January 5, 2016
Montréalers embrace their bucolic ventures into winter (do they really have a choice?), turning forested paths into skating trails, hauling inner tubes up hills and locating spas wherever they can. Here are some of our favourite destinations, all less than 90-minutes away from Montréal, to bundle up or take it off during winter in Quebec.
The mighty St. Lawrence River is littered with thousands of islands, including ÃŽle de Montréal itself. The Boucherville archipelago is preserved as an outdoor playground just a few miles from the city. Groomed trails stretching over 7km on ÃŽ’ile Sainte-Marguerite provide habitat for skis and snowshoes (rentals available), including Ski-Vel equipment for the mobility impaired. Fat bike enthusiasts can also rent pedals here or just take solace in a wooded landscape frequented by white-tailed deer and all the resident winter bird species.
Year-round sugar shacks are rare and Sucrerie de la Montagne, a Quebec Heritage site, is one of the best. A wood cabin complex located at the top of Mont Rigaud in a 120-acre forest, a visit isn’t complete without sleigh rides and maple-taffy-on-snow tastings. The jig really starts shaking during “Sugaring Off,” i.e. syrup production time from mid-February to mid-March, when musical entertainment follows an all you can eat sugar feast.
Long before there were snow machines, teams of dogs conveyed voyageurs through these forests, across these meadows and over these lakes. Today, many explorers still prefer the canine team to a four-stroke engine-fuelled ride. No need to split hairs at Laurel Aventure Nature however, since you can spend the morning getting tugged by the huskies and throttle up on a sled for an interpretive tour that afternoon. You may also want to chug away on the isolated snowshoe trails, one of the best ways to experience winter in Quebec.
You can get plenty of winter “wonderland” out of Eastern Canada’s premier alpine resort without ever putting on skis. Step off the gondola, don your rental snowshoes, flip on your torch and begin a 5km guided tour through the woods to the Versant Soleil cabin. There’s nothing better than a hearty fondue dinner to replenish energy for the return trip into the woods, so lovely dark and deep.
Night skiing is an urban tradition, when scores of school busses depart on Friday afternoons for an evening filled with flirtations, first kisses, group dinners and, occasionally, a little skiing. Skiing at night also serves as a rite of passage on the Montréal outdoor recreation checklist, so find your warmest mittens and an extra layer or two and head to Bromont, one of the best night skiing centres in eastern Canada.
Catch the trendiest movement in outdoor adventure by renting a fat tire bike at the Centre National de Cyclisme de Bromont. No “get a push and go” operation, this vélo hub features certified coaches who will guide the subtle technique of pedal powering your way over 4.5 km of mountain trails. Should downhill biking among the birch trees prove too tame, test your skills on the cyclocross course. Don’t forget to marvel at the pros who arrive from around the world to train here.
It’s always fun to stick your tongue out at old man winter, and few institutions provide a better opportunity than the Polar Bear’s Club. Slide like Ursus maritimus from hot pool to hotter pool, while looking over the sylvan scene just beyond the lighted path. A circle of Muskoka Chairs surround a circular wood fireplace, a perfect locale for an Irish coffee post dinner in chef Fabrice Coutanceau’s new bistro, before retiring for a perfect night’s sleep in the on-site villa or loft.
Time to tick off yet another frozen bucket list item for winter in Quebec, this time by tossing your fishing line down the hole from inside a wood-heated cabin. The Eastern Township lakes contain the who’s who of favourable fish, including perch, pike, bass and trout. Fortunately, they’re still swimming down there, hungrier than ever, below a meter of ice. Rent a cosy cabin for two or bring a gang of 15 for a flay-day on the lake.
You can’t believe your eyes at first when the Zamboni ice machine emerges from the forest, having just smoothed over a 12 km trail that laces its way under birch boughs, past ponds and beside meadows. If only Hans Christian Andersen had discovered Quebec’s skating trails he’d have penned another volume of fables. Scattered throughout the land, these sublime glacé tracks put the beautiful in la Belle Province.
The geography of the Eastern Townships, located between Montréal and Vermont, serves as an ideal topographical map for cross-country skiing, forested hills and valleys. It’s no surprise that many recreational Nordic skiers consider this area to be the best in North America. Base de Plein Air André Nadeau contains over 11km of groomed trails of various difficulty, as well as equipment rentals, a heated relay station and a waxing room. There’s also a tubing hill and a 3.5km snowshoe trail.
Join forces with a husky to “kick sled“ your way along the trails, burning carbs while bonding with your canine companion. Horseback riding through thick snow provides a sublime equestrian opportunity, or glide onto 40km of groomed Nordic ski and snowshoe trails. The Nordic spa awaits you, should winter’s rough and tumble ranching lifestyle wear you out.
Header image: Snowshoeing in the Laurentian Mountains is a “must-do” winter activity © Heiko Wittenborn
Our partnership with Delta means we can connect you to and from a wide range of destinations across the United States and Canada, making it easier for you to experience these days trips from Montréal next time you’re in town.
Have you experienced winter in Quebec? Have you tried any of these day trips within reach of Montréal? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Crai Bower