The sultry dog days of summer are upon us in South Eastern Ontario, evident by our busy waterways and even busier ice cream stands! If you are a runner, you may find that as the mercury climbs, your motivation to stick to your regular running routine plummets – especially if you are in the region on vacation and you’d much rather hit the beach than hit the pavement!
Enter trail running: the best way to beat the heat and explore our naturally beautiful landscapes on foot.
With such diverse terrain throughout South Eastern Ontario – from the rugged Canadian Shield in the north to the flat sandy beaches in the south – there is guaranteed to be a trail that suits your running ability. So grab a buddy, lace-up and I hope to see you at one of these three amazing running trails!
Best For Beginners: Cataraqui Trail
If you are new to trail running, the hard-packed and flat Cataraqui Trail is a great introduction to the sport. Following a section of abandoned Canadian National Railway that was discontinued in 1986, the 104 kilometer trail starts in Smith Falls and ends in Strathcona (just outside of Napanee). Lush green farmland, towering native trees offering shade and the cooling effects of the marshes and swamps make the Cataraqui Trail a pleasure to run on even the hottest days. Trailheads in friendly small towns offer a place to pick up snacks or drinks along the way. There is no charge to use the trail system, but frequent users should consider purchasing a $25 annual membership which supports trail improvements. Accommodations through the Land O’ Lakes region turn your trail run into a weekend retreat.
Beyond The Basics: Cataraqui And Gould Lake Conservation Areas
If you’re ready to graduate from the rail trail, Little Cataraqui Conservation Area is the perfect next step. Just a short drive from Kingston, Little Cataraqui offers a good mix of trail surfaces for you to test out your trail running skills. The 394 hectare site has 5 interconnected loops varying from 1 kilometer to 7 kilometers in length, which means you can run as little – or as far – as you like. Keep your eyes open for wildlife that call the area home, such as herons and other migratory birds.
Runners Ready For A Challenge: Frontenac Provincial Park
Frontenac Provincial Park, near Sydenham, offers the ultimate trail running experience. Breathtakingly beautiful and serene, Frontenac boasts over 100 kilometers of trails for you to explore. Yarker-based running coach and trail runner Derrick Spafford names the trail systems here among his personal favourites. That said, he suggests that you first log time on more moderate trails before tackling Frontenac. “With the park being in the Canadian Shield, most of the trails are a little more technical in variety with plenty of rocks and roots to negotiate, in addition to some challenging hills,” says Spafford. Swap out your regular runners for trail running shoes as well. “You’ll need a little more protection and traction on these trails,” Spafford adds. Daily Vehicle Permit fees apply.
At Gould Lake Conservation Area, the 20 kilometers of trails are a little more technical (meaning more hills, rocks and roots), but you can cool off with a rewarding dip in the lake itself. Daily admission is only $5 per car in July and August at Little Cataraqui and $14 per car at Gould Lake, so gather a group of friends to hit the trails together! B&Bs, inns and hotels in Kingston and the 1000 Islands make visiting these trails easy.