To experience Canada in winter is to step inside a snow globe. While we can’t guarantee you’ll be privy to a dazzling display of snow, it’s a safe bet you’ll become enamoured with one (if not many) of the invigorating winter events and activities going on across the country.
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Canada in Winter
If you’re looking to visit Canada in winter, you’ll want to visit between November and April. Winter lasts longer here, so you’ve got plenty of time to try the country’s most famous winter activities.
Depending on where you go, you’ll run into weather between -5 and -25°C (23°F to -13°F). Bring warm clothing and your sense of adventure. Here’s a look at our favourite things to do during a Canadian winter.
Skiing and Snowboarding
Canada has some of the best ski and snowboard resorts in the world! Most well known are the resorts in Banff National Park: Sunshine Village, Lake Louise and Mt Norquay. Also of note is Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia, home to one of the best ski villages anywhere in the world.
But there are plenty of other spots in Canada for skiing and snowboarding. Check out our comprehensive skiing in Canada post here before hitting the slopes.
Some may argue that après ski is the best part of hitting the slopes. We won’t disagree! The ski resorts mentioned above all have pretty sweet après ski scene going on.
Some of the best sports to soak up those alpine vibes are in the village of Whistler, Le P’tit Caribou at Mont Tremblant (the best bar in Eastern Canada) and Snowshoe Sam’s at Big White (rated the #1 ski bar in the country). Can you dance the night away in ski boots? Only time will tell.
You’ll need to head to Canada’s capital city to skate on the largest ice skating rink in the world. Situated in Ottawa, the Rideau Canal is frozen enough from January to March for visitors to glide across its smooth surface 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. For free!
Don’t own skates? There’s a few places to rent skates along the Rideau Canal. And of course, there are plenty of places to stop for coffee, hot beverages and Beavertails (something no adult Canadian eats, BTW).
Quebec Winter Carnival
The Quebec Winter Carnival has been going strong for over 6 decades, making it a truly iconic Canadian winter event. Join Bonhomme (not a mascot, but a dead ringer for the Michelin Man) for the largest winter festival in the world. Every winter sport and activity you could possibly imagine is showcased here. Wander through an ice palace, watch the ice-canoe race on the St. Lawrence River or play human foosball while enjoying the carnival atmosphere.
Stay in an Ice hotel
One of the few places in the world where you can bed down on a bed of ice, Hotel de Glace, situated just outside Quebec City is an incredible ice castle in which you can stay overnight. Depending on your choice of room, you’ll have a fireplace, access to the main hotel for all of its amenities (storage, showers etc.), a private hot tub, access to the ice-skating river and more.
The hotel isn’t heated, so it’s recommended to bring lots of warm clothing for sleeping and during the day. You also must attend a training session to learn how to use the rooms and to keep warm. This is definitely a once in a lifetime experience and super fun. Even if you don’t stay overnight, it’s worth sussing out the ice bar and the ice chapel.
See polar bears
When it comes to wildlife viewing arctic animals, there’s no place like Churchill, Manitoba. Located on the shores of Hudson Bay, this remote town is only accessible by plane or train.
Head to Churchill between July and November for your chance to see real life polar bears. Obviously, you don’t want to go searching for these beautiful predators alone, so take a tour either through Lazy Bear Expeditions, Natural Habitat Adventures or Great White Bear Tours.
If you visit in summer you can also snorkel and kayak with beluga whales. In winter, the end of October and early November are best for viewing polar bears. After mid November, the majority of bears head off onto the arctic ice.
Yes, dog sledding is an activity even visitors to Canada can experience. No experience is necessary to fly across the snow-drenched Canadian landscape with a pack of dogs leading your way.
Pretty much every Canadian province and territory offers dog sledding tours. In some provinces like Quebec and in the Yukon you actually get to drive your own sled. In other’s a professional drives the sled while you sit inside it.
Tours range from 2 hours to 2 days. On the tours, you’ll be able to meet the dogs, learn the history of dog sledding and might get to try your hand at mushing (guiding the sled) depending on the operator. Kids can do this activity, too.
Watch a hockey game
Canada is home to 7 teams in the National Hockey League. If you’re in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal or Ottawa, you’ll be able to watch some of the best players in the world play Canada’s favourite sport.
These games can get pretty pricey, so if you’re looking for something cheaper, check out one of the professional junior hockey teams in the area. Or if you’re in Toronto, check out the Toronto Six, Canada’s professional women’s team.
Skating on frozen lakes
Canada has more lake area than any other country in the world. In the winter, many of these lakes freeze over, making for beautiful ice to skate upon. Some lakes, like Lake Louise, are cleared off and maintained. Wild ice skating with the Rocky Mountains as your backdrop is an experience you’ll never forget.
Of course, it’s important to be careful when skating on any open body of water. Stay close to the edge and use caution. Definitely check with local authorities before you set out and follow these ice safety tips from the Canadian Red Cross.
If watching the Northern Lights dance in the velvety night sky is on your bucket list, Canada is the country for you. You’ll want to head North to get the best views, but even spots in Central and Southern Alberta have viewing opportunities.
The best places to catch the lights are in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, where you can take tours. But even cities like Edmonton, Alberta have great light shows throughout the year.
The best times of year are from October to March when the days are shorter. Timing it around a solstice is often good for viewing. Dress warm and don’t forget your tripod if you’re bringing out your camera.
Take a gondola ride
Taking a gondola ride up a mountain is one of the best ways to see the sights in the winter. With little effort, you’ll reap big rewards. Board the gondola at the bottom of the mountain and take a peaceful ride up to the top, where you can shop, take what’s sure to be excellent pictures, hike around and enjoy some food.
Whistler’s PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola which connects Blackcomb and Whistler Mountain is the world’s highest lift of its kind and soars overtop glacial lakes and snow-clad evergreens. In Quebec there’s the Casino Express at Mt. Tremblant and in Nova Scotia check out the Atlantic Gondola.
In Alberta’s, the Banff Gondola whisks visitors up Sulphur Mountain. At the top they’ve provided a lot of interactive programming for all ages. Skiers in Banff know all about the Gondola at Sunshine Village, but sightseers can take it too!
Soak in a hot spring
There’s nothing quite like floating in a natural hot spring while gently falling snow softly swirls all around you. Canada is home to many natural hot springs, and they’re best plunged into during the winter months.
Standouts include Banff Upper Hot Springs located in Banff National Park in Alberta or the Takhini Hot Pools in the Yukon, where you can take part in the annual hair freezing contest in February.
British Columbia has the most hot springs out of any province. Here’s a look at them. More info on Alberta hot springs can be found here.
Go ice climbing
When winter hits and the waterfalls freeze over, Canada becomes a sublime spot for ice climbing. The best places to climb are located in the Rocky Mountains, usually in Canmore, Banff, or Kananaskis.
We recommend booking a tour with experts, especially if you are new to the sport of ice climbing. Check out OnTop Mountaineering or Yamnuska Mountain Adventures for a variety of tours in the Banff area.
Mt. Tremblant in Quebec, also offers ice climbing – just steps away from their ski hill.
Try cross-country skiing
Although it isn’t considered to be as exhilarating as downhill skiing, cross-country skiing is a winter activity many Canadians love. One of the perks is that you can cross-country ski nearly anywhere there’s enough snow and open land.
If you’re new to the sport, you’ll want to suss out a track set trail, which is definitely easier than skiing on open snow. Visit Kluane National Park in the Yukon for wide open, no track skiing or head to Callaghan Country, BC for 130 km of trails for classic skiing and snowshoeing.
You can also visit the Canmore Nordic Centre (Alberta) where the National Cross Country Ski Team trains. This Nordic Centre offers night skiing, private and group lessons. Whistler Olympic Park, the 2010 Nordic Olympic Venue is also a spot not to be missed!
Drink hot chocolate
Every February, Calgary (Alberta) puts on a giant hot chocolate festival. Coffee shops around the city create decadent hot chocolates, with profits going towards a local charity. YYC Hot Chocolate Fest even has an app where you can rate your favourites, save the ones you want to try to your wish list and access a map to find all of the participating cafes.
But you don’t have to be in Calgary to tuck into a creamy cocoa concoction. Across the country restaurants, cafes and coffee shops whip up these decadent drinks. Adult Canadians like to add Baileys Irish Cream to their hot chocolate, but peppermint schnapps and orange or hazelnut liqueurs are also quite popular.
Go ice fishing
Every year, there’s a certain type of Canadian who heads out to the ice to go ice fishing. We call them crazy. Just kidding. Ice fishers are hardy folk with plenty of patience.
If you’re out near the ice, you’ll be able to see these ice fishers marked by their tents, enjoying the company of others, having a warm drink or just chilling in the stunning winter wonderland.
If you want to try it out for yourself, you’ll need a solid lake, warm clothing, an ice auger to make the hole, somewhere to sit, some shelter to keep you warm from the wind, fishing gear, a heater of some kind and a license (dependent on province).
Experts report that Muskoka (Ontario) and Sainte-Anne-de-la-Perade (QC) are the best places out East for ice fishing, while Last Mountain Lake (Saskatchewan) and Wabamun Lake (Alberta) are the best out West. Near Calgary? Take an ice fishing lesson with Big Jim Dykstra.
Snow tubing is a super fun winter activity for adults and kids alike. The exhilarating rush of sliding down the hill on a tube is akin to the rush of sledding as a child. Most ski hills now sport tube parks, so you won’t have to go far to find some adventure.
If you want the most options, try Village Vacances Valcartier in Quebec has 35 different tube runs – each marked by level difficulty. We’ve been and it’s epic! In the Alberta Rockies, Lake Louise ski resort and Mt. Norquay have designated tube parks.
Sledding AKA tobogganning
Sledding in the Canadian winter is one of the easiest activities to try on this list. All you need is a sled of some kind, a hill and some winter gear! You can pick up a sled at most department or outdoor stores.
Gear up in your snow pants, gloves and a toque (helmet is better) and head over to the nearest hill. You don’t need anything with too much of an incline, any gentle slope will suffice.
Some of Canada’s most stunning sights are even more gorgeous in the winter, trust. While it might seem weird to visit a summer attraction like Niagara Falls in the winter, the frozen falls are like nothing you’ve seen before.
The falls are lit up at night and in winter, the kaleidoscope of colour dances off the foamy, frozen walls. For an in-depthlooks at the falls, it’s worth the price of admission for the Journey Behind the Falls attraction. Since you’re in the right area, cap off your visit by sipping some ice wine from a local winery.
In the middle of winter, the sun doesn’t rise until nearly 10 am in the Yukon and its residents only get about 6 or 7 hours of daylight. To combat this, Yukoners come together in February to visit with other “sourdoughs” (loosely translated to folks who tough out the winter), and this practice has become an annual festival: Yukon Rendezvous.
Every year, the festival has contests, shows, sculpture building and carving, and more! It’s a true Yukon staple.
Visit a wintery spa
Winter anywhere can be challenging on the mind and body. One of the best ways to recharge is with a spa trip. Some of our favourite spas are nestled in the mountains. There’s the famed Willow Stream Spa at Fairmont Banff Springs and Kananaskis Nordic Spa is also within easy striking distance of Calgary.
Winnipeg’s Thermea is another Nordik spa that’s fantastic and Le Nordik, just outside of Ottawa is North America’s largest day spa. Le Nordik really is something and is worth the trip to Ottawa alone.
Make maple syrup taffy
Maple syrup taffy is a favourite winter treats of many Canadian’s and it’s super easy to make – at home or in a hotel room. In French, Maple syrup taffy is Tire sur la neige, which means “draw on the snow” and that’s pretty much all you have to do to make this delicious snack.
You can make your own syrup using a recipe like this but we simply use store bought syrup. (Must be real maple syrup not Aunt Jemima’s.) Head outside and spoon the syrup onto the snow.
Note: The snow must be clean and ideally fresh. NEVER eat yellow snow!
As the syrup starts to harden, take a popsicle stick and roll it along the syrup. The syrup will wrap around the popsicle stick for you to suck on like a lolly.
Fat biking has been gaining popularity over the last few years and now you can try it in every province in Canada. This sport is very similar to mountain biking, except you ride on snow and ice – made easier that’s to the bike’s fatter tires. Many of the ski resorts we’ve mentioned have fat biking trails and rentals, so it’s not difficult to try if you’re visiting.
Snowmobiling is a fun way to get around in the winter, especially if you’re headed somewhere without paved roads. However, snowmobiling is also a great way to experience Canadian winter.
Some of the best snowmobiling locations in Canada are the Yukon, Mont Valin (QC), Chic-Choc Mountains (QC), Revelstoke (BC), or the Sea to Sky Corridor (BC). Nearby Whistler offers a nighttime snowmobiling excursion capped off by a steak dinner in a pretty little chalet lit only by candlelight.
If you’re a beginner, taking a snowmobile tour is the best way to go so you can get your bearings and learn from experts.
No, you didn’t misread this. Ice sailing really is a thing! These boats are outfitted with skis or skates, and like normal sailboats, are propelled by the wind. Across Canada there are ice sailing leagues and clubs where you can watch ice boating and try it out for yourself.
At Ghost Lake (AB), you can join the club or learn how to build your own boat. The best places for ice sailing and boating are where it’s the windiest.
Winter resorts in Canada
If you’re looking to get away from it all, you can’t beat hibernating at one of the many winter resorts in Canada. Here’s some not to miss hotels and resorts.
Resorts in Banff National Park
Sunshine Mountain Lodge ought to be on your radar. This is the only ski-in, ski-out hotel in Banff National Park. It’s situated at Sunshine Village, where only hotel guests and staff have run of the mountain for the entire night. There’s tons of family activities, a large outdoor hot tub and tobogganing to keep you occupied.
Perched on the edge of one of Canada’s most famous lakes, guests of Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise can crawl out of bed and go wild ice skate upon Lake Louise, cross country ski or take a romantic sleigh ride through the woods. In winter, be sure to hit up their outdoor ice bar and admire the many ice sculptures dotted throughout the property.
Resorts in Whistler
While not directly on the slopes, Nita Lake Lodge has a pretty enviable position in Whistler, nevertheless. It’s located in Creekside and you can still walk from the hotel and hop on a chairlift (or take a shuttle to Whistler Blackcomb.) There’s a lovely spa here and each winter they chip into the ice to form a natural bathing hole for polar dips.
If ski-out access to the slopes is what you’re after in Whistler, Blackcomb Spring Suites is an ideal choice. Situated on Backcomb Mountain, guests have access to two outdoor hot tubs, a well heated outdoor pool and a ski rental shop. Rooms are condo-style with full kitchens, large balconies and fireplaces.
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