Contrary to popular opinion, Ottawa in the wintertime is one of the best times of year to experience the Nation’s Capital. In fact, with temperatures typically below freezing during the winter months, we’re the 7th coldest capital city in the world! The city certainly takes advantage of these freezing temperatures by creating the world’s longest skating rink, 7.8km, known as the Rideau Canal, and North America’s largest snow playground, Winterlude! Though this year is different from any other, there are still opportunities to partake in some fun winter activities while following current provincial guidelines. Throughout this article, we’ll highlight your favorite winter activities, how they’ve changed this season, and even some new activities to add to your list!
Please keep in mind that conditions are always evolving. Ensure to check the organization’s website before visiting to receive the most up to date information. Following provincial guidelines, it has been noted to partake in these activities if they are in close proximity to your home.
Take the Trail
NCC and Urban Winter Trails Alliance have created 50% more accessible winter trail space this season in order to ensure citizens of Ottawa take advantage of the outdoors in a safe manner. Below are trails in the West, East and Centre of the city.
The West End – SJAM Winter Trail is a 16 km well-groomed, salt-free trail that follows along the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway along the Ottawa River, from Westboro Beach to the Portage Bridge. Utilize this trail for all different types of winter activities such as; cross country skiing, hiking, biking and snowshoeing.
Centretown – The Rideau Winter trail is a free trail that runs from Donald Street to Hurdman In Riverain Park along the Rideau River. It offers 9 km of winter fun for cross country skiing, snow-shoeing, fat biking, and walking.
“What an amazing experience to ski so close to home. Rideau Winter Trail is the ultimate in urban recreation. The cross-country skiing and snowshoe trails in Gatineau Park are fantastic if you have the time and a car, but this is something you can do on your lunch break!”
East End – Orleans Ski Club includes three popular trails, Pine Grove Forest, Mer Bleue, and Hornet’s Nest, all located on the eastern Green Belt and concludes about 20 km in total. These trails welcome hikers, skiers, and snowshoers and are groomed daily.
Open 365 days a year, Parc Omega is truly a wilderness adventure for the whole family. Drive your vehicle through a 12 km long safari while you feed the friendly deer and elk from your car. You’ll spot other wildlife enclosed in their natural habitats such as; wolves, bears, bison, and fox. Ensure your vehicle is fully gassed and stop for carrots on your way there so you have treats for your new furry friends. It’s a 1.5-hour drive from Ottawa in Montebello, Quebec, but trust us, the drive is completely worth the experience. Currently, due to the Quebec curfew in effect, the last visitors are allowed entry into the Parc at 4 pm. Admission is $30.44 + tax for adults.
Skate your way through the Capital
Rideau Canal Skateway
The famous Rideau Canal freezes over every winter and creates the longest ice skating rink in the world! The 7.8 Km rink stretches through downtown Ottawa and passes landmarks including Lansdowne Park and Dows Lake. Be wary that there are new rules and guidelines in spite of the pandemic. Provincial government officials are asking only locals that live in close proximity utilize the rink this year, here are a few things you should know before visiting the canal;
- Recommended use of a mask
- 100 additional benches
- Carry your belongings with you
- Washrooms are open but with limited capacity
- Rentals, change rooms, cubbies, fire pits, picnic tables and food and beverage stands are all closed this season
Rinks surrounding the City
If your geographic location deters you from experiencing the Rideau Canal there are several other options available.
The city of Ottawa has implemented a booking system that allows 25 people on the rink at a time. Reservations can be made up to 2 days in advance starting at 6 am. The 4 outdoor refrigerated rinks throughout the city are; City Hall, Canterbury Park, Lansdowne Park and Ben Franklin Place. It is recommended that skaters wear a mask and follow standard physical distancing procedures if skaters are not from the same household.
There are approximately 250 community skating rinks around the city of Ottawa which are currently being maintained by a group of volunteers! Under provincial regulations there will be no pucks, rings, balls, or sticks on the ice and users are reminded that the rinks are for skating only.
RiverOak Skating Trail
Situated close to Medcalfe and Russell is a 3 km trail through a magical forest full of twists and turns! If you’re looking to go over the weekend, you’ll need to book through their online booking portal. It is lit in the evening but closes at 6 pm every day with the exception of Friday and Saturday until 8 pm.
Winterlude – a Virtual Experience
A truly unique winter festival that every local looks forward to each year since 1979 from February 5th to February 21st. Join in virtually this year as ice sculptors countrywide compete for the winning title. Vote for your top three favorite sculptures until February 21st. For the full experience tune into Canadian Heritage YouTube Channel and listen to your favorite Canadian Artists serenade you.
Zipline – The Snowman Adventure
Located just 30 minutes outside of Ottawa explore the highs and lows at Arbraska Laflèche! The snowman adventure includes; a discovery tour in the Laflèche Cave, spectacular zipline descent and a snowshoe rally, and a well deserved hot chocolate by the fire to warm you up. Note this package takes 3 hours, you must be 5+ years old and below 250 pounds, it’s also available in both official languages.
Grab your sled and feel like a kid again as you slide down some of Ottawa’s historic hills! There are several hills to choose from that will surely make your heart race, no matter what age you are! Please note – provincial guidelines do not allow for more than 25 people at the top of the hill at a time, masks are not required but recommended.
In Ottawa’s west end, Bruce Pit is located across from Bell High School in Bell’s Corners and is an official NCC toboggan hill. The hill is optimized for day time use only. For night time sledders, we recommend Walter Baker Park located in Kanata on Terry Fox Drive. This hill is man-made with a moderate slope and very long runs. Parking is also available at the Kanata Recreation Complex.
For the risk-takers, Carlington Park is the hill for you, likely the steepest hill in Ottawa as it used to be known as Carlington Ski Hill, located at 937 Clyde Avenue in Ottawa’s west end. Note that the east side of the hill is not permitted as it’s ajacent to the staircase. Parking is provided at J. Alph Dulude Arena.
Grab a Sweet Treat
With tons of delicious bakeries around, we know Ottawians have a sweet tooth! After your day of outdoor activities warm up with a delicious cup of hot cocoa. Located in the heart of the Byward Market and open for takeout is Planet Coffee, try their delicious hot chocolate and or vegan caramel option.
If you’re looking for a more filling snack try a sweet and savory gourmet grazing box by Gourmet Graze Ottawa. They’re based out of Kanata/Stittsville however they service the Ottawa/Gatineau area. You can preorder 24 hours in advance, vegetarian and Halal options are also available.
Become an International Foodie from your Dining Room
Longing for the days of travel? Recreate the experience by taste-testing international flavors right here in the Nation’s Capital. Ottawa has many diverse options such as; Thai, African, Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Sri Lankan there’s truly something for everyone no matter what your preferences are! With the current economic climate, local restaurants need our support more than ever. Order a meal kit or take out and recreate the experience of travel from your dining room.
With these activities at the forefront of your wintertime bucket list, you’ll surely beat your cabin fever. As a friendly reminder, to ensure our health and safety remains a top priority, it’s important that we follow guidelines set out by our provincial governments. Ensure you’re keeping active and social throughout the winter months by partaking in these great activities. Be safe and enjoy the winter season in the Nation’s Capital!