With winter in Canada taking up the better part of a year, it really makes sense to get the most out of it. Those who choose to just bundle up and stay indoors are bound to not only have a miserable 4-6 months but also lose out on all the wonderful winter activities available from coast to coast to coast.
For visitors, the winter can be such a beautiful time to visit Canada. Yes, it’s colder and darker, but it’s also home to some really fun and unique activities, as well as cheaper accommodation and fewer crowds.
While we don’t love the extreme cold, we do love the winter! Plus, if you buy the right winter clothes, the cold is much more manageable. Most importantly though, winter brings out the best activities and we always look forward to getting out in the snow and enjoying this bug-free time of year.
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Outdoor Winter Activities in Canada
Whether you’re visiting Canada during the winter months or you’re a local looking for ways to actually enjoy this winter wonderland, these are some of the best things to do in winter in Canada!
Perhaps the easiest and most accessible winter activity of them all is snowshoeing. Aside from winter clothing, the only thing you need is a pair of snowshoes, which you can either rent for $10-15 per day or buy for about $150. This makes it a relatively cheap activity to enjoy and it’s also quite easy for most people. Basically, it is no different than walking. The snowshoes strap on to the bottom of your winter boots and they simply allow you to walk over and through deep snow without sinking down and getting stuck. All you need is lots of snow! So, whether you find a nice park in the city or go out into the wilderness, this can be a really fun winter activity for everyone and a great way to get outdoors!
Want to go on a popular snowshoeing tour? Here are some options:
Skiing is one of our favourite activities, especially since we live in Calgary and are so close to the Rocky Mountains. However, we didn’t start skiing until our mid-2os as it always seemed quite scary, difficult, and expensive. Now that we’re into it though, we look forward to it every single year. In fact, skiing is one of the top reasons we love the winter so much. Not only is it incredibly fun, but it’s also extremely beautiful when you find yourself on top of a mountain looking out over majestic vistas.
As we mentioned, however, skiing is one of the more difficult activities to enjoy until you get good at it. The easiest place to start would be on a small community hill. When it comes to Calgary skiing, one of the top places to learn would be WinSport Canada Olympic Park. These small city ski resorts are often much cheaper than the mountains and much less nerve-racking. You can also learn at the mountains such as with ski Banff, but there’s a good chance you’ll be spending most of your time on what’s called the bunny hill, a very small hill created at the bottom of the mountain for kids and beginners. While you can do this, and we’ve brought many people to the mountains for their first time, it’s just a lot more expensive. Many mountain resorts charge around $100 for a one-day lift pass plus the cost of rentals ($50 per day) if you don’t have your own skis. While we do love the sport, it’s understandable that it can be too expensive for some people and especially for families. However, there’s always cross-country skiing, which we’ll talk about below.
Another fun way to get outdoors is to go cross-country skiing. Since most trails are either free or very low cost (for example, some trails in Alberta’s Kananaskis are just $10 per day or $50 for the season), the biggest expense you’ll have are the skis and boots, which can be bought or rented. We always recommend renting first, but if you plan on making it a regular activity, you’ll save much more money by buying your own pair, whether new or used. It’s also much more convenient. A decent pair of skis and boots will be $500 or less.
Another benefit of cross-country skiing is that it’s done mostly on flat ground, which makes it far less scary than coming down a steep mountain. This also makes the sport very good exercise as you’ll be using your legs to push you forward rather than gravity when coming down a mountain. A full day of cross-country skiing can burn upwards of 2,000 calories so you can feel good about splurging on a decadent hot chocolate or gorging on a nice meal at a nearby restaurant after a day out in the cold.
- Check out this guide to the best Whistler snowmobile tours!
Another fun and thrilling winter activity is snowmobiling. This is perhaps the most expensive winter activity of them all, but some people love it so much that they end up buying their own machine. For most people, however, and especially tourists, renting a snowmobile or going on a snowmobile tour is the best way to enjoy the activity. After all, a snowmobile can cost anywhere from $15,000 and up. They also require a trailer to tow behind a vehicle as well as storage and maintenance. However, to simply go out and enjoy the wintery destinations of Canada on a snowmobile, joining a tour or renting one will cost anywhere from $200 and up. Depending on the trails, these machines can go very fast, making them quite the thrill for those new to the sport. This is another reason why going with a professional can be the wiser choice. While I actually grew up riding snowmobiles for multiple days to isolated cabins, I’ve also joined a snowmobiling tour at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, which was a great way to experience snowmobiling in the mountains. Now that I don’t own a snowmobile or live close to the forest, renting one or joining a tour makes much more sense.
Read: Visiting Calgary or BC during the winter? Check out our guide to the best things to do in Golden, BC!
Helicopter rides are always a super fun activity but they can be extra special in the winter. Just imagine flying over a winter wonderland of snow! We’ve only experienced one winter helicopter flight so far and it was in the Canadian Rockies! Right next to Abraham Lake, which is in the David Thompson region and next to the Icefields Parkway, is Rockies Heli Canada. As if flying over the frozen Canadian Rockies wasn’t already an incredible experience in and of itself, but they also land in a snow-covered valley and bring you on a one-hour snowshoeing tour! They even toss in some hot chocolate and Bailey’s to cap off the experience before flying back to Abraham Lake.
TIP: If you do this, don’t forget to try and see the famous ice bubbles at Abraham Lake. You’ll only see them if the ice is clear of snow, but if it is, you’ll witness frozen bubbles of methane gas below the surface of the ice. It’s become an Instagram sensation.
If you can make it to one of Canada’s famous winter festivals, then you’re bound to have an awesome time. Most of them are home to incredibly beautiful ice sculptures, music, and lots of family-friendly activities and concerts. The most famous of them all is the Quebec Winter Carnival, which also happens to be the largest winter festival in Canada and the second-largest in the world! Plus, it’s located just outside the walled city of Old Quebec, which is one of the most beautiful cities in the entire country. Another famous festival is Ottawa Winterlude, which is more of a weekend festival spread out over three weeks. Another one that we love is Banff SnowDays, which adds even more magic to this winter wonderland of a town. These are just some of the awesome winter festivals we’ve experienced but most cities have some sort of winter festival to help warm the hearts of its frozen citizens.
Want to read more about winter festivals in Canada? Check out these articles below:
Considering how famous Canada is for its hockey players, how could we not mention ice skating? This is another fairly cheap activity as all you need is a pair of skates! If you have your own pair, there are all sorts of places to go, including outdoor community rinks, frozen lakes, or even frozen rivers. If you’re in a popular destination such as Banff or Ottawa, there are also many places that rent skates for as low as $10. Some of the best places we’ve skated include the community rink within the town of Banff and the world-famous Rideau Canal, which is the longest skating rink in the world! The only challenge with ice skating is that it takes a lot of practice to become good at it!
- Ice Fishing Tour in Whistler starting at $170.
If you’re looking for a fun winter activity that includes the potential of a fresh lunch, consider going ice fishing! For those of you who have no idea what this is, it’s basically a sport where you cut a hole through the frozen surface of a lake, drop in your fishing line, and wait for a bite! It can be a cold experience due to the fact that you’re in the middle of a lake standing on ice, but many people turn it into a popular pastime with heated huts and tents. If you ever drive by a big lake such as Lake Invermere in British Columbia, you’ll see all these wooden huts out on the ice. These are basically mini-cabins with holes cut through the floor. This allows the ice fishers to get nice and warm, drop their hooks in the water, and really relax while waiting for a catch. Some people even have TV’s!
Now, for those of you without ice fishing gear, you will definitely need to rent one of these huts or go on a tour. As a visitor or someone just looking to try it out, It would be a big hassle and expense to get all the necessary equipment. Although I used to go ice fishing with my dad all the time in my hometown of Fort.McMurray, the only time I’ve gone since moving to Calgary was with a local tour on Whiteswan Lake, BC and in Waskesiu, Saskatchewan. They started a fire, helped us clean the fish, and even cooked them for us afterwards, making it a much easier time out.
Tubing, Tobogganing, and Sledding
The only thing that differentiates these three activities is the type of device you ride down the hill on. This is probably the most popular winter activity for kids during the winter, but it’s actually a lot of fun for all ages. The size of the hill will determine how scary it can be, but in general, it’s a fairly safe and fun way to enjoy the snow. All you do is grab a tube, toboggan, or sled, walk with it to the top of a hill, and then slide down! Most cities in Canada have hills that they maintain throughout the city, all of which are free to use! All you need is something to slide down on, which you can typically rent or buy. However, to make it even easier, many ski resorts now offer tubing as well. Some examples include tubing at the inner city ski resort of WinSport in Calgary or a true mountain experience at Mt.Norquay in Banff! This makes it a lot easier to enjoy as they not only provide the tubes but they even provide a mechanical lift to get you up the hill.
Many people who watch movies of the winter, especially those from Disney, dream of being pulled through a snow-covered forest by a team of dogs. Well, Canada is a great place to try it out! This activity is offered in the most popular winter destinations across Canada, including places like Whitehorse, Banff, Jasper, and Waskesiu. If winter tourism exists in the place you’re going, they will probably have dog-sledding. Most tours are at least 1-hour long but some also offer overnight experiences for those who want to go further into the wilderness and spend a night at a cabin. We’ve only done this once in Waskesiu, Saskatchewan and it was pretty cool. We didn’t get to actually control the sled during our tour but some tours do allow you to take the reigns.
What can be more enjoyable after a day of being cold than sitting in a hot spring? Hot springs can be found all over the country and are a great way to soothe your muscles and just bask in the freshness of winter. Actually, we prefer sitting in hot springs during the winter more than in the summer. There’s something magical about sitting in hot water while surrounded by a snowy landscape. The air is also much fresher in the winter months and it really feels rejuvenating. There are all sorts of hot springs to choose from. Many of the most popular ones are man-made pools that are filled with real mineral water from nearby natural hot springs. Some examples include the Banff Hot Springs in Alberta and Radium Hot Springs in British Columbia. Some hot springs are also 100% natural and are located in the wild. One example is Lussier Hot Springs in BC. Then there’s actual spas that combine outdoor hot pools with things like saunas, salt pools, steam rooms, and massage. Two of our favourite outdoor spas in Canada are Thermea in Winnipeg and Nordik Spa-Nature in Quebec.
This is the newest trend in winter sports and it basically combines a traditional mountain bike with big fat tires that help you push through the snow. If you like biking, this is an excellent activity as it’s not much different and provides wonderful exercise during the winter. We actually went fat-tire biking at Panorama Mountain Resort in British Columbia and it was a great way to enjoy the trails that weave their way throughout the mountain valley.
Things to Do in Canada in the Winter
As you can see, the winter can be a really fun time of year! All you need to do is buy the right clothes and get outdoors. There are so many outdoor winter activities to choose from, including activities that are both simple and cheap, or activities that are thrilling and somewhat expensive. There are activities for everyone and sitting down after a day in the cold with a piping hot chocolate is extra delicious after working up a sweat.
We hope we inspired you to try out some of these winter activities. Please leave us a comment below with your favourite winter activity or an activity you’d like to experience!
Want more of Canada? Check out these articles below:
- Calgary to Jasper
- Calgary to Lake Louise
- Banff to Jasper
- Johnston Canyon in the Winter
- Canada for Christmas
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