A few years ago I travelled to Canada and the US during winter. As an Australian, this news was met with stern warnings from friends and family about packing appropriately and bracing myself for the chilliest weather I could imagine.
But after experiencing the joy of waking up to a thick layer of powdery snow covering the landscape in a wintery blanket, I honestly can’t imagine a trip to the Great White North any other way.
Aside from competing with far fewer tourists than if you travel during the summer months, here are some of my favourite reasons to pack your thermals and book a trip to Canada this winter.
The national parks
There’s no shortage of beautiful scenery in Canada, but two national parks – Jasper National Park and Banff National Park – take the ice-cream cake. In Jasper, stretch your legs on a hike to see amazing frozen waterfalls, glaciers or the picturesque Maligne Canyon. If you’re feeling lazy and would rather hitch a ride, dog sledding is a popular way to get around and see the gorgeous sights.
In Banff, snowshoeing is a great way to admire the scenery (and burn off a few hot chocolate calories). Ice skating on Lake Louise is another one to tick off the list – the frozen lake is surrounded by towering snow-dusted mountains and icy forests, and is truly a spectacular sight. If you need a less strenuous way to warm up, give the Banff Hot Springs a try. Banff is home to natural thermal pools, so you can enjoy the views without setting foot in the snow.
Okay, so it’s hard to talk about the national parks without giving the wildlife a shout out too. In Jasper, you can expect to encounter moose, elk, deer, coyotes, osprey and wolves (just to name a few). Banff is where bears live; there are two types located in the national park – grizzlies and black bears. While you may think winter is a bad time for wildlife (as the bears are in hibernation), it actually means the park is teeming with animals who can roam free without the fear of being preyed upon. And you never know – some bears have been known to break hibernation early, so you may be lucky enough to spot one.
The winter sports
Skiing, snowboarding and ice-skating are the obvious three that come to mind when you think about a wintery, Canadian getaway. Ice hockey has been deemed the national winter sport, so it’s almost mandatory to get in on the action by watching a game. And while curling might originally hail from Scotland, you can get a good competitive dose of stones being thrown across ice in Canadian winter too. If you’re after something a little more chilled (sorry), have a go at ice fishing; go with a guide (who may be able to hook you up with a heated enclosure to sit in and fish from), and drop your line through an opening in a frozen river. The best part about this ‘sport’? You can eat your winnings.
Winter in Canada is festival season, so if your timing’s right, your holiday could include any number of the festive celebrations attended by people all over the world. Some of our favourites include Whistler Pride, one of the world’s biggest celebrations of diversity, (with great skiing); January in Jasper, a family event full of snow sports and entertainment; The Banff Ice Magic Festival, the place to see the best artistic ice carvings in the world; and the Canmore Winter Carnival, a community event designed purely to celebrate life in Canada during the winter months.
There is SO much moreish, decadent food in Canada to keep you warm in winter. Poutine is a national favourite – hot chips (or French fries as they’re known in Canada) smothered in cheese curds and gravy. When it was first dished up in Quebec in the 1950s, it was very unpopular, but now is so revered there are even festivals in its honour. If you like your root vegetables deep fried, yam fries are another winner on the Canadian food scene. Otherwise, clog your arteries with some maple-coated bacon, a maple-glazed donut or a maple-infused beer (we couldn’t really mention Canadian food without getting some maple syrup in there). If dessert is your thing, a Nanaimo bar is a must. It’s a no-bake slice consisting of wafer, custard butter filling and melted chocolate, and comes in a variety of flavours from peanut butter to – yup – maple syrup.
Want to experience the best of Canada in the winter months? Book a spot on our US & Canada Discovery Winter tour for some fun in the snow.