The ancient practice of snowshoeing was used as a mode of transport for snowed-in Native American tribes. But yesteryear's necessity is today's sport—and a recreational rite of passage—for many Canadian children. Montreal's extensive park system makes a great venue for getting some family exercise and breaking a sweat. And since snowshoeing season (or raquette season) is contingent on snow, December through early March is the prime time for you to get your snowshoe on in Montreal.
Montreal's best-known park comes alive seasonally as a winter wonderland, with trails suitable for all ages. And its central location makes it easy to access for tourists needing the help of public transportation. Complete with three kilometers of trails, snowshoe rentals, a bathroom, and vending machines, this go-to park has all the amenities for a day of tromping through the snow.
The largest park in Montreal, Cap Saint Jacques Nature Park offers great views, an ecological farm—complete with cows, goats, sheep, donkeys, rabbits, a pony, and a pig—and a sugar shack where you can sample maple products. Enjoy five kilometers of trails, snowshoe rentals, nature interpretation strolls, and bird watching. But look out for fat bikers and yield to cross-country skiers, as the park's trails are multi-use.
This enchanting Montreal nature park boasts seven kilometers of trails for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. If you really want to get a cardio fix, sign up for Outdoor Cardio's cardio-sledding, cardio-vitality, and cardio-boot camp classes. This park is also a favorite of bird watchers, as seasonal species enjoy the winter alongside recreationists. Snowshoe rentals are available for both adults and kids.
This 14.5-kilometer canal passes through the southwestern part of Montreal. And guess what? It freezes and fills with snow in the winter, making it the perfect "undesignated" snowshoe spot. You probably won't be sharing the six kilometers of trails with tourists, either, as this spot is frequented by neighborhood residents. There are no services at the canal, however, so plan accordingly if you go.
Northwestern Montreal and Bois-de-Liesse Nature Park offer some of the city's most visually-appealing scenery. And both of the park's reception centers (at Maison Pitfield and Des Champs) invite visitors to heat up by their fireplaces, making this destination a must for snowshoers. Enjoy nine kilometers of trails specifically suited to snowshoeing. Sledding mounds for the kids, rentals, and nature interpretation tours are also available.
Only five minutes from downtown Montreal, this park is known for its cultural events and sports programming. Four kilometers of trails host snowshoers, fat bikers, and cross-country skiers. Don't miss their annual Fête des Neiges festival, which takes place over four winter weekends and includes activities like sledding, ice sculpting, family shows, and films.
A riverside park on Montreal's north shore, Nature Park of L'Île-de-la-Visitation offers one of the most extensive snowshoeing trail networks in Montreal. And it's also the only nature park in Montreal where you can unwind at the end of the day with cocktails and hors-d'oeuvres, courtesy of its on-site bistro. Eight kilometers of trails wind along the river's edge and it's easy to get to by taking public transportation.
Ornithologists will love Pointe-Aux-Prairies Nature Park, with its magical landscape perfect for viewing all kinds of bird species. This vast park connects the Rivière des Prairies to the St. Lawrence River and includes wooded areas, fields, and frozen swamps. Enjoy almost seven kilometers of snowshoeing trails which you'll share with cross country skiers and fat bikers. Rentals are available and facilities are on-site.
A sizeable urban park adjacent to the Montreal Botanical Gardens and across the street from the Olympic Stadium and the Biodome, Maisonneuve Park has five kilometers of snowshoeing trails and an ice skating rink. This park originally contained an 18-hole golf course, which is now converted into rolling hills for sledding and a trail network.
The Morgan Arboretum is a picturesque preserve situated on the campus of McGill University. For a nominal fee, you can enjoy 15 kilometers of groomed trails suited for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. You can also buy an annual membership, which grants you recreational access from dusk until dawn and dog-walking privileges.
Sharing space with Circus Arts City TOHU, the St. Michel Environmental Complex's complete transformation from a landfill to 192 acres of park is slated for 2020. But a large portion has already been turned into green space, which includes two kilometers of trails and open spaces that host a variety of family-friendly activities (including snowshoeing) and team sports events.
This waterside park boasts waterfalls, limestone beds, and several islands—perfect breeding grounds for muskrats, herons, ducks, and fish. A rather new addition to Montreal's park lineup, Ruisseau-De Montigny Nature Park offers three kilometers of snowshoeing trails but does not have rentals, bathrooms, or food-service options.