, Nunavut
Wendy Grater, Black Feather
Presided over by Mounts Asgard and Thor (one of the world’s tallest rock faces), and featuring river valleys and hanging glaciers, Akshayuk Pass is a stunning landscape of stark contrasts. The pass is a traditional Inuit travel corridor, and totals 105 kilometres of backcountry travel. This is a serious expedition that should only be undertaken by experienced backcountry skiers. Wintertime cold and darkness make this a great trip to try in the spring. Guided cross-country ski trips are available with The Great Canadian Adventure Company.
Whistler, British Columbia
Comprising both Callaghan Country and the world-class Whistler Olympic Park, Ski Callaghan has 130 kilometres of groomed and wilderness trails to offer classic and skate skiers. A single day pass grants access to both areas, as well as three day-huts. Equipment rentals and private and group lessons are available.
Mount Washington Alpine Resort
Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Mount Washington Alpine Resort
This Nordic Centre perched at the edge of beautiful Strathcona Provincial Park boasts 55 kilometres of trails that cover both resort and park land. Cross-country ski trails are machine groomed and offer excellent views. Pick up your trail pass or grab rentals and lessons at the full-service Raven Lodge.
Bulkley Valley Nordic Centre
Smithers, British Columbia
Located in B.C.’s snow belt, the Bulkley Valley enjoys a longer-than-average ski season and a healthy snowfall. Of the 45 kilometres of runs groomed for classic and skate skiing, 7 kilometres are dog-friendly and 5.5 kilometres are lit for night skiing. There is also a biathlon range. Bulkley Valley Nordic Centre's amenities include a day lodge and a waxing hut.
Lake Louise area
Banff National Park, Alberta
Banff Lake Louise Tourism / Paul Zizka Photography
Lake Louise is a vision to behold in any season. In winter, the area nestled in Alberta’s snow belt is also home to some excellent cross-country skiing. With 70 kilometres of track-set trails covering varied terrain in a serene wilderness setting, the Lake Louise area is not to be missed. Rentals are available, and there are two full-service ski shops nearby.
Canmore Nordic Centre
Operating as both a training and a recreational facility, the Canmore Nordic Centre boasts an early-season trail that opens in October, for those who just can’t wait to get their laps in. Sixty-five kilometres of groomed, machine-made and natural trails take skate and classic skiers through a meadow that offers views of Canmore, the Bow Valley and the Rockies. Wax rooms are available and a full-service ski shop is on-site for those needing rentals, lessons, tours or waxing.
Elk Island National Park
Nordic skiing at Elk Island National Park is a truly Canadian wilderness experience. Follow multi-use trails across frozen lakes and through aspen and spruce groves. Keep a lookout for bull elk and moose. Keep in mind that trails are not track-set. When you’re done, pay a visit to the visitor’s centre or unwind at the cafe.
Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park
Alberta - Saskatchewan
Extending from the southeast of Alberta into the southwest of Saskatchewan, Cypress Hills offers over 57 kilometres of groomed and natural trails, spread out over several locations. For an extended stay, huts and winter camping are available in the park. Beginners can find rentals and lessons at Cypress Hills Resort in Saskatchewan, or at Elkwater in Alberta.
Prince Albert National Park
© Parks Canada / Kevin Hogarth
With trailheads in the Waskesiu townsite, Prince Albert National Park's cross-country skiing trail network is comprised of six easy and moderate volunteer-groomed and natural trails. Equipment rentals are available in Waskesiu.
White Butte Recreation Area
Courtesy of the Regina Ski Club
Just 20 minutes from Regina, the White Butte Recreation Area offers 13 kilometres of groomed trails that meander among trees and over rolling hills. There is a warming hut and an outdoor toilet on-site. Trails are groomed for classic and skate skiing. Proving itself a hype-worthy cross-country ski destination, White Butte Recreation Area snagged a 2006 Ski Trax Magazine Trax Trail Award.
Riding Mountain National Park
© Parks Canada / LankBeach Productions
With 10 volunteer-maintained cross-country ski trails scattered throughout the park, Riding Mountain is the perfect place to spy birds and wildlife (wolves, elk and bison inhabit the park). Stay late and you might catch aurora borealis putting on a show. Trails are groomed and ungroomed.
Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
Nestled in the boreal forest near Lake Superior, Sleeping Giant Provincial Park offers lake views and wildlife spotting (moose, wolves, foxes and lynx all inhabit the area) along its 50 kilometres of groomed trails. Trails can be found for beginner to advanced classic and skate skiers.
Algonquin Provincial Park
The first provincial park in Ontario, and one of the largest, Algonquin boasts 7,630 square kilometres of lakes, deciduous and coniferous trees, and wildlife including wolves, white-tailed deer and moose. The park also contains 110 kilometres of cross-country ski trails. There are three groomed and track-set trail systems (with shelters and washrooms) and one wilderness trail system.
Sir John A. Macdonald Winter Trail
The Sir John A. Macdonald Winter Trail opened in February of 2016 to much fanfare. With a total of 16 kilometres of track-set classic and skate trails extending along the Ottawa River shoreline, there’s a lot to like. This multi-use trail also caters to snowshoers, walkers and snow bikers, and is transit accessible.
Gaspe Peninsula, Quebec
Canadian Tourism Commission
Alpine tundra and taiga terrain dominate the Chic-Chocs on the Gaspe Peninsula, giving the area a wide-open, expansive feel. Three track-set, classic-only trails, and 190 kilometres of backcountry trails provide ample opportunity to enjoy the fresh air and the views. Equipment rentals are available and 17 backcountry huts span the trail network if you need to warm up or plan on staying overnight.
Parc national d'Aiguebelle
Mathieu Dupuis for Sépaq
Parc national d’Aiguebelle’s 30 kilometres of marked backcountry trails take skiers among frozen lakes, thick forest and rocky faces. Eleven rustic shelters dot the park, and moose and wolves are year-round inhabitants.
Brookvale Provincial Ski Park
Brookvale, Prince Edward Island
Tourism PEI | Brian Simpson
With 24.5 kilometres of groomed recreational trails and 7.5 kilometres of competitive and biathlon trails, Brookvale Ski Park caters to beginners and elite athletes alike. Amenities include equipment rentals, waxing huts, a lodge and a biathlon range.
Fundy National Park
Located along New Brunswick’s wild Atlantic coast, Fundy National Park boasts the world’s highest tides. It also contains 40 kilometres of groomed trails that are usually maintained by volunteers from the Chignecto Ski Club. But from January to March, 2017, in honour of Canada 150, Parks Canada will not only be maintaining the cross-country skiing trails, they will also be renting out the 5 yurts, 2 rustic cabins and 10 oTENTniks that are usually unavailable in the winter season. Book your yurt early!
Kouchibouguac National Park
© Parks Canada / Chris Reardon
Kouchibouguac has more going for it than its name. Fifteen kilometres of groomed classic and skate skiing trails, a waxing hut and seven other shelters provide skiers with all the necessary amenities for a fun day out. Equipment rentals are available from Thursday through Monday.
Chris Law | Ski Tuonela
Ski Tuonela is a unique property, an hour’s drive from Sydney. Eighteen kilometres of trails and a graded Telemark ski hill offer skiers plenty to do. A “ski village,” including a chalet, several cabins and saunas, is located 4 kilometres by ski from the parking lot on the Cabot Trail.
Newfoundland & Labrador
Fogo Island is the largest island on the Newfoundland-Labrador Coast. Its subarctic landscape and remoteness have led the Flat Earth Society to the conclusion that the island’s Brimstone Head is one of Earth’s four corners. Herds of caribou roam the island’s boreal forest, and in the spring, migrating icebergs pass by, through the so-called “Iceberg Alley."
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