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Cross Country Skiing In Algonquin Park, Ontario

Cross Country Skiing in Algonquin Park, Ontario

I was on a working-holiday kind of trip through eastern Ontario and Quebec….in winter. The first stop on our itinerary was for some cross country skiing in Algonquin Park, about a three hour drive northwest of Ottawa. 

Algonquin Park is a very special place in winter. It’s exceptionally beautiful especially on a blue-sky day after a fresh snowfall when conifers can be seen drooping with heavy loads of snow and frozen lakes offer up an unbroken expanse of pristine and untouched wilderness. There are no crowds to speak of either. You’re more likely to run into a moose or a wolf than a human – a slight exaggeration, but only slight. The cross country skiing in Algonquin Park is sublime.

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

Cross country skiing in Algonquin Provincial 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 Algonquin Provincial Park, is an underrated winter gem. It’s gorgeous. The trails are lovingly maintained. Warming cabins are heated by wood – and are warm before you arrive.

There’s a very good chance of seeing wildlife especially pine martens at the warming huts. And Algonquin Park has the best trail signage of any cross country ski place I have ever visited.

Cross country skiing in Algonquin and each intersection has signage and a a map!!
Each intersection has signage and a a map!!

Three areas for skiing in the park

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 if they’re coming from Toronto – especially in winter conditions so you may have to try the Fen Lake Ski Trail near the West Gate or the Minnesing Trails at kilometre 23.

Leaf Lake Trails in Algonquin Park

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.

The Pinetree Loop in particular has been called the premiere ski trail in all of southern Ontario. While it offers plenty of hills, there are also some wicked fun downhill stretches.

The 5 km Fraser Lake Loop is another of the more difficult trails, but the views from the high point offer quintessential Algonquin Park scenery and make the climb up entirely worthwhile.Thistle Cabin, located at the southern junction of the Fraser and Thistle Lake loops is another convenient place to warm up.

No crowds in Algonquin Park

There weren’t crowds. In fact 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. He also gave us the lowdown on the park as he’s worked in it 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?

Maybe the photos of our cross country skiing Algonquin Park will answer the question.

Cross country skiing in Algonquin and 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 cross country skiing in Algonquin Park
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 warm when you arrive - highly civilized in my opinion
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 especially if you put out some bird seed. We saw about a dozen of them.
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 while cross country skiing Algonquin Park
Passing by another interesting rock face
Dee's Cabin - another one of the warming huts you can visit while cross country skiing Algonquin Park
Dee’s Cabin – another one of the warming huts
John pretending to cross the finish line
John pretending to cross the finish line
One of the open meadow views we enjoyed
One of the open meadow views we enjoyed
Expansive views at the high point on the Fraser Loop cross country skiing Algonquin Park
Expansive views at the high point on the Fraser Loop

Useful Algonquin Park cross country skiing information

There is a daily fee of $18 per vehicle to access the trails (2019-2020 prices), 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. 

Visit the Algonquin Provincial Park website for more information.

Thistle Hut - another warming hut if you go cross country skiing in Algonquin Park
Thistle Hut – another warming hut

Where to stay in and near Algonquin Park in winter

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 an outstanding day on the trails. 

Further reading on things to do in winter in Ontario

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

Cross Country Skiing in Algonquin Park

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 31 Comments
  1. 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.

  2. 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. 🙂

  3. 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.

    1. @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.

  4. 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.

    1. @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.

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

  6. 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 🙂

    1. @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.

  7. 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.

    1. @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.

  8. 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.

    1. @Michele The warming huts are just a comfortable place for a break and if there was ever an emergency you could certainly spend the night. For now Algonquin has no huts for overnight stays but they’re thinking about it from what I heard.
      The uphills on a cross country trail can g=be grueling at times but the downhills almost always make up for it.

  9. What a beautiful day for some gold-medal worthy cross country skiing. It really looks like you had the place to yourselves. Those are some beautiful scenery and I really enjoyed seeing the bluejays and ice waterfall. I didn’t appreciate the solitude of the national parks in winter until a few weeks ago when I went snow shoeing at Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah. It made me wish I knew how to cross country ski. Love these winter wonderland photos, Leigh.

  10. Hi Leigh! You know I am anything but a winter person. However, the entire area is stunning. I could persuaded to spend a night in that cute log cabin as long as someone was tending the fire. As always, your photos are stunning. Thanks for linking up this week.

    1. @Nancie Algonquin Park was a big revelation to me in winter. I already knew how fabulous it was in the summer but it’s got a great feeling in winter too. Just sorry we didn’t see a moose or a wolf.

  11. I haven’t gone cross country skiing in quite a few years now, but I always loved being out on a perfect winter day – looks like you had a gorgeous location and ideal weather. Perfect! And I agree that a preheated cabin would be ideal. All you seem to be missing here is the sauna!

    1. @Cindy I have just skied 7 of the last 8 days and do I ever feel good physically.Cross country skiing is a great way to deal with winter and I so appreciate all the beauty I see – and animal tracks.

  12. Oh wow, the skiing looks awesome and the trails must have been an incredible work out. It all looks so pristine and cold – so very different to hot WA at the moment.

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