If you've ever wanted to try cross-country skiing, Montreal is the place to do it. Also known as Nordic skiing or ski de fond in French, there are over 200 kilometers or 124 miles of cross-country trails scattered about the various parks around the city. The season generally begins in mid-December and runs to mid-March, but the exact dates vary from year to year based on the snowfall, so be sure to check trail conditions at individual parks.
Many of the most popular parks have equipment available to rent, but if you happen to be a cross country fanatic and have your own skis with you, then you can enjoy trails that are much less frequented.
Montreal's best-known park is a winter wonderland with plenty of trails suitable for beginners along with some slopes for skiers looking for a challenge. The park has over 22 kilometers, or about 14 miles, of trails that pass through the woods as well as big open landscapes with views of the city. Since this is Montreal's most famous park, all of the trails are groomed daily. It's also easily accessible from the rest of the city and easy to reach via public transit.
Visitors can take part in all kinds of winter sports in Parc Jean-Drapeau, from sledding to ice climbing. The park only has two trails, one that's only 750 meters or a half-mile and ideal for first-time skiers and another that's 5 kilometers or 3 miles and ranges from beginner to intermediate levels. It's free to use the trails and rental equipment is available daily. The park is located on St. Helen's Island in the St. Lawrence River, but the Parc Jean-Drapeau metro stop makes getting there easy.
A stunningly beautiful nature park, Parc-nature Bois-de-Liesse offers 9 kilometers or nearly 6 miles of ski trails through black maple forests in what has to be one of the most visually appealing ski trails in Montreal. The trails are made up of varying degrees of difficulty, so consult a map or ask a park ranger before you begin if you're new to the sport. Equipment rental is available on-site, as are cross country classes if you want a guide.
One of the largest botanical gardens in the world lends its dormant outdoor grounds to cross-country skiers come winter. The Montreal Botanical Garden is located inside Maisonneuve Park and between the two of them there are 18 kilometers, or 11 miles, of trails to enjoy. It's free to ski on the trails but you need your own equipment since there are no rental facilities available. Even though the plants of the botanical garden are dormant under the snow, it's important to stay on the trails or you could prevent them from sprouting once spring comes.
Parc-nature Bois de l'Île Bizard
L’Île-Bizard is possibly the most serene and enchanting of Montreal's large parks, and the island is just about the closest you can get to "escaping" the city without actually leaving the city. The island has 7 kilometers or about 4 miles of cross-country trails, and you'll feel like you're out in the Canadian wilderness. Even though the isolation is one of the biggest draws of the park, it also means it's less accessible. The only way to get there in the winter is by car since the ferry doesn't run in the winter months. The island doesn't have rental facilities, either, so make sure you bring equipment.
Almost at the northern tip of the island of Montreal, Parc-nature de la Pointe-aux-Prairies is best known as a sanctuary for local birds and white-tailed deer. In the winter, you can possibly spot some wildlife while cross-country skiing on the 12 kilometers or roughly 8 miles of trails throughout the park. The park may be located outside of the city center, but equipment rentals are available so you don't need to lug anything with you.
Parc-nature de l'Île-de-la-Visitation
A riverside park on Montreal's north shore, Parc-nature de l'Île-de-la-Visitation is the only large nature park in Montreal where you can unwind at the end of a day of Nordic skiing with cocktails and a meal without even leaving the park. The Bistro des Moulins restaurant is located at the entrance to l'Île-de-la-Visitation next to where you can pick up and drop off your rental equipment.
Montreal's largest park also features one of the most extensive cross-country ski areas in the city with a network of 14 kilometers, or almost 9 miles, of trails. Cap St. Jacques Park also offers all kinds of amenities from basics like equipment rental to locally-made maple products at the Sugar Shack. The park is at the far west end of the island and not well connected to public transit, so going by car is the easiest way to get there.
The Morgan Arboretum is a picturesque cross-country skiing option ideal for beginners and the whole family. There are three different trails of varying lengths for a total of 15 kilometers of skiable paths, or about 9 miles. Since the Morgan Arboretum is privately owned by McGill University and not a city park, non-members must pay a day fee to visit the park. It's also located at the southernmost tip of the island, so getting there without a car from downtown Montreal takes about two hours.
The peninsular Parc René-Lévesque is linked to the Lachine Canal, overlooking the St. Lawrence River and Lake St. Louis near the borough of LaSalle. In the warmer months, it's home to one of the most beautiful bike paths in North America according to TIME Magazine, but those paths become 4 kilometers, or 2.5 miles, of cross-country ski trails in the winter. Rental facilities are not available at René-Lévesque, so you'll need to bring your own equipment.
The park known as Frédéric-Back is located inside the larger St. Michel Environmental Complex, which was transformed from a landfill into a green space in one of the biggest sustainable urban design projects in North America. The 5-kilometer (3-mile) path around the park is used for walking and biking in the summer, but in the winter, it's used by winter enthusiasts for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Rental equipment is not available at Parc Frédéric-Back.
Angrignon Park is a large, mildly manicured park with 10 kilometers, or about 6 miles, of trails that are adapted for classic as well as skate skiing techniques. The routes crisscross through the woods of the park and loop around the frozen pond. The park is also easily accessible via public transit since the final stop on Line 1 of the metro is right at the entrance of Angrignon.
Parc de la Promenade Bellerive
Bordering the St. Lawrence River, Parc de la Promenade Bellerive is a gorgeous park in southeast Montreal. The 4-kilometer (2.5-mile) cross-country ski trail is right by the water, so you can take in the scenery of the park while getting unbeatable views of the river. Rental equipment is not available at Parc de la Promenade Bellerive.
Parc Thomas-Chapais is a small patch of green space in the middle of the city in Montreal East's Tétraultville. It only has 1.3 kilometers of skiable trails, or not even a mile, but there's also an outdoor skating rink in the park to round out your winter excursion. The park does not have offer rental equipment, so you'll need to bring your own.