Anchored by Kingston at its southern tip, this long, narrow area reaches right back the small community of Ompah, reaching from Hwy. 401 to north of Hwy. 7. In between, you will find the delights of a university city and the untouched beauty within vast swaths of wilderness in its many parks. That means you can trek for part of a day, then find a great spot for a warm meal for your chilled bones.
1. Flock to Wolfe Island
The largest of the so-called Thousand Islands near Kingston, it is a Mecca for birdwatchers, no matter what the season. Keep your eyes peeled for snowy owls, harriers, and a variety of hawks as they come and go at the entrance to the St. Lawrence River. It is designated an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International. The year-round ferry ride back and forth is a treat unto itself. (Only the Canadian ferry runs in the winter.)
2. Holy Foley!
That’s what you might say as you look out from atop this granite ride to see Upper Rideau Lake and the lovely village of Westport. The drive up gives you a sense that you are going to have an amazing view and you won’t be disappointed. Once you get your breath back, there are seven snowshoe loops to extend your visit, with varying lengths and levels of difficult. Day passes cost $7 while a season cost will be $50.
Address: Foley Mountain Lane, Westport
3. Downhill Skiing
Billing itself as ‘the small hill with the big heart,’ Batawa Ski Hill offers a range of slopes and lessons to build your confidence on skis. It is ideal for a family outing, whether you wish to ski, hike, or snowboard. You will find it 15 minutes north of Trenton. (Do not trespass when it is closed, for safety reasons. The owners thank you for respecting their private property.)
4. Lose yourself on the K & P Trail
If you want to leave the urban jungle behind, this is the perfect venue to do so. Within minutes, you will feel like you are miles from civilization as you trek through forests and over rocky outcrops. You can stay on it for the full 15 kilometres or treat yourself to a shorter stroll. There are six entry points between Orser Road and Cataraqui Creek, shown in this online map.
5. Tobogganing utopia
Fort Henry is known for its history programs, but it also has an amazing toboggan run. There is ample parking at the top of the hill so make sure you save enough energy to get back up there at the end of your fun!
Address: 1 Fort Henry Drive, Kingston
6. Do the Charleston
Charleston Lake Provincial Park gives you the option of seven different trails to hike or snowshoe. The easiest one, Beech Woods Trail, is a level 1.8-kilometre trip through a majestic forest. You can work your way up to the Tallow Rock trek which takes you 10 kilometres across meadows and rocky fields.
Address: 148 Woodvale Road, Lansdowne
7. Skate in Market Square
The outdoor rink in Springer Market Square gives you a dose of fresh air quite close to a range of restaurants that can serve you a warm cup of cocoa. The surface is cleaned every 25 minutes and there is a limit to how many people can go on the surface at a time. You will find it at 216 Ontario Street in Kingston.
8. Catch a Northern Pike
Frontenac Provincial Park is known as a smaller version of Algonquin Park, with lots to explore. In the colder months, it’s a great place to dip your line and come home with a pike, trout, or bass. There are 22 lakes in the park and 100 kilometres of the parks if you wish to stretch your legs while you are there. Fees cost $14.50 per car for the day.
Address: 6700 Salmon Lake Road, Sydenham
9. Walk along the waterfront
The City of Kingston offers a range of walking tours, including an eight-kilometre stroll from Lake Ontario Park to downtown’s rich architectural landscape. Get a gander at Portsmouth Olympic Harbour, Kingston Penitentiary, the Tett Centre, Fort Frontenac, and several other historic sites. Download your free map here.
10. Bike through the biosphere
Get your fat bike out on the Cataraqui Trail via any of the 48 access points between Smiths Falls and Strathcona and experience the Frontenac Arch Biosphere. Hikers, skiers, snowshoers, and snowmobilers are all welcome on this trail through the Canadian Shield and rolling farmland. You pay $25 for a trail membership for the full year.
11. Take a historic tour
As one of Canada’s oldest cities, Kingston has countless stories to tell. Spend a few hours walking around Sydenham Ward, some of the best-preserved 19th century architecture you will find. This area was designated as a historic district to preserve gems such as the Frontenac County Court House, which was designed to house Canada’s Parliament when Kingston was still the capital city. Each site on the tour will open your eyes to details of a past you may have forgotten or never heard.
12. Snowmobile on Snow Road
The Lennox and Addington Ridge Runners Snowmobile Club grooms the Frontenac K&P Trail from Orser Road to Tichborne, while the Snow Road Snowmobile Club cares for more than 470 km of trail including those in North Frontenac. To ride either set of routes, you will need a permit from the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs for $45 for a weekend pass or $270 for the full season.
13. Putter around Portsmouth
Founded in 1784, this village has been absorbed by the City of Kingston, but its history still stands on its own. It flourished in the shadow of Kingston Penitentiary, which is now a tourist attraction in the warmer months. Walk around and discover its historic homes and the former sites of shipyards, brewers, and tanner. It was also the spot where yachts and boats raced during the 1976 Olympics.
14. A behemoth of a biosphere
The Frontenac Arch Biosphere stretches from Westport to Brockville, Gananoque, Sydenham and beyond, creating a diverse and rich natural area unlike any other. It was designed as Canada’s 12th biosphere region in 2002 and again in 2007. It is run by a non-profit that encourages you to visit while being respectful of the creatures who call it home.
15. Wind among the pines
Jones Creek Trail offers a divine cross-country ski trail within Thousand Islands National Park. You will discover nine trails over 12 kilometres, from 700 metres to nearly four kilometres in length. You will travel between birch and pine forests as you admire the work of the diligent beavers in the park.
Address: 1231-1241 Thousand Islands Parkway, Mallorytown
16. Barriefield beckons
This village has the distinction of having its origins in 1814 when the naval shipyards began and workers built houses nearby. It is also the first village in Ontario to earn the designation as a heritage conservation district. Much of its history has been preserved and can be seen on a self-guided walking tour. Get your map here.
17. Ramble along the Rideau
Rideau Trail stretches from Kingston to Ottawa, mainly along the Rideau Canal and its engineering marvels. You can hike, snowshoe or ski along much of its 387 kilometres.
18. Visit Queen’s University for a day
This historic institution is rich in stories from Canada’s early years and offers stunning stone architecture during a self-guided walking tour. It was founded in 841 by a Royal Charter signed by Queen Victoria on 100 acres within the City of Kingston. During the First World War, it hosted a military hospital, then an entertainment centre for troops in the Second World War. You will find it hemmed in between King, Earl, Collingwood, and Barrie streets.
19. Explore a steep corridor
Frontenac Provincial Park treats visitors to 11 kilometres of track-set trails, with the most challenging being the Corridor Trail with several steep slopes along its 4.5-kilometre route. You can go easy on the 3.5-kilometre Big Salmon Lake Road or strap on snowshoes for the Arab Lake Gorge or Doe Lake loops. Fees cost $14.50 per car per day.
Address: 6700 Salmon Lake Road, Sydenham
20. Slip into Sharbot Lake Park
This provincial park is easy to find, right off Hwy. 7. Once there, you can watch for barred owls or red-shouldered hawks, among other birds. Look for them on the 30-minute hike along Ridgeview Trail, where you climb the steep ridge between Black and Sharbot lakes, or the hour-long trek of the Discovery Trail that includes a forest hike and spectacular views.
Address: 25467 Hwy. 7, Sharbot Lake
21. Ski Cataraqui
The 394-hectare Little Cataraqui Creek Conservation Area gets more visitors in winter than in any other season due to its 13 kilometres of groomed cross-country ski trails. There is even more for snowshoers to explore. Admission costs $5 for adults, $3.50 for kids under 12, or $15 per car. You can also buy an annual pass for $85.
Address: 1641 Perth Road, Glenburnie
22. Break your own trail
You can find ungroomed ski trails at Gould Lake Conservation Area. It has 20 kilometres of trails that you break in yourself, adding to your sense of adventure. Watch for the orange and blue markers to keep you on track.
Address: 1540 Gould Lake Road, Sydenham