10 Winter-Only Wonders You Can See in Ontario

Pack your parka and plan your adventure to view these cool winter sights.

Winter marks a magical time of year, when flurries and ice transform landscapes and waterways. Across Ontario, intrepid outdoor lovers can enjoy stunning and surprising sights that appear only when the snow flies. Frigid temperatures and deep snowfalls create fantastical ice formations and outstanding opportunities for skating, skiing, snowshoeing and more. Popular parks and trails empty as much of the population tucks in for a monthslong dormancy.

This winter, avoid the temptation to hibernate. Instead, grab your warmest layers and a thermos of hot cocoa to enjoy these amazing winter-only wonders. Just remember to allow extra travel time for unpredictable weather, and plan overnight excursions where possible to make the most of short winter days.

Ice Caves

When temperatures plummet, the splashing waves of early winter storms transform rock shelves and cliffs along Ontario’s Great Lakes coastlines into ethereal caverns of aqua-blue ice. Strap on a pair of snowshoes to explore the Lake Superior shoreline along ice cave hot spots like Michipicoten Bay (near Wawa) and Old Woman Bay at Lake Superior Provincial Park.

Access to these icy caverns typically involves travel on frozen lake ice, which can be hazardous early or late in the season when ice may be thin or unstable. Always seek out local advice before travelling on frozen waterways. In Algoma, Forest the Canoe and Stokely Creek Lodge offer guided ice cave tours from mid-February through early March. Tours include two to 2.5 hours of snowshoeing to reach the icy overhangs at Sawpit Bay and Coppermine Point.

Great Lakes Outfitters in Sault Ste. Marie is a local outdoor store with anything you may need for your ice-spelunking. Plan to overnight in the Soo before or after your adventure; the comfortable Water Tower Inn offers trail recommendations, boxed lunches, and indoor pools and spa.

On Georgian Bay, the limestone bluffs of the Bruce Peninsula are a good bet for ice cave hunters. Take a guided cross-country ski adventure with EcoAdventures into Lion’s Head Provincial Nature Reserve, where you’ll explore the frozen shoreline alongside icy formations and 200-foot cliffs.

two people stand and point at the Northern Lights
Stay out late—you never know what you might see. Photo: David Jackson // @davidjackson__

Northern Lights

Few sights can compare with the spectacle of shimmering green, pink and red lights dancing across a starry night sky. The Aurora Borealis appears when solar particles collide with the Earth’s atmosphere, concentrating around the planet’s magnetic poles and peaking on a cycle that coincides with solar activity. Although the Northern Lights can occur at any time of year, the long nights of winter make for prime Aurora viewing.

In Ontario, the farther north you go, the better your odds are of seeing this celestial light show. Locations with little or no artificial light—like the province’s six designated Dark Sky Preserves—offer the finest viewing.

Plan a winter weekend on Manitoulin Island to experience some of the darkest skies in Ontario’s near north. Set on 12 secluded acres in the heart of the island, Twin Peaks B&B offers elegant rooms and unobstructed astral views.

Adventurous Aurora-hunters should make the trip to Quetico Provincial Park, designated a Dark Sky Preserve in 2021. This iconic wilderness park is one of the best spots in Ontario for watching the Northern Lights. In winter, the park offers 15 kilometres of groomed cross-country skiing, as well as trails for snowshoeing and skijøring (skiing with your dog). The Dawson Trail Campground is open through the winter, and three cozy cabins provide a toasty stay even when the mercury drops.

person stands on mound of snow at sunrise while holding snowshoes
No excuses—the sun rises later in the wintertime. Photo: Alan Poelman // @alftown

Snowy Sunrises

Snow, beautiful snow. Sometimes the most incredible winter sight is simply a dazzling landscape blanketed in brilliant white. Such a view is extra special at sunrise, when this blank canvas becomes an ever-changing palette of golden yellow, fiery orange, and pastel pink and purple.

Stay at a heated yurt or cabin in Killarney Provincial Park to get an early start up The Crack, where your reward for this stout, full-day snowshoeing adventure is seeing the sun rise over the rumpled La Cloche Mountains from atop Killarney Ridge. Snowshoe rentals are available from the Park office at George Lake (reservations recommended).

Across the frozen waters of the North Channel, the Cup and Saucer Trail offers a sublime sunrise vista over Lake Manitou on Manitoulin Island. Allow at least two hours to complete this out-and-back trek to the 70-metre-high cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment. Wear snowshoes or micro-spikes for traction—the trail is steep and slippery in sections.

Superior Country spoils sunrise summit seekers—loads of great lookouts rise along the shore between Thunder Bay and Nipigon. Touch the technicolour sky at Lloyd’s Lookout on the Nipigon River Recreation Trail, where a large wooden deck provides stunning east-facing views across Lake Superior to LaGrange Island. Starting from the Red Rock trailhead, it’s a moderate 2.6-kilometre round-trip hike to the lookout. Cap your stay in the area at the character-filled Red Rock Inn, a historic hotel just two minutes from the trailhead.

Keep in mind that trail travel before sunrise can be dangerous—part of the journey will be in darkness or with minimal light. Plan extra time, bring a flashlight or headlamp, and dress in insulating layers of fleece or wool.

person climbs an ice waterfall in winter
Book an ice climbing tour with Outdoor Skills and Thrills. Photo: Aric Fishman // Outdoor Skills and Thrills

Frozen Waterfalls

Few sights can compare with the frozen forms of winter waterfalls. Across Northern Ontario, the monthslong deep freeze transforms falling water into glittering curtains of chandelier ice and delicate crystals of hoar frost.

In the Algoma Highlands north of Sault Ste. Marie, search for icefalls along the sprawling cross-country ski trails and snowshoe routes at Stokely Creek Lodge. This is the fourth largest cross-country ski area in North America, complete with cozy trailside warming huts, an inviting lodge, and no end of challenging hills to explore. Strap on the webs, or kick and glide: the 2.5-kilometre Peregrine Pass snowshoe trail starts from Stokely Lake Cabin and gently climbs 400 feet to end at the ice cliffs of the Frozen Waterfall Ski Trail. The resort offers day passes, rentals, lessons and all-inclusive stay-play-eat packages.

For an adrenaline-charged experience like no other, experience the euphoria of climbing an icy cascade with Outdoor Skills and Thrills. Based out of Thunder Bay, these ice climbing experts offer half- and full-day beginner climbing adventures on some of the best vertical ice in Canada.

Rather keep your feet on the ground? Plunging into a 40-metre-deep gorge near Thunder Bay, Kakabeka Falls is the second-highest waterfall in Ontario. This provincial park is open year-round, with a beautiful boardwalk and viewing platforms at the top of the falls. Snowshoe the Mountain Portage Trail for spectacular views of the frost-filled gorge and historic Kaministiquia River. Bring your skis to enjoy 10 kilometres of groomed cross-country trails as well.

In Thunder Bay, the Best Western Plus NorWester Hotel is surrounded by the scenic Nor'Wester Mountains, offering great views right from the comfort of your room.

person backcountry skiing through a snowy winter forest
If it weren’t so pretty it might be spooky. Photo: David Jackson // @davidjackson__

Phantom Forests

When abundant snowfalls bury the boreal forest in winter white, nodding spruce trees become fantômes—ghostly figures some say resemble snowy spectres.

Algoma Country’s mountainous geography and proximity to Lake Superior combine to endow the region with nearly four metres of fluffy powder annually. Base yourself at Bellevue Valley Lodge and make turns on over 2,000 acres and 700 vertical feet of untracked, powder-coated tree skiing—right out the back door.

In the Temagami region, snowshoe among giants at White Bear Forest, 800 hectares of conservation lands protecting one of Ontario’s few remaining old-growth pine forests. The easy White Bear Trail (three kilometres) provides a serene introduction to this ancient forest’s 17-kilometre trail network. Wrap up the day with a comfortable sleep and delicious meal at the family-run Temagami Shores Inn & Resort.

Experience the winter forest just minutes from Mattawa at Nature’s Harmony Ecolodge. Pick up a day pass to explore miles of pristine trails with views of the Laurentian Mountains, or stay in the on-site log cabins and yurts for a winter weekend glamping adventure.

Nearby, equine-lovers should plan a visit to Von Doeler’s Ranch, where you can amble through the frosty forest while listening to the soft crunch of snow under hooves. The ranch is open daily for winter trail riding and four-season lessons with well-mannered horses suitable for all levels, and lakeside cabin stay-and-ride packages.

a person skates on wild ice
Finding wild ice is a matter of impeccable timing. Photo: David Jackson // @davidjackson__

Wild Ice

Each winter, Ontario’s countless lakes and waterways harden into icy adventure playgrounds, beckoning skaters, anglers, skiers and sledders. Head out on the coldest days to listen as the freezing and expanding ice makes a symphony of otherworldly sounds. Just remember that ice travel requires a minimum of four inches of black ice to safely support a person’s weight, so you’ll want to check local conditions before making travel plans.

Skating on natural ice comes down to timing. Hopeful lake skaters need the ice to be a safe thickness but free from any more than a dusting of the fluffiest snow. Fortunately, with thousands of frozen lakes and ponds to choose from, Ontario has some of the best potential for lake skating anywhere. Ideal times to catch the ice at its best are early freeze-up or just after a mid- or late-winter warm spell, when surface puddles re-freeze into glassy goodness.

With reliably cold temperatures and plentiful water, Thunder Bay is a hot spot for wild ice skating. Smaller inland lakes like Cloud Lake offer the earliest safe ice, while Little Trout Bay and Silver Harbour on Lake Superior tempt experienced lake skaters. Because ice conditions on larger lakes can be unreliable due to pressure cracks and wind drift, it’s a good idea to wear a life jacket and carry ice picks while you skate. And never skate alone.

Missed your window? No worries—lace up at Sudbury’s Ramsey Lake Skating Path. This wide swath of natural ice stretches 1.5 kilometres along the shore of its namesake lake with views of downtown Sudbury and Science North. Construction on the path typically begins in early January, when the lake ice is 12-18 inches thick. Work crews clear a meandering course and flood the ice for an optimally smooth surface.

worm's eye view of a woman skating on an outdoor skating trail
Lace up and skate out on Nina’s Way in Kivi Park. Photo: Jess McShane Photography

Skating Trails

Inspired by the runaway success of Arrowhead Provincial Park’s trendsetting skate path, ice skating trails have proliferated across Ontario as more and more skaters discover the joy of out-of-the-box outdoor skating. These icy routes offer glassy, maintained surfaces and a spectacular variety of scenery—from intimate forest trails to urban river views. Some even light up the night with trailside tiki torches for skating after dark.

Keep in mind that skating trail conditions are weather-dependent—be sure to check ice conditions before travelling.

In Sudbury, the Nina’s Way Skate Path winds 1.3 kilometres through rocky outcrops of Precambrian Shield and startlingly white birch forests in beautiful Kivi Park. Recharge at trailside warming cabins and relaxing outdoor fireplaces, fuel up at the Kivi Café, and keep skating into the evening accompanied by music and twinkling lights. Make it a weekend with a stay at Sudbury’s Touch of Heaven Nordic Spa & Retreat.

Sault Ste. Marie’s kilometre-long skating circuit in Clergue Park is popular with both Saultites and visitors to the city’s waterfront. The trail is lit for evening skating and offers views of the historic St. Mary’s River, as well as easy access to the popular Hub Trail network. More river views await at the Delta Hotels Sault Ste. Marie Waterfront—the city’s only waterfront full-service hotel.

In South Georgian Bay, cruise Blue Mountain Resort’s 1.1-kilometre Woodview Mountaintop Skating loop while enjoying extraordinary views along the Niagara Escarpment. After dark, thousands of interactive lights draped above the trail light up magical night skating.

Plan more ice skating adventures with this list of the 15 Best Skating Trails & Outdoor Rinks in Ontario.

a person lays on snow under a bright winter moon
No headlamp needed. Photo: Alan Poelman // @alftown

White Nights

Snow is one of the brightest natural reflectors of light. During a winter full moon, the albedo—or the amount of light reflecting off the Earth’s surface—is more than enough to navigate after dark without a headlamp. You’ll only have a handful of opportunities to see this amazing phenomenon, since the full moon comes but once a month. When it does, step into your snowshoes or skis and hit these glittering winter trails.

Hiawatha Highlands is Sault Ste. Marie’s premiere winter trail system, with well-marked routes exploring a peaceful pine and hardwood forest. Forest the Canoe offers guided full moon snowshoe outings, including equipment rental and a hot beverage.

Sudbury’s Lake Laurentian Conservation Area is a wild and scenic snowshoeing haven on the edge of the city. The BioSki Cross-Country and Snowshoe Club has maintained winter recreation trails here since 1974. Explore on your own, or become a club member for invites to monthly potluck dinners, and group snowshoeing or skiing under the full moon.

Located within Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park near Mattawa, the Canadian Ecology Centre is a comfortable basecamp for nighttime explorations of the Park’s multiuse winter trails. Stay in a heated cabin with access to shared kitchen facilities, then head out for a moonlit snowshoe, ski or fat bike.

a dark sky with Milky Way over a campfire
Stargazing is all the better in the wintertime. Photo: David Jackson // @davidjackson__

Winter Constellations

Did you know that our view of the stars changes with the seasons? Some of the brightest stars and best known constellations are only visible in the northern hemisphere during the winter months. Welcome back Orion, Taurus, Gemini and more at these Ontario Dark Sky Parks.

In 2018, Killarney Provincial Park became the first Ontario provincial park to be designated a Dark Sky Preserve by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. While the Park’s seasonal dark sky events, interpreter-led astronomy programs and observatory aren’t available during winter, its inky nights skies are every bit as stunning.

Tucked on the remote shores of the world’s largest lake, Lake Superior Provincial Park is considered one of the darkest Dark Sky Preserves on Earth. Although the Park is non-operating in winter, you can still enjoy many of the trails and stargazing sites accessible from Highway 17. Walk down to Agawa Beach, near the visitors centre, for exceptional views of the night sky looking west, north and south.

Perched at the tip of a long peninsula reaching deep into Georgian Bay, Bruce Peninsula National Park boasts brilliant stargazing and year-round amenities for visitors. Rent a cozy yurt in the Park, or brave the cold and sleep right under the stars.

Don’t forget to bring along a constellation guide, or download a stargazing app to see how many constellations you can identify. Binoculars and a headlamp with a red light setting (to preserve night vision) can be helpful, too. Check out Ontario Parks’ Eyes on the Skies blog for a preview of what to look for each month.

a bobcat runs past a forest camp in winter
Where there are lynx tracks… there just might be a lynx. Photo: Follow Me North Photography

Wildlife Tracking

For wildlife enthusiasts, winter snows offer a unique chance to learn about wildlife behaviour and movements through tracking. Fresh snowfall provides a fascinating record of animal activities, from the nightly meanderings of field mice and porcupines to the confident trot of coyotes and the deep postholes of foraging moose.

With any luck, your tracking efforts will lead to an actual wildlife sighting. Remember to appreciate and enjoy these animals in their natural environments and do as little as possible to alter their behaviours. Getting too close to wildlife can be harmful to both you and the animals. Take a pair of binoculars so you can view wildlife from a safe distance.

Before you head out into the woods, pick up a field guide to help you identify any tracks and traces you find. Better yet, join a guided experience—you’ll see and learn so much more with the help of an expert’s trained eye.

With nearly 30 years of experience, Algonquin Adventure Tours brings the Park’s winter landscapes to vivid life. Join new owners Dave and Amanda Simpson on private three-hour snowshoe, Nordic ski and birdwatching tours in Algonquin Park.

Want to get a frame worthy photo of the wildlife you encounter? Jesse and Susan Villemaire, collectively recognized as Follow Me North Photography, are a married duo who share their passion for nature photography in Muskoka. They run Wildlife & Landscape Photography Tours & Workshops in Algonquin Park, offering participants a chance to improve their photography skills and see some of the Park’s most beautiful places and creatures.

Take an interpretive snowshoe tour in the forests north of Sault Ste. Marie with Forest the Canoe. You’ll learn about boreal ecosystems and wildlife while hiking beneath snow-heavy spruce and exploring some of the most beautiful trails in Algoma. Also in the Soo, Thrive Tours offers nature-focused snowshoeing experiences with insights on Indigenous practices and philosophies.

For a deep-dive into all things wild and winter, join Lure of the North for an immersive, four-day winter forest skills workshop. This introductory winter camping expedition involves travelling by snowshoe, pulling your gear on a freight toboggan and sleeping in the rustic comfort of a canvas tent heated by woodstove—all while mastering essential skills like tracking, axe craft and fire-making.

About Virginia Marshall

Virginia Marshall is a freelance outdoor adventure writer, photographer and editor with roots in Muskoka and Lake Superior. Read her work in Adventure Kayak, Canoeroots, Rapid, Paddling Magazine and Backroad Mapbooks.

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