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…

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 snow covered 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.

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.

driving highway 11 alberta

big horn sheep highway 11 alberta rockies

big horn sheep alberta highway 11

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!

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.

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!

Lynx highway 11 alberta

lynx 2 highway 11 alberta rockies

North BC roads winter

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.

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.

JR Fort St John Winter 2014

Fort St John viewpoint winter

Fort St John Charlie Lake (2)

Gemma
Author

One half of a Canadian/British couple currently living in Penticton, British Columbia. Gemma is happiest with a paddle in her hand, on the trail or planning the next big adventure.

9 Comments

  1. Experience the Northern Lights is really a good reason to go to Canada. We are looking for our next “big trip” this year and one option is Canada, but in september/october before our little one turns 2 (so we don’t need to pay a ticket for him).

    • Gemma
      Gemma Reply

      September/October is another really nice time to visit Canada – the turning of the leaves in some areas is nothing short of spectacular! I actually experienced the Northern Lights for the first time at the very end of August, so it is definitely possible out of winter, depending on where you visit.

  2. Very cool! My husband had contemplated a winter trip to BC and Alberta since we live pretty close in Washington state. We were worried about the roads though and decided against it at the time. I’m glad to see that it is possible though and we will definitely keep this in mind for the future!

    • Gemma
      Gemma Reply

      Hi Valerie, thanks for your comment. Glad to hear you are considering come up to Canada! If you’re not in a rush, winter travel can be really fun. Keep an eye on the weather (current and forecasted), drive to the conditions and don’t hurry! And make sure you have good tires of course!

    • Gemma
      Gemma Reply

      Thanks! I wasn’t ever a fan but it feels nice to be doing winter ‘properly’ for once! It’s certainly better than grey & damp winter days in the UK!

  3. These are all great reasons to visit Canada during the winter. I love all those wildlife photos! We’ve only ever made it to Vancouver and Whistler during winter and it’s one of our favorite destinations. This is inspiring and hoe we can explore the other parts soon. My daughter is going crazy over that lynx picture right now 🙂 What a sighting!

    • Gemma
      Gemma Reply

      I’m so glad you like the wildlife photos so much! Seeing the lynx really was so wonderful and completely unexpected. Whistler is a great place to go to get a taster of a snowy Canadian winter, I would love to go back and do some more exploring!

  4. Hi Gemma,

    I’m planning for a road trip in december (during xmas/new year) from ottawa. I just want to explore scenic places, try different foods and want to be on road (motel or bnb) for a week or so and stay away from city. I heard a lot about some places in quebec. Any suggestions in that front?

    Thanks
    KK

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