With rules regarding regional gathering restrictions continually in flux, outdoor activities top the list when it comes to having fun in Quebec these days.
Montreal has always been a winter wonderland for those who can brave the elements, and this year is no different. The city’s spacious parks are perfect for families seeking recreation without feeling constricted, while the province’s famed ski hills are open for business with added safety measures in place. To ensure your excursions are COVID-safe and responsible, be sure to adhere to local masking, curfew and distancing policies, whether you’re exploring outside or stopping by a café for take-out treats.
With the sun setting later and March Break on the horizon, it’s the perfect time to plan an end-of-winter day trip. Bundle up and check out these Montreal-area attractions.
For the Instagram crowd, one highly sought-after photogenic excursion is urban ice skating, nestled in the bare trees of Parc Lafontaine in the Plateau Mont-Royal neighbourhood. It’s an outing considered by many to be a timeless Montreal moment. Or check out the 250 snow-capped sci-fi-looking spheres (they’re actually biogas-capturing wells) of Frédéric-Back Park, a relatively new 192-hectare sustainable green space at the Saint-Michel Environmental Complex.
Before or after your skating excursion at Parc Lafontaine, warm up with a Portuguese chicken poutine from nearby Ma Poule Mouillée or indulge your sweet tooth with the inventive flavours at cupcake shop Les Glaceurs.
Wonderment by foot or car
The wildly successful Illumi par Cavalia in Laval is made for these times: a dazzling drive- or walk-through experience through a slow-moving tour of vibrant light fixtures along a fixed path. Offering 18 different “universes” to explore, visitors will encounter illuminated snakes, spiders, flowers, trees, elephants, a glowing herd of white horses and even a “town square” with a carousel. Visitors on foot are required to wear face masks and maintain a distance of two metres between family groups.
To keep up with demand, Illumi has been extended until March 13, with a cut-off time of 6:30 p.m. for visitors arriving by foot or by car (due to current curfew regulations). Visit illumi.com before the remaining slots get snatched up.
Don’t forget to come to Illumi fully stocked by stopping at Cafe Milano Laval beforehand for warm beverages and Italian sweets.
Natural beauty close to home
Parc Jean-Drapeau is a massive nature playground right in the city’s back yard that often gets overlooked in favour of the omnipresent Mount Royal. There are over 25 kilometres of wooded trails and roads to explore by foot, snowshoe, cross-country ski or bike, flanked by the rushing water of the Saint-Lawrence yet tranquil enough to attract a number of bird species.
The Montreal Botanical Garden across from Olympic Stadium reopened to visitors in February. The outdoor gardens are free, but take the opportunity to purchase fixed-time tickets online for the nine exhibition greenhouses. There’s a unique sense of stillness that comes from seeing all the plants and shrubbery covered in a bed of white snow, waiting for the first signs of spring to emerge. Stay on the paths so as not to disrupt nature in repose, and leave any pets or snowshoes at home.
A short drive from downtown Montreal, the Ecomuseum in western-tip suburb Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue is the only outdoor zoo on the island. It’s an ethical home for injured Quebec wildlife – a chance to see animals, from lynxes to bald eagles, enjoying a second lease on life in a natural habitat that they wouldn’t otherwise get in the wild. Booking in advance is required, as is wearing a mask inside and outside.
Hit the slopes, après-ski at home
Montrealers can still make their annual 90-minute pilgrimage to luxurious Laurentian hot spot Mont Tremblant for a day of fresh air, pristine powder and walking around the idyllic, European pedestrian village. In order to keep the numbers in check, visitors need to book lift tickets in advance on the resort’s official website. Face coverings are required both indoors and at the lifts, and the resort recommends bringing at least two. There’s also a rule about maintaining two metres of physical distancing on the site’s 102 trails. Chalets and washrooms are accessible for those looking to warm up (just be ready to wait your turn during peak hours).
Looking for a weekend winter getaway? Lodging is also available at Mont Tremblant for overnighters, with kids 17 and under staying for free when accompanied by an adult.
Like in the city, dining rooms and bars at Mont Tremblant are temporarily closed for indoor dining, but takeout options still exist. Even upscale restaurants such as French bistro C’est La Vie are offering takeout, so take advantage and get your duck confit or osso bucco to go.
More ski options
About an hour east of Montreal, the perpetually well-groomed Ski Bromont has put similar measures in place to keep skiers safe. One of four main ski resorts in the Eastern Townships, Bromont also recommends two face coverings – one for outside and one for inside. If needed, ski equipment can be rented in advance.
Because of current curfew restrictions, visitors can’t fully take advantage of Ski Bromont’s status as the largest lit ski area in North America for night skiing. But day or night, the resort boasts pristine views of a picturesque area of the province. And the resort’s close proximity to Montreal means that if you’re looking to get back to the city by 8 p.m., it’s your safest bet.
Whatever local exploring your family is doing this season, make sure you’re up to date on any local travel restrictions before you hit the road.