Canada’s winter months are from December to February, characterized by heavy snow, blizzards, and cold winds. Although winter takes a lot of adjustments, the Canadians have learned to adapt and embrace the natural occurrence as a part of their nation’s identity.
Across the country, various wintertime activities and festivities have also become an annual tradition for locals and an attraction for visitors. Planning a winter trip for yourself or for your family? Here are some of the most awesome things to do in the The Great White North during the winter season.
1. Catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights
First off on your winter bucket list, the Northern Lights! Also known as Aurora Borealis, this celestial spectacle features unusual colors in the sky such as pink, green, yellow, and violet. Commonly seen during wintertime, it is caused by particles colliding with gases in the atmosphere. The best place to see Aurora Borealis in Canada is Yellowknife, located in the Northern Territories. There’s even an Aurora Village where you can experience camping, see a fireworks display and enjoy roasted marshmallows.
2. Stay in an ice hotel
Welcome the winter season in an ice hotel! The Hôtel de Glace, a 3-star seasonal hotel in Ville de Québec, is mostly made from ice and snow. Its rooms have blocks of ice as beds, but don’t worry because mattresses and sleeping bags are provided. Some of the themed suites even have ice sculptures which are illuminated by artistic lighting. Other amenities of the ice hotel include whirlpool tubs, fireplaces, outdoor spa, and saunas. Dreaming of a fairytale winter wedding? Hôtel de Glace also has a wedding chapel!
3. Visit Canada's largest skating rink
Rideau Canal, located in the city of Ottawa, is a waterway during summer that turns into a skating rink come wintertime. The whole canal is approximately 202 kilometers (125.5 mi) in length, but only a few sections of it are used as a skateway from January to March. Still, Rideau Skateway is considered Canada’s largest skating rink, and is believed to be equivalent to 90 Olympic ice hockey rinks. Open 24 hours a day during the skating season, it has an average of one million visitors per year.
4. Experience a winter zipline ride
A zipline ride? Easy. A zipline ride during winter? Now that’s something new! At the Marble Mountains in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, there’s a winter zipline network you can try during daytime or nighttime. It is said to be the longest and highest zipline in the country, where one can catch a glimpse of the Humber Valley and Marble Mountain Resort. Anyone weighing more than 60 pounds can enjoy a zipline ride and it doesn’t require participants to have a previous climbing experience.
5. Indulge in ice wine
Coffee and hot chocolate are often associated with winter. However, in Canada, there’s a refreshing drink that is best served just a cold as the weather: ice wine, a type of dessert wine made of frozen grapes. Canada is one of the two largest producers of ice wine in the world, with the majority of the bottles originating from Ontario. During winter, several ice wine festivals are held throughout the country like the Winter Okanagan Wine Festival, the Niagara Icewine Festival and the Nova Scotia Winter Icewine Festival. Aside from wine sampling, such events also hold activities such as wine crawls and wine pairing sessions.
6. Go ice fishing
The fun of fishing is not exclusive to summer! Winter ice fishing is known as a popular recreational winter activity in Canada, which involves drilling a hole in a frozen lake. After making a hole, you have to insert a fishing line and wait patiently for the catch. Depending on the lake, you may catch trout, white fish, and northern pikes, among others. Some of the best ice fishing sites in Canada include Lake Simcoe in Ontario, Lake Diefenbaker in Saskatchewan, Cold Lake in Alberta and Kathleen Lake in the Yukon Territory.
7. Watch the World Pond Hockey Championships
Pond hockey is the simpler version of ice hockey, which is played on frozen ponds during winter. It is so popular that every year, a World Pond Hockey Championship is held in Plaster Rock, Brunswick. In this event, more than 100 teams from all over the globe play pond hockey for four days in over 20 ice rinks situated in the rural town. Enjoy being a spectator and you might just learn some pond hockey techniques from the best players. Meanwhile, if you want to try the sport firsthand, the best place to play would be a backyard ice rinks created by the locals themselves!
8. Have fun in Northern Ontario's largest winter carnival
Take the winter fun to the next level and join Boon Soo Winter Carnival, the largest event of its kind in Northern Ontario! The tradition started more than 50 years ago, from the idea of a businessman named Henry Bullock. The original purpose was to let people have fun during the long winter season, but years later, it had become an attraction for visitors too. At Boon Soo Winter Carnival, people enjoy skating and ice sculpture making, as well as musical performances. The festivities end with an activity called polar bear swimming, which involves plunging into the waters despite the low temperatures!
9. Try snowshoeing
If you love hiking, there’s another Canadian winter activity you would love—snowshoeing! Similar to hiking, it involves walking a long distance in the woods covered with snow. There’s a special footwear needed in snowshoeing, which prevents slips and makes treading on ice and snow a little easier. You can buy snowshoes, but if you’re on a budget, you might want to look for a snowshoe rental instead. One of the best places in Canada to experience snowshoeing is Kouchibouguac National Park, located on the eastern shore of New Brunswick. Recommended for families, it is an activity that can be enjoyed by all ages. It can even help in burning those calories!
10. Ride a dog sled
Not into hiking? You can go dog sledding instead! In this winter activity, participants ride on a sled pulled by two or more dogs through the snow. Due to its popularity, you can experience dog sledding anywhere in all the thirteen territories and provinces of Canada. However, you must take note of the specific sledding periods for each part of the country. There’s Yukon, for example, which is suitable for dog sledding from November to March while Quebec has a shorter sledding season from January to March.
11. Experience ice climbing
Canada is indeed a playground for thrill-seekers, especially during winter! Conquer the famous Canadian Rockies by ice climbing, where snow-capped mountains, frozen waterfalls and other ice formations offer different levels of difficulty. Its highest peak is Mount Robson which is 3,954 feet, followed Mount Columbia, Snow Dome, and Mount Temple. Meanwhile, five national parks encompasses the Canadian Rockies, all of which are declared as a single UNESCO World Heritage Site. Before you go ice climbing, make sure you are physically fit and well-prepared for the low temperatures—this activity is not for the faint-hearted!
12. Attend an annual children's winter festival
Winter activities are not just for grown-ups. Canadian kids have their fair share of fun winter activities too! In Charlottetown, there’s an annual event called Jack Frost Children’s Winterfest where popular characters from children’s TV shows come and celebrate with everyone. One of its biggest attractions is the Snow Kingdom made by the Canadian Snow Sculpting Team. It features an ice skating rink, an ice slide and a snow maze. Meanwhile, in case it gets too cold outside, they also have an indoor playground with all sorts of fun carnival rides and games to keep the little ones entertained!
13. Explore Alberta by an ice walking tour
Ice walking tours are popular in Alberta, a province located in Western Canada, since it is home to various gorges and waterfalls. There’s Johnston Canyon Ice Walk for an instance, which takes guests to the lower falls all the way to the upper icefalls. Aside from the gorgeous views, it also gives a glimpse of wildlife habitats during winter. Evening ice walk tours are also becoming popular, with powerful floodlights highlighting certain parts of the canyon. Another option is the Grotto Canyon Ice Walk, passing through a frozen creek, ice waterfalls and ancient rock art. Lastly, don’t forget your proper ski wear when joining an ice walk!
14. Grab drinks in an ice bar
Who says you can’t go out and have drinks during wintertime? If you’re in Saskatchewan, you can drop by the Bodega Ice Bar in Regina—an outdoor ice bar fully-equipped with furniture carved from ice blocks. A local artist named Peter Fogarty is in charge of the construction each year, while volunteer bartenders run the ice bar. Open from December to March, the ice bar’s proceeds go to a local charity. Meanwhile, if ever you find yourself craving for a warm meal, you can go indoors and order at the La Bodega restaurant, which is open all year-round.
15. Enjoy pancakes with maple syrup
Chase those winter blues away by having some sweet delights at the Sugar Moon Farm! Located in Nova Scotia, the farm has a log pancake house where you can warm up beside a fireplace while devouring pancakes drizzled with maple syrup. They also serve beans, sausages, bacon, and bottomless coffee to go with your pancake stack. While you’re there, you can even watch how maple syrup is actually made. Meanwhile, if you want to go outdoors, you can rent snowshoes and follow the farm’s hiking trails.
16. See the winter wonderland from your train seat
Train rides don’t have to be boring! In Canada, there’s the VIA Rail, which can bring guests from Vancouver to Jasper and from Jasper to Prince Rupert. During winter, it offers a front-row seat to the country’s best snow-filled views, passing by ice-capped mountains, snowy forests, and frozen lakes. If you wish to go aurora-spotting, head over to Winnipeg and ride the VIA Rail train to Churchill. You can even arrange train vacation packages, which ranges from the most affordable to the most luxurious. Nevertheless, you can enjoy the stunning scenery even when in transit!
17. Be amazed by ice sculptures
Canada simply doesn’t run out of winter festivities. Ottawa, Canada’s southeastern capital, has the Winterlude festival, which is held every year in February. It is a local tradition since 1979, highlighting an ice sculpture competition and other winter activities. Kids of all ages can play in North America’s largest snow playground, while adults are welcome to marvel at the ice displays at Confederation Park. Most of the Winterlude events and attractions are free of charge—definitely a must-do experience for budget travellers!
18. Take a dip in a steamy spa
Suffering from aching muscles after your extreme winter activities? You can always have a relaxing spa treatment! There’s the Nordic Spa at Quebec, offering steamy spas, saunas, steam baths and even thermal waterfalls. All these can be classified into a form of thermotherapy, which is believed to have positive physical and psychological effects on the body. Also, the spa is strategically located on the mountainside, surrounded by lush views and a glimpse of the beautiful Jacques-Cartier valley.
19. Explore the site of 1988 Olympic Winter Games
In 1988, Canada hosted the Olympic Winter Games. Major sports events like ski jumping, bobsleigh, and luge took place in Alberta, where a former ski hill was turned into an Olympic Park. Today, it is used as a training ground for new athletes and also a place of recreation for the public. Some of the winter activities visitors can experience here include downhill skiing, snowboarding, and cross-country skiing. Meanwhile, necessary gear is available either for rent or for purchase in the retail shops inside the park.
20. Visit Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls in Ontario is beautiful at any given time of the year. However, during winter, the waterfalls turn into a whole new attraction as it features stunning natural ice formations. If you’re visiting between early November until the end of January, make sure you don’t miss the Winter Festival of Lights. Here, you will witness over a hundred light displays with trees beautifully illuminated against the gloomy skies. If you wish, you can also join thousands of people at the New Year’s Eve celebration in Niagara. Enjoy live entertainment and marvel at the spectacular fireworks show before midnight strikes!
Winter at its finest
Despite the heavy snow and the sub-zero temperatures, it’s not that hard to love winter in Canada. Sometimes, all it takes is some sense of adventure—then you’re good to go. Have fun in the Great White North!
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