Ahhh, winter! The time of year for some Canadians to hibernate and for others to embrace both the season and the opportunity to enjoy family-friendly winter activities across Canada. Winter sports enthusiasts hit snow-covered slopes and research trails preparing to cross country ski in spectacular locations. Enjoy visiting our 8 top winter destinations in Canada.
The less energetic among us may prefer to go for a skate on one of Canada's many artifical or natural ice rinks or simply chill out under the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). For our family, winter and snow can't come soon enough. It's time to plan an RV vacation and check out some of the coolest winter destinations in Canada. While we are continually discovering new places to enjoy, here's our top 8 places and activities for winter travel in 2022.
Ice skating on the Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa
Skating on the Rideau Canal
It's arguably the world's largest skating rink and it's nothing short of magical. The cleared length of the Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa, Ontario is almost 8 kilometres, running from the Hartwells Lockstation at Carleston University to the locks between the Parliament Buildings and the Chateau Laurier. You can't beat the feeling of complete freedom as you skate at your own pace, watching beginners to experts show their style as they too enjoy the experience. During the skate season, it's not uncommon for students and workers to leave their cars at home and skate to work or school, the canal being referred to by the locals as the Rideau Highway. The skating season typically begins in early January and ends in early March but is weather dependent. For 2022, skating is expected to begin around mid-January.
More information on actual opening dates for the Rideau Canal Skateway can be found on the National Capital Commission website.
Ice wine grapes (left) and the Niagara Falls frozen in winter (right)
Enjoying ice wine at Niagara Falls
Sure, you don't have to go to Niagara to enjoy ice wine - after all, it's available in most Canadian wine regions. But, there's something special about combining a winter visit to Niagara Falls with the annual Ice Wine Festival. Unfortunately, due to COVID, this festival has been postponed for January 2022 so I guess it's not on our 'to do' list this year. However, it's still worth keeping on your own bucket list post pandemic. Niagara's Ice Wine Festival is one of Canada's largest and most popular ice-wine festivals with more than 25 wineries showcasing their product. And when the tasting is done, Niagara Falls awaits.
The Falls are magnificent year-round, but in winter especially so. While technically the only time the Falls actually froze solid was in 1848, mist and spray form a crust of ice on the surface of the rushing water when temperatures plunge. This gives the impression that the falls are frozen - although water is still flowing behind them. It's truly a sight to behold.
Quebec City Carnaval. Ice palace (left) and people enjoying tobogganing (right)
Chilling out in Quebec City at the Winter Carnival
Quebec City is a year-round destination. Old and new collide, the city's colonial core drawing visitors from far and wide to see and experience the only fortified city north of Mexico whose walls still exist. While spring through fall are the most popular times to visit, late January to early February sees an influx of tourists for the annual Quebec Winter Carnival. This snow-filled festival - popularly known as "Carnaval" in both French and English - features sleigh rides, ice sculptures, tubing, dog sleds, an icy slide for the kids and a lot of maple taffy. The final weekend of Carnaval features the Night Parade with colorful floats, marching bands, acrobats and much more winding their way through city streets towards the ice palace. You'll need a Carnival Effigy to access the main festival site and be sure to wrap up warm. If you're visiting Quebec City without an RV, consider an overnight stay in the Quebec Ice Hotel.
Downhill skiing into Whistler on a crisp winter day (left). Evening in Whistler Village (right)
Skiing and other winter activities in Whistler, BC
When thinking of Canadian ski destinations, ski resorts in the Canadian Rockies are often top of the list. While we enjoy those resorts, we totally love the vibe of Whistler during winter. Besides being one of the largest ski resorts in North America, the pedestrian-friendly village of Whistler delivers a magical winter experience that simply can't be matched.
If you don't feel the urge to strap on some skis or bring out the snowboard, Whistler has you covered. From tubing to snowshoeing and snowmobiling, bungee jumping to ziplining, there's sure to be something to keep your adrenaline pumping. Then, at the end of the day, chill out at the Scandinave Nordic Spa or wander through a forest of wonder at the Vallea Lumina storified multimedia light show.
Winter sightseeing on the Peak 2 Peak Gondola is a 'must do' for the bucket list. Purchase a sightseeing day pass and venture up to see the amazing panorama unfolding around you from the soaring heights of the Whistler Blackcomb mountains.
Ice climbers on the Upper Falls in Johnston Canyon (left). Snow covered walkway to the Falls (right)
Ice walking in Johnston Canyon, Alberta
Tucked away off the spectacular Bow Valley Parkway, Johnston Canyon is a popular place for tourists year-round. Even in winter, the car park can fill up quickly so we recommend arriving mid to late morning if you're electing to do the ice trek on your own. All visitors to Johnston Canyon need to pay the daily Parks Canada entry fee or be in possession of an annual Parks Canada Discovery Pass.
Dress warmly. Conditions can change rapidly. The path will be slippery so strap on some ice cleats to give you extra traction. Most people who hike in the Canyon in winter opt to visit both the Lower and Upper Falls. The path to the Lower Falls is relatively easy and it's another 1.3km to reach the Upper Falls. Here you'll most likely see ice climbers and it's worth stopping a while to watch. The round trip should take around 2 hours. Some of the more adventurous hikers will continue on to the Ink Pots, adding another 2 hours for the round trip.
You can find winter RV camping in Banff at the Parks Canada Tunnel Mountain 2 campground.
Fat biking is a popular passtime in Mont Tremblant during the winter
Fat biking in Mont Tremblant
If mountain biking is a passion, fat biking in winter on one of Mont Tremblant's many trails might just pique your interest. The wider tires on a fat bike provide more traction in snow and their ability to climb uphill slopes is unmatched. As with all winter sports, a little preparation will make the experience more enjoyable. Dress appropriately - this should include waterproof shoes and thick insulated socks. Once you're dressed for the experience, choose a trail to match your abilities. Fat biking trails around Mont Tremblant range from easy to very difficult. For short rides, beginners should check out Boischatel, Villa Bellevue or trails A to D around La Villageoise-de-Mont-Tremblant. The Lynx is a slightly longer easy ride while Le P'tit Train du Nord at 17.9km is the ultimate challenge for the beginner.
On the more challenging side, you can be rewarded with beautiful views when you ride the Chouette Sud trail. It's relatively short but steep so start out prepared.
Bald Eagle on Vancouver Island (left). Parliament Buildings in Victoria (right).
Eagle spotting on Vancouver Island
One of the warmest places in Canada for winter travelling, Vancouver Island draws us back time and time again. Tofino, on the rugged west side, is favoured for winter surfing and big waves, along with storm watching. Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, is an outdoor oasis with abundant parkland, very little snow and great Victorian architecture. A short drive away from Victoria, bald eagles can be spotted at Goldstream Provincial Park in December and January as the annual salmon run winds down. The best time to spot the eagles is at low tide. Visit the Goldstream Nature House to learn more from the Park Naturalists there. Arm yourself with binoculars and warm waterproof clothing and a ton of patience and you're sure to be rewarded.
Pond hockey on Lake Louise (left). Ice sculpture at Lake Louise (right).
Pond hockey on Lake Louise
Not all Canadians grow up playing ice hockey on a frozen pond but it's an experience all hockey lovers should have at least once in their lifetime. So, why not do it on one of the largest and most beautiful pond hockey rinks in Canada? Pond hockey on Lake Louise is communal - anyone can join in - and many a friendship has been forged over a game.
Lake Louise is an iconic Rocky Mountain destination. Set at the foot of the Victoria Glacier, the lake when frozen over provides a magical venue for snowshoeing, ice skating and winter hikes. For those who prefer to just sit back and watch, January is the time to visit for the Ice Magic Festival. During the first few days of the festival, ice carvers get together to create amazing ice sculptures based around a specific theme. You'll be awestruck at some of the amazing pieces of art a person can sculpt out of a block of ice. It's free to see the ice carvings Monday to Friday but tickets are required if you're planning to go during the daytime on the two weekends of the festival.
RV camping is available nearby at Parks Canada Lake Louise Campground on a first-come, first-served basis.
CanaDream winter RV on the road (left). Large storage compartment in RV for skis and snowboards (right).
While hotels are most people's preferred option for winter vacations in Canada, we like the freedom to move as we please and to cook our own meals on the go. That's why we choose to rent a winter RV when we travel. Provided you manage your RV resources correctly, it's possible to stay warm and comfortable inside an RV, even when temperatures plunge to minus 30C levels. CanaDream has a custom-built RV model which allows us to use the water in sub-zero temperatures and winter rates are reasonable. Our advice ... don't fight the winter, embrace it!