(Photo credit: iStock / Getty Images)
Fresh air is powerful stuff. Going outside on a sunny day can be mood-lifting and energizing. But since the cold weather set in and socially distant picnics were paused in the park, what should you do? The short answer: get on your way – even if you live in the city.
We set out to discover the best places 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, can be reached by public transport, and some are even dog-friendly.
You may have visited one of these places in the summer, but as the cold weather drives away the crowds, the experience is very different.
Do you live in the Vancouver area? Visit Redwood Park in Surrey
(Source: Discover Surrey)
By no means hunger for green spaces, Surrey is also known as the city of parks. The Redwood Park, which is home to the largest population of the trees of the same name north of the 49th parallel, is particularly enchanting. The area offers five kilometers of hiking trails to explore beneath a canopy of Sierra sequoias, one of the tallest species of trees in the world, and a “fairy village” where clusters of tiny, colorful houses can be spotted on fallen logs.
How to get there: The park is about 50 kilometers from Vancouver. If you are traveling by car, there is ample parking just off 20 Avenue. For those using transit, the nearest bus stop is at 24 Avenue and 180 Street, then the park is a kilometer away on foot.
Good to know: Dogs are allowed as long as they are on a leash.
Do you live in the Calgary area? Visit Griffith Woods Park
(Source: Calgary Tourism)
Located on the banks of the Elbow River in southwest Calgary, Griffith Woods is a natural oasis in the city. Snow-covered white spruce trees form the backdrop for a winter exploration day when beavers, elk and deer are frequently spotted. The Discovery Ridge and John Simonot Trail Loop is a particularly beautiful three mile riverside walk and is suitable for all skill levels.
How to get there: There is parking at the park entrance on Discovery Ridge Boulevard Southwest. If you’re traveling by public transportation, the closest bus stop is on Discovery Ridge Boulevard Southwest and Discovery Ridge Link Southwest, just a three-minute walk from the park.
Good to know: Expect hard snow on the trails in winter and bring studs with you on icy days. Dogs are welcome on a leash.
Do you live in the Whitehorse area? Go to the Chadburn Lake Trailsd
(Source: Gail Chester)
Tourists flock to Miles Canyon on the outskirts of Whitehorse to marvel at the impressive cliffs and turquoise waters, unaware that there is an equally beautiful destination just behind the attraction’s suspension bridge. Those who know about the wilderness trails around Chadburn Lake love it very much. With a number of trails shrouded in black spruce, pine, alder, and poplar, you can explore the area for anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours while on the lookout for snowshoe hares, red foxes, coyotes, bald eagles, and lynxes.
How to get there: The drive from downtown Whitehorse to the car park and trailhead takes approximately 10 minutes. If you don’t have bikes and want a full-day adventure, you can also hike from town on the Schwatka Lake Trails, which are connected to the Chadburn System.
Good to know: In winter these trails are groomed for skiing, so don’t go on the slopes or snowshoes. Instead, walk along the tracks. Dogs kept on a leash are allowed.
Do you live in the Regina region? Go to the Wascana Center Paths
(Source: Saskatchewan Government)
Regina’s popular lakefront urban park, Wascana Center, has over 6 miles of natural and paved trails to explore, but the area’s East Lake (Marsh) Trail is your best bet for avoiding the crowds and connecting with nature. On this six-kilometer trail, you will encounter over 300 species of trees as well as beavers, coyotes and rabbits. Hundreds of species of birds also call the Wascana Center home, including blue jays, waxwings and owls.
How to get there: There are a number of parking spaces throughout the park and several public transit stops on the edge of Wascana Center (along Broad Street, Albert Street, College Avenue, and 23rd Avenue) as well as the nearby Saskatchewan Science Center and the University of Regina.
Good to know: The trails are dog-friendly and are cleared of snow every morning.
Do you live in the Winnipeg area? Visit Bois-des-Esprits
(Source: Kristhine Guerrero)
Spend a blissful winter day with the tree spirits in Bois-des-Esprits. This suburban 117-acre forest and wetland habitat that is part of the 17-mile Seine River Greenway has a two-mile long photo-photo trail thanks to a number of tree carvings. Keep an eye out for white-tailed deer, owls, and the park’s most popular resident, Woody-Mhitik. Woody, once a 150-year-old elm that suffered from Dutch elm disease, has been transformed into a three-meter-high, wizened forest lamp by some talented local carvers.
How to get there: If you are coming by car, you will need to park on the residential streets in the Royalwood area. On public transportation, take bus 55 south from downtown Winnipeg, get off at St Anne’s Road and Compark Road stops, and Bois-des-Esprits is a 7-minute walk away.
Good to know: The path is not free of snow, but is usually used so heavily that a proper path is visible. Dogs are welcome.
Do you live in the Toronto area? Visit the Rattray Marsh Nature Reserve
(Source: Jon Clayton)
A hotspot in the summer months due to its lush lakeside landscape, traffic in this picturesque area of Mississauga decreases significantly in the winter months. Set out to explore the Silver Birch Loop – the informal name for the trail that connects Silver Maple Lane to part of the Pedestrian Waterfront Trail and the Knoll Trail, for a complete break from the stresses of city life. Find serenity as you admire the oak, birch, willow, hemlock, ash, and maple trees, and look out for foxes, rabbits, deer, and beavers.
How to get there: If you’re driving, you’ll need to park in Jack Darling Memorial Park and hike in via the Waterfront Trail. Toronto residents can take GO Transit to Clarkson Station, then take bus 23 east and get off at Lakeshore Road West and Bexhill Road, a two-minute walk from the park entrance.
Good to know: Although open all winter, the path is not maintained. Dogs are welcome on a leash.
Do you live in the Ottawa area? Go to the Stony Swamp
(Source: National Capital Commission)
Ottawa’s Greenbelt is home to over 150 kilometers of nature trails, and the Stony Swamp area claims over 40 kilometers of those trails. Trail 26 is a particularly great three-kilometer option for all skill levels. If you stroll past beech and maple stands, you are likely to encounter cardinals, blue jays, woodpeckers, tits, snowshoe hares and even porcupines. In the wetlands along the way, white cedar stands provide a wintering space for white-tailed deer.
How to get there: Motorists can park in Parking Lot P11 on West Hunt Club Road for easy access to the trails. Otherwise, the starting point is a 20-minute walk from the Old Richmond Road and Seyton Drive bus stops.
Good to know: Stony swamp paths are not maintained during the winter months and dogs are not allowed.
Do you live in the Montreal area? Go to Frédéric Back Park
(Source: Eva Blau)
This park, which opened in 2017, has an interesting history: it was once the city’s rubbish dump. In a particularly imaginative case of upcycling, planners turned trash into treasure and turned the land into 192 hectares of green space with over five kilometers of hiking trails to explore. The area is littered with 250 biogas catch wells housed in phosphorescent fiberglass balls that absorb sunlight during the day and begin to glow after dark.
How to get there: If you are arriving by car, you will need to park in the nearby residential streets, otherwise you can walk for around 20 minutes from 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 entrance.
Good to know: Dogs are welcome on a leash.
Do you live in the Fredericton area? Go to Killarney Lake Park
(Source: Eva Blau)
This popular summer bathing area, only seven minutes away from the city center, serves as a hiking destination when the temperatures drop. At 645 hectares, Killarney Lake Park is twice the size of New York’s Central Park and is also home to barred owls, several species of woodpecker, the Canadian owl, and New Brunswick’s official bird, the black-capped tit. Even if you don’t see a native bird, the 3.7 kilometer loop around the lake is particularly picturesque, framed by balsam firs, white pines and eastern white cedars.
How to get there: Parking is available for anyone who wants to drive. There is also a bus stop at Killarney Lake Lodge, about a 10-minute walk from the park.
Good to know: Dogs are welcome on a leash.
Do you live in the Halifax area? Visit the Hemlock Ravine Park
(Source: J. Hartlin)
Nova Scotia’s very own Narnia is on the outskirts of Halifax. Once the country home of the Duke of Kent, Prince Edward, the park is home to a unique heart-shaped pond and walking trails framed by ancient forest rare in the province. Explore 4 kilometers of hiking trails with centuries-old hemlocks looming overhead and keep an eye out for white-tailed deer.
How to get there: The main entrance and parking lot is at the end of Kent Avenue. The nearest bus stop is just five minutes away on the corner of Bedford Highway and Kent Avenue.
Good to know: The canyon trail is a little steeper and rougher than the rest of the park, so be careful in icy conditions. Dogs are allowed on a leash, with one path provided for walking without a leash.
Jen O’Brien is an award-winning editor and freelance writer based in Toronto. Follow her @thejenobrien.
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