Canadian winters send many into hibernation. The cold temperatures and early nights make it hard to get outside. I should know, I spent many winters indoors, begrudging the snow and impatiently waiting the spring thaw. But, it’s possible to fall in love with winter! And research shows that getting outside can help fight the winter blues.1
Falling in love with winter is easier than you think. Likely, you were once enamoured with it and need only rekindle that love. As children, we celebrate the cold snowy months with snow forts, snowball fights, sledding, snowmen, and ice skating. Consider this post a gentle nudge to rediscover the joy of play or an opportunity to redefine the winter season in a way that’s meaningful to you. Who knows, maybe it’ll become one of your favourite seasons.
Easy and Budget Friendly Outdoor Activities
Take Your Coffee Outside
Let’s start with an easy routine shift. Just a few minutes of morning light and fresh air can feel rejuvenating. Fill a thermos, go for a walk outside, and savour a mindful moment, appreciating the sparkling snow and frosty air.
Starry Nighttime Snowshoe
Don’t let early nights stop your outdoor adventures. Strap on some snowshoes and head out for a hike under the starry sky. The crisp nighttime air will wake you after a long day at work.
Tips: Stay informed about upcoming astrological events with online celestial calendars. Check out in-the-sky.org which uses your location to calculate where objects will appear in the sky. You can also download phone apps that help you identify stars and constellations.
What to bring: headlamp, telescope, navigation equipment
A winter picnic is the perfect standalone activity or fun addition to a day full of winter activities. Pack warming foods and drinks like chilli, soup, mulled cider, or hot chocolate. These keep well in a thermos and, if needed, can be reheated over a fire or camp stove.
Did you enjoy building snow forts as a child? Try your hand at building an outdoor kitchen and lounge for your picnic!
Tips: Many national and provincial parks have campsites you can rent for a small fee. You don’t have to stay the night, but you can spend the day exploring the park and have a designated spot to build a campfire.
What to bring: insulated seating pad or weatherproof blanket, food, stove, warm base layers and waterproof shell
Feed the Birds
Feeding birds by hand is a magical experience and it gives them a nutrient boost to help stay healthy and warm in the cold months. In Ottawa, you can feed chickadees and nuthatches in the Greenbelt. In New Brunswick, you can feed them at Mapleton Park in Moncton and Gateway Wetlands in Oromocto.
Place bird feeders in your backyard to enjoy the company of winter birds like chickadees, nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, cardinals, and blue jays, all winter long.
Tips: A quick google search should reveal nearby locations where you can feed the birds by hand.
Nuthatches and chickadees love sunflower seeds. But, salted and flavoured varieties are bad for their health.
What to bring: bird seed, a camera, gloves, binoculars, and a little patience
Go Tobogganing, Build a Snowman, Have a Snowball Fight, Go Ice Skating or Skiing
Bring joy to the winter season by seeking out the activities that you loved as a kid. I promise, we’re never too old for play! Grab some friends and go see what fun you can make in the snow.
Tips: If you are new to ice skating or skiing, look for outdoor groups that provide free or low-cost lessons. This is a great way to meet new friends and learn a new skill.
What to Bring: Warm moisture wicking clothes and childlike playfulness
Every major city in Canada has a winter festival full of activities, food, and art. From Montreal’s Les Fêtes des Neiges to Ottawa’s Winterlude, Vancouver’s Aurora Winter Festival, and Halifax’s Evergreen Festival, each has its own unique vibe. Many smaller communities also put on events to help foster community and joy during the holidays. These festivities are usually free or low-cost. They’re great ways to get involved in your community and make the winter brighter.
Tips: Follow your community’s social media to learn of upcoming events.
The winter is an excellent time to learn about animal tracking. The snow preserves even the smallest tracks and provides other clues into animal movements. Grab a guidebook and visit a local park or nearby forest and take a look around – you might be surprised by what you find.
Tips: I recommend the book Tracking and the Art of Seeing by Paul Rezendes for learning about wildlife tracking.
What to Bring: guide book, tape measure, binoculars, camera
If You’re Feeling Adventurous
Go Winter Camping
Winter camping is gaining popularity for good reason. Winter is free of bugs and crowds, and cold weather camping can be as rugged or luxurious as you want. If you’re not sure where to start, your local outdoor retailer can help and may even provide winter camping workshops and rentals.
Tips: Sleeping outdoors in the winter puts you at greater risk for frostbite and hypothermia. It’s important to have a proper winter shelter, sleeping bag, sleep pad, and clothing.
Camping stoves and water filters may be affected by cold weather. In below zero temperatures, you may need to boil snow to purify water.
What to Bring: Along with your regular camping gear, you’ll need winter-graded sleeping bags, sleep pads, warm clothes, and a four season tent or hot tent
Build a Quinzee
A quinzee is a type of snow shelter made by hollowing out a pile of settled snow. Besides being an effective survival shelter in snowy conditions, they’re easy and fun to make!
To build a quinzee start by piling up a mound of snow (around 6 to 8 feet high). After letting the snow to settle for 90 minutes, you can begin digging into the mound to form an entrance and interior space. Find more detailed instructions from Scout Life Magazine.
Tips: If you plan to use your quinzee for winter camping, seek guidance from an experienced winter survival guide.
What to Bring: shovel, warm clothes
While getting outside is essential to enjoying the winter season, here are some ideas for those really cold winter days. You can start by creating a warm and cozy environment in your home by lighting some candles, hanging some evergreens, and bringing out books and board games.
If you’re an avid outdoors person, spend some time this winter expanding your knot tying skills. Here are my favourite knots for outdoor adventuring. They make setting up campsites super easy and always impress my camping buddies!
Spend a day at a Nordic spa! Nordic spas pair hot saunas, pools, and steam rooms with cold plunges. The contrast between hot and cold is believed to promote relaxation and well-being. For me, there’s something so enjoyable about soaking in a hot pool surrounded by a cold winter landscape.
Curl up with a Good Book
Unwind with a good book this winter! It’s a great way to slow down and transport yourself to another world.
Repair and Maintain Outdoor Equipment
Winter is a good time to repair and tend to outdoor gear. Inspect your tent for tears, seal any leaky seams, and reapply waterproofing. Ensure camping stove burners and nozzles are clean and check fuel lines for leaks. Replenish first aid kit supplies and throw out any expired medications. Wash outdoor clothing and reapply waterproofing.
Plan a Trip
Get out your maps and begin trip planning for the spring! Campsite reservations can open as early as January, so don’t miss your shot at those hard to get sites and coveted accommodations.
Plan a Garden
Now is a great time to pitch a pollinator garden to a local business, community organization, or faith group with some extra green space! Pollinator gardens are wonderful additions to barren landscapes and help preserve biodiversity.
I hope this blog post has inspired you to get outside and rediscover the joy of winter. For me, winter is a time to slow down and reflect, while simultaneously being an invitation to embrace playfulness and connect with community. Let me know what winter activities you enjoy in the comments section.
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1 Wirz-Justice, et. al. 1996. “‘Natural’ Light Treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder.” Journal of Affective Disorders.