Winter – you either hate it or you love it. I definitely fall into the latter category since winter is my favourite season! As the days get too short for it to still be autumn in Ontario, I get excited for what’s to come. The crisp air, the sound of snow beneath your feet, the cozy scarves and the warm drinks. While the days may be shorter than we like, we might as well make the most of them. These amazing things to do in Ontario in winter will show you the best ways to enjoy the season!
Get Hooked on Ice Fishing in Durham Region
What can I say? I can’t resist a fishy pun. All kidding aside, the ice fishing in Durham Region is no joke. Just over an hour from downtown Toronto, you’ll find a frozen oasis that rivals that of Northern Ontario. Never fished before? No problem. Pro angler? We’ve got you covered. No matter your fishing skill level, head to Port Perry where you’ll find Scugog Ice Adventures.
Their team will get you all set up in one of their 2, 4 or 6 person heated huts where you’ll enjoy a full 8 hours of fishing. From transportation to and from your hut to bait to fishing lines, they’ll have everything you need set up for you. Just rock up and enjoy this quintessentially Canadian winter experience!
Go Cross Country Skiing
If you can’t remember the last time you went cross country skiing then you need to change that this winter. Sudbury’s Windy Lake Provincial Park is the perfect place to embrace the season. The park itself offers 2km of groomed trails but you have 15km more at your disposal across the road thanks to the Onaping Falls Nordics Ski Club. When some of our Olympians started their careers on these trails, you know they’re going to be amazing. Take a look at my Windy Lake Provincial Park post for more details.
Chase Some Frozen Waterfalls in Hamilton
Insert typical Lindsay response about ignoring TLC’s warning here, because winter is hands down the best time to chase waterfalls. Why? You never have to worry about low flow or dried-up falls, there are no bugs and you’ll come across less people to name a few!
We have a number of beautiful waterfalls in Ontario, however Hamilton is where you want to go. It’s called the city of waterfalls for a reason! Check out some of the best waterfalls in Hamilton as you’re blown away by the gorgeous ice formations. I swear you’ll feel like you’re Elsa from Frozen. About once a year we seem to get a real deep freeze where a polar vortex sends brutally cold air as far south as Niagara Falls – and this is when you should visit. A frozen Niagara Falls is hard to come by but when she does, the views are truly magnificent.
Are you a waterfall lover? You won’t want to miss these other amazing destinations!
10+ Waterfalls in Niagara besides the Famous Niagara Falls
The Ultimate Guide to Chasing Waterfalls in Grey County
These Thunder Bay Waterfalls Will Call You to Northern Ontario
Admire the Displays at the Winter Festival of Lights
Speaking of Niagara Falls, a drive down the parkway with my face glued to the window is my longest-standing winter tradition. Niagara’s Winter Festival of Lights is Canada’s largest illumination festival as the displays feature over 2 million lights. From life-size moose to classic depictions of your favourite Disney characters, it’s a fantastic event for all ages. Each year new displays are added that never cease to amaze. Here’s everything you need to know about planning your visit to the Winter Festival of Lights.
Visit a Christmas Market
While your mind may drift immediately to Europe, we have our fair share of Christmas Markets here in Ontario. I’m lucky to have Canada’s original Christkindl Market right at my doorstep in Kitchener. Held the first weekend of December, it grows every year to include more light displays, more adorable huts and more delicious eats.
Hop on over to Toronto for the mecca of all Christmas markets, located in the Distillery District. It’s the longest-running of all the Ontario Christmas Markets as it opens mid-November and runs right up until a few days before Christmas. Indulge in mulled wine while strolling around the beautiful exhibits as you finish up your Christmas shopping. (Buy something for yourself too, I’m not judging!) For me, you know winter has arrived when the markets open for the season.
More and more are popping up each year so check out this list of Christmas Markets in Ontario so you can plan your trip!
Relax at the Scandinave Spa in Blue Mountain
I may love the season, but I know that winter can be tough for a lot of people. The lack of sunlight and chilly temperatures can take their toll, making winter the perfect season to treat yourself. What better way to do so than with a trip to the Scandinave? Live by the mantra hot-cold-relax-repeat as you’re immersed in the calming pools. Serenity will wash over you while being surrounded by the beauty of nature.
Wait times on weekends are expected as it’s a popular spot for those who are visiting Blue Mountain Village. The Scandinave also has a fantastic midweek Unwind Wednesdays promotion which can increase wait times too. Winter isn’t the only time to visit the Scandinave, but my winter visits have always been the most impactful on my body and mind.
RELATED: For more snowy fun in the area, check out this winter guide to Grey County!
Take a Road Trip
Road trips are seriously one of my favourite things to do. No matter what time of the year it is, the possibilities are endless! While I’m impartial to a Northern Ontario road trip, many call me crazy because it’s so far. I’ve only made it as far as Sault Ste Marie in the winter, though I’ve got my eye on eventually heading to Thunder Bay. I can only imagine how magical Sleeping Giant Provincial Park must look in the winter months!
If you’re looking for a closer destination, Huntsville and the Muskoka area are great winter road trip destinations. You’ll find plenty of outdoor activities, great restaurants, adorable towns and a number of beautiful accommodations. I’d say that’s the perfect combination! Just remember to have snow tires on your car. They may not be mandatory in Ontario like they are in Quebec but you don’t want to be the person stuck in a snowbank. Trust me.
RELATED: If you love road tripping in Ontario, don’t miss these top Ontario road trip destinations for year-round adventures!
Snowshoe the Robertson Cliffs of Sault Ste Marie
One thing I love about snowshoeing is that you can really do it anywhere. However, some trails are better than others – and the Robertson Cliffs is one of those trails. Okay so they’re technically a half-hour north of Sault Ste Marie BUT this is one seriously epic trail!
Beautiful in all seasons, there’s an extra level of magic to it in the winter months. Maybe it’s the fact that you could be breaking trail in four feet of snow? Or maybe it’s that this is one of the few times you’ll be able to enjoy the incredible views without the crowds. Chances are though it’s the magic of Lake Superior and the gorgeous views that come with being in Algoma Country. It might be an uphill battle, but this snowshoe trail is 100% worth every step and stumble.
RELATED: If you’re planning a winter trip to Sault Ste Marie, don’t miss these top things to do in the area.
Experience a Pow Wow
While pow wow season is mainly in the summer months, there are a number of these events that occur throughout the winter. One of the biggest events is the Gathering at the Rapids Pow Wow in Sault Ste Marie. The largest of the area, this competition pow wow showcases incredible dancers from across the region. You’ll feel the passion of the participants through their swift and graceful movements as the drumbeat courses through your veins. Everyone is welcome to attend, just be respectful. Remember that you are a guest in this sacred space. If you’ve never been to a pow wow before, here are some first-timer tips.
Check Out Toronto’s Winter Stations
Ever wondered what happens to the lifeguard stands on Canadian beaches in the winter months? Yeah me neither, I assume they all just sit empty and lonely until the snow is gone. That’s not the case at Toronto’s Balmy, Kew and Woodbine beaches! Enter: Winter Stations, the annual art exhibit that gives these abandoned lifeguard structures new life. Every year a new theme is determined and artists, landscapers, architects and hobbyists all submit their designs, hoping to be selected. The final products are utterly amazing. Winter Stations is one of the things to do in Toronto in winter you can’t miss!
Go Fat Biking in Grey County
I’m not an avid cyclist by any means but fat biking is a winter must-do. What is fat biking? You’re still pedalling just as you would a normal bike but the tires are wider… a lot wider. Just south of Georgian Bay you’ll find plenty of trails that’ll easily keep you busy. It’s just one of the great winter activities you need to experience in Grey County! While you can tackle it yourself, I highly recommend going with a guide. That way you can focus on staying on your bike as opposed to where you’re going. One word of advice? Beware of snowdrifts.
Indulge at the Niagara Icewine Festival
Did you know 90% of Canadas’s icewine comes from the Niagara Region? It’s true! Hearing that, it makes sense to celebrate it with the Niagara Icewine Festival. For two weekends in January, part of Queen Street in Niagara-on-the-Lake is taken over by tents and ice carvings.
Some of the best wineries in the Niagara Region converge as attendees sip and savour riesling, cabernet franc and every kind of icewine in between. Scattered throughout the tents you’ll also find hearty eats and tasty treats from many of the great restaurants in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Top it off with some live music and it’s easily one of the top things to do in January in Ontario! Check out my Niagara Icewine Festival guide for more details and to plan your own visit.
Explore Bruce Peninsula National Park
I absolutely love Bruce Peninsula National Park but I hate visiting it in the summer. I absolutely loathe it. There are too many people being too ignorant about the incredible piece of nature they have the privilege of experiencing. That’s not the case in the winter. Not only is there fewer people, but the beautiful landscapes that draw hordes of people in the summer are even more beautiful. You’ll be blown away by the turquoise waters as they contrast against the crisp white snow. It’ll make you fall in love with this area if you’ve fallen out of love with it for the aforementioned reasons.
RELATED: For all the details to plan your trip, check out my guide to Bruce Peninsula National Park!
Try Ice Climbing in Haliburton
What’s cooler than wielding two axes at the same time? Using them to climb an ice wall! Head to the Medeba Learning Centre to give this badass winter endeavour a go. They have classes where they’ll teach you all the commands you need in a controlled environment. Once you get good at ice climbing, you can even try ice climbing at some of the frozen waterfalls in Ontario. I kid you not! Not convinced? Here are 8 reasons why you should try ice climbing this winter.
Enjoy a Beverage In An Igloo
Anybody can sit on a patio so why not take it to the next level with an igloo?! Okay so it’s not an actual igloo but the patio igloos at Thornbury Village Craft Cider & Beer sure are cozy! All you need is a fresh sprinkle of snow and a sunny day to make this the perfect way to spend an afternoon. The town of Thornbury is adorable too and with its close proximity to Blue Mountain Resort, it’s definitely one of the top places to visit in winter in Ontario!
You can be miserable in the winter or you can embrace its perks. The long nights mean more opportunities to admire the beautiful night sky. Hop in your car and drive away from the light pollution that comes with cities to enjoy the stars. Or, you can plan a trip to one of Ontario’s 19 dark sky preserves. Just make sure to give your eyes some time to adjust so you get the full effect of the vast galaxy above you!
Hop on a Snowmobile
If you’re jonesing to go out for a rip, head up to Northern Ontario where you’ll see more snowmobiles than cars. There are thousands of kilometres of snowmobile trails just waiting to be explored! Explore some of Ontario’s old growth forests or follow old rail lines as you explore what’s arguably the one of the best snowmobiling destinations in the world.
Skate On an Outdoor Trail
While skating rinks can be fun, one of the most popular things to do in Ontario in winter right now is exploring the outdoor ice skating trails and I’m absolutely loving it. While the original skate trail is arguably the Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa, I’m talking about skating through the forest kind of trails.
The most popular is definitely Arrowhead Provincial Park’s skate trail who paved the way for this fad to begin. While some charge a fee, many are free or are included with park admission like at Arrowhead. Check out this list of outdoor skate trails in Ontario to see if there’s one near you! No matter what skate trail you check out, there’s plenty of family fun to be had.
Attend a Winter Festival
From Ottawa’s Winterlude to the numerous light displays of Toronto, there’s no shortage of winter festivals in Ontario. I guarantee you can find at least one in every town and/or county throughout the season! Though there’s a truly unique one that would be a sin not to mention and it happens on February 2nd every year. That’s right, I’m talking about the Wiarton Willie Festival!
While Wiarton may be an under-the-radar getaway in the summer months, people flock to this unsuspecting town to see if he will indeed see his shadow. Will it be an early spring or six more weeks of winter? You should visit and see for yourself if you’re looking for things to do in February in Ontario.
Try Winter Camping in a Yurt
Yurt camping is a bucket list item for many (myself included – check!), but what you may not realize is that winter is the perfect time to try it out! If your first worry is that it’ll be way too cold, I can assure you it won’t be. Every yurt in an Ontario provincial park is electrically heated to ensure you’re nice and toasty day and night. All you have to do is bring your sleeping gear along with some eats and you’ll be ready for a memorable trip.
While there are 13 provincial parks that offer roofed accommodation in the colder months, winter camping in Killarney Provincial Park is my top pick. However, Windy Lake Provincial Park is another great option!
FAQs About Winter in Ontario
Anyone who has travelled in the winter knows that it can be unpredictable. Hopefully, these frequently asked questions about Ontario winters will help you prepare for your adventure.
When is Winter in Ontario? How Long is Winter in Ontario?
The seasons start and end dates can fluctuate from year to year. Typically, winter begins around the end of November into early December and lasts until mid-late March. However, it’s not uncommon for sporadic snowfall to occur in April.
How Cold is Ontario in Winter?
Ontario’s winters have become more volatile with fluctuating temperatures. The average daily temperature sits around -5C (23F) but can drop by 10-15C overnight. Southern Ontario is often warmer than Northern Ontario though, so be prepared if you’re heading north. I always recommend looking at your destination’s weather forecast before departing to ensure the temperatures don’t put a damper on your plans.
What is the Coldest Month in Ontario?
On average, January is the coldest month in Ontario. However in my experience, February seems to have the largest fluctuations and therefore can have the most extreme temperatures.
Where Can I Go in the Winter in Ontario?
There are so many places to visit in Ontario in winter which I’m sure you can see from this post. To recap, here are just some of the amazing things to do in Ontario in winter:
- Go ice fishing in Durham Region, one of the fantastic winter activities near Toronto
- Check out the cross country ski trails at Windy Lake Provincial Park close to Sudbury
- Chase frozen waterfalls in Hamilton
- Admire the displays at the Winter Festival of Lights in Niagara Falls
- Visit one of the many Christmas markets across the province
- Relax at the Scandinave Spa in Blue Mountain
- Take a couple of winter road trips in Ontario
- Snowshoe the Robertson Cliffs just north of Sault Ste Marie
- Experience one of the winter Indigenous Pow Wows
- Don’t miss one of the top winter activities in Toronto – the Winter Stations
- Hop on a fat bike with a tour in Grey County
- Indulge in an adult beverage at the Niagara Icewine Festival
- Explore the trails at Bruce Peninsula National Park
- Try your hand at ice climbing in Haliburton
- Enjoy a beverage or meal in an igloo
- Look up at the sky with some stargazing
- Hop on a snowmobile
- Lace up your skates and check out an outdoor skating trail
- Attend one of the amazing winter festivals in Ontario
- Try winter camping in a yurt like I did in Killarney Provincial Park
These Are the Top Things to Do in Ontario in Winter!
As you can see, there are so many things to do in Ontario in winter. While many choose to head south to avoid the cold altogether, I say embrace this winter wonderland! Whether you opt for outdoor adventures or to fully embrace the apres-ski vibe, there is no shortage of incredible winter experiences in the province. I mean, a winter weekend getaway in Ontario is never a bad idea and just might have you enjoying the season a little more than you think you would! Which of these winter destinations in Ontario are at the top of your list to visit?
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