Stellar cross-country ski trails
There are many parks in Montreal that offer kilometres of great trails for families who want to be active in the winter
It was late on a winter’s afternoon at the city’s Bois de Liesse Nature Park and my family and I were finishing up a cross-country ski outing. The impending darkness meant we should have been hurrying toward our car, but no one was in a rush. Instead, as big round snowflakes fell from the sky, we stopped to watch an eagle fly over the trees and listen to the sound of an owl hooting overhead in the distance.
It’s moments like these that make cross-country skiing one of our family’s favourite activities. During the winter, our skis are always at the ready in a case attached to our car.
Cross-country skiing is an ideal winter activity for families. The sport can be learned easily, even by young children and equipment can be rented inexpensively. Best of all, Montreal has many great places for skiing, including my top five: Bois de Liesse Nature Park, Mount Royal Park, Cap St. Jacques, Pointe aux Prairies and Maisonneuve Park/Botanical Gardens.
All these centres offer extensive networks of groomed trails — meaning the cross-country tracks have been prepared in a way that make it easy to glide along with your skis. The length of the various trails is also important because once you’ve learned how to cross-country ski, it can take less than an hour to cover 10 kilometres. Even young children and novices can cover four or five kilometres in an hour.
Our favourite location is Bois de Liesse because it offers trails (with hills) with three levels of difficulty. Also, their equipment rentals feature boots, skis and poles that are usually less than two years old, so no one gets stuck with poorly functioning equipment. Two chalets with fireplaces and snack bars, lots of bird feeders and the possibility of seeing foxes and bunnies on the trail add to the fun, as do snowshoeing trails and a tobogganing hill.
If you have some cross-country ski experience, Mount Royal Park offers a challenge with its long, winding trails and multiple hills and turns, which allow more expert skiers to practice their fancy moves. However, novices and small children might find the going a bit tough. Keep in mind that high winds on the mountain often turn the snow into ice (making skiing much more difficult). Two chalets, a visitor centre, a skating rink and tubing hills provide additional entertainment.
Cap St. Jacques stands out for its extensive network of well-groomed trails as well as its knowledgeable, helpful staff. An inviting chalet with a fireplace and snack bar, sleigh rides and an ecological farm that’s open daily throughout the year have turned this West Island locale into a family favourite.
Those on the east side of town are well served by the long trails at Maisonneuve Park/Botanical Gardens and the Pointe aux Prairies Nature Park. The former has loops designed for different ski levels, plus the advantage of being able to visit the gardens themselves or the nearby Insectarium. Pointe aux Prairies Park also has excellent trails, geared to different levels, as well as two chalets and onsite staff who can answer your questions about equipment (available for rent) and the condition of the trails.
All these great places make it easy to slot in an hour or two of skiing, either on the weekend or when the kids have a day off from school. There’s a sense of adventure when we head out on the trails, even ones we have skied many times before. We never know what magic awaits.
Information on the top 5 parks
The city organizes many outdoor activities at the nature parks from mid-December through the end of April (except for Dec. 24, 25, 31 and Jan. 1). For a full listing of their family events, call (514) 280-7272 or visit ville.montreal.qc.ca/parcs-nature.
Entrance to the nature parks is free but there is a fee for parking.
Bois de Liesse Park
18 kilometres of trails • 3555 Douglas-B.-Floreani St., Saint-Laurent • (514) 280-6678
Mount Royal Park
22 kilometres of trails • 1260 Remembrance Rd.
(514) 843-8240 or visit www.lemontroyal.qc.ca
Fee for parking.
Cap St. Jacques
32 kilometres of trails • 20099 Gouin Blvd.W., Pierrefonds • (514) 280-6871
Maisonneuve Park/Botanical Gardens
35 kilometres of trails • 4601 Sherbrooke St. E (main entrance) • (514) 872-6555
Fee for parking.
Pointe aux Prairies
24 kilometres of trails • 14905 Sherbrooke St. E., Montreal • (514) 280-6691
Additional spots for skiing
If you want to explore even more trails, check out these four parks:
10 kilometres of trails • Des Trinitaires Blvd. and Lacroix, Lasalle • (514) 872-3066
The park doesn’t have a chalet but the trails are groomed until April. Access to the trails is free but there is a fee for parking.
Bois de l’île Bizard Park
20 kilometres of trails • 2115 Chemin du Bord du Lac, Île Bizard/St. Geneviève • (514) 280-8517
12 kilometres of trails • 150 des Pins St., Ste. Anne de Bellevue • $6 per person to ski.
(514) 398-7811 or www.morganarboretum.org.
Île de la Visitation Park
Eight kilometres of trails • 2425 Gouin Blvd. E., Montreal • (514) 280-6733