4 of the Best Ice Climbing Tours & Courses in Ontario

Try your hand at this incredibly fun winter activity.

When winter arrives, the water seeping out of rock freezes, forming fantastic vertical ice structures that look like frozen waterfalls. A small subset of outdoor enthusiasts thinks it’s a great idea to climb using axes and spikes attached to their boots. Ice climbing is an exciting mental and physical challenge in the winter.

Who Can Go?

While having a background in rock climbing (either outdoors or in a gym) is helpful, ice climbing uses different techniques. Anyone comfortable with heights and with a moderate level of fitness can enjoy ice climbing. Some guides may require experience with belaying before signing up for certain courses.

What Do You Need?

Ice climbing is a gear-intensive sport which requires a lot of specialized equipment: ice axes, crampons and mountaineering boots along with standard climbing gear. This means trying ice climbing on your own requires a significant initial investment.

Going on a guided trip can be a good way to learn the skills, check out new spots and ultimately see if the sport is something to further pursue. Guides often provide the gear and you will just need warm clothes to be comfortable for a day outside. Dressing in layers is helpful for regulating temperatures between climbing and standing around belaying.

people participate in an ice climbing class in Thunder Bay
The skilled guides at Outdoor Skills and Thrills will help you take advantage of the incredible ice climbing experiences around Thunder Bay. Source: Outdoor Skills and Thrills

Thunder Bay Region

Northwestern Ontario is the province’s climbing mecca. The steep rock structures and cold winters make it an especially great spot for winter ice climbing. Being the biggest city in the region, Thunder Bay is the base for adventures, with wilderness easily accessible within a day’s drive.

Outdoor Skills and Thrills is a local guiding company offering guided tours and instruction in all disciplines. Climbing locations vary depending on conditions, but there are plenty of options in Thunder Bay and the surrounding area.

Choose either a half-day (three to four hours) or full-day (six to eight hours) and private or group course starting at $139. The experienced guides cater to all skill levels, whether beginners trying the sport out or seasoned climbers looking to get a local’s perspective.

In early March each year, Nipigon Ice Fest takes place near Orient Bay, one of the premier ice climbing destinations in the province. It’s just over an hour’s drive from Thunder Bay to Nipigon, where the festival is based. Clinics for climbers of all levels take place, and the Nipigon Community Centre hosts a gear auction and presentations from accomplished outdoor adventurers. It’s a great opportunity for an introduction to the sport and the community surrounding it.

Four people climbing up frozen waterfall in the winter.
Explore ice wonders in Southern, Central and Eastern Ontario with Muskoka Mountainworks. Source: Muskoka Mountainworks

Muskoka Region

Muskoka has a comparatively small climbing scene, but the granite landscape still lends itself to ice and mixed climbing opportunities. Join Muskoka Mountainworks on a custom guided outing wherever conditions are optimal. Their guided winter climbing trips include single and multi-pitch climbing up to 200 feet, snowshoeing, rappelling, dry tooling and mixed climbing. Prices start at $199 for a full day.

Muskoka Mountainworks also offers ice climbing tours outside the Muskoka region: Niagara, Milton, the Blue Mountains, the Bruce Peninsula, Parry Sound, Haliburton, Bancroft, Madwaska and Sudbury.

Those with a bit of experience in climbing and confidence in their belay skills may want to check out the Southern Ontario Ice Climbing Festival in the second week of February. This is an opportunity to connect with local climbers, jump into some skill clinics and become part of a community.

Three people ice climbing
Take an ice climbing tour with Steve Foster Adventure Instruction. Source: Steve Foster Adventure Instruction

Sault Ste. Marie

Less than an hour’s drive from Sault Ste. Marie are the Algoma Highlands, an ancient mountain range that has been carved and ground down over millions of years into rolling granite. The region sees significant snowfall, and temperatures stay below zero frequently enough to produce quality ice.

A tour with Steve Foster Adventure Instruction includes all ice climbing gear and is catered to the group’s experience levels. Trips start at $150 per person and take place in the Sault region, wherever the ice conditions are optimal.

Superior Exploration is another company offering ice climbing tours and courses in the region, closer to Batchawana Bay. Like others, these can be catered for all skill levels, and include unique offerings like night climbing starting at $150 per person.

About Jake O'Flaherty

Jake O’Flaherty is a freelance outdoor guide who loves to explore the remote corners of the world, but Lake Superior is where he feels most at home.

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