Snowy Trails to Beat the Winter Blues

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Effective Thursday, January 14, 2021at 12:01 a.m., the government issued a stay-at-home order requiring everyone to remain at home with exceptions for permitted purposes or activities, such as going to the grocery store or pharmacy, accessing health care services, for exercise or for work where the work cannot be done remotely. This order and other new and existing public health restrictions are aimed at limiting people’s mobility and reducing the number of daily contacts with those outside an immediate household. Please follow the guidelines, and check before engaging in any activity, as guidelines change often. This blog post is intended for inspiration only, when safe to do so. For updated info on COVID-19 please visit https://covid-19.ontario.ca/

We’re in the middle of a pandemic, so why not take a hike? Or, for a change of pace, strap on some snowshoes or cross-country skis and explore your local trails.

The trails in Hastings County are excellent places to hike, ski, or snowshoe, depending on the weather and snow conditions. If you want to take the kids, your partner, or the dog for a walk, there are miles of trails under the umbrellas of Quinte Conservation and the  Crowe Valley Conservation Authority. And after a fresh snowfall, these trails are perfect for skiing and snowshoeing.

A woman cross-country skiing in a red winter jacket and black toque stands on a snowy, wooded trail with a white poodle standing on front of her.

So, keep your eye on the weather and head into the woods – you’ll be astonished by the serenity that the winter beauty of Hastings County has to offer. The mental, physical – and yes – spiritual benefits of being with trees are well documented, but given COVID, it just makes sense to get out, enjoy winter, and appreciate the great outdoors. It’s called ‘great’ for a reason.

There’s some cool tech for techie types, too. Alltrails is an app which provides hand-curated trail maps, directions, and photos for hundreds of trails across the province. As well, most conservation areas now use McKay Pay for parking, so download the app before you hit the trail.

H.R. Frink Conservation Area offers 13 km of trails through hardwood and coniferous forests. Located north of Belleville, just off Highway 37, this is a very popular trail for hiking, but given the right snow conditions, it’s also good for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. There’s even a boardwalk.

A woman stands posing in a dark snowsuit with a black toque on a snow covered trail in the woods.
Ardith R. visiting the H. R. Frink Centre.

 Just south of Tweed, and off Highway 37, there’s Vanderwater Conservation Area, which has 15 km of trails to explore. The area is located along the Moira River, and you can hear the water cascading over the limestone steps from some distance away. This is a popular destination for cross-country skiers and snowshoers but be aware that all activities often occur on the same path.

There are a couple of excellent trails near Stirling. The Sager Conservation Area is a great place for a hike and there’s a scenic lookout. Skis and snowshoes are not recommended activities, given the steps.

Snow covered outdoor stairs along a trail in the woods and two people are walking up the stairs in the distance.
Sager Conservation Area

Located just two minutes from Sager Conservation Area, the Sidney Conservation Area, offers 1.3 km of trails through stately red pines. This is another popular, multi-use trail that was once used by the Federal Department of Agriculture for ‘experimental purposes’.

Another cool place to explore on foot is Callaghan’s Rapids Conservation Area, located at the end of a no-exit road near Marmora. A short hike brings you to the rapids and a rock ledge. 

Rapids flowing along a snow covered riverbank with forest trees in the background.
Callaghan’s Rapids in Marmora.

O’Hara Mill Homestead & Conservation Area has a series of short, inter-connected trails to explore, which meander alongside old stone fences and a lovely creek. You can immerse yourself in history here, too. The heritage buildings and the mill were built in the 1850’s. It’s a fantastic place, no matter the season.

A woman bundle up for cold weather pours a man a hot chocolate, who is also bundle up wearing a blue-white toque. Both are standing outdoors in a forest with a river and wooden bridge in the background with snow on the ground all around.
O’Hara Mill Homestead. Photo by Johnny CY Lam.

Newly opened at McGeachie Conservation Area: half- way between Madoc and Bancroft, there is a newly designated cross-country ski trail. Of course, you can hike or snowshoe, too, depending on the conditions.

The McGeachie Conservation Area, located beside Steenburg Lake, has recently been designated as non-motorized, groomed trail, thanks to the hard work of volunteers and municipalities. Cathy Trimble, Chair of the Hastings Destinations Trail Inc., has been a tremendous force in co-ordinating efforts to “improve non-motorized trails, tourism, health and well-being in the county.” Work on this has been on-going since 2016 and the process has finally come to fruition.

The signage is professional and the trail meanders through a gorgeous, mixed hardwood forest. My husband and I skied the trail in early January; there are some steep inclines and sharp corners, which resulted in a few tumbles, but otherwise, the day was perfect.  

A person is cross-country skiing along a snowy trail through a forest.
Track set ski trail at McGeachie Conservation Area.

Essentially, the further north you go, the greater the chances of more snow and therefore, opportunities for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

The Gut Conservation Area, located east of Apsley, is a 400-acre site that offers trails, a lookout area and of course, a large gorge that is quite impressive. Egan Chutes, a non-operational provincial park located near L’Amable, offers equally stunning scenery. A short hike takes you to three picturesque waterfalls.

Just on the edge of Bancroft is Bancroft Eagles Nest Park, which is not just about the panoramic view from the top. There are several, interlocking trails to hike with some terrific views. And there are 37 acres of walking and hiking trails at Vance Farm Park, which are accessible in the village.

Further north, there’s the Hybla to Graphite Trail, which is near Maynooth, and yet further north, Lake St. Peter Provincial Park has excellent trails for skiing and snowshoeing.

The Hastings Heritage Trail, which extends 156 km from Belleville to Lake St. Peter, and the Eastern Ontario Trails Alliance, which offers a series of loops that go alongside the villages of Madoc, Marmora, Tweed, Stirling are also potential hiking venues. These trails are the ‘Camino de’ Hastings. However, they are open to motorized vehicles, so listen up for engines.

So why not try something new during the lockdown? Your body and your psyche will thank you.



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