In Ottawa, there is a unique 16 km Nordic trail experience that is well suited for this region. Right on the banks of the Ottawa River, the SJAM (Sir John A. Macdonald) Parkway is a strip of urban parkland locals go to for recreational winter activities.
Few cities have such a location or snow base to support such an accessible trail in their own backyard.
The paths are easy to manage as they wind through open parkland which undulates between the river and roadway heading upriver from the Canadian War Museum to Westboro Beach. The mighty Ottawa River will likely be partially frozen over with a view of Quebec across the way.
The SJAM Winter Trails are free to use and regularly groomed with two tracks set. One path caters to walkers, Fatbikes and the Snowshoe crowd. Though truly you can easily wander off on your own and make your own way.
The other track is set for classic cross-country and skate skiing. At some point on this linear path, you will have to turn around and retrace your way back. Taking the occasional short side loop would add variety on your return trek.
Most Nordic trails have the occasional skier to watch out for. Depending on the weather and time of day, these trails can get busy with people on the move. Here in the city, expect everything from kids and dogs on the run, to Fatbikes zipping by.
Though close to downtown, this park area still retains an isolated, natural feel to it except for the car traffic in the distance. This makes amenities scarce so pack what you need. I saw a few washrooms/outhouses along the way and even a fire pit to warm up to. I was only visiting and cannot say if they are always there or regularly open.
Run by volunteers, donations are always welcome to put gas in the groomer and keep this project going.
Of the numerous public parklands in and around the capital, SJAM is the best known but there are others if you start looking: Mooney’s Bay, Ski Heritage East, and the Green Belt.
And then there are the serious trails in the hills across the river in Gatineau Park and at Nakkertok that will test your skills.
I’ll state it again, this town has Nordic skiing everywhere. It’s the best city in Ontario to spend a week visiting and trying a different trail every day.
Also, during the first two weeks of February, Winterlude is a big event. So make plans and visit, ski, see the sites, be happy.