The air is crisp, the days are short and the world has been transformed into a magical wonderland of white fluffy snow. Canada is a wonderful place to experience winter but so many people choose to ignore this time of year. They retreat to their homes, make a nest on the couch and hibernate in front of their TV’s until spring. This is such a shame because there are so many wonderful ways to get outside and enjoy the winter season. Snow and the cold weather bring so many options for exploring the outdoors! Along with your typical winter activities such as tobogganing, skiing/snowboarding and snowshoeing, there are many unique winter activities to do in Canada! After trying many of these myself, I’m more in love with the Canadian winter than ever and that’s why Expedia.ca asked me to share my top unique winter experiences in Canada.
What better way to spend the day than with your very own entourage of cute, fluffy canines! Dog sledding is definitely a once in life time experience and something that every Canadian can try. You’ll stay warm running around with a group of energetic pups – and believe me, these dogs have lots of energy! Driving your own team of dogs through a forest draped in snow is a magical experience and something you don’t get to try very often.
Stay in an Ice Hotel
Every year since 2001, an ice hotel is built just outside Quebec City. The Hotel de Glace is the only true ice hotel in North America and is beautifully crafted entirely out of ice and snow (although it does use a steel frame). It takes 50 workers just under 2 months to construct and the hotel itself only lasts 3 months before the warm spring weather begins to take its toll on the structure (which can be up to 4 feet thick in parts). Visitors can tour the hotel during the day and stop by the ice bar for a drink (served to you in an ice cup!), visit the ice chapel, grand hall and slide down a giant ice slide. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even sleep in one of the 51 beds made out of ice. But not to worry, you won’t freeze! All guests receive thermal sleeping bags, blanket and the washrooms are heated.
The newest craze in outdoor adventure sports, fat biking is fun, can be done on almost any trail and will definitely keep you warm! Fat biking is essentially mountain biking but on the snow (or sand). Fat bikes are specially made to handle soft terrain, ones that would have you sinking to a halt on a regular bike, and are modified versions of their mountain bike counter parts. They have larger than normal tires (usually 3″) and large forks to accommodate this size increase. Fat bikes run on low tire pressure and don’t usually have suspension like regular mountains bikes do. The ride is smooth and fun but the best part? If you fall, you land in fluffy white snow!
Ice skating is something that can be done most anywhere in Canada, whether it be at a local skating rink or outdoor pond. But why not take it to the next level and go skating on the world’s largest naturally frozen skating rink, located in Ottawa, Canada? According to the Guinness Book of World Records, The Rideau Canal Skateway is the largest in the world measuring 7.8 km in length. Its surface area is equivalent to that of 90 Olympic sized rinks! The Rideau Canal itself is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and there are many vendors located along the canal where you can stop to warm up with a cup of hot chocolate and a Beaver Tail (Canadian pastry)! If you’re planning a trip to Ottawa, be sure to have a look at this Ottawa Travel guide for more info on things to see and do in the capital region.
Not just for the summer season! Zip lining can be done year round and what better way to experience a winter wonderland than by zipping through and over top of it? True, it will be a bit colder than in the summer, but with the proper clothing this could be a truly unique and thrilling experience. In Canada, the forest looks so different during each season. Gliding through a canopy of trees covered in frosting is like exploring a new and entirely different world!
It may be an odd name but it’s such a fun sport! Skijoring, which originated in Lapland, is basically a way of cross country skiing with the assistance of an animal companion. It can be done with either dog(s) or horse(s) where the person is connected to the animal via harness and rope and is pulled from behind. I’ve tried this sport with the assistance of a beautiful golden lab named Zoey. I simply got dressed and into cross country ski equipment, then put a specialized harness around my waist. Zoey wore a dog sledding harness and the two of us were connected via quick release rope (always a good idea just in case the dog decides to bolt into the woods, the person can safely disconnect). Now don’t be fooled, this isn’t a free ride! The person still needs to provide power, the dog is simply there to compliment your efforts. When skijoring behind a horse however, the person is definitely just along for the ride!
Before you laugh and say “No way am I going camping in the winter!”, just hear me out. Winter camping doesn’t have to mean spending the night freezing you’re buns off in a little tent perched on top of a sheet of ice and snow. No, camping in the winter has become much more civilized but still has tons of adventure. Many provincial and national parks offer up back-country cabins and yurts for just about anyone willing to give it a try. Snowshoeing or cross country skiing into a basic wilderness cabin or yurt, complete with a wood burning stove and beds, makes winter camping much more enjoyable without loosing the outdoor adventure factor. You still need to get there under your own power and bring in your own food and sleeping bags, but this can be a wonderful experience for families, groups or even the individual wanting to get away from it all.
Outdoor Winter Festivals
Many Canadian cities across the country now have winter festivals to celebrate the frosty season. But why not check out the original winter carnival in Quebec City, Quebec? Carnaval de Québec is the largest winter carnival in the world and comes 3rd in the list of Top Carnivals (after Rio and New Orleans). It’s been held on and off since 1894 (but consistently every year since 1955 – interrupted by the WW’s) making it one of the oldest winter festivals as well. Complete with ice sculpture contests, skating rinks, giant snow slides, parades, ice canoe races, a polar dip, ice bars, dog sled rides and much much more, this one is the whole package. Old Quebec City, with its beautiful cobblestone streets and old fort walls, gets all dressed up and will make you feel as if you’ve ended up in a European village somewhere. This festival generally runs for the first 2 weeks of February and is a wonderful way to get outside and celebrate winter! If you’re thinking of heading to Carnaval, check out this Quebec City travel guide for more things to see and do during your visit.
Now this is something you don’t hear about every day, let alone try! Last winter I had the chance to do this truly unique activity by taking to the skies with my snowboard strapped to my feet, in beautiful British Columbia, Canada. Heading to the top of Revelstoke Mountain Resort (in Revelstoke, Canada), I flew tandem with an instructor, right off the side of the mountain. The skies were sunny and clear and offered absolutely incredible views of the mountains and the valley as we slowly floated down to earth. Takeoff and landing were fairly simple and can be done wearing either ski’s or a snowboard.
With so many wonderful outdoor winter activities to try, there’s no excuse not to get out there and enjoy the snowy weather! Experiencing a unique outdoor winter activity not only makes the long, snowy months more exciting, but will keep you warm, energized and loving the Canadian winter.
What’s your favorite outdoor winter activity?
This is a collaborative post with Expedia.ca. All opinions are my own.