Now's the time to book your winter getaways to Canada's epic provincial and national parks
10 verrry cool Canadian adventures to plan for now
Canada's many provincial and national parks offer a wonderful variety of unique programs in the busy summer months, but a small number of destinations are also increasing their wintertime camping and activities offerings — a few even offer special cold-weather packages and luxe glamping opportunities!
And the best time to plan ahead or book for these limited-availability accommodations and programs... is now. Like the most coveted summer campsite rentals, you can expect limited availability later on in the year.
Of note: some provinces, including Ontario and Quebec, have convenient summaries of winter offerings and closures available online; with others, it's simply a matter of going to a specific park website to find out what's offered and when. When looking into parks near you, keep in mind that not every park or wildlife reserve stays open throughout the year, and even some that are technically accessible by the public year-round may not actually be staffed or maintained during the winter months.
Here are 10 cool adventures that are available at parks across Canada.
Flightsee at Kluane National Park and Reserve, Yukon
Kluane National Park and Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site where you can see huge icefields and 17 of the 20 tallest mountains in the country. In winter, the park offers activities such as snowshoeing, backcountry and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, ice fishing, snowmobiling and backcountry camping. To get a whole new perspective, you can also book a flightseeing tour of the park — some even allow you explore the icefields up close.
Ice climb at Yoho National Park, British Columbia
Assuming that you're an experienced climber, it's possible to do waterfall ice and mixed ice climbing at several national parks, including Banff, Yoho, Kootenay, Jasper, and Waterton Lakes. At Yoho, gorgeous attractions including Emerald Lake and Wapta Falls are open year round, and there are several all-season lodges within the park (the frontcountry campgrounds close in mid-October).
See the bison at Elk Island National Park, Alberta
Winter activities at this park near Edmonton include everything from guided snowshoeing to stargazing to geocaching. But one of the top attractions is the wildlife photography and watching opportunities — the park is home to herds of bison and elk, for example. Winter camping is available at the park's Astotin Lake Campground, and in previous years special events such as long-table dinners have been hosted at Elk Island (this year's winter calendar is not yet available).
Glamp at Spray Valley Provincial Park, Alberta
At Mount Engadine Lodge in Kananaskis, new glamping tents that can be rented year-round were introduced just last fall (there are also rooms, cabins and a yurt available). The lodge, located inside Spray Valley Provincial Park, offers beautiful mountain vistas alongside creature comforts such as Rocky Mountain Soap Company toiletries and in-room gas fireplaces. In the winter, guests can hit the trails on snowshoes, Yaktrax, cross-country skis and fat bikes, and the lodge can help organize activities such as ice fishing and dog sledding.
Play winter sports at Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, Alberta and Saskatchewan
Most provincial and national parks that are open year-round offer an appealing variety of low-cost ice and snow activities and sports. For example, at Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, on the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan, there are cross-country trails for snowshoeing and fat biking, kicksledding and ski rentals, skating rinks and trails, a toboggan hill and snow luge, and ice fishing. There are winter campsites available, and a number of other types of accommodations available nearby.
Winter camp in comfort at Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba
Rent one of the five year-round oTENTiks at this Manitoba park, and you will have access to electric heat, wood-burning stoves and heated bathrooms and showers during your winter visit (most of the park's other roofed accommodations will close mid-October). At Riding Mountain National Park, winter activities include snowshoeing, snowmobiling and geocaching.
Try ice fishing at Windy Lake Provincial Park, Ontario
A number of parks offer ice fishing in the winter. At Ontario's Windy Lake Provincial Park, open from January to March in the winter, there are four all-season yurts available and you can book an 'ice fishing package' at the Park Office — expect to catch Lake Whitefish and Lake Trout. Someone from the park will help you set up for the day, and they'll provide essentials such as Tackleshare fishing equipment and a portable ice fishing shelter (you'll have to get a permit ahead of time).
Visit ghosts at Monts-Valin National Park, Quebec
At Monts-Valin National Park in Quebec's Saguenay region, there's a unique Vallée des Fantômes (Ghosts' Valley) that 'appears' when trees are covered by thick blankets of snow. Between December 20, 2019, to March 29, 2020, you can book a 45 minute ride on the Fantôme-Express Snowcat vehicle to get to the valley, where you can explore the area on skis or snowshoes. There's a park warden available for off-trail explorations, and a heritage log cabin where you can visit or even camp.
See the stars at Mont-Mégantic National Park, Quebec
This popular Eastern Townships park is perfect for seeing the stars — it's part of the first International Dark Sky Reserve. There's an ASTROLab centre and observatory in the park, offering both day and night astronomy-themed tours, programs and festivals. Huts, cabins, rustic shelters and camping are available year-round at Mont-Mégantic, and other available winter activities include torchlight snowshoeing and backcountry skiing.
Explore wildlife at Fundy National Park, New Brunswick
From intense outdoor exploration like fat biking to quieter bird-counting excursions, the winter offerings at Fundy National Park are anything but dull. You can also pursue more traditional activities such as tobogganing, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and ice skating. And, there are lots of different accommodation types available through winter: yurts, oTENTiks, rustic cabins and campground camping options.
Truc Nguyen is a Toronto-based writer, editor and stylist. Follow her at @trucnguyen.