Categories: ActivitiesCamping

6 Incredible Winter Activities to Try in Ontario’s Wilderness

Ontario winters typically divide people into two camps: those who huddle indoors and wait for spring, and those who get outside to enjoy the beauty of the snowy landscape with some amazing winter adventures. If you’re in the second camp, there are winter season activities to suit snow lovers of all ages and abilities, all across Ontario.

Whether you’re up for a full day of exploring wooded paths on snowshoes, patiently fishing for your dinner in an ice fishing hut, or dashing through the snow on a sleigh ride, you’ll be taking advantage of the crisp, clean (and bug-free!) winter air instead of putting the fun on hold until winter ends. While we’re always up for city Christmas festivals, light displays, and even winter camping, here we’re covering your options for the very best winter day trip experiences in Ontario.

Photo by Hipcamp Photographer Kat Wagner

Get some fresh air with snowshoeing or winter hiking

Hitting the trails doesn’t have to end when the snow falls—you’re in Canada, after all. In some parts of Ontario, you can simply trade your hiking boots for snow boots and head out to your favourite trails for an outdoor adventure. But if you’re in a particularly snowy region (think Northern Ontario) or even it’s just recently snowed a lot, using snowshoes makes winter hiking less work and more fun. Lots of provincial parks and national parks (including Algonquin Park) are open for snowshoeing, winter hiking, snow tubing, and even fat biking, along with most of Ontario’s conservation areas. And if you’d like a guide, check out a day pass for Guided Showshoeing and S’mores, which includes campfire time to help you warm up. No snowshoes? No problem! Some Ontario Hosts offer day pass experiences with rentals included.

Photo by Glenn Claire

Head out cross-country skiing

What Ontario lacks in mountains for downhill skiing or snowboarding, it makes up for in beautiful forests, so embrace the flatness and try some cross-country skiing. A number of provincial parks and conservation areas maintain cross-country ski trails, while a selection of privately owned locations offer backcountry experiences. If you’re in the Toronto area (toward Mississauga or Kitchener), a day pass at The Café Farm provides access to ski their private trails and take part in other outdoor activities—think tobogganing, and even playing ping-pong with your mittens on. Definitely a fun day for the whole family! If you’re closer to Ottawa, check out Meg L.’s 103 Acres of Winter Wonderland in Marlborough Forest Day Pass, welcoming cross-country skiers, snowshoers, and hikers.

Photo by Hipcamp Host Casey T.

Try your hand at ice fishing

Fishing through a hole drilled into a frozen lake is something of a right of passage in Canada, and this may be the winter to cross it off your bucket list (it’s also a lot more accessible than dog sledding). It might sound chilly, but with a proper ice hut and a supply of hot chocolate (or warmed icewine), it’s a great way to make the most of a winter’s day—and you might even go home with dinner. If you’re not ready to invest in your own hut, check out this Ice Fishing Day Pass on Stoco Lake in the Kawarthas. Just bring your own fishing gear and your patience!

Photo by Taylor Friehl

Get in the holiday spirit with some ice skating

Neatly groomed indoor skating rinks will never measure up to skating on a natural pond, surrounded by trees and wildlife. You should only attempt to skate on ponds that have been checked for ice thickness, which can change over the winter as the water freezes and thaws, and that’s where Day Passes come in. With Willow P.’s 185 Acres to Explore Day Pass, you can spend time on several skating ponds near Lake Scugog so bring along your skates, and maybe your hockey stick and a puck for a game of shinny. But ponds aren’t the only game in town—you can also try outdoor skating on skating trails like the famous one at Arrowhead Provincial Park, or on Ottawa’s Rideau Canal.

Photo by Hipcamp Host Terry J.
Photo by Sanne Knoops

Experience a sleigh ride to forget all about summer

Honestly, who hasn’t dreamed of a real-life Jingle Bells ride in an open sleigh? A great way to enjoy some family fun over the holidays or create a romantic moment, you can head to Chatham to get a Sleigh Ride Day Pass for four (or more, if your kids can sit on your laps) at TJ Stables. Or find a farm near you that offers sleigh rides—there are options all around Ontario, including in the Hamilton and Barrie areas.

Hit up a maple syrup sugar shack

It’s hard to imagine anything more Canadian than maple syrup. Just when you think you can’t stand one more day of the long Canadian winter, the sap starts to run and you can visit sugar shacks to learn how syrup is made and, of course, sample the goods! Sugar shacks are especially famous in Lanark County, and most open in late February or early March in Central and Southern Ontario, when the thaw begins. You’ll get to see how trees are tapped to collect sap and how it gets boiled down to perfect syrupy goodness. The best part? You’ll likely get a chance to try fresh, hot maple taffy poured over snow or smothered on top of a tall stack of pancakes.

Photo by Hipcamp Photographer Caitlin Fullam

To extend your next winter getaway, check out all of our best cabins in Ontario

Toronto-based writer and editor Michelle Waitzman didn’t start camping until her late 20s. In 2007, after hooking up with her now-husband, she wrote her first book, "Sex in a Tent: A wild couple’s guide to getting naughty in nature." She spent seven years living in New Zealand and exploring its breathtaking backcountry. Michelle still escapes the urban jungle whenever she can to surround herself with nature.

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