Canada is the home of winter, so we can be excused for puffing out our down coats with pride about the many ways that residents and visitors can experience the beauty of our northern winter wonderland. From fat biking in Atlantic Canada to kick sledding in Quebec and snowshoeing among snowcapped peaks in Alberta and British Columbia, these 10 ways to experience winter beyond skiing will keep you fit, rosy-cheeked and toasting the season with marshmallow-studded cups of hot chocolate.
The mountain and backcountry trails of Alberta and British Columbia are deep with winter powder, and the best way to break trail is by strapping on a pair of snowshoes. Some great snowshoe trails in BC include the 22-kilometre Elfin Lakes trail in Garibaldi Provincial Park, the 11-kilometre Zoa Peak off the Coquihalla Highway, and any of the 48 kilometres of trails in Kimberley Nature Park in the East Kootenays. In Alberta, the Johnson Lake and Lake Louise Lakeshore trails in Banff National Park are easy treks with rewarding lake views, while the Beaver Lake, Medicine Lake and Maligne Canyon trails are popular spots in Jasper National Park.
There are a ton of amazing winter hiking trails in this country, but you need good boots with grippy soles or microspikes. Dog Mountain on Mount Seymour in North Vancouver is a popular snowy trail with eye-popping city views. In Eastern Canada, gorgeous Gatineau Park just outside of Ottawa features 11 kilometres of winter walking and hiking trails that are groomed weekly. And in Newfoundland, the Spurwink Island Path between Aquaforte and Port Kirwan is a challenging 20-kilometre section of the East Coast Trail.
Destination Quebec City
What is ice canoeing, you ask? It was a form of winter transport in Quebec with roots dating back to the 1600s, when residents of New France ferried goods and people used canots á glaces between the islands and shores of the Saint Lawrence River. Today, ice canoeingice canoeing is a sport and something anyone can experience: pushing canoes across the ice on the frozen parts and paddling the water where the ice recedes. Quebec’s annual Carnival in February is the best time to experience the thrill of ice canoeing races.
Skating is as Canadian as maple syrup, and there are many fantastic outdoor skating trails across the country that are well worth lacing your skates for. Canada’s most famous and largest skating trail is the sinuous Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa, Ontario. The Red River Mutual Trail in Winnipeg, Manitoba, is a skating and multi-use path along portions of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers. Lake Louise’s outdoor rink is arguably the fairest of them all, and on the west coast, Grouse Mountain’s mountaintop skating pond is particularly festive during the holiday season.
Big tires aren’t just for summer trails. Winter fat biking is a popular activity across the country. A cold weather cycling adventure is a great way to stay in shape. Nova Scotia has some fantastic mountain biking trails that do double duty during the long winter months. The flat and hard-packed Rum Runners Trail connects Halifax and Lunenburg and follows 110 kilometres of former railway line, while popular Railyard Mountain Bike Park in Truro offers over 40 kilometres of thigh-pumping cycling within Truro’s Victoria Park.
Kick sledding is a unique way to stay active and traverse snowy trails. Originating in Scandinavia, the kick sled is a self-propelled sled with a chair and two rails that you ride with one foot and kick off with the other. Glide your way on a snow-covered trail in Fredericton, New Brunswick, or along Magog’s ice trail or Lake Memphremagog in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. These are all perfect places to experience winter and enjoy an afternoon of kick sledding.
Tobogganing and Tubing
Destionation Quebec City
Wherever there’s a snowy hill, there will be kids of all ages racing at breakneck speed on a toboggan or tube. There’s no wilder toboggan slide than the Quebec City run where guests on traditional wooden sleds reach speeds up to 70 kilometres per hour. In urban Toronto, the 18-hectare Riverdale Park East mixes thrilling sledding with amazing views of the city’s iconic skyline. Many Canadian ski resorts have tube parks, including Alberta’s largest and longest at Norquay Tube Park in Banff, and the bubly™ Tube Park in Whistler, BC.
Credit Travel Yukon - YG/Cathie Archbould
Home to the legendary Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race, the Yukon is arguably Canada’s dog sledding capital. This grueling event takes place in February when weather conditions can be the coldest and most unpredictable. Between 25 to 30 mushers from around the world sign up for the race, each with a team of 14 canine athletes to take them to the finish line. Inspired? You can drive your own sled of high-spirited dogs and have so ‘mush’ fun sledding across frozen lakes and forests of snow-covered trees.
Have your winter fun and eat it too. Zip around frozen Lake Winnipeg in a SnoBear, a kind of motorhome for anglers with tracks and skis that can be lifted to drive and lowered to fish for walleye at choice spots. Fish for tomcod in a village of 500 temporary cabins installed on a tidal river in Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade, Quebec, or sit pretty and cozy in an ice condo on Lake Nipissing, Ontario, waiting for the pickerel to bite.
Hear those sleigh bells jingling on a nostalgic sleigh ride through the snow-dampened quiet of a winter forest in rural Douro-Dummer, Ontario, where Merrylynd Farms has been taking guests for horse-drawn sleigh rides since 1825. In Alberta, sip warm apple cider and cuddle under blankets for a ride through Banff’s Mountain Meadows, or bundle the family for a Clydesdale horse-drawn sleigh ride at Champêtre County in Saskatchewan.