Winter is a great time to visit Canada, especially for the adventurous. From unique activities such as dog-sledding to the more traditional winter activities, such as skiing and skating, there is something for everyone. Also, Canada boasts some of the world's biggest and best winter festivals.
The height of winter is freezing cold in most places in Canada except for the BC coast, where winters are moderate. Whistler, two hours inland from Vancouver, on the other hand, gets loads of snow and is a major ski destination through May.
Winter in the Canadian Rocky Mountains is long. Calgary, however, does not get much snow, but it stays around in the higher altitudes; Banff and Canmore—both in Alberta—may get two feet in April. Southern Alberta gets winter relief from warm Chinook winds. Eastern Canada, including Toronto and Montreal, has a short, fierce winter: sub-zero temps around -4 degrees Fahrenheit (-20 degrees Celsius) are not uncommon from December to February. At least one or two snowfalls of eight inches or more will likely hit in January and February.
Whistler Blackcomb ski resort in British Columbia is the site of the 2010 Winter Olympics Nordic events. Meanwhile, Banff & Lake Louise are an easy ski escape outside of Calgary, Alberta, and Mont-Tremblant, 90 mins north of Montreal in Quebec, is one of the most charming winter alpine villages. These resorts are excellent by any standard—long runs, sharp drop-offs, and spectacular scenery plus a range of activities, such as heli-skiing and glacier skiing.
The Quebec Ice Hotel is spectacular to behold and is one of the most unique visitor experiences in the world. The cathedral-like hotel is carved entirely of ice, including the furniture and even ice candelabras hanging from the 18-foot ceilings. Quebec Ice Hotel is rebuilt each year, opening its doors from January to the beginning of April. The walls are 4-feet thick and insulate the hotel to a crisp but comfortable 28 to 23 degrees Fahrenheit (-2 to -5 degrees Celsius). Visitors may choose to just pass through for a tour and a drink at the ice bar or stay overnight.
The residents of New France, now Quebec, had a rowdy tradition of getting together just before Lent to eat, drink, and be merry. Today, the Québec Winter Carnival is the biggest winter carnival in the world and is celebrated annually at the end of January until mid-February. The event is staged largely for families to enjoy and they come out in droves to embrace and celebrate the cold. Aside from accommodation, a trip to Québec Winter Carnival costs relatively little.
AddressRideau Canal, Ottawa, ON, Canada
Every winter, Ottawa's Rideau Canal becomes The Rideau Canal Skateway and at 7.8 km (just under five miles), it's the world's largest skating rink. Locals and visitors make the most of this frozen roadway in winter, using it both as a means of transportation and form of recreation. Keep in mind:
- Skateway generally opens in January/February when the canal is sufficiently frozen and safe for skaters.
- Skate rental and sharpening and boot check are available.
- Also available for rent are sleighs in which children can sit and adults can push along the canal.
Canadians celebrate sub-zero temperatures and waist-high snowdrifts by staging great winter festivals, such as Ottawa's Winterlude. For the first three weekends every February, the nation's capital puts on a winter festival that features ice-skating on the world's longest rink, ice sculptures, a snow playground, concerts, and more.
Dogsledding is one of the more memorable Canadian adventures. Whether you want to spend a few days or weeks in the outback or just try it for an afternoon, dog sledding is an activity available most anywhere in Canada that gets lots of snow. Call of the Wild is an award-winning, established adventure team that offers dogsledding excursions and year-round adventures.
Sit back and soak up the majesty of the Canadian Rockies. Rocky Mountaineer offers spectacular Canadian winter train vacations that range from the leisurely to the downright luxurious. Vacations include train travel to/from Vancouver/Calgary, transportation to and between Banff, Jasper, and Lake Louise plus opportunity to explore some of the magnificent scenery and two great Canadian cities.
Once used by trappers and traders traversing the snow-covered terrain, snowshoeing today is mostly a form of winter recreation. Contemporary lightweight snowshoes make this traditional form of winter travel easier and more fun than ever.
Snowshoeing is both a wonderful way to explore the great outdoors and an effective and gentle form of exercise. Many ski resorts and winterized lodges—such as the fairytale-like Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise—provide or rent snowshoes for casual outings, or try a more challenging overnight adventure where you can stay in an igloo. The truly adventurous may want to go heli-snowshoeing, where clients are flown to beautiful and remote locations.
Ice fishing is a magnificent way to enjoy the Canadian winter and commune with nature. Not only does Canada offer the necessary climate, but it has a huge array of excellent resorts and lodges that range from basic to luxury. One of the favorite ice fishing outfitters is Andy Myer's Lodge on Eagle Lake in Ontario. Canada is one of the most popular ice fishing destinations and overall, you'll find the quality of accommodation and hospitality high. Just be smart about choosing your location and be sure you have the degree of comfort you want.
Visit One of Canada's Many Winter Light Festivals
Canadians don't hibernate over winter; instead, they create reasons to enjoy the outdoors. One way is with light festivals, such as the Winter Festival of Lights in Niagara Falls. You can find many more across the country including:
- Winter Festival of Lights, Niagara Falls
- Christmas Lights Across Canada, Ottawa
- Toronto Cavalcade of Lights, Toronto
- Vancouver Festival of Lights, VanDusen Botanical Garden, Vancouver
- Airdrie Festival of Lights, Airdrie (22 miles from Calgary)
- The Montreal High Lights Festival and Celebration of Light festival