A Complete Guide to Visiting Canada in the Winter

Have you ever wondered what a Canadian Winter would be like? Well you will just have to visit in the wintertime to discover why Canada’s Winters are the best! I can tell you that there are plenty of reasons why you should visit Canada in the Winter. Canada is a vast Country with many areas to explore depending on your interests. Winter in Canada is the perfect destination for the outdoor enthusiast and adventure seeker.

PIN YOUR GUIDE FOR VISITING CANADA IN THE WINTER

Winter Weather in Canada

Winter in Canada is in itself a site that must be seen. Around November it will turn into a Winter Wonderland and it will last until at least the end of March and possibly into April.

Is it cold in Canada? Hell ya it is! Warm clothing is mandatory, especially if you have never experienced the snow before.

Unlike our Summer months, Winter can dip to well below 0 degrees making it necessary to dress appropriately. I recommend dressing in layers so that you can shed your clothes when you start warming up…and you will warm up.

You can expect the weather to be all over the place from snow to rain to ice to sleet, to complete white outs at times which can make for treacherous driving (more on that later). Daytime temperatures typically range from -5 to -15 cecsius (23 to 5 F) and night temperatures can drop as low as -30 to -14 celcius (-20 to -40 F). It does get chilly and I don’t think that you ever get use to it, but this is half the fun when visiting Canada during the Winter months.

How to drive in the Canadian winter and the benefits of snow tires
Winter driving in Canada is trecherous

Driving in Canada in the Winter

As mentioned above, driving in Canada can be extremely treacherous at times but take solace in knowing that it is possible and a little bit of snow and ice doesn’t stop us Canadians from exploring often. Just make sure that you have your road trip essentials packed and ready to go.

Most Canadians will have snow tires installed on their vehicles early in October to be ready for that first snow fall. The snow tires definitely help to navigate the snowy, slippery roads. Insurance companies are also required to discount insurance policies when vehicles have snow tires installed.

If you will be travelling to Canada during the Winter, it is important to note that each individual Province has laws regarding snow tires:

Canadian Provinces Where Snow Tires Are Mandatory

  • British Columbia (between October 1st and April 30th)
  • Quebec (December 1st to March 15th, inclusive)

What Canadian Provinces Recommend Snow Tires

  • Alberta
  • Manitoba
  • New Brunswick
  • Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Northwest Territories
  • Nova Scotia
  • Nunavut
  • Ontario
  • Prince Edward Island
  • Saskachewan
  • Yukon

Even though these Provinces have mandated snow tires, the majority of drivers have opted to have them installed for easier and safer driving.

What to Pack for Winter in Canada

Packing for a visit to Canada during the Winter can be quite difficult, but it is always better to have too much than not enough.

Remember…..layers!

To make packing easier, I always begin my packing from the inside out whenever I am travelling during the Winter. Start with the base layer and work your way to your outer layer.

Base Layer

  • Long Johns: I recommend Kombi. The products are designed for Canadian Winters and are made with fabric which will absorb your sweat
  • Undershirt: Again I recommend Kombi.
  • Socks: Wool socks are the best for a Canadian Winter as they also absorb your sweat

It is my personal opinion that these items are the most important items to remember to pack when visiting Canada during the Winter months. These are the items that will keep you dry, therefore help to keep you warm.

Mid Layer

  • Sweaters and/or Hoodies: Wool is the best fabric to keep you warm. It is a natural insulating product. Avoid cotton as it holds onto the cold and moisture.
  • Pants: Leggings alone aren’t usually warm enough during the Canadian Winter, but you can wear them as a base layer as long as they aren’t cotton. The best fabric for pants is wool, spandex or cotton. Winter in Canada is not the time for jeans as they retain the moisture and they do freeze.

Outer Layer

The outer layer is almost as important as the base layer and proper outer layer clothing is expensive.

  • Coat: When looking for a Winter coat for your trip to Canada, it is important to look for a coat that is windproof. I also prefer outer clothing that is water resistant. North Face is a great product to fight the Canadian cold.
  • Boots: For the outdoor enthusiast, I would look for .water resistant boots (especially for all of you hikers).
  • Snow Pants: the majority of snow pants are made of polyester and nylon. For the avid outdoor person, you might want to consider spending extra (okay a lot of extra) money for Gore Tex snow pants. Unless I am skiing or playing in the snow, I prefer to wear wind pants. NOTE: Snow pants are not needed for just wandering around, shopping, driving, etc. They are recommended for outdoor Winter activities.
  • Hat: Most Canadians wear tuques in the Winter. Just make sure your hat is made of wool or goose. Both will keep you warm.
  • Mittens/Gloves: Gloves made from leather, cotton, are the best. When choosing your mittens or gloves, check to see if they have three layers. The outer layer should be waterproof. The middle layer acts as the insulator, and the inner layer is the liner that will keep the moisture away.
  • Scarf: Scarves are an optional clothing item, but they do help to protect you neck and face during extreme cold and winds. Wool is the best material to keep you warm and keep the moisture away from you skin.

JUST ONE TIP: If you have never visited Canada during the Winter, I recommend checking out the Canadian clothing sites. The clothes are manufactured in Canada taking into account all of Canada’s crazy weather.

GRAB YOUR FREE CANADIAN WINTER PACKING GUIDE

Winter Activities in Canada

Now for the difficult stuff. Deciding which part of Canada is the best part to visit during the Winter? I personally recommend either British Columbia, Alberta, or Quebec, but that’s just me. Your choice will depend on how much of the Canadian Winter activities you want to participate in and how much you love being in the cold outdoors.

The entire Country offers a plethora of Winter activities from Winter hiking, snow-shoeing, ice climbing, skating, snow-mobiling, skiing, cross-country skiing, dog sledding, tobogganing, winter campfires, winter camping, ice-fishing, and northern lights.

For those of you who only want to experience a bit of the Canadian Winter, not to worry, there are plenty of indoor activities as well.

To help you make your decision on what part of Canada best suits your interests, I have provided this guide to visiting Canada in the Winter to help you decide which part of Canada you want to visit.

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Newfoundland and Labrador

Newfoundland and Labrador are located in the eastern part of Canada and I have to warn you that this part of Canada is colder than most areas and it can be difficult to get to. Many parts of Newfoundland and Labrador are accessible only by ferry, which does run throughout the Winter.

This part of Canada is extremely snowy, so if you want a remote area with a tonne of activities, this Province is for you, and offers:

  • skiing
  • snow-mobiling
  • winter ziplining
  • ice fishing (this is a big past-time in this part of Canada)
  • a tonne of Winter hiking areas

Prince Edward Island

Prince Edward Island is a small Province accessible by ferry or road. Because of its location it is prone to get more blizzardy weather than most of Canada, which creates the Winter Wonderland atmosphere throughout most of the Winter.

When visiting Prince Edward Island, immerse yourself in Winter activities such as:

  • winter hiking
  • skiing
  • fat tire biking
  • horse drawn sleigh rides

Halifax

Halifax is a fairly flat Province located in eastern Canada which offers many Winter sites for the more passive visitor:

  • walk the harbourfront
  • downtown star gazing
  • take a bus tour to Peggy’s Cove (but dress really warm)
  • tour the wineries. Yes they are open throughout the Winter

New Brunswick

New Brunswick is what is considered the last of Canada’s eastern Provinces. Being so close to the French speaking Province of Quebec, it is important to note that there is a fair bit of French spoken in New Brunswick as well.

New Brunswick is another Province suitable for the more passive outdoor person, offering leisurely activities such as:

  • downhill and cross country skiing
  • outdoor skating
  • snowshoeing
  • hockey
  • sugar shack tours
  • hiking the Midland Ice Caves trail
  • Frederickton FROSTfestival

Quebec

Ahhhh, Quebec. One of my favourite Provinces to visit in Canada during the Winter months. The entire Province turns into a complete winter wonderland with so many outdoor winter activities to choose from:

  • skiing, skiing, and more skiing
  • Quebec City Winter Carnival (a must to put on the list)
  • dog sledding
  • ice skating
  • ice fishing
  • snow kiting
  • ice climbing
  • snow mobiling
  • hiking
  • spend the night at the Ice Hotel, America’s only ice hotel
  • Scandinavian spa
Winter is a great time to visit Quebec.  It offers an abundance of Winter activities, including skiinng, snow shoeing, dog sledding, the Quebec Winter Carnival and North America's largest ice hotel.
A trip to the Quebec City Winter Carnival is a must when visiting Canada in the Winter

Ontario

Ontario is a fairly flat Province and while it does have some ski slopes, the avid skier will be disappointed if they visit Ontario for the sole purpose of skiing. However, while Ontario doesn’t have the greatest skiing in the world, it does offer many other amazing Winter activities:

  • skiing, snowboarding
  • snow shoeing
  • cross-country skiing
  • toboganning
  • hockey, hockey and more hockey
  • outdoor and trail skating rinks
  • dog sledding
  • millions of Winter hiking trails
  • ice fishing

Just One Passport Tip: For the avid hiker and waterfall chaser, a day or two trip to Hamilton is recommended. There are enough trails and frozen waterfalls to keep you exploring for days.

Manitoba

Manitoba is not hugely known as a Winter destination when visiting Canada. The weather gets very cold and it is prone to a lot of wind/snow storms. But for those of you who do choose to visit Manitoba, you will still have no trouble finding Winter activities such as:

  • ice skating
  • ice fishing
  • search for polar bears (for real! Manitoba isn’t called the Polar Bear Capital of the World for nothing)
  • hiking
  • cross country skiing and snow shoeing

Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan is another Province in Canada that isn’t a popular Winter destination. That’s not to say that if you happen to be visiting or passing through this Province that you won’t be able to experience a Canadian Winter by:

  • skiing
  • skating
  • snow mobiling
  • hiking, cross country skiing, snow shoeing
  • dog sledding

Alberta

This now brings us to Alberta, one of Canada’s premier Winter destinations. You are now entering Canada’s Rocky Mountain region and there are nothing but mountains as far as the eye can see, and with mountains comes a plethora of Winter activities:

  • skiing and snowboarding
  • outdoor skating
  • winter hiking, snow shoeing
  • ice-climbing
  • winter camping
  • ice fishing
  • fat tire biking
  • tubing
  • Lake Louise ice castle, ice bar and skating
  • cross country skiing
  • snow mobiling
  • dog sledding
  • star gazing

British Columbia

British Columbia is a Province that boasts some of Canada’s warmer weather, but don’t let that fool you. There is still plenty of snow and with snow comes Winter fun, such as:

  • skiing, tubing, snow boarding
  • hiking, snow shoeing, cross country skiing
  • vineyards (open throughout the Winter)
  • ice climbing
  • storm watching

Yukon

The Yukon shares a boarder with Alaska, so you know that you better bundle up when visiting this Canadian Province during the Winter months. It is COLD and drops to -40 degrees during the evenings. For those of you brave enough to venture out into the Yukon’s freezing temperatures, you will be lucky enough to experience a Canadian Winter at its finest by:

Northern and Western Canada is the best place to see the Northern Lights when visiting Canada
Visit Northern Canada to see the Northern lights

Northwest Territories

Canada’s Northwest Territories is known as the world mecca for the Northern Lights, which are on display up to 200 times a year, making the Northwest Territories the perfect Canadian Winter destination. When the lights aren’t shining, you will find plenty of other Winter options:

  • Northern lights
  • snow shoeing
  • snow mobiling
  • dog sledding
  • hiking
  • cross country skiing

Nunavat

Last but not least, a visit to the Canadian Province of Nunavat will leave you frigid. If you insist on experiencing the true cold, then Nunavat is where you want to be. However, with the cold, there comes very few Winter activities to partake in, but there are a few Winter activities which will keep you occupied:

  • dog sledding
  • dog sled races
  • ice fishing
  • snow mobiling

Just One Tip: During the Winter months, transportation is only by way of snow mobile

Visiting Canada in the Winter

Where in Canada to visit throughout the Winter months is completely a personal preference, but my top destinations to recommend would be (in no particular order)

I know wherever you choose to visit in Canada during the Winter, you won’t be disappointed. You will find plenty of Winter activities which will help you to experience a true Canadian Winter.

Stay Warm πŸ™‚

Kelly xoxo

PIN YOUR GUIDE FOR WHEN YOU VISIT CANADA IN THE WINTER

35 thoughts on “A Complete Guide to Visiting Canada in the Winter

  1. Nicole Anderson

    What a great comprehensive guide for non-Canadians to give them some idea of what to expect. There is no doubting Canada is such a vast and beautiful country and winter would be such a wonderful time to see much of it. The advice on layering for clothing is so important to ensure you don’t freeze and can really enjoy the experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. carolcolborn

    We’ve been to all except the Northern Territories. Manitoba. And Saskatchewan. But never in winter except for Alberta once and we said we will never do it again. We do not like the cold. A pity because it os so pretty@

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Michelle

    Canada looks so incredible in the winter. I honestly don’t know if this Texas girl could take the cold though. I shivered just reading the section on the weather. LOL!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. backpackandsnorkel

    I have visited Canada in summer and fall for the foliage. It is stunning, but I have never dared to come in winter. I guess it is likely the same as with Alaska, you fly to where you plan to stay and drive your rental car only in inhabited areas in case there are problems with your car. Or you join a guided tour.
    I had no idea the Aurora is visible on 200 nights per year in the NW Territories. That sounds fantastic.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Best Winter Destinations for the Solo Traveler – JUST ONE PASSPORT

  6. lekhachellani6gmailcom

    I must say that Canadian winter to me is intimidating. But the range of activities in each province has got me excited and in the planning mode. I live in Boston and we have driven to Quebec a couple of times, once in winter. This a very unique and inspiring blog. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Josy A

    You know, Canada made me actually love winter (I have always avoided the cold before we moved here!) I know BC isn’t quite as epically cold as the rest of the country, but I have learned to appreciate the snow/skiing/snowshoeing etc. It all makes the cold so, sooo much more fun.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Josy A

        No way! I love that the pandemic got you to appreciate it.

        For me, it was learning that when it’s rainy, if you drive up to the mountains it’ll be a winter wonderland!

        But yeah, I am still a bit nervous about driving in the snow.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Marianne

    Lots of great advice for people who don’t know what to expect from Canadian winters. Even a remind to some Canadians who may not have as brutal winters as the rest!

    Liked by 1 person

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