Over my somewhat limited time here in the nation's capital I have developed some habitual training routes. Like planning my meals at the beginning of a heavy week, it's just easier if I know where and when I'll train next. Gatineau Park's enormous trail system can almost confuse us with too many choices. In addition to this, each season's sport has its' favourite training routes. I've often wanted to simplify these training choices. Here is my default training route in Gatineau Park, regardless of the season. With that said, I have two disclaimers. I am recommending that this route be classic skied in the winter (as the trail is predominantly groomed so), and run or ski walked in the summer. Reason for the latter is that my trail of choice, Skyline, is actually off limits for mountain bikers. There are a lot trail users out there, let's use these trails responsibly. We don't want the whole Park to look as carved out as other areas within the Park.
This whole trail involves a lot of climbing, so you've got to be energetic when you attempt this. The route begins at the new Visitor's Centre on Scott Road in Old Chelsea. From here I walk over to the trail head at the corner of Kingsmere Road and Old Chelsea Road. After about 100m at the fork you will bear to the left and follow the route on trail #1 towards Penguin picnic area. The trail is wide enough to run side-by-side, and in some places even classic ski side-by-side. The trail ascends, almost in a step style, to a crossing with the Gatineau Parkway. Continue straight across the Parkway to the picnic field. This next section is one of the only real flat sections on the route, enjoy it!
After the picnic field, you will start to climb the infamous Penguin climb. This is that hill in the Keskinada that makes you realize that you started too hard. Enjoy it, too! For those who are ambitious, this is a great climb to do intense workouts. At the top of the climb you can take a break and benefit from the beautiful view at the lookout on your left. Then only the short climb to the start of the Skyline trail remains.
Follow Ridge Road up until the Skyline trailhead on the right. The trail is highlighted by short climbs, with some sharp turns that skirt along the escarpment. This escarpment affords some incredible lookouts, the best in my opinion, on a fall morning. In the spring, summer and fall, the surface consists of a healthy mix of grass, soft dirt, boulders, and (my favorite) puddles! During the winter, this trail needs a bit more snow cover prior to skiing, but once ready, provides you with enough surprises to keep it interesting. While taking in these lookouts, be careful not to miss one critical turn. It will be the first trail on your left. If you were to continue going straight, you would eventually wind up on the ski hill! The trail now winds its' way back into the woods, towards the lookout at the top of Penguin.
This next section is virtually all downhill. I will not tell you to enjoy this, you should hopefully discover this on your own. I cannot remember ever doing a descent as fun as this. Remember to yield to oncoming traffic. Laughing works well, especially when they're suffering on the way up the climb. After crossing the Parkway, you will come up to a big boulder. Serious caution should be exercised on this descent, otherwise oncoming traffic may yield to you with the same laughter.
The section down to Old Chelsea serves as a short cooldown. Once there, be sure to take advantage of all the amenities there for chilling out. Amongst the skiers on XC Ottawa, it typically takes about a bit more than an hour to run this route (at a steady training pace), and sometimes as long as 1:20 to classic ski it, depending on the conditions.