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The 5 Best Canadian Winter Outdoor Adventures This Year
Explore and appreciate the true beauty of Canada’s northern wilderness this winter. Glide across sheer white trails with cross country skis, make your mark in snowshoes or for those with the need for speed, downhill ski on the most picturesque mountains in the world.
Here are Canada’s top five destinations with over 50 ways to enjoy winter on unique trails, at seasonal attractions or at festivals and resorts.
1) Canada’s First National Park, Banff
In the heart of Canada’s majestic rocky mountains, UNESCO World Heritage site Banff National Park offers every winter adventure and luxury possible, including skiing at nearby Mount Norquay and natural hot springs.
Although occasionally you may have to share the roads with an elk or two dropping in from the surrounding forest, the charming town of Banff features unique shops and a wide variety of restaurants. A total of 56 mammal species have been recorded in the park including grizzly and black bears in the forested regions, as well as cougars, lynx, elk, mule deer and moose. In the alpine regions viewing mountain goats, bighorn sheep, marmots and pika is quite common.
Banff National Park also has numerous large glaciers and icefields, many of which are easily accessed from the Icefields Parkway. The park spans three ecoregions, including montane, subalpine, and alpine. The subalpine ecoregion, which consists mainly of dense forest, comprises 53% of Banff’s area.
This year Banff National Park is hosting it’s 3rd annual Snow Days events from January 10th to February 9th. The Canadian Olympic Team Block Party kicks things off on January 11th, the Ice Magic Festival runs January 17 – 19 and the first ever MEC Ice Climbing Festival will be hosted from January 31-February 2. Ongoing activities such as skating, skiing, snowshoeing, dog sledding, geocaching and sleigh rides last the season long.
2) Calling all Nature Lovers to Collingwood
Renown as home to Ontario’s largest downhill skiing resort, Blue Mountain Resort, Collingwood also offers adventure in nature on cross country-skis and snowshoes.
Take in great sites at great heights along Ontario’s largest suspension footbridge at Scenic Caves Nordic Centre, with a breath-taking 10,000 square km view of Georgian Bay and the surrounding Niagara escarpment area. The Centre also hosts 8 kms of snowshoe trails and 27 kms of professionally groomed cross-country trails suitable for both classic Nordic skiing and skate skiing.
Après ski, warm up and experience Collingwood’s most unique spa experience – Scandinave Spa. The Scandinavian baths are renowned for their ability to cleanse the skin and provide a sense of well-being. Relax in the Finnish sauna, Norwegian steam bath, thermal & Nordic waterfall, as well as hot baths & cold plunges. The serenity of the Solaria, relaxation areas and outdoor fireplaces make each visit a memorable one. A word of advice to day trippers – plan a visit Monday or Tuesday during peak season to avoid wait time. The number of guests granted access to the baths at a time is limited to ensure a soothing, restorative relaxation experience.
If you’re seeking a little solitude for romance or with family close to Collingwood, consider a visit to agro-tourism destination The Pretty River Valley Country Inn. One of Ontario’s Finest Inns this little jewel of a rustic, upscale country inn is perched on 125 acres of the Niagara Escarpment (UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve) and overlooks the Pretty River Provincial Park. Choose from 11 unique rooms which cater to all comforts including indoor and outdoor hot tubs, full fitness centre, heli-pad, hiking trails and full-country breakfast (vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free friendly). This organic farm is also home to reindeer, Icelandic, Minis & Percheron horses and offers horseback riding.
3) Find Your Winter Bliss in Vancouver
Winter bliss is abound in one of Canada’s warmest cities, Vancouver. At an average of 3.9 ˚c during December, January and February touring the downtown peninsula, or the rainforest, mountains and fjords of Northshore may be seasonally brisk but always comfortable. As Canada’s largest Western Canadian city it truly offers the best of both indoor and outdoor winter adventure, arts and entertainment.
Winter sport enthusiasts can explore any one of three spectacular snowy mountain settings within an hours reach: Mount Seymour, Grouse Mountain and Cypress Mountain. Grouse Mountain, located just 20 minutes north of downtown Vancouver offers skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing and a winter wonderland of events and activities, including outdoor ice skating, and sleigh rides. Snowshoe enthusiasts can test their skills and compete at the Grouse Mountain Grind, February 9th.
Ice can be so nice. Free outdoor ice skating at Robson Square has become one of Vancouver’s most popular winter activities, after reopening for the 2010 Winter Olympics. Glide from November 15, 2013 to February 28, 2014.
Indoor enthusiasts can experience a glimpse of the aquatic at Luminescence at Vancouver Aquarium until January 22, 2014. Granville Island chases away the winter blues with a warming roster of live music, theatre and family-friendly events in late February with Winterruption. Granville’s Island’s public market also offers a mix of colourful stalls, showcasing unique homemade products and freshly made, taste tempting foods. Year-round visit the Beaty Biodiveristy Museum or the Museum of Anthropology.
4) Wowing Winter Nights in Natural Niagara
Winter’s kiss of ice and a blanket covering of snow gives Niagara Falls natural beauty an air of the ethereal. In the evening, light shows illuminate ice and water for a sparkling dance of light. The Winter Festival of Lights runs from late November to early January, featuring breathtaking light displays and outdoor entertainment against the glowing backdrop of the Falls. Winter fireworks light up the night Fridays: December 6, 13 & 20, Saturdays: December 21 to Saturday, December 28 except for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and on Fridays: January 3, 10, 17, 24 & 31. All performances start at 9:00 pm unless otherwise noted.
For birding enthusiasts November and December are the months to visit, when thousands of gulls and terns pass through around the falls and rapids. Close to 100 different varieties of water birds have been recorded and viewed along the river.
If you like to tie on skates, ice skate in the open-air a snow-ball’s throw away from one of the most magnificent natural attractions in the world at the TD Rink at the Brink. Recreational ice skating is offered from December 1, 2013 until February 28, 2014. Near the “brink” of the Horseshoe Falls, it offers breathtaking views and a magical outdoor Niagara Falls ice skating experience.
Plan a snow-showing or cross-country skiing adventure in Niagara Falls along the Bruce Trail, it offers 840 km of trails and an extra 440 km of side trails. Another local popular destination is the Haulage Road Trail, an abandoned roadway 1.5 km of trail. It has two main entrance points; one at St. Paul Avenue and the other at Mountain Road.
Warm up indoors in a tropical setting at The Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory. It features over 2,000 colourful butterflies floating freely among lush, exotic blossoms and greenery. Paths venture through a rainforest setting, past a pond and waterfall. A visit to the Niagara Parks Commission’s Floral Showhouse has become a Niagara holiday tradition featuring an indoor floral Christmas display the months of December and January. Keep the kids or the kid in you active indoors by taking in one of Niagara’s several indoor waterparks or resorts or tour downtown and see attractions like Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum, Louis Tussaud’s Waxworks or the Niagara Falls History Museum.
Ice wine lovers can rejoice for three weekends in January as the Niagara Region celebrates one of Canada’s most cherished products, Ontario Icewine. The 18th Niagara Icewine Festival will be held from January 10, 2014 – January 26, 2014. From the Xerox Gala evening to wine and food parings and outdoor activities, the Festival offers plenty for every palate.
5) Whistler for Wildlife
Whistler’s pristine natural surroundings of mountain vistas, ancient forests and crystal clear lakes are home to bears, birds and other wildlife. Each winter, thousands of Bald Eagles gather on the Squamish River Valley to feast on the spawning salmon. Eagle viewing is a popular winter activity. The best time of year for spotting is between November and March. Whistler is on the natural migratory route for numerous bird species. The Whistler Naturalists organize numerous events including a monthly bird walk on the first Saturday of every month at the west end of Lorimer Road. The walk starts at 8:00 am from November to March.
Skiing and snowboarding on Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains are popular winter activities on the slopes. Or, be on top of the world with the majestic glaciers that surround Whistler. Access is easy with glacier heli-hikes, heli-ski trips and helicopter tours. Winter ziplining, dog sledding, tubing, skating, ice climbing, winter bungee jumping, and olympic tours (bobsleding and skeleton experience) are also winter adventures for the daring or those seeking awe-inspiration at this Canadian winter fun hot spot.
Charleen Wyman is an avid, outdoor enthusiast and publisher of Healthy Directions magazine.