A Detailed Guide On Some Of The Best Things to Do in Ontario in Winter!
Searching for ideas for things to do in Ontario in winter? You’re not alone! Winter in Ontario might be colder – but there is no shortage of things to do, see, and visit when the temperature drops!
With so many great options – from simple day hikes and spa visits to multi-day heated winter cabin rentals – determining what to do in winter in Ontario can be super challenging.
Having grown up in Ontario (near the ski hills outside Barrie), we’ve got a pretty good idea of the best places to visit in Ontario in winter!
From top Ontario winter attractions and festivals to classic wintertime activities that allow you to get outside, our guide outlines different things to do in Ontario in the winter.
We’ll walk you through what to do, how to do it (if you’re new to the idea), and where you can get started planning your next winter adventure!
Go on a Winter Hike/Snowshoe
If you like spending time outdoors in the winter, then you might be familiar with one of the best Ontario winter activities: snowshoeing!
We absolutely love our snowshoes – it is great exercise and it’s also a very practical way to get out on a walk/hike in the winter.
Of course, you can always go for walks in winter boots with a good tread, but that only goes so far in deeper snow!
Snowshoeing allows you to walk on groomed trails as well as deep snow in the backcountry. Armed with metal grips underfoot, you can even tackle some more hilly terrain/trails which can be slippery in the winter.
Compared to other kinds of winter gear, snowshoes are more affordable but really good ones can set you back quite a bit.
If you know you’ll use your snowshoes a lot, investing in a good pair might make sense for hitting the local trails throughout the winter.
As for where to go, many local conservations areas have trails that are open in the winter. We like Scanlon Creek Conservation Area close to Bradford or Thornton Bales near Newmarket.
There are many other trails – like the Manitou Mountain Trail in Calabogie (which can include the famous Eagles Nest Lookout trail) – that are prime for winter wanders with the right gear.
Ontario Parks even get in on the winter action. There are 31 Provincial Parks open for various uses during the winter – from day-use only to overnight camping (see winter camping below).
Some parks have ungroomed trails, some have groomed trails, and others offer up their immense backcountry.
For example, Forks of the Credit Provincial in Caledon is open for winter day use for hiking and snowshoeing (no rentals, though).
Some – like Algonquin, Frontenac, and Killarney – even have snowshoe rentals onsite! You can learn more about Ontario Parks in winter here.
Of course, if you just want to try snowshoeing once for a day, you can always rent a pair through a local winter outfitter like Algonquin Outfitters in Muskoka and try it out at local trails.
You can also head for Hardwood Hills Ski & Bike close to Barrie or Hiawatha Highlands in Sault Ste Marie – these facilities offer snowshoe rentals for use on their trails.
Depending on where you stay, some Ontario resorts or accommodations also offer snowshoe rentals which you can access as a guest!
Sip Ice Wine at an Ontario Winery
It wouldn’t be winter in Ontario without talking about sipping on ice wine. Canada is one of only a handful of countries around the world that can produce ice wine.
So, it should come as no surprise that this sweet treat always makes a splash each winter season.
The production of ice wine is highly regulated in Ontario (and Canada) so there are only so many wineries that can produce it and legally call it ice wine!
Niagara-on-the-Lake is a big place for this with Inniskillin’s Vidal Icewine being among the top choices. Of course, there are other Niagara-on-the-Lake wineries like Reif Estates and Peller Estates who also squeeze some frozen grapes each season!
Fewer wineries in Prince Edward County do ice wine – but Exultet Estates is one of them!
Of course, if you’re not into ice wine you can also just visit any of the many Ontario wineries in the winter for food and or samples.
Attend an Ontario Winter Festival or Fair
If you’re searching for something to do this winter, you might have some luck attending a winter-themed festival or fair in your area.
Ontario (and Canada, in general) is a place that embraces the cold – and so there are several winter events in Ontario to check out across the province!
With themes like ice wine, agriculture, food/drinks, and even arts and crafts, there is an Ontario winter event that is sure to work for you and your interests!
Below are just a handful of winter events across the province – there are bound to be more close to where you live!
(For 2021/2022 winter dates, be sure to visit the official event websites for updates on cancellations, restrictions, or moved dates).
- Ice Wine Festival/Trail in Niagara-on-the-Lake (runs in January)
- Winter Festival of Lights in Niagara Falls (runs from mid-November to mid-February)
- Feb Fest in Kingston (February)
- Royal Agricultural Winter Fair at Exhibition Place in Toronto in November
- Bracebridge Fire and Ice Festival in Bracebridge (January 29th)
- Bon Soo in Sault Ste Marie – a winter festival in its over 50th year that was started to bring joy to the cold, quieter times of the year!
Go to Winterlude in Ottawa (+ Skate the Rideau Canal)
We’ve already talked about winter festivals, but Winterlude in Ottawa deserves its own section.
Running from February 4th to 21st, 2022, this world-renowned winter festival hosted in Ottawa and Gatineau, Quebec (across the Ottawa River) is really just a celebration of the cold. And boy, does it get cold in Ottawa!
From various events and performances to the ice sculpture competition and wintry activities for kids, there is always something to do at Winterlude.
If you’ve never had a beavertail or maple syrup taffy, Winterlude is the place to try them!
One of the top things to do in Ontario in winter is to skate on the Rideau Canal which snakes its way through downtown Ottawa. Officially the Rideau Canal is the largest naturally frozen ice rink in the world at 7.8 kilometres long!
The nice thing about skating the Rideau Canal is that there are many points at which you can get on and off (and a handful of places you can rent skates). So you don’t necessarily have to skate the whole thing!
Ottawa can get quite busy for Winterlude so if you know you want to visit be sure to book accommodations in advance.
You can read all about the top things to do in Ottawa and read our guide to plan one perfect day in Ottawa!
Go Skiing or Snowboarding at an Ontario Ski Hill/Resort
Another one of the classic winter activities in Ontario is to go skiing or snowboarding.
We may not have the most towering mountains, but Ontario offers several great ski hills and/or resorts that you can check out.
Whether you are a beginner looking to rent skis and take a course or an advanced skier looking for a challenge and an après ski, there is an Ontario ski hill for you.
The unique terrain of Ontario usually means that ski hills are somewhat clustered together in groups.
There are a large group of ski hills just north of Barrie (e.g. Snow Valley, Mount St. Louis Moonstone) which offer varied skiing for different abilities.
They all make for a nice day trip from Toronto. Horseshoe Resort also offers the ability to stay over if you want to make a weekend out of it.
Other hills, like Calabogie Peaks Resort closer to Ottawa (makes a good day trip from Ottawa) as well as some hills and mountains in northern Ontario offer a bit more of a challenge.
Of course, you can’t talk about skiing in Ontario without mentioning Blue Mountain which is close to Collingwood. This ski resort has a robust infrastructure of not only skiing and snowboarding but other wintertime activities.
Skiing is also relatively affordable with day passes at smaller ski hills not breaking the bank. Here’s a list of some other ski hills across the province that you can check out:
- Chicopee Ski & Summer Resort is a great resort near Kitchener
- Hidden Valley Highlands in Huntsville (among the other things to do in Huntsville)
- Sir Sam’s in Eagle Lake close to Haliburton
- Lots in Northern Ontario like Antoine Mountain close to Mattawa on the Ottawa River and Searchmont Resort close to Sault Ste. Marie.
Pro Tip: Some ski hills also offer snow tubing (because they already have the hills and grooming abilities). Snow tubing is a very fun winter activity that is good for all ages.
You can check out the Chicopee Tube Park or Snow Valley as ski resorts that also specialize in snow tubing.
Eric remembers snow tubing as a kid at night with the family at Snow Valley. Those are memorable experiences flying down the hill all bundled up and enjoying beautiful winter evenings.
Experience Winter Camping
Camping in Ontario is a pretty popular thing to do in the summertime – but did you know that it is also very popular in the winter? Winter camping in Ontario is definitely one of the neatest experiences that you can have.
For many, winter camping is the perfect mixture of exploring the outdoors in winter, getting some fresh air, and maintaining a few creature comforts to keep you safe and comfortable!
Some private campsites offer winter camping across the province but their offerings differ from year to year.
There are also several Ontario Parks that offer rentable heated winter accommodations – usually yurts or cabins.
For example, Arrowhead built brand new heated cabins that come with a BBQ. MacGregor Point has 12 yurts, and Killarney has six yurts available for rental (just to name a few).
Here’s the full list of heated roofed accommodations available in Ontario Parks.
To be honest, the Ontario Provincial Parks that have winter cabin/yurt rentals are a great option because they have good infrastructure, facilities, and often activities you can enjoy while you are there.
Just be sure to book ahead because they can be popular!
Stay at an Ontario Resort
If you didn’t want to plan a whole winter weekend getaway in Ontario on your own, you could always consider booking a stay at an Ontario resort.
There are several awesome resorts across Ontario that specialize in winter stays and winter activities for their guests.
Many travellers might be familiar with popular resorts like Blue Mountain Resort close to Collingwood, Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville, or the JW Marriott Resort and Spa on Lake Rosseau.
These resorts provide great accommodation in many wintery settings – and even include outdoor activities that go along with the season.
Activities like cross-country skiing, skating, snowshoeing, or just sitting by an outdoor campfire are all possible at these types of Ontario resorts.
Many of them also include those relaxing spas or spa amenities mentioned below on this list!
If you want to book a winter getaway in Ontario, you can visit Resorts of Ontario or look below for resorts that offer winter getaway packages across the province:
- Fern Resort in Orillia
- Couples Resort in Whitney (basically in Algonquin Park)
- Pine Vista Resort in Lakefield
- Westwind Inn on the Lake in Buckhorn
Try Out Cross-Country Skiing
If downhill skiing or snowboarding is a little too extreme for you, you might consider cross-country skiing. There are two kinds of cross country skiing: classic and skate skiing.
Luckily, there are several trail systems across the province that specialize in flat country skiing.
Hardwood Hills Ski and Bike is a big one for cross country skiing north of Barrie in Oro Medonte.
A little to the west is Highlands Nordic in Duntroon and all the way east towards Ottawa is Madawaska Nordic in Calabogie.
Looking north, Hiawatha Highlands close to Sault Ste. Marie is also a great spot for some cross-country skiing.
One of the downsides to cross-country skiing is the fact that you do require proper gear.
However many of the listed outfitters or companies above will rent you everything you need for an enjoyable day out on the trails!
Pro Tip: You can also try out “back-country skiing” which uses shorter “Hok Skis”.
These specialized short skis are like snowshoes for walking through deep snow but also allow for hill climbing and downhill skiing!
Liv Outside offers these kinds of guided and self-guided back-country ski adventures!
Visit an Ontario Christmas Market
For a taste of European culture right here in Ontario, there are some European Christmas markets that you can visit.
Nothing says winter like sipping on an authentic hot drink like Glühwein (mulled wine) or tasting some authentic German gingerbread (Lebkuchen).
As for where to find these Christmas markets – many locals are probably familiar with the Toronto Christmas Market that is located in Toronto’s Distillery District (one of the top tourist attractions in the city).
However, there are some other Christmas markets which you can visit across Ontario. Here are a number of quintessential Christmas markets and smaller crafts/food/shop local events you can check out during the winter season:
- Xmus Festival in Huntsville
- Ottawa Christmas Market – in Lansdowne Park
- Christmas in Paris – in Paris, close to Brantford
- Sault Handmade Christmas Market – in Sault Ste Marie
Of course, no list of Ontario Christmas markets would be complete without The Christkindl Market in Kitchener.
Running since 1997, this market is located in an area of southern Ontario with a large German population.
We’re excited to visit this market because we’ve heard it’s as authentic as a Christmas market in Ontario gets. Our very own born and raised German, Lisa, will be the judge of that!
Relax at an Ontario Spa
If you’re trying to beat the Ontario cold and looking for a little relaxation, you should visit an Ontario spa.
There are some top-rated spa facilities (indoor and outdoor) across the province that specialize in bringing you to calm while enjoying the winter season.
Briefly mentioned above, many Ontario resorts have both indoor and outdoor spa amenities like saunas, outdoor fire pits, and heated pools that you can enjoy.
The JW Marriott in Minett (Muskoka) houses Spa Rosseau, Millcroft Inn and Spa in Alton (close to Caledon) features the Millcroft Spa, and Pillar and Post in Niagara-on-the-Lake offer their 100 Fountain Spa.
Depending on the resort, you may have access to spa amenities as a guest or have to pay for additional services.
As an outside visitor, oftentimes you can pay to use the spa for the day to go and relax in a snowy setting. Just be sure to book in advance!
Some spa-centric locations across the province specialize in providing outdoor Scandinavian-type spa experiences. A very popular spa location is the Scandinave Spa Blue Mountain just outside Collingwood.
If this is all booked, you can always try the Iwa Spa located close by at Blue Mountain Village.
If motorsports and things that go fast are more up your alley, then going snowmobiling is an Ontario winter activity you should definitely try.
Snowmobiling is a great way to see and experience stunning Ontario landscapes, frozen lakes, and potential wildlife that you might not see otherwise on more commonly used trails.
Members of Eric’s family are avid snowmobilers and we like to get out each winter to explore the areas around Sudbury.
If you are new to snowmobiling, the easiest way to experience the sport is to go on a day trip with a reputable company offering adventure tours.
This is because snowmobiling can be quite expensive (the snowmobile, the gear, and the mandatory OFSC trail permit can add up) and is a skill that needs to be mastered over time.
A lack of knowledge about the trails, lakes, sleds, and the terrain can add an element of unnecessary risk and danger to snowmobiling newcomers.
So, if you want to try snowmobiling safely, seek out a reputable company. Here are a few examples of companies that offer snowmobile adventures and/or tour packages that you can try:
- Tom Irwin Adventure Tours in Calabogie will take you out on guided snowmobile tours. They take care of the gear/equipment – you just show up ready to explore!
- Valley Adventure Tours in Barry’s Bay
- Cotton Co. in Port Sydney
- Back Country Tours out of the Muskoka Adventure Store in Dwight (Highway 60 between Huntsville and Algonquin Park)
- Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville offers snowmobiling lessons and tours
Go Dog Sledding
If you want to combine your love for the crisp and chilly Ontario outdoors in winter with a passion for animals, trying dog sledding in Ontario might be for you.
There are several outlets across Ontario that can take you out for a few hours or a whole day trek to experience this traditional form of transportation.
Dog sledding is also a great way to experience trails and backcountry that you might not be able to otherwise. With the right winter gear and the right attitude, you can have a great day taking in the outdoors with some adorable pooches.
If you’re considering trying dog sledding (whether as the musher or just the passenger), be sure to do your research (here’s Northern Ontario Travel’s official guide) into the companies and or tour operators which offer this.
The proper treatment of the animals should be at the forefront of any reputable company offering dog sledding. Here are some places you can try dog sledding in Ontario this winter:
- North Ridge Ranch – north of Huntsville
- Borealis Dog Sled Adventures – just west of Dryden off Highway 17 (Trans-Canada)
- Winter Dance Dog Sled Tours in Haliburton
Try Winter Fat Biking
Speaking of trails, if you’re super into biking but sad that it’s winter – fear not – because fat biking is a thing!
Often done on groomed trails – usually similar to those used in cross country skiing – fat biking is a growing winter trend and a way to exercise.
Essentially you just bike but with a specialized bike with very specialized tires. These specialized fat tires have a deep tread and low pressure which can traverse snowy terrain much easier than a regular mountain bike.
The result is a day out on the trails doing a motion that you might be very used to from other times of the year!
Some resorts across Ontario might offer fat biking rentals as an option if stay there (Deerhurst has fat biking).
Of course, there are also several cross-country trails/organizations or winter outfitters who offer fat bike rentals and use of their sprawling trails systems.
A good rule of thumb: If a place offers cross country skiing, there’s a good chance they also offer fat biking (since it’s becoming so popular).
For a great example, you can once again check out Hardwood Hills Ski and Bike in Oro Medonte.
They specialize in cross country skiing and snowshoeing and also have fat bike rentals that you can try. Here are some other places around the province that offer fat biking:
- Albion Hills Conservation Area in Caledon has fat bike rentals (they also have snowshoeing and cross country skiing)
- Hiawatha Highlands (mentioned above in Sault Ste Marie) also has fat biking
- Walden Cross Country close to Sudbury offers fat biking
Ice Climb a Waterfall
It’s no secret that Ontario is home to many stunning waterfalls. We were lucky enough to travel around the greater Hamilton area chasing waterfalls in the warmer months.
However, did you ever consider checking them out in the winter? And did you ever consider climbing up some of Ontario’s cascading icy ledges? Well, you can!
Ice climbing a waterfall in the winter requires a certain amount of physical fitness and sophisticated gear. As such, it is an activity that should not be tried by unskilled amateurs.
Luckily, there are several tour companies in Ontario that specialize in ice climbing.
These companies take care of the logistics the gear and the safety precautions necessary to allow for an enjoyable adventure.
Below you can find some companies and/or locations that offer ice climbing across Ontario.
Be sure to book in advance since many day trips or tour packages book up fast (especially considering everyone wants to be outside this winter!):
- Outdoor Skills and Thrills can take you across Northwestern Ontario for some of the best ice climbing you’ll find in Canada
- Further south, Liv Outside offers ice climbing tours and packages in Muskoka and the Halliburton Highlands
- If you want to climb the famous Tiffany Falls down near Hamilton, you must connect with the climbing organizations who organize permits and special sessions.
You can learn more about other ice climbing locations across Ontario at gripped.com.
Go Ice Skating
You can always keep it simple with ice skating! No matter your skill level, lacing up a pair of skates is a very Ontario winter thing do to.
And while Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto (shown above) might seem fun and convenient, often the smaller community areas or outdoor rinks in smaller urban centres have great ice and fewer people.
Then there’s skating on natural ice – like a frozen lake. Skating on a lake requires a few conditions to line up perfectly.
Not only does the ice have to be good and thick enough for skating (when in doubt, don’t go on the ice!) but the surface itself has to be clear of snow.
This often happens when it’s mild and sunny during the day and then the surface water re-freezes to a glossy surface.
This happened to Lake Ontario a few winters back. People could hop off the shoreline near downtown Kingston and basically skate across to Wolfe Island. Everywhere you could see – tiny gliding specks dotted the winter landscape as the sunset.
Of course, there are several other skating trails (sometimes known as ice ribbons) across the province you can check out:
- For Ontario Parks, most famous is Arrowhead with their “Fire and Ice Nights” but there are others like MacGregor Point Provincial Park.
- The Ramsey Lake Skate Path is a 1.5 km skate trail that the city creates and maintains up in Sudbury
- Tom Thompson Park Ice Ribbon in South River is a community-led initiative
- Muskoka Lakes Farm and Winery – the Johnston’s farm known for the annual cranberry harvest in Bala – has a 1.2 km ice trail onsite. They have Torch Light skating at night and a “Cranboni” to clean the ice!
Chase the Northern Lights
A bucket list item for many is to see the Northern Lights at least once in their lifetime. The good news is that you can experience the Northern Lights right here in Ontario!
Caused by charged particles dancing in the Earth’s atmosphere, northern light activity is technically active all year round.
However, the longer, darker nights of winter are when we take a shot at seeing them. This makes spotting the Northern Lights a sought-after winter experience in Ontario.
To see the Northern Lights, a few important conditions need to be met: There needs to be a significant atmospheric activity that evening, and you need to be at a place dark enough to see it happen!
You can check to see what the aurora borealis activity is doing at AuroraForecast.com.
Most of Southern Ontario is already at a disadvantage location-wise due to increased light pollution from cities.
So, unless you are in a more remote part of Northern Ontario – where you can just look up at the sky! – you need to be in a place without light pollution to see them well.
Luckily, there are a few dark sky preserves/reserves around southern Ontario like Torrance Barrens Dark-Sky Preserve close to Hardy Lake Provincial in Muskoka or the L&A Dark Sky Viewing Area north of Napanee.
Other places that you can go – if you find yourself more north – are Killarney Provincial Park and Lake Superior Provincial Park. Both of these parks became recognized as Dark Sky Preserves by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada in 2018!
Wherever you go this winter to see the lights be sure to dress very warmly, know your limits, and practice good night viewing etiquette!
Side Story: One time Eric was driving at night up near Pickle Lake, Ontario (but that’s wayyy up north) and saw the northern lights. He pulled over the car and just sat against the hood for a few minutes to take in the show. It was incredible.
Saddle Up for Winter Horseback Riding
Yet another way to make use of wintery trails in Ontario is to go winter horseback riding.
It is very similar to horseback riding in the warmer months except for the fact that you should be bundled for the colder weather.
There are many farms and or stables that specialize in winter riding. Experienced guides are often able to take you out on the local trails – or on their own expansive properties – to get a sense of riding in the cold!
Horseback riding in the winter is often a more relaxed form of transportation compared to snowmobiling. It is also much quieter allowing you to see potentially more wildlife than via other methods of winter travel.
Below are many stables/farms that are open all year-round and advertise their ability to cater to winter horseback riding:
- Adventure Stables in Whitney (near Algonquin Park)
- Maple Lane Farms in Bracebridge
- Teen Ranch in Caledon
- Niagara Riding Stables in Niagara-on-the-Lake
- Honora Bay Riding Stable in Little Current (on Manitoulin Island)
Give Ice Fishing A Go
Last but certainly not least is an activity that can feel very Canadian at times: Ice fishing! Fishing in the summer in the warm weather is a completely different experience from fishing in the winter.
Done properly and safely, ice fishing is a great way to experience the outdoors while also learning a thing or two about this age-old tradition.
However, there are rules and regulations to know when it comes to both ice conditions as well as where and when you can ice fish in Ontario. For example, you need a valid fishing license if you wish to ice fish.
In addition, some lakes in Ontario have been deemed sanctuary lakes where ice fishing is not allowed as these fish populations are protected during the winter.
Assuming you don’t have your own ice fishing hut/gear and a local lake that you frequent (or else you probably wouldn’t be reading this article), there are ways you can try out ice fishing as a beginner.
Your best option to try ice fishing is to find a reputable guide who will take you out to show you the ropes. Since Ontario has hundreds of thousands of lakes, there is no shortage of places to ice fish.
A common place to ice fish is Kempenfelt Bay just off the shores of downtown Barrie. This area of Lake Simcoe is often dotted with ice fishing huts.
Here are some more companies around Ontario that will take you for the day and show you how it’s done:
- Blue Rock Charters is ice fishing on Lake Ontario (Bay of Quinte) and nearby lakes
- Muskoka Stay ‘N Play Tours also does guided snowmobile tours with their ice fishing tours out of Bala
- Adam Goy Fishing out of Innisfil (near Barrie) on Lake Simcoe
- Paul’s Fish Huts out of Pefferlaw will take you out on Lake Simcoe
- Pasha Lake Cabins in Jellicoe (north of Thunder Bay/Nipigon off Highway 11)
And there you have it – some top ideas for things to do in Ontario in winter! If dressed appropriately, winter in Ontario is a beautiful season for lots of different activities.
You just have to find the one that fits your interests, budget, and timelines. Maybe see you out on the trails? You can bet we’ll be in our snowshoes!
As always, Keep Exploring, eh?
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