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Come winter time in Canada, storms sweep the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, snow blankets everything in between, and the heat gets turned up, way up, inside. All of which has given rise to a refreshing roster of distinctly Canadian cool-season escapes.
If you haven't ever considered travelling during the winter, you just might find yourself packing after reading this list of must-do wintertime getaways.
Kick it up on the slopes
Among the most exhilarating things to do in Canada during winter, skiing and snowboarding promise crisp fresh air, sparkling mountain vistas, and heaps of the country’s signature fresh powder snow. Resorts big and small dot the land (there’s even one on the prairies), serving up easy-to-epic runs, often with dining, après-ski, and accommodations on the side.
British Columbia alone is home to thirteen major resorts. Carve through one of North America’s biggest snowfalls (11 metres annually) at Mt. Washington Alpine Resort, a 1.5-hour drive north of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island; make tracks down one or all of the eight winter playgrounds along Kootenay Rockies’ fabled Powder Highway; or dip into the Alpine Fondue & Starlight Descent at Sun Peaks Resort – this National Geographic Best Winter Trip 2019 is just an hour’s drive northeast of the riverside city of Kamloops.
Next door in the Rocky Mountain-bordered province of Alberta, one ticket lands you on the slopes at three ski and board destinations: Lake Louise Ski Resort with 1,700 hectares of varied terrain, Banff Sunshine Village with its seven-month-long season, and Banff Norquay, home to Canada’s longest consecutively running annual ski race. A half-hour drive south of the laidback Alberta mountain town of Jasper, Marmot Basin boasts Canada’s highest elevation base (1,690 metres) and North America’s most affordable amenities.
On the other side of the country, Tremblant tempts with 102 runs, the Le Nomade on-mountain mobile canteen, and a European-style pedestrian village 145 kilometres northwest of Montréal, Québec.
Wind down at a spa or hot spring
Canada in the winter means snow-dusted trees and glistening icicles – best viewed from the warm surrounds of a spa or hot spring.
In British Columbia, sink into a stone-lined mineral pool and soothing treatments at Parksville’s Grotto Spa at Tigh-Na-Mara, a two-hour-drive north of Victoria and number one on Spas of America’s Top 50 Canada Spas list. Soak in a natural horseshoe-shaped cave and outdoor pool at Ktunaxa Indigenous-owned Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort in the Kootenay Rockies. Or sit a spell at these other go-to B.C. hot springs.
Voted Best Spa in the annual Best of Calgary awards, the Riverside Spa along Alberta’s Bow River beckons with a eucalyptus steam room, Swiss raindrop showers and dimly lit fireside lounge.
Heading east, bob in Manitou Springs Resort and Mineral Spa’s famously buoyant waters in Manitou Beach, Saskatchewan; or indulge in Elkhorn Resort’s Solstice Spa treatments and pool in central Manitoba’s boreal forest– come back in late 2020 when the new Elkhorn Nordic Spa opens with a temperate pool, cold plunge, and relaxation pavilion. Can’t wait? Some 30 of Québec’s 200-plus spas already offer Scandinavian-style amenities, including Strom Spa Nordique's hot-and-cold thermal experience.
Make it an offbeat adventure
Better known for its seafood and iceberg-spotting, Atlantic Canada also serves up a variety of novel winter activities. Gape at central Newfoundland and Labrador's snowdrift-laden landscape of Gaff Topsails on a Hodges Hill Snowmobile Tour, then tuck into an open-concept chalet with river view for the night. Give fat biking a go in New Brunswick’s Kouchibouguac National Park, where groomed trails wind through a mixed-wood Acadian forest. Meanwhile, snowshoeing, an infrared sauna for two, Qi Gong sessions and a cedar-scented Mongolian yurt are all part of the Snow Much Fun Package at Cabot Shores, at the start of Nova Scotia’s 298-kilometre Cabot Trail. While the whole clan can go tubing, outdoor skating or cross-country skiing at Prince Edward Island’s family-friendly Mill River resort, a 1.5-hour drive up island from the historic capital of Charlottetown.
Up north, hop aboard one of the most quintessential winter vacations in Canada: dogsledding. Make like a musher on Into the Wild Adventures’ multi-day dogsledding excursion, where you’ll drive your own sled dog team through a Yukon landscape of deep valleys, canyons and mountains. Or simply watch how it’s done by catching part of the legendary Yukon Quest International Dog Sled Race, running from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Whitehorse, Yukon, every February. Ease into the sport on Arctic Chalet Resort & Adventure Tours’ 2.5-hour Fabulous Fun Run in the Northwest Territories. Or cross snow-covered tundra or frozen ocean on Inukpak Outfitting’s half-, full- and multi-day dogsledding trips in Nunavut.
Chill in the city
Head into one of Canada’s diverse cities and experience the warmth of the season.
Grab yourself a hot chocolate from a local cafe and wander down streets adorned with twinkle lights. Browse storefront holiday displays and then pop inside to shop and support local boutiques. After shopping refuel at world-class restaurants to sample some of the best food in Canada.
Next up, strap on some skates and glide on to any of Canada’s iconic ice outdoor ice rinks. Choose from the world’s largest, or longest and look for ones that feature amped-up entertainment like local DJs. Ottawa’s picture-perfect Rideau Canal offers nearly eight kilometres of skating along the naturally frozen canal, usually open January to March. Downtown Winnipeg is home to the ten-kilometre stretch skirting two rivers, the Assiniboine and Red, stopping in at the artsy warming huts designed by global talents. And easy does it at Montreal's Bonsecours Basin in charming Old Montreal. Glide along with a view over the St. Lawrence River and listen to some of Montreal's best music on Thursday nights.
Set your sights on the Northern Lights
When it comes to classic winter vacations in Canada, viewing the aurora borealis is, well, up there. Also known as the Northern Lights, this natural phenomenon occurs when the sun’s electrically charged particles collide with gases upon entering the earth’s atmosphere. The resulting display of colourful dancing lights on clear, cold nights continues to draw travellers from around the world to Canada’s north.
The aurora borealis’ constantly changing appearance is now matched by the many ways to see it. Spy the light show from the cozy comfort of a private glass chalet at Northern Lights Resort & Spa in the Yukon or from teepee village after a gourmet three-course meal at the Aurora Dining Experience in the Northwest Territories (currently under review for the Winter 2020/21 season) or plexiglass bubble called an Aurora Dome 20 minutes away from the northern Manitoba town of Churchill.
Now it's time to plan your winter escape to Canada with this list of top five getaway ideas.