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The Perfect Itinerary for a Magical Winter Vacation in Canada

The Perfect Itinerary for a Magical Winter Vacation in Canada

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Some people might call me crazy, but winter is one of my favorite seasons. I love the snow, the frost, the bluebird skies, the frozen lakes, zero bugs…there are endless reasons.

Even though it can be cold, there’s something magical about a winter vacation in Canada, and I’ve got just the itinerary for you to follow!

Winter in Canada may seem cold and uninviting, but there are so many fun experiences to be had during this chilly season!

The snow turns the Canadian Rockies in a snow globe scene, the turquoise lakes freeze and produce ice bubbles, and ice skating is adorably romantic. Here are some of the awesome activities you can do when traveling to Canada in the winter season.

Abraham Lake Winter Ice formations bubbles design

I actually feel bad for folks around the world who don’t get to experience this amazing season every year.

There are a couple reasons I wrote this post. I hope to inspire fellow Canadians who are perhaps a little more winter shy to get outdoors and experience our backyard in the most beautiful season (in my opinion).

And perhaps convince a few international travelers to consider planning your trip in the colder months to uncover experiences that don’t exist in the summertime.

If you’ve ventured around my other posts on this blog, you’ll know I’m passionate about the Kootenay side of the Rockies, as well trying to avoid contributing to over-tourism.

I’m an advocate for experiencing and finding those lesser-known places and also visiting places in the shoulder-season or off-season. Why? This helps spread out tourists throughout the year and helps the tourism economy all year long.

Related Post: Travel Hacks for Visiting Banff in Winter

Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. I only share products that I personally use and love, and all opinions are my own.

Here are my recommendations to experience a winter holiday in Canada.

Radium Hot Springs, British Columbia

Operated by Parks Canada, Radium Hot Springs are one of the biggest thermal pools in the Canadian Rockies.

Try to time your visit in the wintertime when the temperatures create hoar frost on the trees.

This beautiful phenomenon creates beautiful crystal-like snowflakes that contrast the turquoise water so harmoniously.

Radium Hot Springs

Another bonus, it’s no where near as busy as the Banff Upper Hot Springs, even during the holiday season!

snow covered red iron rock along the highway
The stunning iron rock formations on your way to the hot springs!

Where to stay in Radium

In Radium, there’s a super cute strip of Bavarian-themed and alpine-inspired motels that lead up to the Hot Springs.

Gateway Motel

We’ve stayed at the Gateway Motel and were blown away by the homemade breakfast and the fact that it was the cleanest motel we’ve ever stayed at! I kid you not, the tile grout was scrubbed and there wasn’t a spec of dirt.

We stayed here during the Christmas holidays and it was one of the most reasonably priced accommodations.

Radium Chalet

This is our favorite hotel in Radium – we actually got married here! This hotel is perched above the town of Radium.

If you want to wake up and have your morning coffee overlooking the Columbia Valley, this is the spot for you. It’s also pet friendly and budget-friendly!

Airbnb Condo

Image credit Airbnb

If you prefer to have your own space that feels more like a home, I recommend renting a condo.

There are many options to choose from, but this 2-bedroom condo has a 5 star rating. It’s got lots of windows for views of the Purcell mountains and is walking distance from coffee shops and the local skating rink.

Invermere, British Columbia

Usually quite popular in the summer, it’s well worth a visit in the winter time. Here’s you’ll find the Lake Windemere Whiteway.

It’s a 34 kilometer skating trail that’s been cleared on the frozen lake.

After you enjoy some winter fun, be sure to make a stop in the downtown core. Complete with local artisan shops and coffee hangouts, with the perfect apres-skate destination.

Silver Spring Lake, British Columbia

Skate in mid-december before the snow falls and glide across the beautiful turquoise ice. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, hike up to the overlook and take in the views of all three lakes at once from above.  

You might also like: Banff or Jasper, Where Should You Go?

Two Jack Lake, Alberta

This is a popular spot for many, as it’s not too far from the Banff town site, just off of Highway 1. Conditions almost always perfect for skating because it usually freezes before there’s snow.

And if it does snow, the wind from the valley blows it away quick, With that in mind though, make sure you dress accordingly!

Please note that you should never skate on ice less than 8 inches or about 20cm thick. If you’re unsure about the thickness, then it’s best to not even try.

Abraham Lake, Alberta

This lake is adjacent to the David Thompson Highway in Alberta, and is actually a man-made lake because of a dam that was built in the 1970s.

While it’s technically an artificial lake, it still possesses the vibrant turquoise hues of fresh mountain water.

The best access point for finding the ice bubbles at Abraham Lake is at Preacher’s Point.

It’s one of the few lakes in the world where you experience the magic of bubbles trapped underneath the ice. Dead organic matter sinks to the bottom of the lake; as it decomposes, it releases methane gas.

When winter sets in and as the temperatures drop, the bubbles freeze in place and become trapped. (Cordless drill and a lighter anyone)?

Because the entire valley is windy all year long, any snowfall accumulation is usually blown away. This allows visitors to witness the bubbles on the clear ice for most of the winter season.

This isn’t the best lake to skate on. All of the wind creates massive ice heaves and uneven surfaces.

Ghost Lake, Alberta

Located at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and about 40 minutes west of Calgary, Alberta, this small community is mostly known for its summer village amenities.

In recent years, however, it’s become quite the destination for winter recreation.  One of the most notable and unique activities is called  ice sailing. Ice Sailing requires an ice boat and is similar to regular sailing, but your craft sits on either skis or skates and you use the wind to traverse across the lake.

Canmore, Alberta

Instead of visiting Banff, check out the often overlooked mountain town of Canmore. It’s only 25 minutes away from Banff and outside of the national park so it’s a little less busy but just as beautiful.

From ice skating to accessible winter hikes, the snowy magic in Canmore makes the perfect pit stop or home base for your winter vacation in Canada.

Gap Lake, Grotto Pond or First Lake

Gap Lake is located just off of Highway 1A only about 10 minutes from Canmore, Alberta. This natural outdoor rink is known for freezing smooth and clear which reveals blue-green glassy ice starting around mid-December.

Complete with the mountains surrounding you, it makes for a perfect spot for a skate. However, this has recently become a very popular spot making for dangerous parking alongside the highway.

Locals indicate that this lake isn’t the safest to skate on since it’s fed by underground springs which can quickly erode the ice at any given time.

So, head a little further east to either Grotto Pond or First Lake for more stable ice skating conditions.

For more inspiration, check out this article from Banff & Lake Louise Tourism about more great places to skate outdoors in Banff National Park!

If you’re interested, you can check out my other post for a list of ultimate travel hacks for visiting Banff in winter!

Where to Stay in Canmore, Alberta

The Lamphouse Hotel is our go-to place to stay in Canmore. It’s right downtown (and next door to Grizzly Paw Brewing). Great hot tub views and pet friendly.

Lamphouse Hotel view from the hot tub

Basecamp Resorts run by the same company and another great choice. It’s got the best rooftop hot tub, all rooms have full kitchens and it’s pet friendly.

Check out my guide to the best pet friendly hotels in Canmore for more details and choices to help you pick the best spot.

Save this pin for later and let me know about your favorite winter activities!