Trails across Canada for city dwellers to walk this winter

Nearby hidden gems you maybe didn’t know existed.

Nearby hidden gems you maybe didn’t know existed

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

Fresh air is powerful stuff. Stepping outside on a sunny day can be mood-boosting and energizing. But since the cold weather set in and socially-distanced picnics in the park were put on pause, what's one to to? The short answer: hit the trails — even if you live in the city. 

We set out to discover the best spots in some Canadian cities for a winter walk in the woods. These walking and hiking trails are within an hour's drive of major cities, accessible by public transit and some are even dog-friendly. 

You may have visited one of these spots in the summer, but as the cold weather disperses the crowds, the experience is entirely different. 

Live in the Vancouver area? Head to Redwood Park in Surrey

(Source: Discover Surrey)

Surrey is in no way starved for green space, in fact, it's known as the City of Parks. Redwood Park, home to the largest stand of its namesake trees north of the 49th parallel, is particularly enchanting. The area features five kilometres of trails to explore under a canopy of Sierra redwoods, one of the tallest tree species in the world, plus a "fairy village" where clusters of tiny, brightly-coloured houses can be spotted perched atop fallen logs.

How to get there: The park is located roughly 50 kilometres from Vancouver. If you're driving, there's plenty of parking just off 20 Avenue. For those taking transit, the closest bus stop is at 24 Avenue and 180 Street, then the park is a one-kilometre walk away.

Good to know: Dogs are allowed as long as they're on leash.

Live in the Calgary area? Head to Griffith Woods Park

(Source: Tourism Calgary)

Situated along the banks of the Elbow River in southwest Calgary, Griffith Woods is a natural oasis within the city. Snow-dusted white spruce set the scene for a day of winter exploration where beavers, moose and deer sightings are common. The Discovery Ridge and John Simonot Trail Loop makes for a particularly lovely five-kilometre riverside walk and is appropriate for all skill levels. 

How to get there: There's parking at the park entrance on Discovery Ridge Boulevard Southwest. If you're taking public transit, the closest bus stop is at Discovery Ridge Boulevard Southwest and Discovery Ridge Link Southwest, just a three-minute walk from the park.

Good to know: Expect hard-packed snow on the pathways in winter and bring cleats on icy days. Dogs are welcome on leash. 

Live in the Whitehorse area? Head to the Chadburn Lake trails

(Source: Gail Chester)

Tourists tend to flock to Miles Canyon on the outskirts of Whitehorse to gaze upon its striking cliffs and turquoise waters, not realizing that there is an equally beautiful destination just across the attraction's suspension bridge. Those who know about the wilderness trails snaking around Chadburn Lake love them dearly. With a range of pathways shrouded in black spruce, pine, alder and poplar, you can tour the area for anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours while on the lookout for snowshoe hare, red foxes, coyotes, bald eagles and lynx.

How to get there: The drive from downtown Whitehorse to the parking area and trailhead is about 10 minutes. If you're without wheels and up for a full-day adventure, you can also hike in from town via the Schwatka Lake trails, which connect to the Chadburn system.

Good to know: In winter, these trails are groomed for skiing, so do not walk or snowshoe on the tracks. Instead walk alongside the tracks. Leashed dogs are permitted. 

Live in the Regina area? Head to the Wascana Centre trails

(Source: Government of Saskatchewan)

Regina's popular lakeside urban park, Wascana Centre, is home to over 10 kilometres of natural and paved pathways to explore, but the area's East Lake (Marsh) trail is the best pick for avoiding crowds and connecting with nature. Touring this six-kilometre pathway, you'll encounter over 300 species of trees as well as the odd beaver, coyote and rabbit. Hundreds of bird species also call Wascana Centre home, including blue jays, waxwings and owls.

How to get there: There are a number of parking lots throughout the park and multiple public transit stops around the edge of Wascana Centre (along Broad Street, Albert Street, College Avenue and 23rd Avenue) as well as at the nearby Saskatchewan Science Centre and the University of Regina.

Good to know: The trails are dog-friendly and are cleared of snow every morning.

Live in the Winnipeg area? Head to Bois-des-Esprits

(Source: Kristhine Guerrero)

Spend a blissful winter day communing with the tree spirits at Bois-des-Esprits. This 117-acre suburban forest and wetland habitat, part of the 27-kilometre Seine River Greenway, features a two-kilometre pathway with photo ops galore, thanks to a series of tree carvings. Keep your eyes peeled for whitetail deer, owls, and the park's most popular resident, Woody-Mhitik. Woody, once a 150-year-old elm tree suffering from Dutch elm disease, was transformed by some talented local carvers into a three-metre-tall wizened forest fixture.

How to get there: If you're driving, you'll need to park on the residential streets in the Royalwood area. Via transit, take the 55 bus southbound from downtown Winnipeg, get off at the stop at St. Anne's Road and Compark Road and Bois-des-Esprits is a seven-minute walk away.

Good to know: The trail is not cleared of snow, but usually gets enough use so that a proper path is visible. Dogs are welcome.

Live in the Toronto area? Head to Rattray Marsh Conservation Area

(Source: Jon Clayton)

A hotspot during the summer months due to its lush, lakefront landscape, traffic to this scenic area of Mississauga tapers off significantly during the winter months. Set out to explore the Silver Birch Loop — the informal name for the trail that joins Silver Maple Lane with a portion of the Pedestrian Waterfront Trail and the Knoll Trail for a total reset from the stresses of city living. Find serenity while gazing up at the oak, birch, willow, hemlock, ash and maple trees while keeping an eye out for foxes, rabbits, deer and beavers.

How to get there: If you're driving, you'll need to park at Jack Darling Memorial Park and hike in via the Waterfront Trail. Toronto residents can take GO Transit to Clarkson station then the 23 bus east, getting off at Lakeshore Road West and Bexhill Road, two minutes walk from the park entrance.

Good to know: Though open throughout the winter, the trail is not maintained. Dogs are welcome on leash.

Live in the Ottawa area? Head to Stony Swamp

(Source: National Capital Commission)

Ottawa's Greenbelt is home to over 150 kilometres of natural trails and the Stony Swamp area lays claim to over 40 kilometres of these trails. Trail 26 is a particularly great three-kilometre option suitable for all skill levels. As you meander past stands of beech and maple, you're likely to encounter cardinals, blue jays, woodpeckers, chickadees, snowshoe hares and even porcupines. In the wetland areas of the trail, stands of white cedar provide a wintering habitat for white-tailed deer.

How to get there: Drivers can park at the P11 lot off West Hunt Club Road for easy trail access. Otherwise, the trailhead is a 20-minute walk from the bus stop at Old Richmond Road and Seyton Drive.

Good to know: Stony Swamp trails are not maintained during the winter months and dogs are not permitted.

Live in the Montreal area? Head to Frédéric-Back Park

(Source: Eva Blue)

This park, which opened in 2017, has an interesting origin story: it was once the city's dump. In a particularly inventive instance of upcycling, planners turned trash to treasure, transforming the land into a 192-hectare green space with over five-kilometres of trails to explore. The area is dotted with 250 biogas-capturing wells housed in phosphorescent fibreglass orbs, which absorb sunlight during the day and begin to glow after dusk. 

How to get there: If you're driving, you'll need to park in the nearby residential streets, otherwise you can walk roughly 20 minutes from the Iberville or St-Michel Metro stations or take the 193 bus to the corner of Rue Jarry Est and Boulevard Crémazie Est, just a five-minute walk from the park's entrance.

Good to know: Dogs are welcome on leash.

Live in the Fredericton area? Head to Killarney Lake Park

(Source: Eva Blue)

This popular summer swimming spot just seven minutes from the city centre doubles as a hiking destination as temperatures drop. At 645 hectares, Killarney Lake Park is twice the size of New York's Central Park, plus it's home to barred owls, multiple species of woodpecker, Canada jays and New Brunswick's official bird, the black-capped chickadee. Even if you don't spot a resident bird, the 3.7-kilometre looped trail around the lake is particularly picturesque, framed by balsam firs, white pine and eastern white cedar trees.

How to get there: Parking is available for anyone who chooses to drive. There is also a bus stop at Killarney Lake Lodge, roughly 10 minutes by foot from the park.

Good to know: Dogs are welcome on leash.

Live in the Halifax area? Head to Hemlock Ravine Park

(Source: J. Hartlin)

Nova Scotia's very own Narnia lies on the outskirts of Halifax. Once the country estate of the Duke of Kent, Prince Edward, the park is home to a unique heart-shaped pond and trails framed by old-growth forest, which are rare in the province. Explore 4 kilometres of pathways with centuries-old hemlocks towering overhead while keeping an eye out for white-tailed deer.

How to get there: The main entrance and parking lot are at the end of Kent Avenue. The closest bus stop is just five minutes away at the corner of Bedford Highway and Kent Avenue.

Good to know: The ravine trail is slightly more sloped and rugged than the rest of the park's pathways, so exercise caution in icy conditions. Dogs are permitted on leash, with one trail designated for off-leash walking.

Jen O'Brien is an award-winning editor and freelance writer based in Toronto. Follow her @thejenobrien.

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