As a blanket of snow envelopes our backyard and the pond freezes over, I am starting to plan our winter excursions for the coming weeks. I love the season leading up to Christmas. The streets are lit and decorated, the shops are abuzz with holiday music and the kids are heading outside to play. As adults, we love to play in the snow too! Ontario may not have the Rocky Mountains of Alberta or the iconic ski resorts of British Columbia, but we do know how to make the most of the great outdoors.
If you are looking for something different to do this weekend, check out our list of the greatest things to do in winter in Ontario.
Winter in Ontario, Canada
Before you plan an adventure in winter in Ontario read these tips for staying warm:
Snowboard or Ski Blue Mountain
Our favorite Ontario winter destination is Blue Mountain in Collingwood. We’ve been going to Blue Mountain for more than a decade. When we lived up north near Barrie, we had a seasons pass and went snowboarding every chance we had. Blue Mountain is Ontario’s premier ski resort with 365 acres of skiable terrain. There are 3 terrain parks, glade runs, and some steep and fun black diamond runs. At 220 vertical meters, it’s not too shabby by Ontario standards.
Spend the day on the slopes and then book a room in Blue Mountain village to relax at night. There are plenty of restaurants, shops, and cafés, and during the winter months, there’s plenty of events and festivals. We love staying at Mosaic Boutique Suites to enjoy their outdoor hot tub, sauna, and year-round outdoor pool right in the heart of Blue Mountain Village. Read more: Things to do in Blue Mountain and Collingwood
Scandinave Spa Blue Mountain
When in Blue Mountain, make your way to the Scandinave Spa. This beautiful oasis in the woods is the perfect place to soothe your aching muscles after a day on the trails. There is nothing better than sitting in giant hot tubs as the snow falls around you. With hydrotherapy circuits, outdoor fireplaces, and Muskoka chairs overlooking the UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve Niagara Escarpment, it is a little slice of tranquility in the forest. Another excellent place to stay at Blue Mountain is The Westin Trillium House Blue Mountain.
Skate the Rideau Canal
It’s the bucket list item for anyone traveling to Canada in winter and it is located right here in Ontario. The Rideau Canal is the world’s largest skating rink and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. When the temperature dips below zero, the water freezes, and the Rideau Canal waterway is transformed into a skating rink. Read more: 20 Adventurous and fun Things to do in Winter in Canada
We suggest staying at The Westin Ottawa, which is located right in the heart of Ottawa directly across from the Rideau Skateway. The Rideau Canal Skateway winds its way through the city for 7.8 kilometers. The ice is flooded and maintained throughout the winter and there are warming stations and huts selling maple syrup, hot chocolate, and Beavertails along the way!
Speaking of the Rideau Canal, the best time to skate on it is during Winterlude. Winterlude is a 3-week long winter festival that takes place in Ottawa. Canada’s capital city comes alive with festivities from ice sculpture competitions, nightly entertainment, festive lights, and activities. We suggest staying at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier for Winterlude. It is truly magical.
Across the river in Gatineau Quebec, the winter park is in full swing with snow tubing, zip-lining, and giant works of ice art. Plus don’t forget the dragon boat races on the frozen Dows Lake. Read more: Winterlude Itinerary – The Ultimate Guide to Ottawa
If you want to go dogsledding in Ontario, one of the premier places to go is to Winterdance in Haliburton. Hank DeBruin is an Iditarod and Yukon Quest finisher with his all-husky team. He’s Canada’s answer to Lance Mackey. He and his wife Tanya run Winterdance with love and respect for their family of dogs. Read more: Dogsledding Ontario – Your Ticket to Adventure in Canada
It’s an entire family-run operation with their sons involved as well. We’ve done a couple of dogsled tours with them and they have half-day and full-day tours into the Ontario wilderness. You can also book a cozy winter cottage with them and stay the week! Check tours, rates, and lodging at their website. Also read: The Misconceptions of Dogsledding
Skate The Ice Trail in Arrowhead Provincial Park
If you can’t make it to Ottawa this winter, another amazing place to go skating outdoors is along the Ice Trail in Arrowhead Provincial Park. The 1.3 km long ice trail weaves through the Muskoka Forest. What is amazing about skating the Muskoka Ice Trail is that you can spend the day enjoying outdoor fun in Arrowhead. There’s snow tubing and cross country skiing at Arrowhead as well. When visiting Muskoka in winter, stay at Cedar Lodge for a romantic escape or at Deerhurst Resort for a fun for the whole family resort feel.
Speaking of Snowtubing, the best place that we have been snow tubing is at Snow Valley in Barrie, Ontario. It has 14 snow tubing chutes that are fast and furious. Stand on the magic carpet, hop on the tube and let gravity do the work. We always like to joke that snow tubing is the ultimate couch potato thrill ride. Read more: Things to do in Muskoka in Winter
There are plenty of places to go Snowtubing in Ontario, Horseshoe Resort has the longest tube hill in Ontario, Boler Mountain in London has a snow tubing park. My old ski hill as a kid, Chicopee Ski Hill and Tub Park in Kitchener, and even Blue Mountain has a snow tubing park.
Snowshoeing in Algonquin Park
When deciding where to go snowshoeing in Ontario, the sky is the limit. Just find a provincial park or a conservation area, strap on some snowshoes. You can buy them at Costco, Walmart or on Amazon here and head to the woods. But we like to suggest Algonquin Park with Algonquin Outfitters. Algonquin Outfitters rents all the gear you need to snowshoe or cross country ski in the park and surrounding areas and can give you maps and recommendations on where to go.
Take A romantic Sleigh Ride
If you are looking for something a little less physical for winter in Ontario, book a romantic sleigh ride with the one you love. Or take the whole family! Back of Beyond Equine Centre in Muskoka offers slight rides where you can book private winter sleigh rides with a campfire through a magical winter wonderland. You then end at a campfire where you’ll sip hot chocolate while enjoying the great outdoors. They also offer family rides to see Santa! Check sleigh ride tours here.
When in Muskoka stay at Cedar Grove Lodge for a romantic retreat or head to Deerhurst Resort for the whole family. Other places to take a sleigh ride in Ontario are St. Jacobs Horse Drawn tours north of Waterloo,
See the Frozen Niagara Falls Waterfalls
Niagara Falls is Ontario’s premier attraction in the summer, but visiting Niagara in the heart of winter is truly magical. When the temperature freezes for days in a row, the mighty Horseshoe Falls freeze over making for huge ice formations. Spend the night at the Marriott Fallsview Resort and hit the casino to stay warm and dry. Read next: Snowshoeing Wine Tour Niagara Falls
When you stay at the Marriott Fallsview, Hilton Niagara Falls, or Raddison Hotel and Suites book a Fallsview room so you can take in the beautiful views all night long. Eat at the Keg for the best views of Niagara Falls. Read more: Romance in Niagara Falls, Ontario’s Best Weekend Getaway
Speaking of frozen waterfalls, Ontario is filled with waterfalls and our friend Katheryn of KatherynEverywhere love to chase waterfalls. Hamilton is the waterfall capital of the world! Located on the Niagara Escarpment, the city of Hamilton has 100 waterfalls within its city limits. These waterfalls are surprising. Some of the best waterfalls to see frozen in the Hamilton region are Tiffany Falls, Webster Falls, Tews Falls, and Albion Falls. When exploring waterfalls around Hamilton, stay at the Pearl in Burlington.
Niagara Ice Wine Festival
If you are planning on going to see Niagara Falls when it is frozen, why not time it with the Niagara Ice Wine Festival? The Niagara Ice Wine Festival is a two-week festival that happens in the latter half of January. Before you go, get yourself the Niagara Icewine Discovery Pass to explore the wine route, Niagara on the Lake’s Ice Wine Village, and Jordan Village’s Winter Winefest. Ontario’s ice wine is world-renowned and this is a wonderful weekend getaway in the heart of winter. Read more: 15 Amazing Things to do in Niagara on the Lake – Canada
Go Ice Climbing
If you want to up the adrenaline factor, go ice climbing on waterfalls. This isn’t an adventure to do if you don’t have experience, so make sure to hire a company and guide to take you to a frozen waterfall and try your hand at climbing. There is ice climbing in Muskoka and Haliburton, Elora Gorge, Lake Superior, and Sault St. Marie.
Companies to check out for ice climbing are Superior Exploration in Lake Superior’s Batchawana Bay, LivOutside in Muskoka, and Haliburton and One Axe Pursuits for ice climbing in Elora. See our Ice Climbing in Banff – The Ultimate Winter Adventure
Our friend Chris of Road Trip Ontario when Ice Fishing in Port Perry. Read more of his Ice Fishing adventure here. I love what he says about Canadians in winter on our Crazy Canucks in Winter video ” Canadians like to take summer outdoor activities and turn them into winter activities. Why not right?
Ice fishing is an Ontario tradition. Normally, everyone I know packs a cooler of beer and bundles up to go sit in an ice hut on a frozen lake to catch some fish. While Chris went to Port Perry, there are countless places to go ice fishing in Ontario including Lake Simcoe
Hit the Snowmobile Trails
Snowmobiling is as Canadian as maple syrup and hitting the trails is one of our favourite pastimes in the winter. Muskoka is one of the best places to go snowmobiling. When you head up north in Ontario, you can be sure to have good snow and groomed trails. We’ve rented snowmobiles to explore Haliburton Forest and Muskoka. Muskoka has 1600 kms of OFSC trails with loops that you can explore including the Muskoka Magic Loop, Lake of Bays Watch and the Round Algonquin Park Tour. Haliburton Highlands and Muskoka really do have some of the best snowmobiling trails with easy rental options. We booked with Backcountry Tours.
Lake Superior Ice Caves
Exploring the Lake Superior Ice Caves is another Ontario winter adventure that should not be done without experience. Dave and I always recommend hiring a guide to do adventures and this one-of-a-kind experience is best suited on a tour. This experience also doesn’t happen every winter. But on rare occasions like a polar vortex, the Lake freezes over and as the waves bash against the shore, ice caves are formed as the temperature plummets. As the water keeps moving and the temperature keeps dropping, ice caves filled with Stalactites and Stalagmites are formed. you by snowmobile to ice caves with
Go Fat Biking
Fat Biking is so much fun! Fat biking is a lot like mountain biking, but instead of biking on rocky and muddy terrain, you bike on snow! You can fat bike anywhere in Ontario really. Just find a bike trail and go. But chances are you don’t own a fat bike, and chances are you won’t want to ride all winter long, so instead search for fat biking trails and rentals. Some of the best fat biking trails are also the best mountain biking trails. Here are a few of our recommendations. Hardwood Hills near Barrie, Albion Hills north of Toronto, Horseshoe Resort also near Barrie, Highlands Nordic in Collingwood, and Bracebridge.
Go on a Winter Trek
If you want to do something extreme this winter, join one of the History Channel’s final 3 survivors of “Alone” on a winter Trek. Kielyn and Dave Marrone are Ontario’s premier winter adventure couple and Kielyn rose to fame surviving nearly 100 days in the winter wilderness all alone. Join them on a trek and see what you are made of. We did a 10 day trip with them on the Missinaibi and it was grueling and life-changing all at once. You don’t have to do 10 days though, check out their website to see what this right for you. Read about our experience at Expeditions are Glamorous in Retrospect
Stay in a Yurt
If that sounds like too much, spend a night in a yurt instead. Before Dave and I decided on traveling full time as our career, we were thinking of purchasing a yurt and living in the woods. Strange, but true. Ontario Parks has plenty of winter camping where you can see what you are made of staying outside in winter. We have stayed in a Yurt with Lure of the North and we stayed in a Yurt in Mongolia. It’s awesome!
There are yurts available in several Ontario parks including Algonquin Park, Killarney, McGregor Point, and the Pinery Provincial Park. This is a great way to explore winter in Ontario. You can go snowshoeing, fat biking, or hiking all day and then head back to your cozy yurt at night. Check Ontario Parks for details. Read about our experience with Lure of the North A Day in the Life – An Extreme Winter Expedition
So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. The best things to do in Ontario in Winter. The past two years have been up in the air for travel, but that doesn’t mean you can’t explore your own backyard. Winter can be fun! All you need to do is dress for it, try something new and have an open mind for a sense of adventure.