5 Spectacular Winter Travel Destinations in Canada
As a travel writer, I’m often asked to name my top vacation destination, and my answer is always the same: Canada.
This usually surprises many Canucks, who generally prefer travelling to the sunny south rather than embracing the chilly weather with a Canada getaway. But hear me out. Though the comparative international value of your loonies might go up a bit as Bank of Canada increases interest rates, vacationing domestically will nonetheless be cheaper in most circumstances, and just as enjoyable. Plus you don’t have to worry about getting charged an arm and a leg for making purchases and exchanging currencies overseas.
Cost aside, Canada is vast, beautiful, and full of adventurous activities, especially in the wintertime. A beach is a beach is a beach. But some of the snowy spots that Canada has to offer are globally unparalleled. We’re called the Great White North for a reason, after all.
In my efforts to keep you close to home, I offer you my 5 favourite places to visit in Canada during the wintertime.
Whistler, British Columbia
To say my first ski experience was a memorable one is an understatement. Rather than start on a mild hill in Ontario, I travelled across the country to Whistler – an alpine mountain town in British Columbia that’s world famous for its exhilarating ski terrain and “Champagne powder.” After a half-day lesson, I swished down the slopes surrounded by snow-capped glacial peaks and evergreen forests.
If you’re a more seasoned skier, jump into a helicopter and go backcountry alpine skiing—an experience known as “Heli-Skiing.” Not only do you avoid long lift line-ups, but you’ll get access to untouched terrain that encompasses 173 glaciers and 475 runs in an area that is 50 times the size of Whistler Blackcomb (!).
Travel tip: Splurge a bit and stay at the Westin Resort and Spa Whistler. Nestled on the mountainside, it’s a stone’s throw from the charming Whistler Village and was named “#1 Ski Resort” by Condé Nast Traveler. Relaxing with a hot drink by the fireplace in my room, I can attest that it felt utterly blissful to unwind here after a long day on the slopes.
It’s a Category 5 property, so it’s on the pricier side, but you can use the Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express to cut down on costs. Signing up for the card yields a 20,000-point bonus, which is more than enough to get at least one night for free at this sublime resort. Just make sure your health insurance ducks are all in a row. The SPG is a great card, but its out-of-province medical benefits are limited, and skiing is unfortunately a more accident-prone activity than lying on a beach.
Whitehorse, Yukon Territory
Hands down, the Yukon is one of my favourite places to visit in Canada. Nestled in the far northwest, locals jokingly warn that travel to the Yukon can be “dangerous” because so many tourists end up relocating and staying permanently. I haven’t quite taken that step yet, but after two visits I can certainly see the attraction.
There’s no place quite like the Yukon and this far-flung Canadian territory comes alive in wintertime. From snowmobiling to fat biking to dog-sledding to ice fishing, there’s no shortage of adventure for the daring traveller.
Above all, the Yukon is one of the world’s best places to see the spellbinding aurora borealis. From September to April, you can watch the lights dance across the sky pretty much anywhere: from inside your cozy cabin to snowshoeing in the bush to riding on your snowmobile. But I recommend putting on your swim suit and soaking in the warm geothermal pools at Takhini Hot Springs in Whitehorse. It will not only keep you toasty in the freezing cold, but you’ll have unobstructed views of the Northern Lights thanks to the lack of light pollution.
Another one of my favourite Yukon experiences? Taking a glacial flight-seeing tour over the gargantuan Kluane National Park and Reserve. It’s absolutely majestic: 21,980 kilometres of protected land and a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s rife with towering peaks, glacial lakes, and the largest icefields outside of the polar ice caps. I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s the trip of a lifetime.
Travel tip: Though there’s no shortage of breathtaking sights, the territory does have a shortage of public transit, and you’ll likely need your own vehicle to get around. Car rental theft and damage insurance is included on the American Express Gold Rewards Card, so don’t forget to pack it.
Arrowhead Provincial Park, Ontario
Imagine skating along a slick pathway that snakes into the wilderness. Instead of crowds and city noise, you’re surrounded by evergreen trees shrouded in marshmallowy snow and only the sound of your skates gliding on the ice.
It’s a truly magical experience skating at Ontario’s Arrowhead Provincial Park, a conservation site that’s roughly two hours by car from Toronto. Every winter, the park creates an ice skating trail that winds through the forest and is open to the public. It’s become one of Canada’s most popular winter attractions, and has been named one of Travel + Leisure’s “World’s Best Natural Skating Rinks.” The ice skating trail always depends on the weather, so be sure to check the forecast and Arrowhead Provincial Park’s daily update before heading out.
Travel tip: For an extra special experience, join the evening skate on “Fire and Ice” nights, so you can skate under the stars along an ice trail illuminated by torch lights.
Tofino and Pacific Rim National Park, British Columbia
Wintertime brings storm-watching season to Tofino, a sleepy surfer town on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island. A popular summer destination, it’s famed for its natural beauty, windswept beaches, and hiking trails in nearby Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
But Tofino is also one of the best places to visit in Canada in winter. January sees a series of epic rainstorms that bring waves that roll in up to 20 feet in height (!). Walk along Chesterman Beach in your rain gear, snapping million-dollar photos of monster waves and lightening striking the sea. Big bonus: because of the coastal climate, the average temperature generally rises to around 8 degrees Celsius – meaning no snow and ice in the cooler months and you can still trek the trails year-round.
Travel tip: One of my bucket list moments? Dining at the illustrious The Pointe Restaurant, where I was treated to incredible 270 degree views of Chesterman Beach and the Pacific Ocean. In the wintertime, pull up a chair and watch the stormy seas put on a show while you stay warm and snug indoors.
Quebec City, Quebec
Why travel to New Orleans for Mardi Gras when you can celebrate Winter Carnival in Quebec City? From late January to early February, thousands flock to Québec Winter Carnival – a frosty festival featuring night parades, snow sculpting competitions, live shows, skating, and ice canoe racing. There’s even a “snow bath” (whereby brave bodies frolic in the frigid cold wearing only their bathing suits), and a hotel made entirely of snow and ice.
Travel tip: If you don’t want to sleep on a bed of ice at the Hotel de Glace, flash your SPG card and stay at the stylish (and warmer) Hotel PUR in downtown Quebec City. It’s Category 4, so you can get a free night for 10,000 Starpoints.