Are Winters Really That Bad in Ottawa?

As someone who moved to Ottawa after spending six consecutive winters in Toronto, I can tell you that Ottawa gets much more snow than Toron...

As someone who moved to Ottawa after spending six consecutive winters in Toronto, I can tell you that Ottawa gets much more snow than Toronto. But snow in Ottawa is business as usual, so people don't make a big deal out of it when it's snowing. I'll tell you more: most people in Ottawa put on winter tires and drive according to weather conditions, so roads remain pretty safe and accident free. But the best part of the winter in Ottawa is that there is plentiful of sunny days due to cooler temperatures, and exposure to sunlight stimulates a production of serotonin, a hormone of happiness, that boosts mood and helps sustain through long Canadian winters. So winter in Ottawa isn't that bad, it's actually quite the opposite thanks to surprisingly large variety of winter activities in and around Ottawa.

1. Rideau Canal Skateway.  
Almost 200 year old Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is transformed into the largest skating rink in the world for two months each winter.
The skateway is free-of-charge and attracts around 1 million visitors each year. That's more than the entire population of Ottawa!
There are a number of entry points and facilities such fireplaces, change rooms, warm-up stations and food vendors along its 7.8 km stretch between the Parliament Hill and Dow's Lake.
Although you occasionally can bump into some rough ice sections, the skateway is normally well swept and flooded with professional machines. The current ice conditions can be checked online.

2. Winterlude Festival.  
Although there are a number of festivals and events in the wintertime in Ottawa, Winterlude is the largest and most popular one among all.
Winterlude is held for the first three weeks in February culminating on the Family Day long weekend. It's actually not too late to still make it there this year, hurry up!
Families with young kids love going to Jacques Cartier Park that transforms into a huge playground made entirely with snow and ice. You will enjoy slides, zip-lining, ski and snowboard lessons, and much more. Wear proper clothing as lines to get free rides can be long.
But my favourite part of the festival is ice sculptures. This year you can see them at Byward Market. They are really nice and neat.
You can hop on and off a free Snow Bus that links the Winterlude locations on weekends and holidays.
Oops, where is the bus?

3. Skiing, Snowboarding and Snowshoeing.  
Ottawa is a really great place to live if you like skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing since there are seven (!) locations for downhill skiing and snowboarding, all within 30-60 minutes drive from Ottawa, and who knows how many opportunities for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. The closest one is as far as the Parliament Hill. Seriously.
Those seven locations for downhill skiing and snowboarding are: Mount Pakenham, Calabogie Peaks, Camp Fortune, Ski Vorlage, Sommet Edelweiss, Mont Ste-Marie, and Mont Cascades. The first two are in Ontario, the other five are in Quebec.
I've personally been to Mont Ste-Marie. Nestled in the beautiful Laurentian Mountains, it offers some of best scenery around Ottawa. It also has the highest vertical drop in the area (381 m / 1,250 ft), but I'd say it's a bit too steep for beginners like me.
People think of Gatineau Park first when planning a cross-country skiing or snowshoeing trip (and for a good reason), but Green Belt, Trans-Canada Trail or even the Ottawa River are all great free alternatives to Gatineau Park.

4. Caving.  
Caving rarely appears to be an option when it comes to winter activities, but there is a few very good reasons why you want to explore the largest known cave in the Canadian Shield in the wintertime.
The cave is located at the private adventure park called Arbraska Lafl├Ęche, only 30 minutes drive from downtown Ottawa. The park offers guided tours that last for about 1 hour.
Most caves are found in the sedimentary rocks, but this one is carved in the volcanic rock such as granite and quartz. It also has 4 floors which is a bit unusual as the other caves in the area are all horizontal (like a sewer).
The underground lake with a year-around temperature of 4 C / 40 F.
So why did I say that you should visit this cave in the winter? Two reasons. First: you can see dozens of hibernated bats up close. When you do, please don't blow or touch them.
You can even see some frost on their fur. So cute!
And the second reason: amazing ice formations. So cool!
You can actually tell temperature fluctuations: a ball means warmer temperatures, a thin leg means colder temperatures.
Hurry up before bats are gone for the spring and icicles are melted.

5. Sightseeing in Ottawa and Gatineau.  
After you've exhausted your list of fun things to do in Ottawa and the area, maybe you just want to slow down and enjoy the city? Downtown Ottawa and Gatineau have you covered with vibrant neighbourhoods and miles of walkways and vista points.
Be sure to check a calendar of events: you'll likely encounter some interesting stuff like Christmas Lights show on the Parliament building, special events at one of the many museums or even the fireworks.
European-inspired architecture is very eye-pleasing.
Byward Market area is known for excellent selection of food and active nightlife. 
Snow removal in operation.
Happy winter!

You Might Also Like