9 unforgettable outdoor winter adventures

Northern Lights Photo by Tsuguliev/Shutterstock

OK, yes, we get it: it’s cold outside. Depending on where you are, it may also be rainy, slushy, snowing, icy or any other type of winter misery our country throws at us. Here’s the thing, though — if you’re having a ton of fun, you don’t notice the weather. Our list of unforgettable outdoor adventures should help you do just that.

Fat biking in Kouchibouguac National Park

Who says biking is a summer sport? With wider-than-normal tires, fat bikes allow you to float across surfaces — like snow and sand — that would bog regular tires down. Kouchibouguac National Park, on New Brunswick’s Acadian Coast, has 16 kilometres of groomed fat biking trails in the winter. If you’re there in March, check out the Fat Bike Festival, which runs from March 4-12. Tired of biking? Try cross country skiing, or venture out once the sun goes down — the park is a dark sky preserve, meaning the star gazing is phenomenal.

Heli-snowshoing in Banff and Canmore

Heli-skiing is popular throughout the Rockies, but if you don’t feel like hurtling all the way down a backcountry trail, then a heli-snowshoeing tromp is an ideal way to see otherwise inaccessible spots. Although heli-hiking is also a possibility, snowshoes give you extra maneuverability on fresh snow (and reduces the possibility of snow in the tops of your boots). Don’t feel like climbing into a helicopter in the middle of winter? Snowmobile or lift-accessed trails also abound.

Watching the northern lights in Yellowknife

In the winter, you can sometimes see the Aurora Borealis further south, but why risk missing out when you can reliably see them in the Far North? Travel to Yellowknife, NWT and experience the northern lights however you like: from a hot tub, a lodge deck or out on a frozen lake. Many places offer a middle-of-the-night wake up service to make sure you see the lights in all their glory. One hint? Try to avoid viewing the Aurora when there’s a full moon. The brightness of the moon can dim some of the fainter northern lights.   

Go caving on Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island has the highest concentration of caves of anywhere in North America, so it’s no surprise that winter caving is a cool and awesome thing to do there. At Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park, winter is their “wet and wild” season, when you can explore caves with rushing seven-storey waterfalls. Make sure you wear waterproof boots. When they say wet, they mean wet. Not into caving? The park has hiking trails and an interpretive centre as well.

Climbing the ice in Elora Gorge or at Tiffany Falls, Hamilton

Rock climbing may rule the summer, but ice climbing is an adventure you can only experience when it’s freezing outside. Thanks to the Niagara Escarpment, the Elora Gorge in…well, Elora, and Tiffany Falls in Hamilton are both ideal spots to strap on the crampons and haul out the ice axe. You don’t have crampons sitting around at home? Never fear. Outfitters (like One Axe  will provide you with all the equipment, and training, you’ll need.

Surfing in Tofino

You might think surfing in the middle of winter is crazy, and it is, kind of. Surfing in Tofino is cold enough that you need a wetsuit year-round, supplemented with a hood, gloves and boots in the winter. But don’t let the cold water deter you. There’s nothing quite so exhilarating as catching a wave in the sometimes wild water when everyone else is cozied up in front of a roaring fire. Once you’re done catching waves, take a break and watch the dramatic winter storms that roll in across the ocean. Find a lodge that has a view of the ocean (and hot tub, ideally) or, if you haven’t had enough drama with surfing, head outside and lean into the wind.

Touring the Kluane Glacier by air  

You’ve heard of sightseeing. Well, meet flightseeing. Book an airplane tour over the Kluane Glacier in the Yukon, and you’ll get stunning birds-eye views without the week-long hike you’d need to see the area on foot. Home to Mount Logan, Canada’s tallest peak, Kluane National Park is home to the country’s most extensive icefields, and is a perfect destination if you’re looking for winter adventures. Once you’ve touched down from your flightseeing tour, strap on a pair of cross-country skis or snowshoes and explore the miles of trails that wind through the park.  

Soaking in hot springs in the Rockies

Winter adventures don’t all have to be about extreme sports and getting cold. Sometimes, sitting back in a pool of steamy hot mineral-infused water and watching the snow fall — and melt — is all you really need to appreciate the beauty of the season. Check out Radium Hot Springs Mineral Pools in BC, at the southern entrance of Kootenay National Park (only 1.5 hours north of Banff) or the Banff Upper Hot Springs in Banff National Park, the highest hot springs in Canada.

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