Many people shudder at the thought of winter, but in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, we warmly embrace the season and welcome groups and visitors from around the world who are eager to do the same.
Ottawa is a city that experiences all four seasons, with temperatures that can rise above 90 degrees Fahrenheit in summer and dip below -22 degrees Fahrenheit in winter, with spring and fall averaging somewhere in between.
Consistently cold weather is key for one of the city’s most iconic winter attractions, the Rideau Canal Skateway. An historical waterway in summer, this UNESCO World Heritage Site transforms into the world’s largest outdoor rink when temperatures drop below the freezing point. The Skateway winds 4.8 miles through the heart of the city, with rest stops, change huts, washrooms, and snack stands along the way. There’s nothing quite like stopping for a hot chocolate and a BeaverTail—Ottawa’s own sweet pastry treat—while out for a skate. The Skateway is plowed and flooded nightly to keep it smooth and glistening.
The Skateway is one of several central sites for Winterlude, the capital’s annual celebration of the season. Held in early February, it includes special programming along the Skateway, dazzling ice sculptures, a giant snow playground with huge snow slides, family activities, and more.
In winter, the city is most often blanketed in snow, beckoning nature lovers outdoors to enjoy a wide variety of activities in the fresh, crisp air. For cross-country skiers and snowshoe enthusiasts, the city offers trails close to downtown, in the surrounding areas of Ottawa’s Greenbelt, and in nearby Gatineau Park, a massive wilderness area just north of the city and across the Ottawa River in Gatineau, Québec. The Gatineau Hills is also a key destination for downhill skiers and snowboarders, with five resorts within easy driving distance to the city’s downtown.
Winter is also a wonderful time to visit Omega Park less than an hour’s drive east of the city in the Outaouais region of Québec. This nature park is filled with wildlife unique to Canada: elk, caribou, moose, bison, bears, mountain goats, wolves, foxes, and more. Visitors can get up close and personal with most of them on a 7.5-mile, self-drive safari, and from special viewing platforms. Along the way, they can hike or snowshoe on a trail devoted to local Indigenous cultures and visit restaurants, gift shops, a maple sugar shack, and more.
For a complete change of pace, travelers can visit the well-loved Nordik Spa-Nature. Nestled in the Gatineau Hills a 10-minute drive from downtown, it is North America’s largest spa. This indoor-outdoor, Scandinavian-style oasis, which focuses on the benefits of thermotherapy, offers hot and cold pools and different types of saunas as well as relaxation areas. Add-ons can include a traditional spa treatment, such as a massage or a facial, and unique experiences such as Källa (the only saltwater floating pool in America) and Aufguss (a German ritual of enriched vaporization).
Of course, Ottawa also offers a wealth of group-friendly indoor activities and tours, including seven national museums, tours of the historic Parliament Building (the seat of Canada’s national government), plus craft brewery tours, escape rooms, live music, dance and theater at the National Arts Center, and many more.
For more on winter outdoor adventures in Ottawa, visit here.
Top photo: Rideau Canal Skatewayand Laurier Avenue Bridge
Photo by James Peltzer