For many Montrealers, one of winter’s great pleasures is to get outside, lace up some skates and enjoy some physical activity with family and friends. Estimates are there are more than 300 outdoor skating rinks in Montreal and surrounding communities but there are other places to enjoy this pastime in a magical, country setting.
Skating trails are becoming increasingly popular in recent years; instead of circling round and round, you follow a winding ice path through the forest. However, remember to check ice conditions before you go as a spell of ice rain or a brief thaw may lead to closures.
If you’re up for a day trip, here are a few skating trails to explore not too far from Montreal:
This picturesque forest skating trail was one of the first to open in Quebec. According to a recently published article in the New York Times, it all began when beekeepers Jean-Pierre Binette and Madeleine Courchesne flooded a small section of woods on their property so their young children could skate. It wasn’t long before so many friends wanted to come try it that they opened it as a secondary business. That was back in 1997. Today, it’s a major attraction at La Domaine de la Forêt Perdue, and staff even train others who want to open skating paths.
The property, about 130 kilometres from Montreal, offers 15 kilometres of iceways through the forest. Skaters can also see farm animals such as goats, sheep, ducks, deer, alpacas and even an ostrich. Admission is $18 per adult and $16 per child. Skate, snowshoe and sled rental is available on site, as well as skate-sharpening. For more info, visit the website domaineenchanteur.com
You’ll find the longest river skating path in Quebec about an hour north of Montreal on l’Assumption river in Joliette. Access is free, and dogs are allowed on leash, but there are no skate rentals or nighttime illumination. Two pavilions with lockers and washrooms are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
From Feb. 7 to 16, the site is home to the free annual Festi-Glace festival, which features DJs, fireworks, taffy pulls and activities like axe-throwing, archery, pickup hockey games, winter sports fun and a family zone. For more information, visit the website festiglace.ca
There’s no skate sharpening or rentals here, just a beautiful skating trail through the forest. On Fridays and Saturdays until 8:45 p.m. the path is illuminated with colourful lights for an extra special effect. You’ll also find cross-country ski trails, snowshoe or winter walking trails, tubing and a hockey rink. Access to the nature park is $7 per adult, $3 per child and $2 per dog. Visit the website for more information, boisdebelleriviere.com
This 2.5-kilometre skating trail borders Lake Mephrémagog, and features four loops with panoramic views and festive lights at night. Heated cabins offer a place to strap on skates in comfort. Open 8 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. daily. Skating is free, however non-residents must pay for parking. For more information, visit ville.magog.qc.ca
The two-kilometre ice skating trail isn’t the only attraction at this park. You’ll also find, fatbike, snowshoe and sled rentals, as well as a refrigerated 300-foot-long tubing slide (which costs $7 per person). There’s also an indoor children’s play area, where little ones can warm frozen fingers and toes. On Saturday evenings until Feb. 16, the park also offers skating by torchlight, along with music. More information can be found at ilesaintquentin.com
CLOSER TO HOME
If you like the idea of skating on a path among the trees rather than in a typical rink, but you’re not up for a day trip, there’s another option closer to home.
Located in the heart of the Plateau, La Fontaine Park offers a green oasis for city-dwellers. In winter, the long winding pond at the heart of the park is transformed into a natural skating path bordered with trees bedecked in twinkling fairy lights at night.
An on-site skate rental shop, Patin Patin, offers skate and snowshoe rental, blade-sharpening and warm winter gear such as hats, hand warmers and wool socks. Indoor changing areas, bathrooms and a bistro are also available nearby. The park is open 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. and the rink is free for all to enjoy.