Canada’s sprawling territory invites a wide range of activities for the outdoorsy types — from seaside adventures and treks through the mountains to camping in deep, thick forests. The summer months may offer the opportunity to bask in the sun during bright, long days, but the True North Strong and Free is also prime territory for hardy folks not afraid to bundle up and face the cold. In fact, some of Canada’s most popular destinations are arguably better in the winter months.
Sure, it’s cold up in Whitehorse. But you can keep warm in the northern city during the annual Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous Festival, which features axe throwing, dog sledding, flour packing, chainsaw chucking, can-can dancing, and snow sculpture displays. Whitehorse is also the starting point of the annual Yukon Quest—a 1,600-kilometre international sled dog race through the remote wilderness to Fairbanks, Alaska. At night, take in the dancing colours of the Northern Lights. You might even be able to enjoy the light show while soaking in the Takhini Hot Springs, located 30 km north of Whitehorse, which are open in the winter.
Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia
One of the sites of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, Whistler Blackcomb is an amazing place to be year-round, but it really comes alive once the snow starts to fly. While alpine skiing and snowboarding in the Rocky Mountains might be the most obvious, there’s also a tube park, dog sledding treks, ice fishing, and helicopter and gondola sightseeing tours. Whistler also offers a more rare opportunity to try bobsledding or skeleton—where you’ll move down the track at more than 80 km per hour—with an experienced driver. Another way to get your adrenaline going is to try ice climbing or winter bungee jumping. After dark, the weekly Fire & Ice Show features some of Whistler’s best skiers and riders jumping through a blazing ring of fire, along with fireworks and fire spinners performing at the base of Blackcomb.
Lake Louise, Alberta
In the summer, Lake Louise in Banff National Park is known for its clear-blue glacier lake set in the middle of a majestic mountain landscape, but the abundance of snow and ice during the winter makes it an incredibly picturesque location for an endless array of winter sports. Lake Louise Ski Resort is home to more than 4,200 acres of skiable terrain with a mix of trails for all skill levels. The resort also has a tube park for those interested in an alternative way to experience the stunning scenery of the Canadian Rockies. Other activities include snowshoeing, ice-skating, horse-drawn sleigh rides, and cross-country skiing. At the end of the day, you can cozy up next to a fire in the quiet of the small village. For more active nightlife, drive 60 km to Banff, which also has natural hot springs to soothe your achy muscles at the end of a long day.
Located on the northwestern shore of Hudson’s Bay, near the Nunavut border, Churchill, Manitoba is known as the polar bear capital of the world. Visitors can see polar bears in the wild from the safety of tundra vehicles designed to travel over snow and ice. Churchill is also one of the top places to see the northern lights—and they’re at their best between January and March. Dog-sledding treks are another popular wintertime activity.
Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario
Algonquin Provincial Park—a central Ontario park that encompasses more territory than the entire province of Prince Edward Island—has an incredible network of ski and snowshoe trails, along with what feels like endless un-groomed backcountry. And the winter camping experience is like no other. Heated yurts that can sleep up to six people are available for rent in Algonquin’s Mew Lake campground, which is open year ‘round. Winter camping is also permitted in the backcountry, which is accessible by snowshoe or ski. Along the way, you’re sure to spot some of the park’s wide range of wildlife, which includes moose, white-tailed deer, beavers, black bears, and wolves.
National Capital Region, Quebec/Ontario
There may be no greater time in Ottawa and Gatineau than Winterlude, an annual two-week festival that includes an ice-sculpture competition, a giant snow playground with ice slides, and skating on the Rideau Canal, also known as the world’s largest skating rink. The Quebec side of the Ottawa River also offers a winter wonderland in Gatineau Park. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are the most popular winter activities in the park, which covers more than 350-square kilometers. The park also has three winter hiking trails that are groomed weekly. The National Capital Commission, a Crown corporation that administers the park, offers free, guided snowshoe hikes with nature interpreters who identify animal tracks every weekend in the winter. Winter camping is available in cabins, yurts, and all-season tents, and there are campsites for those who already have cold-weather gear.
Quebec City, Quebec
While the weather may be frigid, the people of Quebec City aren’t much for hibernation in the winter months. This historic city—established in the early 17th century—hosts an annual winter carnival that includes a snow sculpture competition, canoe racing on the icy St. Lawrence River, a bikini snow bath, night parades, and an outdoor playground featuring tobogganing, dogsled rides, a sugar shack, and a Ferris wheel. Bonhomme—a snowman mascot with a red cap and a traditional French Canadian ceinture fléchée (arrow sash)—is the face of the festival. Plus, winter is the perfect time to indulge in French Canadian specialties served her, such a poutine, split-pea soup, tourtière, and Caribou, alongside a cocktail made of brandy, vodka, sherry and port.