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Top Winter Things to Do in Ontario Canada

January 11, 2020

Skating on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa at night, one of the top things to do in Ontario in winter

From skating trails to winter carnivals and ice wine festivals, Contributor Gregory George shares his tips for the top winter things to do in Ontario

 

Suffering from a little post-holiday cabin fever? You may want to get out and enjoy what we ordinary winter-loving folks in Ontario Canada love to do (other than shoveling snow): get out and play in the white stuff!

To help you keep busy, we’ve tracked down some unique and unusual snow-laden winter things to do in Ontario. So, pack some winter woolies, check your snow tires, and head further afield to one of these cold-weather outings and discover how Ontarians embrace their inner chilly winter selves with fun one-of-a-kind winter activities.
 

1. Skate The Bentway in Toronto

Just like the fabled forested skating paths of Ontario’s north, including cottage country Muskoka‘s ice skating trail at Arrowhead Provincial Park and  skating on the Trent Canal, Toronto now has its own urban skating oasis. The Bentway, much like New York‘s Highline, claims derelict, unused land and transforms it into an urban, multiuse space for locals and visitors alike, and turns it into one of the top things to in Toronto in winter.

The Bentway skating trail in Toronto on a sunny winter day
The Bentway skating trail in Toronto is a must-do on a sunny winter’s day (Photo courtesy Tourism Toronto)

Eventually spanning some 1.75 kilometers from Strachan Avenue to Bathurst Street and connecting the historic Fort York Visitors Center to the city, you can, for the time being anyway, grab some steaming cocoa and strap on your skates (or rent as well) for a day or evening romp on Toronto’s newest outdoor ice rink. And when warmer June weather arrives, it will become an outdoor concert venue with rotating public art exhibitions and public promenades, all under the dinosaur that is the Gardiner Expressway.

2. Niagara Icewine Festival

If you are a fan of the frozen vine as I am, then January is a great time to visit Niagara’s wine country. From fabulous gala evenings, glittering cool ice bars, winery tours, and the chance to sample wonderful winter icewines and inspired cooking, the Niagara Icewine Festival offers almost everything for all winter-loving tastes.

People having fun at the Niagara Icewine Festival
Sipping Icewine on a winter’s day is a quintessential Canadian experience (Photo courtesy Niagara Icewine Festival)

Nibble and sip your way through some 30+ local wineries with your Discovery Pass Winery Experience. And if you are looking for one of the most luxurious winter getaways Ontario has to offer, be sure not to miss Canada’s most lavish evening, the Niagara Icewine Festival Gala at Fallsview Casino Resort is a must. The event’s authentically Canadian theme will sate your national pride with fabulous food from each of Canada’s provinces and territories, in addition to over 100 VQA icewines and table wines to sip and sample while taking in an unforgettable Falls view from inside your very own Snow Globe.

3. Twenty Valley Winter WineFest

The crackling fire pits and toasty warming stations that dot the streets of lovely Jordan Village will welcome you to their annual January Twenty Valley Winter WineFest, bringing together Niagara’s top winemakers and wineries to share great food, premium sparkling ice wines and other wines served outdoors during Canada’s ultimate winter street party.

Twenty Valley WinterWinefest night time party with vendors
The Twenty Valley Winter WineFest (Photo courtesy Twenty Valley Winter WineFest)

The Ultimate Twenty Valley Showcase Dinner featuring the Chefs & Winemakers of Twenty Valley will warm you up at the rest of your Saturday night at the Inn on the Twenty

4. Ottawa’s Wonderful Winterlude

One of the things to do in February in Ontario is to connect with those cool winter locals in Ottawa and hit the ice (perhaps literally!) as our notoriously chilly National Capital Region warms up with skating along the world’s largest skating rink, the Rideau Canal Skateway. Enjoy this month-long celebration known as Winterlude, which features everything from weird and wonderful snow and ice sculptures in the Crystal Garden at Confederation Park, outdoor concerts, as well as family frolicking in the world’s biggest snow playground, the Snowflake Kingdom, where it’s all about enjoying the many pleasures of winter.

Families enjoying the snow tube slopes at Ottawa's Winerlude
Families having fun at Ottawa’s famous Winterlude Snowflake Kingdom (Photo, plus main image, courtesy Ottawa Tourism)

Winterlude also includes a variety of events at the north end of Jacques-Cartier Park in Gatineau where super slides, magnificent snow sculptures, digital art projection, shows and plenty more activities await you. Of course, while in Ottawa, you must enjoy the region’s most famous pastry, the beavertail, from Byward Market. Then head indoors and get your art on at the National Gallery with tons of kids and family activities guaranteed to warm your visit. For these capital ideas and other fun winter getaways near Ottawa, be sure to visit the event’s website at https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/campaigns/winterlude.html.

5. Enjoy Muskoka’s Winter Season

In just six years, the fantastic Ice Skating Trail at Arrowhead Provincial Park near Huntsville has become one of the topthings to do in Muskoka, and one of the most popular winter attractions Ontario has to offer. Once the snow settles, thousands of winter-loving Ontarians flock north to glide along this breathtaking skate through the forest. Named one of 19 Stunning Natural Ice Skating Rinks Around the World by Travel + Leisure, the ice path is lit nightly with torches as skaters slide through the dark winter woods to an icy, fiery glow.

The Ice Skating Trail at Arrowhead Provincial Park showing family skating at night
Family time at Arrowhead Provincial Park (Photo courtesy Ontario Parks)

The trail’s season opening is always subject to weather, but it’s typically open from the beginning of January until roughly the second week in March. The best ice conditions tend to be during the week, so if you can arrive in Muskoka midweek, you will be rewarded with no crazy line-ups as you visit one of the province’s most popular winter ‘bucket list’ items. The ice skating trail is always weather dependent, so be sure to check Arrowhead Provincial Park’s daily update before heading out.

6. Winter in the Haliburton Highlands

Just a stone’s throw east of Muskoka, the Haliburton Highlands features no end of fantastic winter activities to participate in and inviting accommodations perfect for an Ontario winter getaway. It’s a destination loaded with outdoor experiences and fun things to do, from cross country skiing at the Haliburton Nordic Trails to downhill skiing at Sir Sam’s Ski / Ride, along with snowshoeing, tobogganing, dogsledding, and snowmobiling adventures, too.

Huskies at the Haliburton Forest & Wild Life Reserve ready to pull a dogsled
Huskies ready for action in Haliburton (Photo courtesy Haliburton Forest & Wild Life Reserve)

Many of these activities can in fact be enjoyed at the Haliburton Forest & Wild Life Reserve. This first rate attraction offers rentals of snowmobiles and a pass to their more than 300km of trails, plus winter gear to keep you warm. Dogsledding experiences are also available, and come highly recommended. For fishing fans, ice fishing at the reserve offers a chance to catch one of the famous ‘Haliburton gold’ lake trout.

7. Backcountry Caving in The Blue Mountains

A truly novel way to enjoy Ontario’s backcountry beauty this time of year is to head north from Toronto to The Blue Mountains near Collingwood for some winter caving. While Free Spirit Tours’ experienced guides will take you to some of the area’s most spectacular cliffs and caverns, the adventure begins the moment you start snowshoeing through the trees to the cave entrance high up on the Niagara Escarpment overlooking Georgian Bay. It’s like entering another world as you explore spectacular ice formations and subterranean rivers, climbing and crawling your way about underground. 

Man shown winter caving in the Blue Mountains which is one of the top things to do in winter in Ontario
Winter caving in The Blue Mountains (Photo courtesy Free Spirit Tours)

Transportation is provided for the three-hour excursion, and equipment and instruction are included. Beginners as well as experienced cavers are welcome (minimum age is eight years), and although some physical exertion is required, it’s a fantastic way for families to bond as they explore an underground environment not normally witnessed during the winter months. Dress for warmth and comfort, and prepare to get down and dirty.

8. Yamaha Adventures at Horseshoe Valley

There’s a lot more to snowmobiling than simply jumping on a machine and gunning for the trails. Riding a snowmobile requires a great deal of respect for the immense power of these speedy machines, as well as a sound understanding of the ins and outs of operating one safely – two very important factors that will ultimately maximize their fun quotient. This mix of machine and mastery is very much in evidence at Riding Adventures by Yamaha, a fun family attraction located at Horseshoe Resort located near Orillia.

Riders enjoying a high five on their snowmobiles at Horseshoe Valley
Enjoying the thrill of sledding at Horseshoe Resort near Orillia (Photo courtesy Horseshoe Resort)

With its ‘base camp’ located at the top of the ski hills, it’s the perfect place from which to fully enjoy the endless miles of trails that crisscross the rugged 200 acre Horseshoe Valley Forest. Offering a wide range of challenging terrain, with all rides taking place in a controlled and safe environment, and therefore perfect for family outings. Tour packages include use of state-of-the-art Yamaha vehicles, as well as lessons, safety gear, and fuel.

9. Ontario Winter Night Sky Viewing, Torrance

February’s Family Day celebrations in Ontario means you can use the long weekend to take the kids to Muskoka and look up at the night sky to experience the vastness of space, view the universe, and marvel at the icy air viewing at the Torrance Barren’s Dark-Sky Preserve. During the day, enjoy snowmobiling, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing on one of the many Muskoka Lakes recreational trails.

10. BonSoo Winter Carnival, Sault Ste Marie

The popular and much-loved BonSoo Winter Festival in Sault Ste Marie has been providing 10 fun days of entertainment, rides, and the infamous Bad Joke Tuesday with Mr BonSoo since 1964. Newer, nighttime events have been added to Ontario’s oldest winter fest. Enjoy the Valentine’s Day Food and Wine event and the popular Black History Month Dinner, an evening of food, art and performance, celebrating Black History in the local community. The fun takes place early February and all but guarantees you’ll have fun participating in one of the best of the many Ontario winter family getaways available.

11. Six More Weeks of Ontario Winter?

The kids will also enjoy Wiarton Willie’s Official Prediction Day, where a groundhog’s shadowy predictions are the hijinks and celebrations of the Wiarton Willie Festival (the event has been going well over 60 years). Live entertainment, The Ground Hog Jog, a giant snowball fight, the Wake Up Willie PJ Party and fireworks intended to be loud enough to “wake up Willie”, make this weekend a must for the kids. Find out if we will enjoy an early spring or six more weeks of winter by joining the locals this February at the Prediction Morning Celebrations. 

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Contributor Gregory George is a world traveler, writer and co-founder / Editor-in-Chief of the www.followsummer.com travel site. You can follow Gregory’s travel inspirations on InstagramFacebook, and Twitter.