Sure it's nice to fly south for the winter and escape the cold weather for sundrenched beaches, but Canada is a veritable playground for adventurers from November to March - and not just for skiers and snowboarders.
These winter travel destinations make for great unique vacations this time of year and many of them could be done over a long weekend from Vancouver. Like the one coming up in February.
So here are a few suggestions for the best places to visit in Canada during winter.
Rossland, British Columbia
Canada's oldest winter carnival takes over the small ski town of Rossland, B.C. every year from Jan. 26 to 29. After a COVID hiatus, the weekend-long event is back for 2023 with ice and snow sculptures, snow slides, tobogganing, skating, and fire spinners blanketing the streets. Local restaurants open vendor stalls along Columbia Avenue and locals open up their backyards for a series of contests including bobsledding, jib building, and snow fort palaces. The Rossland Museum and Discovery Center also hosts events throughout the weekend.
Whitehorse, Yukon Territory
Whitehorse is a popular destination for travellers looking to see the Northern Lights but the capital of the Yukon Territory has much more to offer, especially in winter. Adventurers can book dogsledding and snowmobiling experiences and choose to stay at a lodge with the dogs, in a cabin or a tent. Certain companies offer guided ice fishing tours and just outside of Whitehorse is the Takhini Hot Springs.
Jasper in particular is most beautiful at night. In 2011 it was designated as a Dark Sky Preserve by the Canadian Royal Astronomical Society, one of 17 in Canada and the second biggest in the world, making it a must-visit destination for stargazers. In addition to the night views, frozen waterfalls and ice formations create a stunning winter wonderland landscape during the day and visitors can watch ice climbers from a frozen canyon floor. And of course, Jasper National Park is home to Marmot Basin and the Rocky Mountain Ski Resort.
Banff has everything you'd want from a winter vacation destination: snow sports like skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, and dogsledding; exciting hiking and climbing opportunities; hot springs; and lots of options for apres. Plus it's got small-town charm as if a German village and Whistler had a baby and proximity to the stunning Lake Louise. In 2021, Banff introduced the Nightrise at the Banff Gondola, a multimedia after-dark light show on Sulphur Mountain created by Moment Factory in partnership with the Stoney Nakoda Nation (they also created Vallea Lumina in Whistler). It runs until March along with Banff's Winter Carnival (Dec. 17 - Apr. 2) and SnowDays Festival (Jan. 18 - 29).
Niagra Falls is a popular tourist destination year-round but the massive icicles and frozen make it worth a visit in winter. Especially at night when it's lit up with lights that bounce off the ice. If visiting Niagra Falls during the winter, why not stay in the home of ice wine, Niagara-on-the-Lake? The town hosts an annual ice-wine festival every weekend from January 13 to 30 with a gala event on Jan. 14. 28 wineries are participating this year including well-known Inniskillin, Jackson Triggs, and Wayne Gretzky's own vineyard. They have paired up with local chefs and restaurants to create culinary experiences.
Fogo Island, Newfoundland
Fogo Island, home to the famous Fogo Island Inn, feels like it sits on the world's edge. It's a land of extremes which is part of the appeal. The destination inn has floor-to-ceiling windows to watch the Atlantic crash against the rocky shore. There are considered to be seven distinct seasons on Fogo Island, two of which fall under what we would consider winter. Winter on Fogo Island is from Dec. 1 to Feb. 28 and Pack Ice season is from March 1 to 31. During the cold months, visitors can track Cariboo, snowmobile, hike, ice skate, and take classes with local artisans. There are hot tubs on the roof of the inn and saunas for warming up after exploring the rugged landscape.
Squamish/Whistler, British Columbia
The Sea to Sky corridor from Vancouver to Whistler is stunning no matter the time of year but it's obvious that Squamish and Whistler were made for winter. The Sea to Sky Gondola is worth a visit for the views of snow-capped mountains and Howe Sound but there are also snowshoeing trails up at the top. Winter float tours to view Eagles from the Squamish and Mamquam Rivers are also available but are lesser known. Whistler is, of course, a world-class skiing and snowboarding destination in the winter and makes a great weekend jaunt for locals.
Quebec City, Quebec
Old Quebec is a historic walled neighbourhood in Quebec City that looks magical in the wintertime. The narrow cobblestone streets and buildings in the shadow of the Chateau Frontenac feel like stepping back in time. February is one of the most popular times to visit due to the two-week-long Carnaval de Quebec. The ice palace is open to visit from January to March but the parades, parties, and ice cane races across the Saint Lawrence River take place from February 3 to 12.
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
Anne of Green Gables may conjure images of an eternal spring but Charlottetown has just as much to offer in the winter and often gets overlooked at this time of year. During the winter the city and local hotels have partnered to offer visitors complimentary loaner snowshoes for trekking around the city and the surrounding countryside. From Feb. 4 to March 13, the Ice City Festival also takes over with sugar shacks on outdoor patios, live music and DJs, horse and wagon rides, skating, snowshoeing, and ice carving.