The sounds of boots crunching and squeaking through fresh snow. Bare branches tinkling against each other. The tap-tap-tapping of a woodpecker searching out its next meal. Winter in Canada’s great outdoors is a refreshing opportunity to experience our country’s forests and trails from a whole new perspective.
Breathing the brisk air and turning your face to the sun not only feels good, but can help counter the effects of shorter days and reduced sunlight. It can help prevent seasonal affective disorder and even decrease pandemic-related stress.
Hiking improves physical and mental health
Craving a dose of Vitamin D and a deep breath of fresh air? Head outside for a winter walk—it’ll do amazing things for your physical and mental health!
A survey released in November 2020 by Trans Canada Trail found the number of Canadians across all age groups who took to the trails increased by almost 50 percent since the beginning of the pandemic.
According to Trans Canada Trail president and CEO Eleanor McMahon, trail users reported that these outings enhanced their mental, emotional, and physical health.
“It’s an important way to combat the social isolation many are experiencing,” she says.
Related read: 10 ways to beat the January blahs through outdoor play
Trails across Canada
If you’re looking for inspiration for where to go, check out this province-by-province guide to some of the best winter walking trails across Canada.
Round up the family, pull on your boots, and go take a hike. Your mind and body will thank you!
BC Parks offers thousands of kilometres of diverse natural landscapes. You can hike along sandy beaches, trek to warm water springs, or try beginner to advanced trails in spectacular alpine terrain.
Courtney White from Vancouver particularly recommends two hiking locations that she enjoys with her family: Dog Mountain in Mount Seymour Provincial Park and Hollyburn Mountain in Cypress Provincial Park.
“These are both great because in winter the hikes are in the snow, which is hard to come by in Vancouver!”
– Courtney White, mother of one from Vancouver
Alberta boasts over 450 provincial parks and protected areas of various landscapes and terrain where you can create your own adventure. If you want to find some of the best winter walks in Calgary, the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation has created a great list. Jo-Anna Rooney from This Big Adventure gives a great account of different ways to enjoy the ever-popular Fish Creek Park and the jaw-dropping Grotto Canyon Ice Walk near Canmore.
Travel Banff Canada shares easy winter hikes in Banff National Park and the surrounding area. Check out the awesome pictures of Active for Life Role Model Tanya Koob enjoying a winter hike and frozen waterfall sliding with her family at Jura Creek, or read through her list of 10 Winter Walks and Hikes to Enjoy with your Family in Kananaskis.
Year-round, Saskatchewan’s provincial parks offer beautiful hiking trails as well as activities for the whole family. Popular spots around the province for a winter walk include Beaver Creek and Cranberry Flats Conservation Areas south of Saskatoon, White Butte Trails Recreation Site and Fairy Hill close to Regina, and the diverse habitats of Nebo near Prince Albert.
This province’s 92 provincial parks encompass more than four million hectares of boreal forests, prairie parklands, beaches, lakes, and streams.
If you’re in Winnipeg, the city recommends a visit to Assiniboine Forest Park as an escape from urban life, where you might spot a white-tailed deer or encounter a variety of birds. If you want to get out of the city, shared-use trails at parks such as Grand Beach, Spruce Woods, and Turtle Mountain offer space for snowshoers and hikers.
Visit Ontario Parks to find a huge variety of winter trails, up-to-date winter conditions, and recommendations for great winter day trips near Toronto. Ontario Trails offers a searchable list of locations with descriptions and trail maps. The Ontario Hiking Trails Facebook page—a joint initiative of Hike Ontario and the Ontario Trails Council—also shares up-to-date info and visitor suggestions.
This winter, in an effort to give residents more outdoor recreation options, the City of Toronto opened walking and snowshoe trails at five city golf courses. The trails include eight snow loops ranging from 1 to 2.5km. There are many more popular winter locations located throughout the city, or you could venture a bit farther to Uxbridge, the “Trail Capital of Canada,” where there are over 220km of seasonally managed trails.
For those in Eastern Ontario, the 11,000 hectare Larose Forest has more than 180km of trails and year-round outdoor activities, while the nearby Prescott and Russell Recreational Trail spans 72km for winter recreation activities. Over in the Township of North Glengarry, the Glengarry Trails offer cross-country skiing, walking, and snowshoeing. While you’re there, stop to read the new story boards located along the boardwalk at the Lochiel Street West entrance.
This winter, the National Capital Commission has added 50 percent more accessible winter trail space to the Ottawa area, for a total of more than 450km of trails for skiing, snowshoeing, snow biking, walking, and hiking.
Quebec’s national parks offer diverse terrain where visitors can take part in discovery activities, hiking, canoeing, and camping. Their website features maps of winter trails, as well as suggestions for short hikes, and destinations close to Montreal and Quebec City.
Just north of Montreal is the popular Le P’tit Train du Nord linear park, a 232km path built over an old railway line from Bois-des-Filion to Mont- Laurier. The Eastern Townships have spectacular hikes for everyone, and this winter the city of Montreal has expanded its winter walking trails so that everyone can safely enjoy the outdoors.
North of Quebec City is Les Marais du Nord, whose flat terrain over 8km of groomed winter trails and observation lookouts makes it a good option for beginners and children.
The project Ça marche Doc! just updated its directory of winter trails and now includes the regions of Quebec and Chaudière-Appalaches with winter-maintained urban trails of at least 1km.
For more options, the hiking association Rando Québec promotes hiking and snowshoeing throughout Quebec. It also offers an interactive resource to find locations throughout the province, and information to prepare for your winter hike. You can search by region, degree of difficulty, type of trail, and check if dogs are allowed.
Hike Nova Scotia can help you find hiking, walking, and snowshoeing trails throughout the province. It also offers a winter guided hike series, in-person courses and webinars, and share tips for safe hiking. And how about trying one of these awesome-looking winter hikes?
In New Brunswick, you’re never more than an hour away from one of its nine provincial parks. During the winter months, three of them are open for activities including sledding, cross-country skiing, and hiking.
Jenna Morton writes about playgrounds and family-focused activities and lives in Boundary Creek, N.B. She’s been enjoying her area’s winter trails this season with her husband and three children.
“In a time when so many things don’t seem the way they should, it’s a wonderful feeling to be able to safely head to our favourite park as a family and enjoy laughter and fresh air. We are so lucky to have an abundance of outdoor spaces near us that are maintained by municipalities that understand the physical and mental benefits of time spent outdoors. My husband, who is training for an Ironman triathlon, was able to safely run a groomed, snowy trail along the river at Highland Park, while my kids were rosy-cheeked and giggling like crazy as they went down the sliding hill again and again.”
– Jenna Morton, mother of three and author of Pickle Planet Moncton, from Boundary Creek, N.B.
Morton also mentions the Mill Creek/Dobson Trail in Riverview as a spectacular winter destination. The Dobson spans 58km from Riverview to Fundy National Park. Snowshoeing, walking, and skiing trails are marked, and there are great spots about 1km in to sit by a fire pit to warm up.
In Prince Edward Island, you can search Island Trails for walking trails by region, difficulty level, and snow conditions. If everyone wants to try a different activity head to the Mark Arendz Provincial Ski Park at Brookvale in Queens County, which has cross-country and alpine skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing and walking trails.
If you’re in Newfoundland and Labrador, one of Canada’s largest urban parks—the 1376-hectare Pippy Park in St. John’s—has a ton of winter activities available, walking trails of different lengths and difficulty levels, and you can also rent adaptive equipment at the park’s winter activity centre so that everyone can enjoy the snow-covered trails.
Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Nunavut
When hiking with kids, Parks Canada recommends Karstland Trail in Wood Buffalo National Park, Northwest Territories, and the Kokanee Trail in Kluane National Park and Reserve, Yukon. Bonus: youth aged 17 and under have free admission to all Parks Canada sites!
If you’re in Nunavut, it’s a 1km walk from the centre of Iqaluit to the entrance of Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park. There you can hike on the tundra, find the river’s falls, or admire the archaeological site of the Thule and Dorset cultures.
Cameron Falls Trail located within Hidden Lake Territorial Park on the Ingraham Trail in N.W.T. might be another spot you want to check out. Yukon Hiking is also a great guide for winter hiking locations and information.
Clear your mind and stay healthy with a brisk winter hike
Winter is one of the most beautiful times of the year for an outdoor adventure. Plus, heading outside in colder weather can be especially good for your health. Getting out into natural environments and snowy trails is ideal for clearing your mind, reducing anxiety, and staying physically active and heart-healthy.
Whatever trail you plan to visit, make sure it’s open and accessible before you head out. Winter weather means conditions and access can change quickly, while regulations surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic differ between provinces and regions.
Do you have a favourite winter hiking trail? Let us know in the comments!