Canada’s West and subarctic regions are impossibly spellbinding when touched with winter’s frost. Discover this for yourself with these must-do winter experiences.
With western Canada’s first snowfall comes the call for cosy nights, thrilling winter activities and dancing Northern Lights. Average temperatures range between 8 and -30 degrees Celsius, so pack your warmest winter gear, it’s going to get chilly. There’s something for every type of traveller in Canada’s West: foodie tours in Vancouver, horse-drawn sleigh rides and ice walks in Banff National Park, and chasing the Northern Lights in Canada's Northwest Territories. No, you’re not in Narnia (though you’d be forgiven for thinking so).
With so many incredible once-in-a-lifetime experiences to be had across such vast terrain, there’s no better way to do it all than by joining a small-group tour to Canada in winter, where all the hard work is done for you.
Read on to discover our top six bucket-list winter experiences in Canada.
Canada’s subarctic: Dancing skies & local traditions
Away from city lights, the remote northwest wilderness region stretching from Fort Smith to Inuvik is where nature is at its most enchanting.
1. Chase the Northern Lights across the wilderness of the Northwest Territories
Witness pure magic when neon ribbons of light dance across a dark sky in Yellowknife’s Aurora Village: one of the best places on Earth to see the Northern Lights. As part of your tour, an Aurora Village bus driver will transfer you from downtown Yellowknife on a short drive away from the city lights to a remote location. On arrival, Indigenous-owned teepees offer warmth and shelter from the cold. There’s a cosy wood fire burning on arrival, plus heated seats, hot chocolate, tea and coffee to warm up in-between moments outside.
Winter (late December to mid-March) is a great time of year to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights, as the nights are longer, and the skies are incredibly clear. Armed with warm winter gear and a camera, you just need to sit and wait for the sky to shimmer and glow in various hues of pale green and pink.
2. Ride across a frozen lake aboard a traditional dog sled
Whiz across subarctic terrain and frozen lakes on a traditional sled towed by a team of dogs. This quintessential wintertime activity is enjoyed by locals and visitors alike – with your furry friends sharing in the excitement.
Meet the beloved canines and learn how they are essential to life in arctic conditions. Slide into a cosy sled and let the enthusiastic dog team and expert musher take you on a thrilling ride over Aurora Village’s frozen lake and through the white, wooded trails. After disembarking, give your sled-dogs a pat goodbye and head inside to warm up with a hot drink.
Vancouver: Where city lights and nature’s delights meet
The beauty of Vancouver lies in its duality of cosmopolitan living and rugged snow-capped mountains and icy ocean waters.
3. Take a food tour to rival all others
For foodies, there’s nothing better than discovering tasty bites in a new city. And there’s no better way to get your fix in Vancouver than with a food tour in Gastown. Here you’ll find a treasure trove of gastronomic delights, all discoverable on the legendary Gastown Food Tour. Rug up and set off down the frosty cobbled streets, passing Victorian houses on your way to try local craft beer, Japanese Karaage-style chicken and Vancouver’s award-winning cheesecake. And what could be a better remedy to a winter’s day than steamy Canadian poutine topped with lashes of gravy and melted cheese curds?
The best part is that this 2.5-hour walking tour is all on foot, so you’ll be burning off those calories in a snap, making room for your next culinary stop.
4. Embark on thrilling winter outdoor activities
When you’re itching to get moving, Vancouver’s winter activities are top notch. Just a 20-minute drive from the city centre is Grouse Mountain, an exciting ski resort serving up a smorgasbord of exhilarating outdoor activities. Don your snow gear, hire skis or a snowboard and tackle the mountain slopes. Or strap on your show shoes and make tracks across Munday Alpine Snowshoe Park for snow-dusted trails and epic viewpoints.
When you’re after those stellar views with minimal effort, board the scenic Skyride, an aerial tramway that’ll take you to the peak of the mountain. Along the way, watch the snowy landscape and glistening Douglas firs unfold.
Banff National Park & Lake Louise: A quintessential winter wonderland
Canada’s oldest national park is home to the jaw-dropping Lake Louise and makes Canada’s wild accessible, where mountains, forests, grizzlies and hiking trails are in abundance.
5. Stay in the iconic Fairmont Château Lake Louise
If there’s one place in Canada’s West to go to fulfil your winter wonderland dreams, it’s Banff National Park and Lake Louise. With every fairytale moment comes a jaw-dropping castle fit for a king or queen to rest their head: queue the iconic Fairmont Château Lake Louise. This five-star property places you in the heart of Banff National Park by the shores of Lake Louise, surrounded by majestic mountains and glaciers. During a stay here, you’ll be treated like royalty with an incredible day spa, exquisite dining (including a traditional afternoon tea) and winter-themed activities on offer.
One not-to-be-missed activity is a magical sleigh ride through the Rockies, in a horse-drawn carriage of course. Departing from Fairmont Château Lake Louise, you’ll snuggle under warm woollen blankets as a team of horses pulls you through sparkling, snow-covered meadows, and then afterwards you’ll warm up by a campfire and toast marshmallows.
6. Take an epic evening ice walk across Johnston Canyon
What could be a more captivating winter experience than hiking to a waterfall that’s suspended in time by a thick layer of ice? On an evening ice walk across Johnston Canyon, follow suspended catwalks and sloping paths by torchlight to see glittering ice towers, diamond-like icicles dripping from cave ceilings and eerie frozen waterfalls.
Be sure to visit both the upper and lower falls, savouring a steaming cup of hot chocolate and maple cookies along the way. There’s something truly beautiful about the canyon’s night-time snowy stillness; take a moment to stop and witness the silence.