Top cross-country ski destinations in Canada
From Kluane Park in the Yukon to Quebec's famed Gatineau Park
With a long weekend and school breaks ahead, it is a great time to plan an active vacation with family and friends. While alpine ski resorts are overrun, cross-country ski trips are just beginning to take hold as more people take up the sport.
This unique and incredibly healthy activity is an ideal antidote to the digital age, which allows for participants to get into the quietest and most scenic pockets of wilderness. But it also offers the camaraderie and aprés ski activities of other ski trips as most large Nordic centres are located in touristy areas.
Herewith, our list of five bucket-list destinations to sample cross-country skiing in a big way this winter.
This Yukon gem is probably one of the most dramatic and gorgeous in the country and one of the largest protected wilderness areas anywhere at a whopping 24 million acres. As such, getting the opportunity to cross-country ski in such a location is pretty near the top of many an outdoor adventurer’s bucket list.
As a wilderness park, the trails are multiuse and not track set. In the winter, one could expect about four hours of daylight, not ideal for the cross-country skier. But, the days start to stretch out in February and March, and the snow will still be deep and plentiful. The short day is also offset by the opportunity to see the Northern Lights shine over this United Nations World Heritage Site during the evening.
There are established trail loops within the national park with distances of 3.5 km all the way to 85 km. There are also plenty of tour operators in the area offering guide skiing into the backcountry such as Arctic Range Adventure.
Callaghan Country, Whistler, seriously spectacular trails
Everyone knows Whistler and everyone loves Whistler. It’s home to Olympic venues, to the Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort and to the stuff of snow-filled dreams. But there is another Nordic gem in town called Callaghan Country and it is not to be missed.
It’s a cool spot, a “passion project” built by some mountain-loving locals in 1978 just 20 minutes south of Whistler, and only an hour-and-a-half from downtown Vancouver. Callaghan Country features more than 130km of trails for classic and skate skiing as well as snowshoeing on 7,000 hectares of beautiful country in the Coastal Mountains. There are even 30km of pooch-friendly trails so the dog can come along. Everything is accessible from the Alexander Falls Ski Touring Centre. All the trails are groomed and track set to accommodate traditional kick-and-gliders.
The facility also includes Journeyman Lodge, a charming retreat with room for 24 people as well as a restaurant.
Canmore Nordic Centre with an epic backdrop
Located just 90 km from Calgary, Alberta, Canmore is a gorgeous mountain town with some of the best cross-country ski terrain anywhere.
The hub is the Canmore Nordic Centre offering world-class terrain tucked in the middle of Kananaskis Country with more than 60 kilometres of classic and skate as well as biathlon trails. It is also the site of many of the cross-country ski events of the 1988 Winter Olympics. The centre is also home to Canada's National Cross Country Ski Team. All the trails are groomed, and there are 6.5km of lit trails for night skiing.
In the middle of the trail system, skiers are surrounded by spectacular views of the town, the Bow Valley and the surrounding mountains.
In addition to the Nordic Centre, one of the local favourites is the 20km Goat Creek Trail that takes skiers from Canmore along an incredibly scenic and quiet trail to the Fairmont Springs Hotel in nearby Banff.
The other side of Algonquin comes out in winter
In the near north of Ontario, Algonquin is a legendary provincial park thanks to its myriad rivers and lakes that make it one of the best destinations on the planet for canoeing and backcountry camping. But when winter arrives, and the crowds along the Hwy. 60 corridor head back from whence they came, the park takes on new life, some might say an even better life.
The park is home to more than 110km of cross-country skiing on three groomed and track-set trails as well as one wilderness ski trail called the Minnesing Wilderness Ski Trail. Be sure to check out Leaf Lake Trail, possibly the gem of the entire trail system with sections from 5 to 45 km, incredible vistas and fantastic terrain.
There is camping at the Mew Lake campground, backcountry camping as well as park yurts available throughout winter.
Don’t miss Algonquin in the winter.
Gatineau Park is a top North American cross-country ski destination
When it comes to cross-country skiing, Quebec’s Gatineau Park is one of the top destinations in North America. It is home to Canada’s largest Nordic skiing events such as the Gatineau Loppet and has more than 50 trails from which to choose. All this grandeur and so close to Ottawa put Gatineau Park and the Outaouais region of Quebec at the top of many cross-country skier’s must-do lists.
There are 200 kilometres for classic skiers, 100 kilometres for skate and 45 kilometres of backcountry for those who like to explore off the beaten path. There are historic warming huts, picture-perfect lakes and forests as well as rolling hills that provide plenty of challenges for skiers.
Don’t forget to stop by the charming town of Wakefield, an idyllic location from which to launch of multi-pronged foray into the park this winter.