Best winter experiences in Ontario
Ontario is incredible to visit all year round, but it’s especially enchanting to travel here during the winter. Whether you want to experience snow for the first time, try out some classic winter sports, or relax with hot drinks in a cozy café, there’s something for everyone to love about spending your winter holidays in Ontario. Pack a ski jacket or winter coat, so you’ll be protected from the cold and ready to enjoy all the wonders of Ontario’s winter season.
Here are the top must-do winter experiences in Ontario.
Signature Winter Experiences
There’s nothing more thrilling than trying out new pastimes. Whether it’s skating across frozen lakes or sledding with dogs across snow-covered landscapes, you’ll enjoy your winter getaway to the fullest with these exciting winter activities in the best places to visit in Ontario.
If you visit Toronto, skating in Nathan Phillips Square is a staple winter experience you don’t want to miss. This large plaza outside City Hall is a popular location that frequently hosts free public events. Glide under the square’s high arches and soak in the lively atmosphere, even after the sun goes down. Skates are available for rental onsite. If you need a snack or a place to warm up, food trucks and coffee stands are located around the square. Before you leave, don’t forget to take a selfie beside the giant iconic TORONTO sign.
Hours: The hours for skating at Nathan Phillips Square vary by day. Check their website for the exact dates and times.
Location: 100 Queen Street West, Toronto
Insider Tip: Nathan Phillips Square is on Queen Street West, which features many popular boutiques and is close to iconic shopping destinations like the Eaton Centre along Yonge Street and Bay Street. If you’re looking for the next fashion trend, make sure to check out some of the local shops in the area.
Head down to Queens Quay near the Lake Ontario shoreline and look for the large, naturally frozen outdoor rink—you can’t miss it. With an amazing view of the CN Tower and Lake Ontario, plus music and colourful overhead lights to set the mood, you’ll enjoy an unforgettable skating experience with your family or friends. All the skating equipment you need for a fun time on the ice can be rented at the rink. Wrap up your day with a cup of hot coffee from one of their many incredible coffee shops.
Hours: Due to construction, the Harbourfront Centre Rink will be closed during the winter 2022 season. It’s expected to be completed in the summer of 2023.
Location: 235 Queens Quay West, Toronto
Insider Tip: Rink access is free, but if you’re planning to rent skates, join a beginner’s lesson or warm up with a hot drink, make sure to bring cash, a cheque or a debit card.
A winter vacation in Ottawa isn’t complete without a stop at the Rideau Canal for a glide along the world’s largest outdoor skating rink (confirmed by Guinness World Records). This UNESCO World Heritage site is transformed by the National Capital Region every year. On-ice amenities can be found at five different spots along the route, with washrooms, fire pits, benches and heated change rooms. You can also rent skates and sleighs at three locations on the Rideau Canal. Make sure to grab a cup of hot chocolate and Beavertails to warm up after your skate.
Hours: The Rideau Canal is open from January to March, 24/7 (weather dependent).
Location: Rideau Canal, Ottawa
Hidden within Blue Mountain Resort is Woodview Mountain Top Skating. Enjoy stunning views of the woods and marshes of the Niagara Escarpment while skating along this 1.1-kilometre skating loop. After dusk, thousands of interactive, multicoloured lights illuminate the trees along the entire path, so you’ll never be bored during this magical skating experience. Fire pits are situated at rest areas along this beautiful trail. The admission fee does not include skates, but rentals are available on site.
Hours: Woodview Mountain Top Skating is open from December to March, every day from 12 to 8 p.m.
Want to combine your love of wine with the thrill of lacing up your skates? You can do that at Wayne Gretzky (WG) Estates in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Primarily a winery, WG Estates features a large outdoor ice rink emblazoned with the number 99—fitting for a place owned by The Great One, who was born and raised in Ontario. Rent some skates and enjoy your time skating on this great ice rink. After skating, try wine and food samples at the Tasting Hall, or stay outside at the Whisky Bar Patio for wine and snacks from their seasonal menu.
Hours: The skating rink opens in early December and closes mid-March. Hours vary by day, so check their website for exact dates and times. Skaters must reserve a one-hour time slot at the rink in advance through the estates’ website.
Insider Tip: Pair your trip to WG Estates with a reservation at the Riverbend Inn & Vineyard. This historic inn can be found a 10-minute drive from WG Estates and offers picturesque vineyard views, luxurious accommodations and customizable itineraries with visits to other nearby wineries.
This expansive riverfront park transforms into a winter wonderland during the cold season, perfect for cross-country skiing. Its close proximity to Toronto also makes it a great stop on your Ontario winter getaway. Trail passes can be purchased online or in person at the front registration building, but rental ski equipment must be reserved online. Once you’ve picked up your skis, enjoy the area’s 50 kilometres of picturesque trails. Warming stations are set up around the conservation area for when you need a short break from the cold.
Location: 16500 Peel Regional Road 50, Caledon
Arrowhead Provincial Park is renowned as a first-class skating destination, but it’s also an amazing place for your cross-country skiing holidays. Its rolling hills and well-groomed trails are perfect for both beginner and experienced skiers, and on-site ski rentals help make your trip stress-free. Check the Ontario Parks website for when the winter sports season officially begins and the park opens to visitors.
Location: 451 Arrowhead Park Road, Huntsville
Insider Tip: Every trail is different. When arriving at the ski centre, ask the staff about the rules and trail etiquette, and let them know if you’re a beginner to the sport. They’ll be happy to help you with anything you need.
Scenic Caves is known for its historical trails and caves network, but in the winter, the place offers amazing cross-country skiing experiences along its 27 kilometres of groomed skiing terrain. There are three different trail designations, so skiers of all experience levels will enjoy their time on these picturesque outdoor trails. Take some time to rest in between ski runs and appreciate the stunning winter views of the Niagara Escarpment and Georgian Bay. Ski rentals are available, but be sure to check trail conditions before visiting.
Over 400 kilometres of groomed Ontario snowmobile trails awaits visitors at Haliburton Forest & Wild Life Reserve Ltd. Experience this beautiful winter wonderland by renting their snowmobiles, helmets and boots. You’ll also need a Snowmobile Trail Pass, which are limited in order to keep trails free of lineups, so purchase one early through their website. Find accommodations and food at the reserve’s Base Camp near Kennisis Lake, which also has free parking for anyone arriving by vehicle. Helmets are provided with booked snowmobile tours, but make sure to wear warm winter clothing, mittens and boots.
Location: 1095 Redkenn Rd, Dysart et al
Explore Muskoka by participating in a variety of guided snowmobile adventures at Deerhurst Resort. Ideal for people of all ages and experience levels, you’ll receive professional instructions before cruising down their outdoor trails aboard the eco-friendly Yamaha snowmobiles. Snowmobile tours run from late December to early March, on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Tour length depends on which package you pick, which can range from 1.5 hours to a full day of snow fun.
Location: 1235 Deerhurst Drive, Huntsville
Discover the natural beauty of the Algonquin wilderness by learning to mush your own dogsled and race along the northern trails. Voyageur Quest offers multiple getaway packages featuring log cabin accommodation, so whether you want to try dog sledding or you’re looking to sample backcountry skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling, the perfect trip is waiting for you. Don’t miss out on the chance to stay in Voyageur Quest’s off-the-grid cabins with access to the sauna and gourmet meals to enjoy in front of the fire.
Meet the owners of Winterdance Dogsled Tours, husband and wife team Hank DeBruin and Tanya McCready-DeBruin, as well as their lovable dog team of Siberian huskies. Once you’ve learned the basics of driving the sled, follow your guide’s lead and enjoy your time dog sledding in Ontario. Take your time exploring the stunning Barnhardt Lake and surrounding sugar shack trails. Don’t worry, you’ll have some extra time at the end of your tour to take some photos and cuddle with the dogs a little longer.
Location: Hodgson Drive, Eagle Lake
Outdoor Winter Festivals
Picture thousands of twinkling lights in every colour imaginable, illuminating the night sky as the snow falls gently around you. Breathtaking, right? That’s what Ontario’s outdoor winter festivals are all about: turning that picture-perfect scene into a festive reality. A staple of the winter holidays, these vibrant festivals are a delight to everyone, whether you’re visiting with a group of friends, as a young couple or as a family visiting with the little ones. Best of all, they’re often held around city centres, making them easily accessible by car, transit or foot.
Formerly known as the Toronto Christmas Market, the Distillery Winter Village is Toronto’s premier destination for all holiday enthusiasts. Located within Toronto’s historic Distillery District, this winter market features over 65 local shops and cafés arranged in the fashion of traditional European Christmas markets. Tour charming vendor cabins selling handmade seasonal gifts and delicious sweets. An array of Christmas lights crisscrossed over street lamps, cobblestone streets and Victorian-style architecture make this the perfect place for you to experience the magic of the holidays. Be sure to stop by the 50 foot tall majestic Christmas tree in Trinity Square, decorated with over 2000 ornaments and 70,000 twinkling lights.
Dates: The Distillery Winter Village is open from mid-November to the end of December. Check their website for this year’s dates and ticket pricing.
Location: Distillery District, Toronto
The Niagara Falls’ Winter Festival of Lights is Canada’s largest outdoor (and free!) light festival, bringing lanterns, art installations and interactive light displays to Niagara Falls and transforming the area into a brilliant landscape filled with hundreds of colourful light sculptures. Various themed areas are available for you to explore, where you’ll see stunning illuminations such as the two-storey tall Zimmerman Fountain and an 18-metre long light tunnel. You can also view the festival from the air with Niagara Helicopters Limited, which offers nighttime flightseeing tours to coincide with the Winter Festival of Lights.
Dates: The Winter Festival of Lights runs from mid-November to February. Access is free.
Location: 6815 Stanley Avenue, Niagara Falls (Light sculptures can be found along the Niagara Parkway, through Dufferin Islands, and in the tourist districts of Fallsview Boulevard, Lundy’s Lane and downtown.)
Held over three weekends every January, the Niagara Icewine Festival attracts wine lovers worldwide. Icewine is a premium dessert wine that’s made from grapes that froze while still on the grapevine. When harvested in low temperatures, these frozen grapes produce rich golden or red liquids high in acidity and natural sugars. As Ontario is the largest producer of icewine in the world, the Niagara Icewine Festival features numerous varieties of icewine such as Riesling, Vidal, Cabernet and Franc to celebrate the winter harvest. Wineries from all across the Niagara region participate in the event with tasting tours running from sunrise to after sunset.
Dates: Check the official Niagara Icewine Festival website for this year’s event dates.
Location: Across the Niagara Region (The Icewine Gala is at the Niagara Falls Convention Centre (6815 Stanley Avenue, Niagara Falls)
Insider Tip: Due to the popularity of the Niagara Icewine Festival, hotels in Niagara Falls and across the surrounding region during the festival dates fill up fast. Be sure to book your reservations well ahead of time.
Head to the capital of Canada for plenty of winter festival fun during the iconic Ottawa Winterlude. The Rideau Canal Skateway is the world’s largest skating rink and a popular destination for tens of thousands of skaters of all ages. Snowflake Kingdom, an enormous snow playground with ice slides and sculptures, offers programs for kids. At Confederation Park, the annual National Ice-Carving Championship sees teams from across Canada compete to create a work of art from ice blocks. People of all ages will enjoy Canada’s northern culture and climate while participating in the many seasonal festival programs held at museums operating during the Winterlude festival.
Dates: Winterlude runs for several weeks in February.
Location: Across Ottawa
Insider Tip: One of the best things to do in Ottawa is sampling its diverse food scene. The Rideau Canal has numerous eateries with delicious food and stunning views. Look for the bright red Beavertails trucks in ByWard Market or near the City Hall to try this classic Canadian treat.
Whether you’re an avid skier hitting the slopes or you’re looking for a great place to relax during your winter vacation, you’ll love spending time at one of the many versatile winter resorts in Ontario.
As Ontario’s premier ski resort and winter destination, this is the perfect place for those seeking an epic skiing getaway on famous mountain peaks. Blue Mountain Resort’s Ski and Stay package gives you ski lift tickets for every guest in your reservation, plus cozy resort accommodation. You’ll find everything from boutique hotels to private homes at one of the best ski resorts in Ontario. If you’re planning to skip the slopes, check out Blue Mountain Village’s festive après ski scene.
Discover gorgeous views of Lake Rosseau at this upscale resort in the Muskoka Region. JW Marriott offers guests access to the many outdoor winter activities that the region is known for. Rest in your private luxury suite, enjoy a meal at their delicious on-site restaurants and take advantage of the resort’s signature spa and indoor swimming pool. After you’ve successfully recharged, check out the pristine outdoor trails for hiking, snowshoeing or skating. Then gather back at the hotel for marshmallow roasting at the year-round fire pit.
Location: 1050 Paignton House Road, Minett
Located in the heart of Ontario’s cottage country, Deerhurst Resort offers winter fun for the whole family with snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, fat biking, skating, snowmobiling tours and much more. Your kids will have nonstop fun, with plenty of activities to keep themselves busy. Maximize your time at Deerhurst with the Stay Longer & Save package, which gives you discounted accommodation, plus access to the resort’s waterfront, grounds and rental winter sports equipment.
Location: 1235 Deerhurst Drive, Huntsville
If you’re visiting from Toronto, take the 90-minute drive to the Kawarthas for a relaxing stay at Elmhirst’s Resort. Overlooking the picturesque Rice Lake, this family-owned business features locally sourced food, a variety of soothing spa treatments and winter activities ranging from ice fishing to sleigh rides. For a truly memorable trip, visit during their annual Kiteboarding Snowkite Weekend in early January, where you’ll strap on some skis and let the wind pull you across the picturesque Rice Lake.
Location: 1045 Settlers Line, Keene
Ontario Winter Landscapes
If you can brave the cold, some of the best places to visit in Ontario during the winter are outdoors. Discover stunning views of pure white snowscapes, starry skies and other amazing sceneries that you’ll remember forever.
Niagara in Winter
Niagara Falls is known as a worldwide tourist destination in the summer, but it’s an equally dazzling place to visit in the winter. Amazing things to do in Niagara such as Journey Behind the Falls, Niagara Parks Power Station and Niagara Helicopters operate year round and offer unique views of these famous waterfalls. You’ll witness mist encircling the falls, giving it the illusion of freezing over. It’s especially wondrous at night when the chilly waters are illuminated in every colour of the rainbow. As a bonus, there aren’t as many visitors in the winter, so you won’t have to worry about running into large crowds.
Dark Sky Stargazing
There’s nothing more awe-inspiring than driving out to the Ontario countryside, laying out the warm blankets and gazing up at a canopy of glittering stars in the dark sky. Locals and tourists alike enjoy making the late-night journey to catch a glimpse of star constellations and galaxies. Two of the best places to see the stars at night are the Torrance Barrens Dark Sky Reserve and Bruce Peninsula National Park. Find more of the best places for stargazing in Ontario.
Insider Tip: Many of the parks in Ontario require a daily vehicle permit for parking. Purchase your pass ahead of time.
Looking for more unique adventures to conquer during your winter Ontario getaway? Here are some other fun winter activities:
Last updated: September 25, 2023