The Ultimate Guide to Winter Hiking in Ottawa + Region

Winter isn’t normally what you think of as a hiking season, but in Ontario it is one of the best times to get outside and on the trails! Just think, there are no bugs (huge bonus), less traffic, and some epic views. Another reason? It’s a lot easier to get up for a 7am winter sunrise than it is a 5am summer one. So, how can we make the most of the season, while recreating responsibly? Read on!

Responsible Recreation Insights

The name of the game when getting out in nature is to ‘take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but tracks’.  Here are a insights and considerations when it comes to hiking during the winter hiking season.

Many trail managers opt to either change the trail designation or close the trail completely during the winter, check the specific trail your planning to hike before you head out.

Overall, most trail systems that have groomed trails for skiing or snowshoeing specific trails, switch to snowshoe or skiing only trails mid-November (or later depending on weather conditions). A good example is our local NCC trails in the Greenbelt and in Gatineau Park. It’s always worth checking before you  go.

Know what trails are designated no dogs permitted, on-leash dogs permitted, and off-leash dogs permitted. Check out ‘The Ultimate Guide to Hiking with Dogs in Ottawa + Region‘ for trails details, insights, and recommendations.

Do not feed the wildlife. Chickadees are cute but they don’t need our help with food, in fact, our interaction could be detrimental to their well-being.

Wildlife rule of thumb: If you can cover the entire wild animal with your thumb you’re at a safe distance. This is a general rule to be used as a minimum precaution. Other factors, like the animal’s behaviour should be considered and added to distance. Use binoculars or a camera with zoom to view animals from a safe distance.

Gun Creek Trail Lanark

Winter Trail Etiquette for Hikers trails are for skiers only.

“Walking on the ski trails is never allowed (…) Walking makes the surface uneven and hardens the trail base, creating conditions that can be dangerous for skiers.” By the same reasoning that dogs are not allow on ski trails. the holes, divots creating by hikers + dogs can cause injury to skiers.

“The wide, middle section of a ski trail between the classic cross-country tracks — better known as the corduroy — is for skate skiing. It is not a walking trail.

“At designated crossings, hikers, snowshoers and snow bikers may cross a cross-country ski trail, but they must yield to skiers, and avoid the classic tracks.

Hacks for Winter Hiking

Try out these insights to make the most of your spring hiking season! Visit for packing lists, seasonal hiking tips, and safe hiking insights

  • Keep your day pack stocked with the ten essentials for out of the city hikes (free packing lists) and practice responsible recreation.
  • Always check the weather and be prepared for changes in the forecast.
  • Stick to known trails as navigation can be a challenge in winter months.
  • Be prepared for shorter daylight windows by choosing shorter trails, starting earlier in the day, and always carrying a headlamp with extra batteries.
  • Take note that some trails, roads, and parking lots are unmaintained in winter. Parking lots can be icy, use your judgement.
  • Some trails change designation to make room for other winter activities like skiing and snowshoeing or close all together in winter. Check prior to heading out.
  • When choosing a trail, note that forests and north facing trails will have the most snow/ice and that heavy traffic trails can mean packed snow and slippery conditions.
  • You’ll burn more calories hiking in the cold weather, bring calorie dense snacks and drink water even when you don’t feel thirsty as dehydration is common in winter.
  • Dress in layers and never in cotton. Minimize sweating by adopting the “be bold start cold” mentality. Bring extra warm layers in your day pack.
  • Keep your car fob in a zipped pocket of your inner layer, the cold will zap the battery.
  • Keep a change of warm clothes in the car including extra shoes and socks for post hike.

Gear Recommendations

  • Consider microspikes, gaiters, poles for increased stability and safety. Microspikes are becoming more readily available and can be found online, outdoor stores, hardware stores, and even Costco at times. Recommend microspikes versus nanospikes for increased grip. My go to brand is Kahtoola.
  • Check out the Ottawa Outdoor Gear Library to borrow winter outdoor gear.
  • Looking for cost effective gear for purchase? Watch for sales, shop at Costco, or check out com
  • Never wear cotton and always choose wool or synthetic.

Winter Trails for Dogs

Some considerations while hiking with dogs in the winter:

  • hike within your dogs limits – full stop
  • know the max temp for your breed
  • consider booties, protect their paws
  • know what hypothermia looks like in dogs
  • consider taking a dog first course and carrying kit

Yes, some NCC trails close to dogs in the winter so that we can share the trails with skiers and snowshoeing. Other trails don’t allow dogs due to rare species or species at risk. That said, there are plenty of dog friendly trails available!

Here are some dog friendly trails to explore in the city: Ferguson Forest (off-leash park), Limerick Forest, Monaghan Forest, Marlborough Forest, Forest Valley Loop, Berryl Gaffney (off-leash park), Champman Mills CA, Morris Island CA, Baxter CA

Google “City of Ottawa Dog Parks” for an interactive map of the abundance of dog parks in our city.

Aaaaaand have you heard of Barkwood Forest in Stittsville? It is a membership dog park and worth checking out.

Know what trails are designated no dogs permitted, on-leash dogs permitted, and off-leash dogs permitted. Check out ‘The Ultimate Guide to Hiking with Dogs in Ottawa + Region‘ for trails details, insights, and recommendations.

Ticks and Lyme Disease

In the winter? On the shoulder of the season, winters can have a very mild start or end to the season. We hear winter and automatically think that we’re ok to not worry about ticks when really it’s the temperature not the season that we should be considering. As a general rule of thumb, if it is 4’C or above, follow tick protocols.

Assume that every trail has ticks.⁠ Because it likely does, at least in Ontario, and certainly in Ottawa. This is simply a part of hiking in 2020. In 2018 a @uottawa found that 1 in 3 ticks in our area tested positive for lyme disease. Nymph ticks are as small as poppy seeds, yet the ones most likely to carry the disease.⁠

Prepare & Prevent:⁠ Apply insect repellent with DEET or icardin (use Health Canada approved products only)⁠. Wear long sleeve shirts, pants, sock, and hikers. Tuck those pants into your socks!⁠ Wearing light coloured clothing helps you spot ticks.⁠ Always stay on the path.⁠ Always do a full body check post hike.⁠ (Adapted from Ottawa Public Health)

Hikers Hacks:⁠ Choose trails with wide paths making it easier to stay away from long grass.⁠ Use a sticky lint roller post hike to help remove/identify ticks.⁠ Shower post hike and do a second full body check.⁠ Put hiking clothes in dryer for 10 mins.⁠

Amazing Resources

What to up your hiking game? It starts with curiousity and access to great resources to learn from. Try checking out some of these:

Winter Hiking Trails for Sunrise

One of the aspects I like most about winter hiking in Ottawa and region is being able to catch a fantastic sunrise. Here are some of my favourite spots to ‘stop and smell the roses’:

  • Cooper Marsh Conservation Area in Stormont, Dundas, & Glengarry County
  • Manitou Mountain trails in Renfrew County
  • Morris Island Conservation Area in City of Ottawa
  • Mac Johnston Wildlife Area in Leeds & Grenville County
  • Mont Morrisette in L’Outaouais region
  • Burnt Lands Provincial Park in Lanark County
  • Parc nationale de plaisance in l’Outaouais

If you would like more suggestions for year round spots to catch the sunrise or sunset, read our Best Sunrise and Sunset Hikes in Ottawa + Region article.

Macnamara Nature Trail

Winter Hiking Trails for Forest Bathing

Everyone loves exploring waterfalls, some are gorgeous year round and others are best in spring. Here are a few trails and location of waterfalls to explore:

  • Gun Creek Trail (Lanark Community Forest) in Lanark County
  • Torbolton Forest in City of Ottawa
  • Kennebec Wilderness Trails in Frontenac County
  • Griffith Uplands in Renfrew County
  • MacNamara Trail in Renfrew County
  • Limerick Forest (North) in Leeds & Grenville County
  • The Pines (Community Forest) in Lennox + Addington. County
  • Marlborough Forest in City of Ottawa

What Are Your Favourite Winter Hiking Trails or Insights?

Comment below with your favourite winter hiking trails! Any that I missed for sunrise or forest bathing? Do you have hiking hacks specifically for winter or eco insights that you’d love to share? It would be great to hear them!


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The Ultimate Guide to Winter Hiking in Ottawa + Region

by | Jan 13, 2022 | Wilderness | 0 comments

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