Layer up! These are the hottest ways to experience Canada's biting cold temperatures.
Canadian outdoor adventurers don't stop when temperatures dip. And then dip again. Laying low for the season is for the bears. Winter is a fact; a season to behold. In Canada camping isn't just for summer, waterfalls are for ice climbing and the best Northern Lights aren't seen from the city. Here are 10 ways to embrace the chill.
There’s a unique and comforting bond between humans and dogs. They're companions, family members and oftentimes assistive or working animals.
Perhaps that’s why dogsledding is such an intense and rewarding adventure. Forget horsepower, imagine ripping through the snow behind half-a-dozen or so enthusiastic pups. Add a generous dose of wild winter beauty and you have dogsledding in Canada's northern territories.
Start with half-day excursions and build up to an overnight camping trip with any number of quality outfitters in the Northwest Territories or Yukon. Some offer lodges for multi-day trips while others are strictly winter camping. Bring quality cold-weather apparel and check with your guide about additional items that may be necessary.
Snowshoeing Gros Morne National Park
Newfoundland & Labrador
Gros Morne National Park, in Canada's easternmost province is a snowshoer’s paradise. The 96-or-so kilometres of trails range from a light stroll to a serious workout, but all bring trekkers through serenely beautiful terrain. Those brave enough to try night snowshoeing may be treated to a spectacular view of the Northern Lights.
Gros Morne National Park covers 1,800 sq km, providing ample area to experience nature – and get lost. First time visitors are strongly encouraged to use a guide and limit ventures to marked trails. Check with park officials before departing and remember where you parked your vehicle.
Take in a Light Show
Aurora Borealis is a phenomenon like no other and Yellowknife has some of the best viewing in the country. (They're called the Northern Lights for a reason!) Brilliant colours illuminate the sky, so close you feel as though you could trail a finger through the swirls of golden-green. Numerous companies offer tours, but don’t neglect the idea of lounging in a hot tub on the deck while looking up at the sky.
Staying at a lodge requires little more than the proper clothing, but adventurers wanting to see the show against inky black skies should winter camp. Photography tip: tote along a tripod to steady your camera while the lens is open.
Ski an Island
Don't consider Cape Breton Island a ski destination? You should! It has a surprising number of places to ski, from Nordic skiing, Telemark areas and community trails.
Ben Eoin has an excellent facility for beginners and more advanced skiers. Two Rivers Wildlife Park offers over 500 acres of cross-country ski trails. The Aspy Fault Wilderness Protected Area and the Cape Breton Highlands National Park both provide back country guided tours. Downhill skiers will love the facilities at Ski Cape Smokey that has quad chairs and surface lifts.
A Land's End Safari
One of the most incredible cold adventures anywhere is a multi-day 'safari' in Nunavut. Truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, explorers venture out on wooden Inuit sledges known as komatiks. Travel to the very edge of the world: the thick, frigid ice that covers the polar sea. Spend more than a week watching polar bears, seals, seabirds and three species of whales that come to feast on the rich sea life that gathers at the edge of the floe.
The country’s northernmost territory has several companies that organize expeditions and this is definitely not an adventure that can be done alone. It's also the coldest on our list. So much so that floe-edge safaris are done in the springtime (April, May and June), not winter.
Sail the Prairies
Who says you need hills to go skiing? Not the adrenaline junkies who have learned to harness the wind for propulsion.
Skiers and snowboarders living in the prairies have come up with an ingenious way use kites as sails. Exploiting strong winds, boarders whip through the open landscape. Travel across frozen lakes and ponds or use the air to lift your skis high into the air for amazing aerials. Note: kite-skiing is not a sport that can be “picked up” as you go. You'll want to take lessons or start with a company that offers instruction prior to starting out.
Skate the Red River
The Red River Mutual Trail opens just as soon as the ice is thick enough to support skaters. Typically that means January. Quality of the ice and length of the trail is dependent on environmental factors. Following a snowfall the trail is cleared, cracks are flooded and groomed with tractors or zambonis. Skaters are reminded that it is constructed over a river and that the ice surface shouldn't be compared to that of an ice rink. The length of the Red River Mutual Trail usually measures between five and six kilometres.
The Forks Port is the best place to enter the trail and offers affordable skate rentals from the Forks Market. If you own skates the excursion is cost free. Get your 'blade legs' at the Canopy Skating Rink before setting out on the trail.
The Red River Mutual Trail is assessed constantly by the River Patrol who determine the safety of the ice. Respect the closed sections and don’t assume the ice is thick enough based on appearance.
With parades through the streets, parties, balls and shows all over the city, it’s no surprise that the Carnaval de Québec is one of the largest winter festivals in the world. Opening and closing ceremonies are held at the Ice Palace and beloved carnival events include snow sculpture contests, outdoor banquets, the bikini snow bath and dozens of outdoor sporting activities. Outdoor dance parties take place at the Ice Palace and close to the 400 party-goers who attend the masquerade ball in the ballroom of the historic Château Frontenac.
Book hotel rooms well in advance and save a bit of money by purchasing an effigy, the pendant needed to enter festival sites. We even suggest doing so before the end of the year. Other packages are available including family savings and discounts for large groups.
Snowshoe in the Rockies
Jasper National Park covers 10,878 sq km of hot springs, glaciers, waterfalls and mountains interlaced with kilometres of trails weaving across the glistening snow. Getting off the beaten path has never been easier with new snowshoe trails and programs opening this year. Guides are available while plenty of marked trails invite independently explorers. Snowshoers can choose their adventure, from treks to stunning viewpoints or gentle family-friendly hikes through the forest. Dress in layers and of course, check in with park officials before starting your journey.
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