Looking for a winter getaway with easy access to fun activities like ice skating, skiing and snowshoeing? Ottawa has all that and more, just steps from your hotel room or in the nearby wilderness. Here are some of the best ways to enjoy winter in Canada’s capital region.
From Jan. 31 to Feb. 17, 2020, Ottawa hosts Canada’s annual celebration of winter, Winterlude. A special highlight for children (and the young at heart) is Snowflake Kingdom located in Jacques-Cartier Park in Gatineau, with its collection of huge snow slides and interactive activities. The festival’s International Ice Carving competition attracts carvers from around the world who transform blocks of ice into spectacular works of art. Visit the sculptures during the day and again at night to see them in all their lit-up glory.
Don’t miss the annual Ice Dragon Boat Festival on Feb. 7-8, 2020 where dragon boats race down the frozen Rideau Canal Skateway. Cheer on the dragon boater as they race down the frozen Rideau Canal Skateway and then warm up inside the Dows Lake Pavilion during the festival’s free concert series!
Skating on the largest naturally frozen skating rink in the world is a ‘must-do’ on many visitors’ bucket lists. The Rideau Canal Skateway is open to skaters daily from roughly late December to late February, weather permitting, at no charge. There are change huts, skate rental shacks and snack stations all along its 7.8 km (4.8 miles) length. Check the ice conditions before you head out.
If ice conditions don’t allow for skating on the canal, you can head to Ottawa City Hall where the SENS Rink of Dreams, a refrigerated outdoor skating rink, is open from December to March from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. This 12,500-square-foot ice rink features LED lighting, a heated change hut, picnic tables and benches. Skate rentals and skate sharpening are available on site on weeknights and weekends (click here for skate service hours).
The Skating Court at Lansdowne also offers a longer skating season that stretches from early December to mid-March. Free open skating sessions are available daily, or you can learn how to skate through one of its skating programs (skate rentals are not available at this site).
For even more ice skating options, including skating trails through forests, see our suggestions on the best ice skating experiences in Ottawa.
You can access cross-country trails in the heart of Ottawa, including the popular Sir John A. Macdonald Winter Trail (known locally as the SJAM Trail). Its groomed tracks are meant for snowshoeing, walking and fat biking for 16 km (10 miles) along the Ottawa River running westward from the Canadian War Museum, near downtown. There are also over 150 km (93 miles) of cross-country ski trails in the Greenbelt area encircling Ottawa. You can use the trails for free and all are suitable for beginner and family outings.
Just a 15-minute drive north from downtown Ottawa, Gatineau Park is a mecca for cross-country skiing enthusiasts, with over 200 km (124 miles) of groomed trails and heated shelters. Pick up a ski pass (daily or seasonal) at the Visitor Centre in Chelsea, Quebec. The Gatineau Loppet, Canada’s largest cross-country skiing event, takes place Feb. 14-16, 2020, attracts some of the very best distance racers from Canada and the world. There are a variety of distance races in the classic and freestyle categories open for registration in addition to the Gatineau Loppet Challenge.
To participate in North America’s longest and oldest Nordic ski tour, join the Canadian Ski Marathon from Feb. 7-9, 2020. This annual three-day, 160 km (99 miles) event is open to skier participants of all ages. The event trail between Lachute and Gatineau, Quebec is only groomed once per year.
Downhill Skiing and Snowboarding
For downhill enthusiasts, Ottawa is like an urban resort, with challenging hills within easy driving distance of downtown, including Camp Fortune and Mont Cascades.
For more cross-country or downhill options, visit our skiing and snowboarding page.
You can snowshoe almost anywhere that’s covered in snow, but Gatineau Park has trails reserved especially for snowshoeing the activity! Snowshoe rentals as well as trail passes (daily or seasonal) are available at the Visitor Centre in Chelsea, Quebec.
Tip: Parkbus offers packages that include bus transportation between Ottawa and Gatineau Park, as well as passes to access the park’s ski, snowshoe and bike trails. This offer is available on specific weekend days during the winter months.
Ever wanted to try dogsledding, or mushing, as it’s called? Enjoy a journey through forest trails as you ride in a sled pulled by trained dogs at Escapade Eskimo. This bucolic property located 75 minutes from Ottawa in the Outaouais region also offers snowshoeing, sledding and other activities.
Gatineau Park offers four groomed trails for winter hiking and is a lovely place for a walk in a snow-covered forest. And though most trails in Ottawa’s Greenbelt are used for cross-country skiing in the winter, you can walk or hike to your heart’s content. Simply stay well to the side of the ski tracks!
Winter Camping and Cabins
Gatineau Park provides adventurers with campsites, cabins, yurts and four-season tents accessible via ski and snowshoe trails. Reservations are required, so be sure to book ahead!
Looking for more wintry ideas? Take a look at our list of Top outdoor places to photograph in Ottawa this winter.
Don’t forget to tag your photos and videos of your incredible winter activities with #MyOttawa.