Let's face it Canada, winter can be rough. From scraping ice and shoveling snow to dry skin and waiting for the bus in a -30 below frozen tundra, it's not the easiest season to celebrate. Fortunately, our nation's capital has some of the country's best outdoor adventures. With fun festivals, skating rinks, pancake shacks, toboggan hills and more. It's time to bundle up (and tuck a flask in your pocket for good measure) and explore the best of winter in Ottawa.
Perhaps the best-known landmark in Ottawa, the Rideau Canal is easily one of the first things people look forward to when the temperature dips below freezing. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is transformed into a 7.8 kilometer skating rink complete with food vendors, ski and sleigh rentals, and rest stations to warm those icy feet! Stretching from downtown to Dow's Lake, you might even be lucky enough to skate to work.
For three weeks in the dead of winter, Ottawa braves the coldest of temperatures all in the name of fun, pride, and BeaverTails. Business set up shop along the Canal, majestic ice sculptures are carved at the Crystal Garden in Confederation Park and the largest snow playground on the continent comes alive at Snowflake Kingdom. Events include the Great Winter Ball, DJ nights, fireworks, cultural events and more.
Speaking of snowshoeing, this park has some of the NCR's best. Another Gatineau gem, this conservation area boasts 57 kilometers of trail dedicated to snowshoeing. Trails have several levels of difficulty from beginner to challenging. There are shelters scattered throughout the park with picnic tables and wood stoves, and just in case you really get the urge to rough it, there's winter camping sites at the ready.
I know what you're thinking - Ottawa has the world's largest skating rink. Why on earth would we need another? This colourfully lit rink is for those who prefer a bit of a different ice skating experience. Located in front of City Hall, the surface is super smooth, and the music is plentiful. It's a great spot for beginner skaters, and a bit less intimidating than 7.8 kilometers of ice stretching out before you. Should you feel a craving come on, BeaverTails remain close at hand, and nothing beats the beautiful lights that switch on at dusk. Best of all? It's free.
While this Wakefield ski hill is certainly a destination for skiers and snowboarders alike, there's another winter activity that might be even more fun - snow tubing! Grab your friends and family and get ready to spin, race and slide down these huge hills, atop your giant inner tube. This is the ultimate winter sport for those non-athletes who prefer maximum fun with minimal effort. Forget dragging your tube up and down the hill. The conveyor belts transport you and your tube up the hill with ease. Want to switch it up? Try tubing at night under the stars!
Flapjack's Pancake Shack
Sure, you could grab the traditional BeaverTail, but Ottawa insiders know the place to curb that winter carb craving is at Flapjack's. Walk through an inconspicuous alleyway and into this winter wonderland, complete with tree stump seats. Sample a stack of buttermilk or gluten-free pancakes, a Big Joe breakfast sandwich, or pancake poutine, then wash it all down with hot chocolate or warm apple cider. They also have a shack on the Canal at Concord Street for those on skates who've worked up an appetite.
Trying to climb this doozie of a hill in the summertime is definitely not worth the tan, but if you've got a crazy carpet, GT racer, toboggan or even a shiny metal disk a-la Clarke Griswold, get yourself up there. Yes, there are a few poles and fences around, but the city makes sure they are padded, and hey, obstacles are fun, right? If you're not thoroughly exhausted after barreling down that hill, Mooney's Bay also runs a cross-country ski club at the Terry Fox Athletic Centre. Two winter activities in one spot!
Tremblant may be a favourite getaway for many a snow bunny, but this hill is much closer to the city (only 15 minutes from downtown), and boasts some great deals like 2 for 1 rentals and lift tickets on select days. Dying to hit the slopes after work? They light up 12 runs for night skiing and snowboarding Monday through Saturday.
Has all that outdoor fun left you spent? Maybe you're just sick of layers, static, and space heaters. Beat the winter blues at this Old Chelsea oasis. It's the biggest spa in North America! While they do offer indoor services such as massage and body treatments, the full experience includes taking a dip in the outdoor baths and warming up in seven different saunas. If you close your eyes, you can almost convince yourself it's summer! Willing to brave the cold at night? They also offer snowshoeing under the stars -- a positively magical way to chase away the winter blues.
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