As snow blankets the Ottawa region, nature lovers head outside to take advantage of the fresh air. Fun activities like ice skating, skiing, snowshoeing, hiking and more are easily accessible within the city and in the nearby countryside. Here are some of the ways you can experience the magic of the winter season outdoors in Canada’s capital region.
Note: Due to COVID-19 and other factors, some of the mentions below may not reflect current offerings. Please confirm details with direct sources and stay informed on the current situation in Ottawa.
During the first three weekends of February each year*, the Ottawa-Gatineau region hosts Canada’s celebration of winter, Winterlude. The event features a giant snow playground, a professional ice carving challenge, as well as programming on the Rideau Canal Skateway and in neighbourhoods throughout the city. Most activities are free!
*The 2022 edition of the annual Winterlude festival has been cancelled due to COVID-19, however, you can still vote online for your favourite National Ice-Carving Championship creation.
The Rideau Canal Skateway—the largest naturally frozen skating rink in the world—is at the top of our Best ice skating experiences in Ottawa list. The Skateway is open daily from roughly late December to late February, weather permitting. Access is free! Check the ice conditions before you go.
Refrigerated outdoor ice surfaces provide great alternatives. The most centrally-located options include the Rink of Dreams at Ottawa City Hall (the boards are lit up in the evening), and the Skating Court at Lansdowne (next to the historic Aberdeen Pavilion). Both are free and open December to March, weather permitting.
The region’s rural areas feature magical skating trails that wind through hilly forests and flat orchards. Some allow hockey or dogs, and some are open select evenings! All are weather dependent.
Cross-country skiing is a favourite Ottawa pastime in the winter. Several trails are even accessible within the urban core, including the popular Kichi Sibi Winter Trail (formerly known as the Sir John A. Macdonald Winter Trail/SJAM Trail) and Rideau Winter Trail which are both multi-user groomed trails. Or explore over 150 kilometres (93 miles) of trails in the Greenbelt area around Ottawa. Access is free and all are suitable for beginner and family outings.
Just a 15-minute drive north from downtown Ottawa, Gatineau Park is a mecca for cross-country skiing enthusiasts, with over 200 km (124 miles) of groomed trails and heated shelters. Pick up a ski pass (daily or seasonal) at the Visitor Centre in Chelsea, Quebec.
Downhill skiing, snowboarding and tubing
For downhill skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts, Ottawa is like an urban resort with challenging hills within easy driving distance of downtown, including Camp Fortune and Mont Cascades. Downhill tubing is also offered at select locations.
In addition to most trails within the city and in the Greenbelt, you can snowshoe almost anywhere! But purists especially love the dedicated snowshoeing trails in Gatineau Park. Get a trail pass (daily or seasonal) at the Visitor Centre in Chelsea, Quebec.
You can go hiking on several groomed trails through the snow-covered forest in Gatineau Park. And though most trails in Ottawa’s Greenbelt are used for cross-country skiing in the winter, you can walk beside the tracks.
Various rural sites, such as the ones mentioned under snowshoeing, offer hiking trails as well. Visit our webpage on hiking highlights for more information.
Tobogganing, sledding, sliding—no matter what you call it, there are lots places to do it in the Ottawa area! You can zoom down gentle to steep hills in neighbourhoods throughout the city, including some maintained slopes in the Greenbelt that are even lit in the evenings.
Ziplining, caving and other activities
Activity centres like Arbraska Laflèche offer even more winter fun, like ziplining through the trees, cave exploration and snowshoe rallies.
Winter camping and cabins
Gatineau Park provides adventurers with campsites, cabins, yurts and four-season tents accessible via ski and snowshoe trails.
At Park Omega, you can explore the wildlife park during the day and stay overnight in a cozy Wolf Cabin, Chalet or Lodge to enjoy views overlooking the wolf den.