It took me a long time to fall in love with our cold winters here in Southeastern Ontario. Now I actually look forward to them. What helped me embrace winter was getting outside and trying new things. Here’s a list of 12 winter activities in Ontario that might inspire you to do the same.
Many of these activities can be enjoyed throughout the province and throughout the country. That said, I’ve offered some suggestions on locations that I think you’ll really enjoy. Sometimes we just need a little inspiration to get out and try new things or rekindle our love with activities that we once found pleasure in.
If you’ve never tried ice skating before, there’s so many great places to start. If you live in the country’s capital, the Rideau River Skateway is the largest naturally frozen skating rink in the world! With a little practice, you’ll be jetting along the canal visiting various rest-stops where you can catch your breath, grab something to eat, and get warm by a fire.
Or maybe you’d prefer skating amongst the trees. At Arrowhead Provincial Park you can skate through the beautiful Muskoka forest. They even have “Fire and Ice” nights where the skating trail is lit with hundreds of torches giving it a magical and festive feel.
Woodview Mountaintop Skating also has skating through a forest trail. Choose this destination and you’ll be skating along the Niagara Escarpment. They too offer night skates with lit trails.
Snowshoeing / Winter Walks
If you love hiking, you will most certainly love snowshoeing. Algonquin Park has a number of snowshoe trails that you can explore. Plus, you’ll get to experience the park without peak season crowds or biting insects! You can rent snowshoes at the East and West Gates.
If you are looking for a snowshoe adventure with spectacular views, visit Kakabeka Falls or Ontario’s longest suspension bridge at Scenic Caves Nature Adventures. Kakabeka Falls is the second largest waterfall in Ontario and is gorgeous during the winter months. Snowshoeing at Scenic Caves Nature Adventures gets you a bird’s eye view of the Georgian Bay and surrounding old growth forest.
Explore Ice Caves
Lake Superior’s ice caves are on my winter bucket list this year! They made the New York Times list of 52 Places to Go in 2019. These beautiful caves are formed when the frigid waters of Lake Superior hit the shoreline. Because they are somewhat unpredictable (and threatened by climate change) it can be difficult to know when and where to find them. Consider hiring a local guide and make sure to be safe if you are venturing out on the ice.
If you are looking for extraordinary ice climbing in Ontario, nowhere beats Agawa Canyon. Agawa Canyon has some of the highest ice climbs in Eastern Canada – up to 200 meters in height. To get there you can take a train from Sault Ste. Marie to Agawa Canyon. These climbs are for intermediate and advance climbers.
If you are looking for beginner friendly ice climbs head to Muskoka. Liv Outside offers both beginner and intermediate ice climbing courses. Their guides are experienced and have training in wilderness first aid.
Winter Camping / Glamping
The camping season doesn’t have to end when winter hits. Many of Ontario’s parks are open to winter campers including: Algonquin, Silent Lake, Pinery, MacGregor Point, Frontenac, Arrowhead, Killarney, Windy Lake, and Sleeping Giant.
Never tried winter camping? Mountain Equipment Coop runs winter camping workshops that can help you get started. If this sounds too ambitious why not try renting a cabin, yurt, or winterized treehouse? Many parks offer cabin and yurt rentals and there are many winterized accommodations on Airbnb.
Learn to Identify Coniferous Trees
Take some time this season to identify your local coniferous trees. If you don’t have a field guide, there are lots of free online resources that can help. Check out the Ontario Tree Atlas and the Ontario Trees and Shrubs guide.
Cross Country Skiing
There are lots of groomed ski trails to explore in Ontario. An hour’s drive from Toronto, Albion Hills Conservation Area has 27 kilometres of trails. There are rentals on site and a heated chalet with a café to help you warm up and refuel.
Algonquin Park is also known for its trail networks that are beginner friendly. If you are looking for something more challenging, the Minnesing Wilderness Ski Trail is great for backcountry wilderness skiing. This ski trail is not groomed so experience is a must. You can even extend your ski trip by renting one of the cabins along this trail.
Ontario is an amazing location for ice fishing. Depending on the area, you can fish for sturgeon, pike, salmon, perch, trout, and bass. If you’ve never been ice fishing before, enlist a friend to show you the ropes. If that’s not possible, there are ice fishing tours which will guide you through the process. Many places offer rental packages which include ice huts and fishing equipment. Some ice hut rentals include stoves so that you can cook your catch on site.
For location suggestions, check out Rebekka Redd’s blog post “10 Must Try Ice Fishing Lakes in Ontario.”
Stargazing / Northern Lights
Take advantage of the long winter nights to try stargazing. Bring a camera, telescope, and download an app for your phone that will help you identify stars and constellations. You can observe the night sky in any location where there is little light pollution. But, for the best stargazing check out one of Ontario’s 6 dark sky preserves: Bruce Peninsula, Torrance Barrens, Point Pelee, North Frontenac, Lennox and Addington, and Gordon’s Park.
If you are looking to catch the northern lights, the Great Lakes region is a good place to go. Before heading out, check the weather forecast to make sure that cloud cover won’t be an issue.
While many birds have migrated to avoid the harsh winter months, Ontario has a number of non-migratory species. There are also guided bird watching tours to help you learn about the birds, their habitat, calls, and behaviours. The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority has a list of bird watching events for the upcoming months. If you live in the Ottawa area, you can see and feed chickadees and nuthatches in Ottawa’s Greenbelt.
Winter is the perfect time to spot owls because the tree leaves have fallen from deciduous trees making owls easier to spot. The best time to find owls is at dawn, dusk, or on a night where the moon is shining bright.
Whatever winter adventures you choose to go on, packing a picnic will make them even better. My winter picnic must haves include: a canister stove, pot for boiling water and heating food, a tarp, wool blanket, garbage bag, warm clothes, a thermos, drinks (hot chocolate, tea, apple cider, or coffee) and snacks (cold cuts, olives, cheese, crackers, fruit, granola, etc.). If you can, find an area that will allow you to have an outdoor fire which will keep you warm and cozy.
Winter Activities in Ontario
What are your favourite winter activities in Ontario and what are your favourite locations to do them? I’d love to hear about them! You can follow along on my winter adventures on Instagram at woodland.woman.