A road trip in Canada during the winter? No, I’m not nuts. It can actually be one of the best times of the year to go. Aside from all the standard reasons why travelling around Canada in the winter is awesome (snow! skiing!), there are a few more that may well convince you to take to the road next winter…
1. Experience drivin’ in a winter wonderland
Canada in winter is the stuff of Christmas cards and festive films. No, really. Snow makes everything extra pretty, even the most industrial towns and cities. Take a drive along snowy tree-lined roads to reach vistas with endless white peaks and icy lakes. Bring some snowshoes with you and get even more off the beaten track.
2. Have some of the most popular Canadian sights all to yourself
Want to have the Rockies all to yourself, more or less? Or watch the ocean from a beautiful deserted beach? Then winter is your perfect time to take a road trip in Canada. Sure, the air may be cool (OK, pretty icy at times) and the ground crisp, but it will be all yours. As a bonus, the Rockies will look even more spectacular with recent snow.
3. drive BC’s Powder Highway
With 8 world-class ski resorts and endless backcountry opportunities in the Kootenay Rockies, the Powder Highway is well worth driving. I would love to travel this over a couple of weeks one year, though I need bit more snowboarding practice to make the most of it. Many of the resorts offer Nordic skiing too, something that appeals to my slower sensibilities. Plus there are hot springs!
4. Experience the Northern Lights
Having a vehicle means being able to get away from urban light pollution to see the best displays possible. Use Aurora Watch to check the forecast. We keep seeing the Northern Lights at completely unexpected times, such as while driving in Northern Alberta last week. Despite being somewhat in a rush, we pulled off the deserted highway to watch what felt like our own private light show.
5. Some animals don’t hibernate
Yep, I was as surprised as you. Driving around Canada in the winter doesn’t mean that you will necessarily miss out on encountering some beautiful animals by the roadside. Moose, caribou (reindeer), mountain goats and deer are all Canadian animals that do not hibernate. We were able to add a few more non-hibernating animals to our list recently, spotting a lynx and lots of big horn sheep near the Rockies. An unforgettable experience!
6. Lower rates on travel expenses
Christmas and ski destinations aside, flights to Canada in winter can be exceptionally reasonable. Accommodation providers usually offer off-season discounts and specials, though keep in mind that some businesses close over the winter. Gas seems to be at a lower rate over the winter, especially this year with oil hitting the lowest prices in 5 or so years. Consider an island getaway – BC Ferries offers off-peak rates for their inside passage routes.
7. It’s not snowy everywhere
Thinking of island getaways – both Haida Gwaii and Vancouver Island receive rain during the winter, not snow. They also experience the best surf in the off-season. Don’t surf? No problem, I don’t either. Light a fire and watch the storms roll in from your oceanside (discounted) accommodation instead!
Some notes about driving in Canada during the winter.
Winter road trips are fun for all of the above reasons and more but it’s not a piece of cake. Drive to the conditions. Don’t rush. Be prepared (blankets, food, shovel, emergency kit). Have a good read of Transport Canada’s winter driving advice before you plan your trip. For more advice, check out my essential travel tips for winter road trips in Canada.