Did you know that Ottawa is home to the largest naturally frozen skating rink in the world, as designated by Guinness World Records? It’s true! Each year, from roughly January to late February or early March, the scenic Rideau Canal – Ontario’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site – freezes and welcomes thousands upon thousands of visitors for winter fun.
People come from around the world to glide along the Rideau Canal Skateway’s 7.8 kilometres (4.8 miles), which stretch from Ottawa’s downtown core to Dows Lake, its largest surface. According to the National Capital Commission (NCC), the Skateway hosts a daily average of 19,000 visitors during the winter months. So if you’re coming to Ottawa over the winter season, this is something you don’t want to miss! Access to the Skateway is FREE.
You can bring your own skates or rent a pair at the Skateway’s downtown and Fifth Avenue entrances. Glide along and see how far you can go! According to the NCC, the Skateway’s actual skating surface is 165,621 square metres, which is bigger than 105 National Hockey League rinks or more than 90 Olympic-sized hockey rinks.
But don’t worry, you won’t be forsaken in the Canadian wilderness while you skate. All along the way, you’ll find various stands offering hot soup, hot chocolate and other items to keep you cozy and warm. There are also heated change huts, where you can put your skates on or just warm up for a bit. And while you’re on the famous Skateway, make sure to get a BeaverTails pastry! This deep fried, cinnamon and sugar, beaver tail-shaped pastry was invented in Ottawa in 1978. There’s nothing more Canadian than enjoying one on skates on the Skateway in the winter!
- The Rideau Canal Skateway is maintained and operated by the National Capital Commission (NCC). It is open to skaters daily (weather permitting) and is FREE of charge – although donations supporting the Skateway’s maintenance can be made at boxes at various entry points.
- On cold nights, workers drill holes in the Canal ice and pump water onto the surface. There’s even a special Skateway zamboni that smooths the ice surface!
- Change huts and snack stations can be found at various locations along the Skateway.
- If you don’t have skates, you can rent them on the Canal. You can also rent bright red sleighs and push those who can’t skate themselves.
- On beautiful winter days, skaters by the thousands fill the Skateway. According to the National Capital Commission (NCC), 900,000 people visit this skating rink each year.
- The first three weekends of February, the Canal is the focal point for Winterlude, the Capital’s annual celebration of winter.
- Many Ottawans who live near the Canal actually use it to skate to school or to work in the winter.