Winter in Ontario is long and cold, and with snow on the ground for nearly 6 months in the majority of the province, it can be easy to get cabin fever. But the reality is, Ontario winters can be a blast as long as you get outside. There is something to do in nearly every town, every weekend of the season! While it can be tempting to stay indoors this winter, try to motivate yourself to brave the cold and partake in some of these great Canadian experiences.
Things to do in Ontario this Winter
For adventure seekers, why not try climbing one of the 400 waterfalls in Ontario this winter. The most popular destinations for ice climbing near Toronto are Tiffany Falls in Hamilton, the Elora Gorge and the Muskokas. There’s no experience required to climb, so contact ONE AXE Pursuits, or Liv Outside to book your adventure today.
Experience the Canadian tradition of ice fishing this winter in Wawa, Ontario. Since 1991 the town has hosted one of the province’s biggest ice fishing derbies, giving away a whopping $140,000 in cash and prizes to the winners!
Ice Skating Trails
Named “one of the world’s most stunning natural rinks” by Travel + Leisure, the Arrowhead Ice Skating Trail is one of the most magical places to visit this winter in Ontario. Here, the 1.3 km trail winds through the picturesque Muskoka forest in a snowy winter wonderland. Other popular ice skating trails in the province include the Cranberry Ice Trail, the Blue Mountain Ice Skating Trail, and the Discovery Harbour Skate Trail.
Fat biking is one of the most up-and-coming winter activities in Ontario. A variation of the mountain bike, fat bikes are designed for off-roading on soft, snowy, and muddy terrain. Fat biking excursions are available at Horseshoe Resort in Barrie, Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville and Liv Outside in Bracebridge just to name a few. For cyclists looking to get out on their own this winter, check out these amazing fat biking trails in Ontario.
Snow tubing is one of the easiest and most fun things to do this winter in Ontario. Similar to tobogganing, snow tubing involves riding an inner tube down a series of chutes. Luckily, there are lifts so you can avoid trekking uphill after each run. The best places to go snow tubing in Ontario are Snow Valley in Barrie which offers 14 chutes at over 10 stories high, Arrowhead Provincial Park in Huntsville which has a cozy open fire pit at the top of the hill and Chicopee Tube Park in Kitchener, a massive snow tubing facility home to an impressive log chalet that houses both a café and a licenced lounge.
During the winter there is over 30000 km of scenic snowmobile routes to explore in Ontario. The Haliburton Forest, in particular, has an impressive 300 km trail system which has been deemed “one of the top 10 snowmobiling destinations in North America by Snowmobiler.com.
Snowshoeing is exceptionally popular in Ontario during the winter. It takes minimal equipment, virtually zero skills and also gives a great physical workout. Notable trails include those at the Frontenac Provincial Park and the Scenic Caves in Collingwood. If you are looking for trails with snowshoe rentals on-site, check out Arrowhead, Frontenac, Pinery, Wasaga Beach, Windy Lake, and Killarney Provincial Parks.
Cross Country Skiing
Sometimes called Nordic skiing, cross country skiing is a popular winter activity in Ontario. The province boasts thousands of kilometres of trails, many of which are located within provincial parks, conservation areas and resorts. Some of the best places in Ontario for cross country skiing are Algonquin Provincial Park, Arrowhead Provincial Park and the Muskokas. Many trails are groomed making them ideal for beginners, while some trails require more skill due to their setting in the beautiful backcountry wilderness.
With close to 60 ski resorts, Ontario is the perfect place to hit the slopes this winter. The biggest ski hill in the province is located near Ottawa at Calabogie Peaks, while Blue Mountain near Collingwood has the most runs.
Dog sledding is one of the signature Canadian experiences to have in Ontario this winter. Most popular in the northern part of the province, dog sledding tours take visitors on a spectacular ride through the winter wilderness. As a rule, sled dog owners are very responsible, treating the animals with the utmost love and respect.
Once the water freezes in winter, Ontario pond hockey season begins. While it might be a chilly experience, pond hockey is a favourite pastime amongst Canadians everywhere. There are many tournaments held across the province, the best ones being Pondimonium in Haliburton and On the Pond Canada in Gravenhurst.
Polar Bear Dip
Popular all over Ontario, polar bear dips involve taking a plunge into an icy lake in the depths of winter. While they aren’t for everyone, these events are held for a good cause, encouraging participants to raise money for various charitable organizations.
Taking a winter sleigh ride is one of the most memorable ways to experience the beauty of the snow-covered Ontario countryside. Popular places to go for sleigh rides include St. Jacobs Horse Drawn Tours in Waterloo and the Mountsberg Conservation Area in Campbellville.
Rideau Canal Skateway
Rideau Canal, at the heart of the nation’s capital, is not only a UNESCO Heritage Site but also the world’s largest naturally frozen skating rink in the wintertime. Stretching for 7.8km, the canal runs from downtown Ottawa to Dow’s Lake. Skating is free on the canal and visitors can also rent skates on-site.
Winter in Ontario isn’t complete without a visit to Ottawa’s Winterlude Festival. Held annually each February, the event involves mostly free activities including concerts, ice sculpture displays, and a giant winter playground.
New Year’s Eve at Parliament Hill
Watch the fireworks light up the sky this New Year’s Eve at Parliament Hill in Ottawa. A great place to ring in the new year, Parliament Hill is the centre of all the action including performers, live music and free public skating.
Christmas Lights Across Canada
Every year during Christmas Lights Across Canada, Ottawa is transformed into a stunning winter wonderland. Held from early December to early January each year, hundreds of thousands of dazzling lights illuminate Canada’s capital. The best places to see the lights in Ottawa are Confederation Boulevard, the National War Memorial, and the Alexandra Bridge. There is also a nightly multimedia show at Parliament Hill which shouldn’t be missed.
North Adventure Inn Igloo Stay
For a memorable, yet stereotypical, Canadian experience this winter, trek up to Cochrane in northern Ontario and spend the night in an igloo. Completely decked out, igloos are made of snow and feature kitchenettes, sofa beds, full baths as well as TV and WiFi. The hotel also has a restaurant and bar, a driving range, a sauna and outdoor hot tub, plus access to snowmobiling trails.
Despite the province’s southerly location in Canada, it’s still possible to experience the Northern Lights in Ontario each winter. Closest to Toronto is the Torrance Barrens Dark-Sky Preserve which heightens the intensity of the Northern Lights due to the strong geomagnetic activity in the area, while the Cree Village Ecolodge in Moosonee is the most remote place to see the Northern Lights. Other popular locations for spotting the Northern Lights include Manitoulin Island, the northern shores of Lake Superior and northern Algonquin Park.
Niagara Helicopter Tour
One of the best ways to appreciate Niagara Falls in the wintertime is from above. A once-in-a-lifetime experience with Niagara Helicopter Tours, visitors are taken on a 12-minute flight along the Niagara River, over the whirlpool rapids, past the American Falls and then around the Horseshoe Falls.
Ontario Power Generation Winter Festival of Lights
The Ontario Power Generation Winter Festival of Lights in Niagara Falls is the largest festival of lights in Canada. Attracting more than one million visitors annually, there are 3 million lights on display over 8 km along the Niagara Parkway, the Dufferin Islands and Niagara Falls. The event runs from mid-November through mid-January and coincides with the fireworks and nightly illumination displays. Check out their website for more details.
See Canada’s Wonderland as you’ve never seen it before at WinterFest, Ontario’s newest winter festival. Magically transformed into a winter wonderland, there are more than five million holiday lights, 200,000 festive decorations, and 800 live trees on display. WinterFest is divided into eight worlds including Tinsel Town, Elf Village, and Candy Cane Lane and offers interactive holiday activities, live entertainment and ice skating for the whole family. WinterFest 2019 runs on select nights from November 22 to December 31. Check out their website for more details.
Alight at Night Festival
Alight at Night is the largest outdoor light festival in eastern Ontario with nearly one million lights that create an enchanting winter wonderland. Held at the historic Upper Canada Village, the festival is truly a one-of-a-kind experience. Activities on-site include horse-drawn carriages and wagons, a life-size toy train, and a vintage carousel. There is also carolling, festive dining, and even Santa Claus himself!
Located not far from Collingwood is the Scandinave Spa, one of the most relaxing places to visit in Ontario this winter. Providing the ultimate bath experience, they are known for their stunning thermal and nordic waterfalls, hot baths and cold plunges. Although the Scandinave Spa often reaches capacity during the winter, they provide updates about the waitlist on their Twitter Feed (@Scandinaveblue).
Festival of Northern Lights
The Owen Sound Festival of Northern Lights is one of the most magical lighting displays in Ontario this winter. Taking place from mid-November to early January, there are more than 25km of lights and close to 400 displays that illuminate the banks of the Sydenham River, Harrison Park, the harbour and the downtown core. The festival also features lots of special events including fireworks and performances.
The Polar Express Train
Depending on your age, you may or may not be familiar with the childhood tale The Polar Express; the story of a boy on a magical train trip to the North Pole. Completely recreated on the Waterloo Central Railways Polar Express Train ride, passengers read along with the book and indulge in seasonal treats while making the one-hour round trip journey to the North Pole.
Casa Loma’s A Nutcracker Christmas
For a magical experience this winter, head to Casa Loma during A Nutcracker Christmas at the Castle. Perfect for the whole family, there is a wide range of activities such as carolling and festive arts and crafts as well as performances like magic shows and ice skating shows. Santa is even there in his castle workshop!
Bon Soo Winter Carnival
Taking place in Sault Ste. Marie, the Bon Soo Winter Carnival is the largest winter carnival in Northern Ontario. Fantastic for the whole family, carnival events include pancake breakfasts, live music, dog pull shows, bonspiels and fireworks. 2020’s Bon Soo Winter Carnival begins January 31st and ends February 9th, check it out while you can!
All over Ontario, there are charming Christmas Markets guaranteed to get you into the holiday spirit this winter. The Toronto Christmas Market is especially impressive featuring live entertainment, beer gardens, vendors and one of the city’s tallest real Christmas trees.
The weather in Ontario is always freezing during the winter, so consider getting cozy with your loved one on a romantic getaway to Prince Edward County. Located between Toronto and Ottawa, this up-and-coming tourist destination has something for everyone. Things to check out include beautiful scenery, art galleries, exceptional restaurants, and some of the 40+ wineries and breweries.
A Canadian winter wouldn’t be the same without a stop at Timmies. Canadian slang for Tim Hortons, Timmies is Canada’s most iconic coffee shop. Founded by former NHL player Tim Horton, it’s Canada’s largest quick-service restaurant chain with more than 4800 restaurants in 14 countries.
Maple Syrup Farms
The tail end of winter means the beginning of the maple syrup season in Ontario. At this time, farms open their Sugar Shacks inviting visitors to tour the sugarbushes and learn about maple syrup production. Many farms also participate in annual maple festivals. These usually involve pancake breakfasts, wagon rides, maple treats, and other activities for the whole family.
Related Post: Quinte Area Maple Sugar Bushes
Seasonal Craft Beer
If you’re looking to try something new this winter, take a road trip to some of the best craft breweries in Ontario. Immersing you in the holiday spirit, many of these breweries produce seasonal beers that warm you from the inside out. Noteworthy seasonal beers include Yuletide Cherry Porter from Barley Days, one of the fantastic Prince Edward County breweries and Tannenbomb Imperial Wit from Stone City Ales in Kingston.
What Signature Canadian Experiences are you planning to have in Ontario this Winter? Fill me in by commenting below.
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