Winter in Canada: Weather, What to Pack, and What to See

Everything you need to know about winter in Canada

ottawa-winter

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Winter might seem like an inopportune time to visit Canada – and it does get quite cold in many parts of the country between December and the end of March. But that doesn’t mean you should rule out a winter visit – especially if you pack accordingly. Not to mention, Canada is home to some excellent skiing and snowboarding, as well as ample opportunities for winter hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice skating and many other cold weather activities. In addition, prices for hotel rooms and attractions might be lower since winter is considered low season for travel in most parts of Canada.

Canada Weather in Winter

Toronto Frozen
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Winter is quite cold in most places throughout Canada into mid-March except for the coast of British Columbia where winters are relatively moderate. Whistler (which is two hours inland from Vancouver), on the other hand, gets quite a lot of snow, making it a major ski destination through early spring and sometimes into May. Inland near the mountains, the winters can be long. The higher the altitude (Banff and Canmore), the more snow you can expect (sometimes two feet as late as April).

Eastern Canada, including Toronto and Montreal, has a shorter, cold winter with sub-zero temperatures from December to the end of February (and sometimes into early March if it’s a particularly bad season, weather-wise). At least one or two snowfalls of eight inches or more will likely hit around the beginning of the year.

Here is a quick look at average temperatures in January for reference that will give you a better idea of what winter can feel like across the country.

  • Vancouver: High of 44 degrees Fahrenheit (6 degrees Celsius); low of 37 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius)
  • Calgary: High of 27 degrees Fahrenheit (-2 degrees Celsius); low of 7 degrees Fahrenheit (-13 degrees Celsius)
  • Toronto: High of 31 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius); low of 19 degrees Fahrenheit (-7 degrees Celsius)
  • Montreal: High of 24 degrees Fahrenheit (-4 degrees Celsius); low of 11 degrees Fahrenheit (-11 degrees Celsius)
  • Ottawa: High of 22 degrees Fahrenheit (-5 degrees Celsius); low of 6 degrees Fahrenheit (-14 degrees Celsius)

What to Pack

No matter your Canadian winter destination, you’ll want to ensure you have warm clothes ready to go into your suitcase, as well as waterproof outer layers. You will want to pack a winter jacket with a hood, ideally something that can also withstand wind and snowfall. In addition, make sure to bring a hat, mitts and a scarf, sturdy winter boots, a vest, long-sleeved shirts and other items that can be layered to ensure warmth on the coldest days. If you’ll be doing any skiing or winter hiking, thermal underwear and thick socks are also a good idea.

Winter Events in Canada

Just because it’s cold outside, doesn’t mean Canada slows down when it comes to fun things to do. There are a wide range of festivals that occur throughout the winter season and here are some of the best.

Winterlude: Cold weather doesn’t hold anyone back from having fun in the snow when it comes to Ottawa’s annual Winterlude festivities. Most festival activities are free and take place in the Ottawa-Gatineau region during the first three weekends of February. You can expect ice sculptures, snow sculptures, skiing and snowboarding lessons, live performances and the chance to skate on the Rideau Canal Skateway – the world’s largest naturally frozen ice skating rink.

Ice on Whyte: Edmonton hosts the Ice on Whyte festival each winter which centres on an ice carving competition featuring some of the best ice carvers from around the world. But that’s not all. Guests can also participate in ice carving lessons, have a drink at the ice bar, cozy up at a fire pit, grab a bite to eat from a food truck and much more.

Carnaval de Québec: Quebec City is home to one of the world's largest winter carnivals featuring everything from lively night parades and snow sculptures, to shows, ice skating, local food and more. The fun takes place between the end of January until mid-February with activities and events happening throughout the city.

Aurora Winter Festival: Vancouver is where you’ll find the annual Aurora Winter Festival, which takes place towards the end of November and runs until early January. In addition to a festive atmosphere thanks to an abundance of twinkling lights, there are market stalls to browse, amusement rides, live entertainment, food huts and a skating pond to enjoy.

Frostival: This festival in Fredericton takes place over three weekends between January and February and offers visitors the chance to embrace the winter season. Atlantic Canada’s largest winter celebration includes more than 150 events, from theatre performances and family activities to a music festival, cultural experiences and sports competitions.

South Shore Lobster Crawl: The entire month of February is devoted to all things lobster during this Nova Scotia festival. Come hungry to experience more than 150 lobster-infused menus, events, experiences and activities in ports between Barrington, ‘The Lobster Capital of Canada’ and Peggy’s Cove. Chow down on a lobster roll or two, go on a lobster tour and enjoy live performances throughout the fest.

Montréal en Lumière: This fun festival in Montreal combines fine dining, outdoor festivities, interactive lighting and a cultural program. Some of the best local and international chefs serve up their best dishes, while festival-goers can also enjoy live music, activities for kids, warming stations and marshmallow roasting, bars and food trucks. Everything culminates with La Nuit Blanche, an all-night arts and cultural event for all ages.

Winter Travel Tips

  • Popular ski destinations like Banff and Lake Louise along the Rockies come to life this time of year, so they could actually be more expensive since it’s high season for winter sports.
  • Other parts of Canada, however, may see lower prices on hotel rooms and flights making winter a more economical time to travel.
  • No matter where you’re travelling in Canada in the winter, make sure to check the weather as you’re packing so you have a more concrete idea of what to expect in terms of temperatures.
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