If the Japanese have forest bathing, then Canadians can claim skating in the forest as our unique form of zen in the woods. What started as the realization by a lucky few that a frozen river can be skated on, has evolved into carefully crafted skating paths across the country, accessible to urbanites, too. Why there is something utterly joyful about skating through trees is hard to define, but it may have something to do with having “true fun,” newly defined in bestseller The Power of Fun by Catherine Price as “the magical confluence of playfulness, connection and flow,” which sounds a lot like navigating the twists and turns of a woodland skating path to us. Here are some of our top picks for outdoor forest skating paths across the country.
Navigating the twists and turns of an enchanted forest skating path is full of the thrill (and the wobbles) of embracing the wonders of winter. Here are some of our top cross–country picks for where to go skating through the forest.
Nina’s Way, Kivi Park, Sudbury, Ontario
Kivi Park is Sudbury’s newest and, at 480 acres, largest park. With over 55 kilometres of groomed skiing, hiking and biking trails, it opens up Sudbury’s beautiful backcountry for locals and visitors alike. One of the park’s most popular draws is its new skating path, Nina’s Way. The 1.3–kilometre–long trail, considered one of the best for Ontario forest skating, weaves through beautiful stands of birch trees. At night, it feels like a celebration of northern winters — the whole path is lit up by twinkling LED lights, music plays gently over speakers, two huge firepits burn brightly, and hot chocolate and locally baked goods are available from the park’s Wishing Tree Cafe. To complete the winter wonderland experience, the surrounding woods are dotted with sparkling trees — Kivi decorates 50 for Christmas — and the lights stay on until the snow melts.
Open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, single day pass $9, family pass $25
Patinage en Foret, Lac–des–Loups, Quebec
Started as a labour of love five years ago by Dave Mayer on his family’s 200–year–old property outside Ottawa, the Lac des Loups ice trail is utterly charming. With a rustic wooden chalet for lacing up and warming up, bonfires and benches to relax on and nothing but the sound of the wind in the spruce and balsam trees, the three–kilometre–long trail wends its way through what Mayer jokingly refers to as “the only flat land in the Gatineaus.” Mayer is obsessive about keeping his trail as bump–free as possible and is often spotted on his Zamboni late at night, smoothing away the day’s tracks.
Open from 9 a.m. to sunset, $18 for adults and $14 for children
Adventure Skating Loop, Apex Mountain Resort, B.C.
There’s a serenity to the mountains in winter that is almost impossible to experience when you’re speeding downhill on skis. At Apex Mountain Resort, just outside Penticton, there’s a one–kilometre–long skating loop through the woods that allows the mountain’s calming silence to gently permeate as you glide past towering conifers and sugary snowdrifts. At night the lights come on creating a snow–globe–worthy scene. The Loop can be rented in its entirety — which sounds like a perfect socializing solution in Covid–19 times.
Open from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, $5
The Victoria Park IceWay Skating Trail, Edmonton
The IceWay in Edmonton’s Victoria Park began as a master’s thesis by landscape architect Matt Gibbs — he wanted to create a way for locals to celebrate, rather than hibernate, during winter. Now the 2.4–kilometre–long trail that carves its way through the park’s woods is something Edmontonians anticipate each year – at night its multicoloured ambient lighting creates a dreamy, kaleidoscope effect on the ice. The path takes two weeks to prepare, with daily flooding and grooming until the surface is smooth enough for skaters, but thanks to Edmonton’s cold climate, once the water freezes, the trail is good for skating throughout the winter.
Open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily
La Domaine De La Foret Perdue, Notre–Dame–du–Mont–Carmel, Quebec
At 15 kilometres long, this forest labyrinth skating trail is the longest in the country. The path began as a way for farmers and beekeepers Jean–Pierre Binette and Madeleine Courchesne to keep their three children busy during the winter. Their kids invited friends, more friends came, and soon they had created a second business as well as the first skateway or sentier glacé in Quebec. Over 20 years later the essence of the farm is still here with paths weaving through pine and hardwood forests dotted with farm pens containing sheep, goats, ducks, deer, as well as alpaca and emus, too. The trails are so intricate you can skate for hours through the trees, pausing to catch your breath or feed a farm animal and breathe in the clean, pine–scented air. If you’re looking for forest skating near Montreal, this spot is less than two hours away from the city (and just a 20–minute drive north of Trois–Rivières). This is full–service forest skating with three Zambonis roaming the (narrow) trails, a pro shop for equipment rental, a restaurant and exceptional honey available for sale.
Open from 9 a.m. to around 9 p.m. daily (the hours change during the season), $22 for adults and $20 for children
Honourable mention: Nestaweya River Trail, Winnipeg
An honourable mention goes to Winnipeg’s Nestaweya River Trail. While not technically a skating path (it is a frozen river), the trail’s striking warming huts are the result of a yearly global architectural competition. At the end of January, competition winners travel to Winnipeg to build their huts that are then brought out to the river for skaters to use and admire. This year’s winners were a duo from Drøbak, Norway – Luca Roncoroni and Tina Soli – whose bright pink outdoor shower installations, Singin' in The Shower, are meant to evoke the joy and fun of, well, singing in the shower (except, you’re skating on a frozen river in Winnipeg).