What should be on your Ontario Winter bucket list?


The ultimate Ontario Winter bucket list

READ TIME: 11 minutes

Mountains, bustling cities, beaches, sparkling lakes and spectacular natural wonders are what you can expect from a holiday in Ontario. The province is home to some of Canada’s most famous attractions, from Niagara Falls to the country’s capital, Ottawa.

The capital of the province is Toronto which is Canada’s biggest city and is often regarded as Canada’s most exciting city. It has a plethora of sightseeing opportunities, attractions and museums.

It should come as no surprise that Ontario is the most populous province (around 40% of Canada’s population is estimated to live here) and why so many people book flights to Toronto in Canada every year. But whilst the province is a great place to visit all year round, it comes into its element during the winter months.

Stephanie Mayo, the founder of The World As I See It, is from Ontario and details her journey exploring her home. She told us a bit about why winter is such a special season in the province:

“Ontario is full of incredible attractions that should be visited during the winter months. From fun festivals like the Winter Festival of Lights in Niagara Falls to world-famous outdoor skating rinks like the Rideau Canal, Ontario’s winter attractions boast the true strength of the Canadian spirit.”

There are so many amazing and exciting things to do in Ontario in winter! To help you plan a winter break in the province, here at Canadian Affair we’ve used our insider knowledge to pick our favourite must-do activities.

Go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing

If you’re looking for a more serene activity to try instead of an adrenaline-packed winter sport, then cross-country skiing or snowshoeing is perfect for you.

Not only will you have a great opportunity to spot wildlife but there are now special trails that you can follow to take in the surrounding views. Some of these trails are fully-lit so you can do a bit of night-time snowshoeing or cross-country skiing if you wish.

As Ontario is such a vast and beautiful province, the trail options here are endless. One of the best is at Hardwood Ski and Bike, which boasts over 40km of rolling trails through pine forests. There are nine different loops that range from 3km in length to 22km for cross country skiers and dedicated snowshoe trails.

Louise Jackson, Marketing Manager at Hardwood Ski and Bike, tells us why the attraction has become one of the best places to visit in Ontario in winter.

“We offer a variety of experiences at Hardwood Ski and Bike. We have full cross-country skis and skate rentals available, 14 km of snowshoe trails, offer fat bike rentals and trails. We are also home to Ontario’s ultimate winter experience, The Moonlight Snowshoe Fondue. We also have a Nordic Ski Shoppe that is one of the best in the region.

“The snowshoe fondue is a magical evening experience that will leave you on a natural high. It is the perfect place to gather with friends so just get out and enjoy the fresh air of winter.

“Winter is truly magical and if you are in Canada you need to embrace it. Hardwood is a community and offers programmes and trails for all skill levels. You feel great and get to spend quality time with both friends and family. After your ski, snowshoe or winter bike ride, you have an overwhelming feeling of joy come over you. Being active in the winter is also good for your mental health.”

Chase frozen waterfalls

Frozen Niagara Falls

Ontario’s most famous waterfall is the mighty Niagara Falls, but the province is also home to hundreds of other waterfalls that come in all shapes and sizes.

During the winter months, waterfalls can be even more spectacular to see with leafless trees offering up clearer views for any budding photographers, while the icy scenes and ice formations are jaw-dropping.

Stephanie Mayo, from The World As I See It, tells us why she loves going in search of frozen waterfalls in Ontario:

“One of my favourite things to do in the winter is chase frozen waterfalls. Ontario is home to hundreds of waterfalls, and they are no less outstanding in the winter. Some are even more amazing with the masses of ice hanging precariously over with only a hint of running water within.

“Too many Canadians still fight winter by hibernating, even those who normally love spending time in the outdoors during more comfortable temperatures. But I encourage everyone to adapt the things they like to do outdoors in spring, summer or fall and find a winter alternative. Especially here in Ontario, there’s always something going on! Just get outdoors!”


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Attend the winter festivals

If you want to celebrate all things winter in Ontario, try to time your visit with one of the many winter festivals. They combine sports, culture, recreation and outdoor fun all in one place.

The festivals encourage you to get outside and fortunately, in the province, there are lots of celebrations you can join in on. Check out some of the best ones you should head to:

Winter Festival of Lights (November – January) – Canada’s largest illumination festival in Niagara Falls was founded over 35 years ago and now it attracts more than 1.5 million visitors.

Niagara Falls Icewine Festival (January) – Every year for three weekends the Niagara region turns into a winter wonderland as the region celebrates one of its most popular products: Ontario icewine. Here you can enjoy unique wine and food pairings, with over 40 wineries usually taking part.

Aurora Winter Festival (28 November 2019 – 5 January 2020) – This is Canada’s largest winter festival! You can escape to a hidden village with a beautiful skating rink, huge lights display, Christmas market, food gardens, amusement rides and enjoy lots of other activities right in the heart of Toronto at Ontario Place. A spokesperson from the festival tells us why you should visit, “What makes the festival so great is the depth to the experience. There are plenty of interactive activities including, ice skating, a tube park, and a number of amusement rides; as well as the brilliant displays within the Mystical Worlds, which feature magical characters, giant sculptures, and light installations.”

Feb Fest (1-28 February) – The annual winter celebration in downtown Kingston is full of winter fun such as ice sculptors and snow carving experts displaying their work. Ice skaters often perform, and hockey games take place during the festival. There are also lots of other winter-led activities you can enjoy during the event.

Winter in the Wild Festival (February) – Algonquin Provincial Park is a stunning area of forest and lakes just a few hours from Toronto. In winter, the Friends of Algonquin Park together with the government agency Ontario Parks celebrate the beauty region. The free-to-attend events include a guided winter bird walk, a wildlife snowshoe excursion, winter camping demonstrations and ice-skating sessions.

Frozen in Time Festival (December) – Ice sculpture exhibitions, special menus in downtown Collingwood’s cafes and restaurants, free ice skating at the Eddie Bush Memorial Arena and old-fashioned wagon rides are just some of the activities to expect at this festival.


Best Winter Festivals in Canada

Go dog sledding

Pull from Goh Iromoto on Vimeo.

An iconic winter-based activity you should definitely try during your holiday in Canada is dog sledding. It’s an adventure that’ll make you want to get outside on even the coldest days or nights.

Dog sledding is a great way to explore Ontario’s wilderness. Glide through the stunning landscape and listen to the silence of the forests, broken only by the sound of paws on snow. You’ll get to see the wilderness from a completely different angle and will be immersed in it.

There are lots of places across the province where you can go dog sledding and one of the most popular tour operators is Winterdance Dogsled Tours. Operating out of the Haliburton Highlands, alongside Algonquin Provincial Park, you’ll learn how to mush a dog team and explore the wilderness as part of a two-hour, half-day or full-day tour.

The dog sled tours from Winterdance run on 2,200 acres of private wilderness located between Haliburton Lake and Algonquin Provincial Park and this gives you the opportunity to explore a part of Ontario that few people get to see!

Go in search of the famous Northern Lights

Primetime to see the Northern Lights: September and October

Canada is one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights as a lot of the country is under or close to the auroral oval – the area near the pole where the lights are active. During the winter months, aurora hunting is one of the best things to do in Ontario.

The autumn and winter months from around November to March are the best times to see this phenomenal spectacle. Those incredible colours are caused when the sun’s electrically charged particles enter the atmosphere of the earth and collide with particles of oxygen and nitrogen gases.

To see the aurora borealis, you will need to be outside of Ontario’s towns and cities and in a place with little light pollution. Here are some places in Ontario which are great for seeing the Northern Lights:

•Manitoulin Island

•Lake Superior

•Moose River

Skate down the Rideau Canal

Each winter, Ottawa’s iconic Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, becomes the world’s largest skating rink.

The ‘skating rink’ runs cuts through the centre of Ottawa from downtown to Dows Lake, a total of 4.8 miles (over 7 kilometres). That’s roughly the size of 90 Olympic-sized hockey rinks! The skating season runs from January until early March and it is a popular activity amongst Ottawans and visitors with around 20,000 people estimated to visit the skateway every day during the winter months.

It is free and accessible seven days a week, 24-hours a day as lamps light the skateway at night-time and you can even enjoy heated changing rooms and washrooms during winter.

If you don’t have your own skates you can rent a pair from Capital Skates on the Skateway near the National Arts Centre or at Fifth Avenue as well as the Dows Lake Pavilion at the other end of the Rideau Canal.

Take a look at the below map to find out the current conditions of the canal by section:


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Relax in the hot springs at Scandinave Spa

The Scandinave Spa Blue Mountain lets you relax in the heart of nature and is just two hours away from Toronto.

Set in 25 acres of natural Ontario wilderness, you can enjoy unrivalled views of the UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve Niagara Escarpment.

During the winter you can relax and warm up in the different facilities at the spa such as the eucalyptus steam bath, the Finnish sauna, the infrared sauna and the various hot baths. You can also relax by the outdoor fireplaces. There’s nothing like soaking in a hot pool while the snow falls around you.

For those of you who want a refreshing cold rinse, you can enjoy the spa’s Nordic waterfall, cold showers, cold plunge baths or even a refreshing roll in the snow!

Where else in the world can you soak in warm baths and watch skiers carve down the slopes at the same time?

See it for yourself

Have you been inspired to go on a winter holiday in Ontario? Take a look at our various winter holidays to Canada including our special Ontario Winter & Wine holiday.

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