One of the great things about winter in Canada is the amazing selection of cold-weather adventures available right near by — even if you live in a major city.
Depending on your interests, you can spend the day snowshoeing, skiing or skijoring and more — and still make it home in time for dinner.
Sure, Whistler/Blackcomb has amazing alpine skiing, but who needs downhill when you have 19 km of cross-country trails on Cypress Mountain, just minutes from downtown Vancouver? These groomed cross-country treks wind past open vistas of the city and ocean continue into dense forest that feels like backcountry. Those new to Nordic can sign up for a lesson at the ski school.
You won’t need lessons to snowshoe on Grouse Mountain’s 10 km of trails. Gentle loops are great for beginners, while the more experienced snowshoer can opt to trek up the 1,250-metre peak. (Cypress Mountain and Mount Seymour also have great snowshoe trails through pristine alpine terrain.) And, since you’re headed up to Grouse Mountain — try winter zip-lining. Five separate lines will let you zip over snow-covered forest and frozen cliffs 70 metres above the ground.
Looking for more Nordic destinations? Head to Callaghan Country, near Whistler. This cross-country and backcountry ski-lodge destination offers up both groomed skate-tracks and pristine wilderness trails. Of course, nearby Whistler Olympic Park offers cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and even biathlon courses.
Manning Park, near Hope, is just one more snowy paradise near a city that usually gets no snow. Just two-and-a-half hours northeast from Vancouver, and you can rent a cozy cabin and spend the weekend trekking around the wintery mountain environs.
Banff National Park is the place to go for snowshoeing and other winter fun. Easy trails can be found near the Banff Springs Hotel, or try some longer treks that head towards Castle Mountain and the Ink Pots. For a bit of indulgence, end the day soaking in the Upper Hot Springs and watch the stars come out as you relax in steaming pools.
Dogsledding is great fun and if you don’t happen to have your own team, you can get set up for a day trip in Canmore or Kicking Horse Pass. Most trips are suitable for everyone except the youngest members of a family.
Canmore also offers 65 km of groomed trails for the cross-country skier. Our Olympic athletes train here, so expect some challenging stretches. If you have your own cross-country ski equipment, Peter Lougheed Park is completely free and has 90 km of groomed trails.
By the first snowfall every year, the region is transformed into a glittery wonderland. Hundreds of kilometres of trails meander through parks, forests and across the open prairies, just calling for cross-country skiers. Prince Albert National Park, a couple of hours north, has some great trails, as do the parks near the Battlefords, about an hour-and-a-half northwest of the city.
With all the open prairie space, this is an ideal region for dogsledding. You can arrange a tour through a company, or, if you’re feeling adventurous and have a willing pooch, try skijoring. Get a harness for your dog and teach him how to tow you along on your skis.
With more than 850 parks, and loads of snow, it’s not surprising that there are many thousands of kilometres of trails waiting to be trekked around Winnipeg. Grab your snowshoes or skis and head west to Beaudry Provincial Park to the more than 1,200 hectares of prime forest wilderness just waiting for you to explore it. The frozen Assiniboine River is a snowshoer’s dream, wandering for miles through river-bottom forest.
This is also a great area for kick-sledding and skijoring. (The latter requires a four-footed companion and a harness, but after that the journey is up to you.) Skijoring is so popular in the Winnipeg area that races through the provincial parks are organized throughout the winter. If you are in it just for the fun you can still take advantage of the race trails at Birds Hill Provincial Park.
During the winter, most hiking trails become ski trails. Bronte Creek Provincial Park, in Oakville, is home to the Ravine Trail, a gorgeous trek through dense coniferous forest to a vista overlooking a ravine that provides a relatively easy, three-kilometre cross-country trek. If you would like something a little longer, the Chippewa Trail follows an abandoned rail corridor for 15 km.
For some serious snowshoeing and backcountry, the Bruce Trail (Toronto Section) is Canada’s oldest marked, long distance footpath. Side trails loop around the main trail providing 50 km of trekking opportunity. The Christie Lake Conservation Area Trails wind for 10 km through forest and meadowlands, if you are looking for a shorter adventure.
Are you feeling particularly hardy? Winter surfing is catching on as surfers brave the frigid waters to enjoy the epic Great Lake waves brought on by winter storms. You will need a thick wetsuit, booties, gloves and a lot of guts to try this out, but once you do, you’ll be back to catch waves every winter.
Gatineau Park is networked with 200 km of cross-country ski trails that are groomed and marked for difficulty. The park has heated shelters and the trails are patrolled for safety, making this the perfect place to spend the day on skis with the family. Some are suitable for skate-skiing as well as classic cross-country.
You can arrange dogsledding adventures that are suitable for a variety of skill levels. Several organizations offer tours through lightly forested areas or around scenic lakes. For a taste of Canadian pioneering life, try a horse logging tour. It’s not about the speed with these guys; it’s all about the power.
There are also plenty of skijoring organizations around the Ottawa area. If your own pet isn’t willing to pull you around on skis, check out the local skijoring schools for either training lessons, or taking a test run with their “equipment.”
Ice-skating can be found everywhere in Canada, but only in Ottawa will you find the world’s largest outdoor skating rink, which also happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Spend an easy day with the kids at the Rideau Canal Skateway and skate your way through the city.
Dogsledding is the thing to do here — spend the day with the wind in your eyes and a smile on your face. Mont Tremblant, a couple of hours away, has some great opportunities for pup-pulled adventures. Of course, if you have your own dog and a harness, you can arrange your own skijoring expedition on the same trails.
Snowshoe up hill at Mont Orford, located east of Montreal, or at least around it. With 16 km of trails you’ll find short, simple loops for a quick walk, or longer, more strenuous hikes that will take you to nearly the top of the mountain. Snowshoeing in Quebec is very unstructured, and most areas with a flat surface allow trekkers to enjoy the space with no restrictions.
Cross-country skiing is also extremely popular, and even places like Morgan Arboretum invite skiers to enjoy the area as long as you respect the trails.
Winter surfing at Lawrencetown Beach is fun for the experienced surfer. Just because it’s freezing is no reason to stop your favourite sport; just plan for an evening in the hot tub at the end of the day to warm up.
Parks and golf courses are often open for snowshoers when the snow falls. Osprey Shores Golf Resort has plenty of rolling hills for easy treks, while Five Island’s Provincial Park has more wooded areas and unmarked trails.