Winter Activities in Ottawa’s Winter Wonderland
QUICK UPDATE (November 26, 2023)
The change rooms and the food outlets for the Rideau Canal Skating rink, the world’s largest skating rink, have been placed on posts on the canal. The water will now be carefully raised up to the bottom of the structures.
Those who love winter should seriously consider visiting Ottawa. There is so much to do, you need at least a week to try everything once. Enjoy our winters on a fat bike, on skies, on a sleigh, in a hut, on skates, in a yurt, on a snow mobile or on snowshoes.
Those who love winter in Ottawa have the best time. Some would even express they love the winter over the summer: no sweat, no insects and a good night sleep! Canada’s National Capital Region Ottawa-Gatineau offers an abundance of activities to enjoy the snow, the ice and the food.
Things to do in Ottawa in winter
There is so much to do during the winter in Ottawa that we should really give you a bucket list to tick off. Here is a list of Ottawa winter activities:
- Fat Bike in Ottawa
- Skate on the Rideau Canal
- Ski along the Ottawa River
- Snowshoe in one of the regional’s nature areas
- Cross country and downhill ski in Gatineau Park in Quebec
- Have a fondue in one of the Gatineau Park huts or even in a yurt
- Admire the ice sculptures during Winterlude in February
- Rent a snow bike and go exploring
Other places to visit in Ottawa in winter, perhaps on a crummy day (or when your muscles need to recover):
- Enjoy some of the craft breweries “apres ski”
- Visit an open air spa (brrrr – but so good!)
- Visit the National Art Gallery and find the winter landscapes of Cornelius Krieghoff
- Visit one of our national museums such as the Museum of History, the Museum of Nature or the War museum
Fat biking in Ottawa
Fat Biking in Ottawa is a fast growing Ottawa winter activity that has gained immense popularity. For a comprehensive list of where to fat bike in Ottawa and Gatineau and for our fat bike trails, check out our 2 blogs on Family friendly fat biking trails in Ottawa and Your guide to fat biking in Ottawa-Gatineau.
Can I skate on the Rideau Canal?
In February, the Rideau Canal that runs through downtown Ottawa is frozen over. One of the most popular Ottawa winter activities is skating on the canal. Sometimes skating starts in December, sometimes in February, depending on the weather obviously.
Although we definitely see the effects of climate change, there is still a very good chance you can skate the canal early to mid-February. Around 8 km of skating is waiting for you, all the way from downtown to Carleton University. Did you know the canal is the longest skating rink in the world (unless the canals in Holland freeze over…)
Do check in advance if the Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa is ready for you. It is one of the most popular Ottawa winter activities for a reason. You could find yourself with 20,000 other skate enthusiasts on the canal on a sunny day. That’s why the ice has to be 3 feet/1 metre thick before they allow people on.
Where can I ski along the Ottawa River?
There are currently several places where you can skate ski or classic ski. The 16 km Kichi Zībī wintertrail was established by volunteers a few years ago. It runs from the war museum to Kitchissippi beach and is maintained by groomers. It is free, but donations are welcome.
Fat bike further inland
If it is really cold and windy, the river won’t give you any protection, so you might want to keep an eye on the wind before you head out. There are other places such as Britannia (opens in X) and a place on the east end, but they are a bit less accessible if you are staying downtown. You can also ski along the Ottawa River, roughly between the Adawe pedestrian and cycling bridge and Billings Bridge.
However, volunteers are working hard to connect the different trails and you can now ski or fat bike or hike for an entire day inside the nation’s capital along the Ottawa and Rideau rivers.
Snowshoeing is a very special experience during Ottawa in winter
There are many places where you can snowshoe. Make sure you get the right size snowshoe though, else you still sink into the snow. The horseshoe shaped Greenbelt lies around the old city of Ottawa and is easily accessible.
Alternatively, go and take a hike in Gatineau Park. Check the NCC website for more information. Read here about one of the snow shoe experiences by our own bicycle tour guide Hans. Coincidentally, it shows the same hut where you will arrive on a fat bike.
Gatineau Park in winter
This federal park just outside Ottawa in Quebec is a heaven for skiers. The Park has over 200 km (130 miles) of perfectly groomed XC ski tracks with often in the centre of the path a track for skate skiers.
It is one of the best places on earth (yes, earth!) to cross country ski so if you are in the region, make sure you get to enjoy the superb tracks. A day pass for adults is 22 dollars (2023-2024). Youth, senior and students enjoy discounted pricing.
Fat biking in the snow
for fat biking in the snow and for hiking, there are lower prices. There are other discounts for youth, students and seniors and families.
Passholders can go as often as they want, but despite the 10,000+ passholders, it still feels empty in the park, especially during week days.
Where are the Gatineau huts?
You may want to check this site for an interactive map, but generally the huts are in the centre of the bottom half of the park. The huts are very different. Some are purpose built, some are old and others are new(er). Some of them are former extensively renovated homesteads. Don’t expect food and drinks. You bring everything in yourself, unlike the huts in the European Alps for example. The huts do have a wood stove and people do bring in candles, their own little cooking stoves and sometime an alcoholic beverage in the evenings. And remember: take it in, take it out.
What is Winterlude exactly?
It is a celebration of winter, organized by Heritage Canada and it bundles a number of winter activities in two weeks/three weekends. How about ice sculptures in the downtown area, skating on the canal, a big snow mountain on the Quebec side of the mighty Ottawa river, from which you slide down (kids love it) and a real hockey rink on the canal. Winterlude usually happens during the first half of February.
Can I fat bike in the snow in Ottawa?
Since a few years, snow biking (fat bike in the snow) has become more popular. The Gatineau Park has several options to bike in the park in winter, and one trail even gets you to a hut (Healey hut).
You can also snow bike along the Kichi Zībī winter trail on your fat bike provided you respect the cross country trails. If you arrive by bike via the road at the trails, make sure you do a few rounds in the loose snow before you hit the trails to ride the sand and salt off your bike.
The Greenbelt offers options too for winter activities in Ottawa and in the city of Gatineau volunteers are working on a fat bike circuit that gets you out of town straight to the Gatineau Park.
Wanna try fat biking? Few of us own fat bikes, but fortunately, you can rent a fat bike at Escape Bicycle Tours & Rentals in downtown Ottawa.