Ontario has famous summers, but actually, it’s spectacular during winter. The snow itself is beautiful, there are plenty of seasonal activities, and so long as you wear layers you’ll be snug in Ontario’s winter wonderland. And don’t wear cotton!
This is a guest post by Jared, the founder of the website Out Here Travel (https://www.outheretravel.ca).
Cottage life in Ontario
The first step is to get a good accommodation. A winter-proofed cottage or chalet is ideal. If you get a cabin that isn’t very winterized, it better have a fireplace inside! Like in summer, you want to be near a lake.
Maybe your place has a hot tub so you can get a taste of Nordic life—going from the tub’s heat to rolling in the snow and back again is an old-time pleasure.
For the truly brave, go for a “polar swim”! Plunging into the lake during winter should be done with caution. It’s not for everyone, but it’s exhilarating.
Campfires: not just for summer
It may not look like the image of campfires portrayed commonly in the movies, but an outdoor wintertime fire is a wonderful thing! Shovel out the fire pit, get some logs to sit on, a little bit of dry tinder and you’re good. Even the wet wood with snow on it will go up in flames once the fire gets hot enough.
The cold bracing air against the heat of the fire is a pleasant contrast. No mosquitoes! Enjoy the sunset with a beer in hand or some mulled wine. The vibe is different, but you’ll struggle to understand why more people don’t rush up North in winter.
Go snowmobiling in Ontario
If you’re near the lake or know the trails, you get some serious adrenaline from ripping it up on a snowmobile. Make sure the lake is seriously and sufficiently frozen or hit the trails! No experience? There are a number of providers all across Northern Ontario that can help you out, like smart adventures near Barrie.
Get a winter workout
Alternatively, take to the lake to go cross-country skiing. It’s an amazing cardio workout, legs and arms. You can do this on a trail too, and there are lots of places with groomed paths like Hardwood Ski & Bike.
Cross country skiing on the lake gives you a broad vista to see, but the wind can get you pretty cold. Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees: If you want to see the forest, ski on the lake, if you want to see the trees, hit the trail.
Have a go at a Canadian classic
The lake is the setting for perhaps the most classic of Canadian pastimes in any season—pond hockey. Just shovel some snow on the frozen lake or pond to the dimensions you want your rink, then skate around and push a puck to your heart’s content.
If you’ve ever had to pay for ice in a city or fought with a coach to get more time to skate, having unlimited time will be a blessing. You may not play on a lake or pond but on an artificial rink, built for the purpose in some lucky neighbourhood.
Feel free to read more about one of our favorite activities on this pond hockey dedicated blog post.
Skate it up
Some resorts or lodges have outdoor skating options like trail skating, where there may be two or three skating ponds connected by trails through the woods.
Check out the Arrowhead Ice Skating Trail which is a bit further abound in Muskoka. Options further south include the Skate Trail at Discovery Bay. No matter where you go, make sure it is cold out so the ice stays nice and frozen!
Winter treats in Ontario
Getting hungry? Head to one of the nearby “sugar shacks” for pancakes dripping in that sweet, sweet maple syrup, tapped from trees on site…sometimes Canadian stereotypes are trite, sometimes they’re treats.
Although known more in Quebec, they are still great in Ontario. You may pass a farmer’s market or butcher. Just because there’s snow doesn’t mean you can’t barbeque! The air is cold but the ‘cue will be hot, and digging it out of the snow is a kind of adventure.
Take the dogs for a run
If you’re staying at a lodge that offers dog sledding, go! If you aren’t, drive to one if you have the wheels! It’s a great way to quest through the forest. And the dogs love it! There’s none of the cruel treatment associated with SeaWorld or zoos. The huskies eat a fine meal, and they love going for a run.
You’ll have trouble stopping them. Check out Algonquin Dog Sled Adventures for half-day to multi-day overnight trips. It’s a really cool way to experience some Canadian winter. Be one of the few people who can say they’ve been.
The importance of apres-ski
Downhill skiing is the other classic winter activity. Alpine skiing. Ontario doesn’t exactly have famous slopes. “Blue Mountain” is not a real mountain. After you’ve skied in British Columbia, Alberta or even Quebec, Ontario skiing will not exactly blow you away.
The problem isn’t only the short runs, but the quantity and quality of the snow. Conditions can be icy. But even the smallest bunny hill seems like a mountain to those first learning to ski!
For the more experienced, Ontario skiing can still be a fun way to get some exercise and enjoy a day outdoors in winter.
Even if the conditions are pathetic, the best part of skiing can still be enjoyed in full: removing those ski boots after a long day and going for that après-ski beer and meal. Some of the downhill ski spots sport some awesome some snow tubing as well.
If you can walk, you can snowshoe
Snowshoeing is another fun way to get outside. It’s a lot like walking! Snowshoes essentially just help keep you above the snow, for when it’s really coming down or layered.
If you bundle up and wear those things you can walk around in a blizzard, and enjoy the intensity of nature. Walk on the lake or uncleared trails without sinking waist deep… or further!
Read next – Snowshoeing 101: A Beginner’s Guide
Ontario, truly a winter wonderland
Snow can be a terrible and even a dangerous thing when you need to drive or commute to work. But when you already are where you need to be, and there’s a fireplace to warm up, the sight of it is really amazing.
In the city, snow is grey and crusty from all the car exhaust, but up north it’s just pure white and shimmers all over like diamonds. It’s stunning, and questing in it becomes play. Such is Ontario in winter.
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One half of the Canadian/British couple behind Off Track Travel, Gemma is happiest when hiking on the trail or planning the next big travel adventure. JR and Gemma are currently based in the beautiful Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada