Last updated: February 2nd, 2020
Winter in Canada might be chilly, but it has plenty to offer both the adventure seeker and the city slicker. Travelers who visit Canada in the winter typically do so for winter activities like skiing and snowboarding, but even those who aren’t cold weather fans will find plenty of reasons to enjoy the winter in Canada. For one, the scenery is spectacular during the winter as it becomes covered in a layer of sparkling snow.
It’s also a great time of year for budget-conscious travelers as most places see a sharp discount on hotel prices and airfare. Even in popular towns like Banff, Alberta, hotel prices are often 50-70% cheaper than in the summer months. Plus, there’s lots of availability for you to pick and choose.
If the cold weather is just too much for you take, there are areas of Canada that have very mild temperatures. Some of these areas include Vancouver and Victoria, which are nestled along the Pacific coast. These can be great places to stay as you can still enjoy snowy activities within a couple of hours’ drive but enjoy the warmer temperatures in the city. However, these cities tend to have more rain in the winter months, so you’ll still need a warm sweater and a rain jacket.
What’s the Weather like During Winter in Canada?
While some places such as Vancouver and Vancouver Island are quite moderate in temperature, most of Canada is quite cold and full of snow. In Vancouver and Vancouver Island, for example, you’ll mostly find rain and overcast. Temperatures might get as cold as -10 Celcius but even that would be a cold day. Once you start moving inland to Whistler, the Canadian Rockies, Alberta, and almost everywhere else in Canada, temperatures get much colder.
The only way to prepare for winter in Canada is to know where you’re going. If you’re visiting popular places such as Banff, Jasper, Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, or Quebec City, you should expect cold temperatures between December and April. January to March is usually the coldest, with temps ranging between -10 degrees Celcius and -40 degrees Celcius. The more north you go, the colder it gets. For example, I live in Calgary. It can be very cold in the winter but is mild compared to some cities. We might see -30 degrees Celcius but only for a short time. In contrast, I grew up eight hours north of Calgary in a city called Fort.McMurray. There it was normal to have temperatures around -30 degrees Celcius for up to three months.
If you talk to people who spend lots of time outdoors, they’ll likely tell you that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.
If you are planning to visit Canada during the winter months, you’ll want to learn how to dress for the cold weather.
What are the Most Popular Winter Activities?
For those into the outdoors, winter is a wonderful time of year in Canada. Popular activities include downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, tubing, ice skating, fat-tire biking, and so much more. There’s also a range of natural hot springs and thermal spas, which are even better in the winter season when the surrounding area is covered in a beautiful white carpet of snow.
Popular locations may even have hotels and resorts that have many of these things within their property. For example, some big hotels around the Canadian Rockies have on-site spas as well as various trails where you can go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.
Let’s get into more detail on activities you can enjoy during the winter in Canada.
Cost: Free but there might be a cost for the skate rentals.
As you may know, Canadians are known for hockey. Part of this is because many of us grow up with outdoor skating rinks during the winter. In many cities and towns around Canada, you’ll find outdoor skating rinks that are free of charge. Some of them even have outdoor fire pits and skate rentals. the rinks are normally free but you’ll typically have to pay to rent skates. You may also want a helmet but that’s largely up to you.
Cost: Expensive. Lift tickets are $60 – $120. Rentals are $50 and up.
One of our favourite winter activities is downhill skiing. Living in Calgary, we’re just a couple of hours drive from some of the world’s best ski resorts, such as Sunshine Mountain Village, Lake Louise Ski Resort, Panorama Mountain Resort, and Kicking Horse. In fact, there are dozens of resorts in-between Alberta and British Columbia that are world-class. However, there are also ski resorts in Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and even Newfoundland.
Cross Country Skiing
Cost: Fairly cheap.
If you’re not fond of soaring down a mountain at 60 km/h, cross-country skiing is another way to strap on skis and get a good workout during the winter months. You would want to find properly groomed trails but once you do, they’re normally free and you’d only have to pay for the ski rentals, which can range from $15 and up.
Cost: Cheap. Trails are normally free but rentals are $15 – $30 per day.
For those who like to hike, snowshoeing is a great way to explore the trails during the winter months. Basically, snowshoes help keep you on top of the snow and also have traction on the bottom to dig into the ice. There are many places to rent snowshoes and depending on where you are, they can likely show you where to go.
Cost: Can be free or can be up to $30 at a resort.
Tubing (or sledding) is something most Canadian kids grow up with. Traditionally, you would take a tube or a sled of some sort, find a hill, walk to the top, and then slide down. This can be anywhere from simple fun to borderline dangerous, depending on how big the hill is. If you’re visiting though, it might difficult to find the right hill and to buy the right sled, so some resorts and hotel properties now offer a tubing experience. For example, WinSport in Calgary offers tubing from $16 – $26. Not only are the trails properly groomed so you don’t get hurt but they even provide a motorized lift so you don’t have to walk to the top every time.
Fat Tire Biking
Cost: Bike rentals range from $30 per day and up.
This relatively new activity is a new take on mountain biking. It’s basically a peddle bike with really wide tires. These tires make it easier to bike through snow. We did fat tire biking at Panorama Mountain Resort a few years ago and it was a lot of fun and it was really good exercise. But you don’t need to be in the mountains to enjoy biking. You can even do it in city parks or almost anywhere you can find a trail.
If you want a real motorized thrill, go snowmobiling. These snow machines are incredibly exhilarating and can be a great choice for experiencing high speeds or for navigating distant trails. If you’re visiting Canada, you’ll likely need to go with a group and rates typically start around $200 for a half-day. We went snowmobiling in Golden, BC at Kicking Horse Resort and it was awesome.
Just because the lakes are frozen doesn’t mean you can’t go fishing. Ice fishing consists of cutting a hole in the ice, dropping down a line and waiting for a bite. Ice fishing on your own would be tough as it requires a lot of gear but many companies offer the experience now as a guided tour. You can probably expect to pay $100 per person but it depends on where you go.
Canada Winter Vacation Ideas
From coast to coast to coast, winter in Canada is home to a variety of unique experiences in a variety of places. Below are some of our favourite places to visit during Canada’s winter.
The Canadian Rockies
Few places in the world can rival the winter scenery found in the Canadian Rockies. With towns like Banff, Canmore, and Jasper, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped foot into a winter movie surrounded by the Rocky Mountains. This area is also home to all the best winter activities you can imagine, such as world-class skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, hot springs, and so much more. There’s also a lot of festivals that take places such as the Banff Snow Days and the Ice Magic Festival in Lake Louise. You can also go a little further into British Columbia, staying in ski-in-ski-out accommodation around fabulous Panorama Mountain Resort, Fernie Alpine Resort, or Golden’s Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. There are more world-class ski resorts in this area than you can count on both hands, so if you’re into the great outdoors, this is the place to go.
Just two hours east of Banff is Canada’s fourth-biggest city. This is the hub for those visiting the Canadian Rockies but it’s also a wonderful place for a winter vacation. You’ll find popular attractions such as Zoo Lights at the Calgary Zoo, various free outdoor rinks, and WinSport, which is home to an inner-city ski hill, tubing park, and an Olympic bobsleigh experience. Of course, there are all sorts of indoor activities too, which you can learn more about in our Things to Do in Calgary article.
Quebec City, Quebec
This famous city is also a winter wonderland thanks to its European-style buildings and massive winter celebrations. In old Quebec, everywhere you walk will feel like you’ve stepped into a postcard, and if you really want to brave the cold, you can spend the night in the Quebec Ice Hotel. There’s also the Winter Carnival, which is now the second-largest winter festival in the world.
Not far from Quebec City is Canada’s capital city, which shares a bridge between Ontario and Quebec. Ottawa is also a magical-looking city in the winter months and is home to Winterlude, a massive winter celebration with lots of free events. Even better, it’s home to the Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that becomes the world’s largest skating rink in the winter. People who live and work nearby the river will actually skate to work! How cool is that?
In addition, you can go over the bridge to Quebec and spend an entire day at the Nordik Spa-Nature. This thermal spa has a variety of hot pools, cold pools, saunas, steam rooms, and more, making it the perfect place to truly relax in the middle of a winter paradise.
Canada’s Winter Festivals
With such a long winter season, Canadians have created some of the best winter festivals in the world.
Quebec’s Winter Carnival
No winter festival rivals Quebec’s Winter Carnival. In fact, outside of China, it’s the largest winter festival in the world. You’ll find massive parades, outdoor concerts, all sorts of events, and even an ice hotel you can spend the night in.
Also one of the largest winter festivals in the world, Ottawa’s Winterlude takes place over an entire month, bringing in a variety of events and activities for locals and visitors alike.
Believe it or not, this is also one of the world’s largest winter festivals. This one comes to Montreal, inviting locals and visitors to partake in a variety of winter events and activities including an inner-0city zipline! Expect lots of lights and music.
Banff Snow Days
As mentioned, Banff is one of the most spectacular places to experience winter in Canada. But to make it even more special, you can visit during Snow Days, which brings in lots of events and activities, snow carvings, and the Ice Magic Festival in Lake Louise.
Where Will You Spend Winter in Canada?
I hope by now you have decided to experience the winter in Canada. The hard decision will be where to go? Whether you decide to go mild in Vancouver, mountainous in Banff, or festival-crazy in Quebec, Canada is bound to become your favourite place for experiencing this extraordinary snowy season.
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