Winter in Ontario is a beautiful thing.
Sparkling icicles form on the naked trees, ice thickens the waterways, creating white deserts surrounded by wildlife. Thick blankets of snow glitter in the paling sunlight and frost crackles under your shoes in the mornings.
For some, winter is a wonderland: happily anticipated and eagerly enjoyed every single year.
For others, winter can feel bitter-sweet. Winter brings to mind early dusk, chilly air, distant sunrises. Shovelling. ☃️
Some people think that winter’s not for everyone – but it can be.
A little imagination, a carefully prepared itinerary of winter activities in Ontario, and a trip to true wilderness in South Algonquin. These are the ingredients to make a winter-lover out of anyone!
Scroll down to learn more about:
Winter in Ontario
Dressing warm for winter activities in Ontario
16 winter things to do in Ontario
Where to book your winter stay in Ontario
Winter in Ontario
Every season in Ontario is beautiful in its way. Fresh springs, lush summers, fragrant autumns – we have it all!
Most people easily appreciate these seasons ☝️ – it’s the wintertime that may require a little more effort for some to enjoy.
But that’s okay – that’s what we’re here for: to help you come up with reasons to love the winter.
First thing’s first: a description of the stages of winter in Ontario. We’ve outlined the average temperatures in Ontario through each winter month, and added a comparison to the average temperatures of the Ontario hinterlands around Algonquin Provincial Park.
The stages of winter in Ontario
Winter in Ontario goes through stages, just like anywhere else in the world. Here’s what you can expect from each stage in terms of temperature and snowfall.
Early winter (December). During this stage you’ll see the fall of leaves from the trees, frost in the mornings and on cool overcast days, and by late December you can typically see the first accumulation of snowfall (especially in northern Ontario). Average temperatures across Ontario range from -5°C to -10°C (23°F to 14°F).
Average South Algonquin temperatures range from -3°C to -14°C.
Mid-winter (January). January is usually known as the coldest month in Ontario. Temperatures drop to about -10°C to -15°C (14°F to 5°F), and snow cover is extensive. Lakes and rivers begin to freeze to levels of solidity that make it safe for winter activities like snowshoeing, ice skating, snowmobiling, and ice fishing. (Check local advisories before venturing onto frozen lakes).
Average South Algonquin temperatures range from -6°C to -20°C.
Late winter (February). Although the days typically remain cold, February sees the occasional bout of milder temperatures that reduce snowfall accumulation (especially in southern Ontario). The days start to become longer, and temperatures typically range from -8°C to -12°C (18°F to 10°F).
Average South Algonquin temperatures range from -3°C to well below -20°C.
Thawing and transition (late February to March). The approach of spring sees rising temperatures, floods of melted snow and ice, and earlier sunrises. Temperatures range from between -5°C to 0°C (23°F to 32°F).
Average South Algonquin temperatures range from 2°C to -11°C.
Check your local forecast before travelling
It probably goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: temperatures range by region, and there are always fluctuations in terms of range.
Be prepared for unexpected highs and lows if storms move in or rain falls. Even the weather network can’t predict the weather with 100% accuracy. 😉
As a general rule, the further north you travel, the cooler the temperatures, and therefore the more consistent the snowfall and accumulation are going to be.
So, if you’re looking for reliable snow that stays on the ground for activities like snowshoeing and skiing, you should consider travelling northward to South Algonquin and beyond.
Dressing Warm for Winter Activities in Ontario
Did your parents ever tell you to dress for success? Well, the rule applies to the elements as well.
If you want a successful (read: comfortable, happy, enjoyable) winter – you have to dress for the occasion!
Here are a few quick tips on winter layering that will help you stay warm and cosy even on the frostiest days.
Layering is Key. Invest in moisture-wicking under-layers to keep yourself from getting too sweaty. Use an under shirt, some warmer mid-layers to keep your heat in, and a waterproof and wind-resistant outer layer. Keep the ability to regulate your body temperatures by easily unzipping or removing layers to let in cool air, and block cool air out when necessary.
Quality Outerwear. Good quality winter clothing can be expensive – but it is absolutely, beyond a doubt worth it. A good winter coat is your protection against the elements, even during the coldest moments when the wind is blowing and the snow is falling. Snow pants aren’t just for kids – they’re for smart winter hikers as well. Keep your legs warm with a good pair of adult snow pants.
Accessorise for Winter. Scarves can be pretty – they can also be extremely useful for blocking out chilly winds and falling snow. Hats and mittens aren’t just there for decoration – they’re meant to keep your heat in and protect your fingers from frostbite. Layers again: gloves under mittens and thermal socks are the way to go on chilly days!
Avoid Footwear Fails. Your feet are going to carry you around for all your winter adventuring. Keep them warm and toasty with cosy thermal socks and really good, sturdy waterproof boots that lace up to keep snow and slush out.
Plan your Wardrobe. Depending on which winter activities you’re going to participate in, your wardrobe may change. Moisture-wicking under-layers are very important if you’re participating in winter sports like hitting the slopes, or high-movement hikes. If you’re out for warm, slow walks in the snow, you may need warmer middle layers because you won’t be generating as much heat. Keep an eye on weather forecasts and plan each outfit accordingly.
Accommodations in the winter
The most important thing about travelling in the winter is making sure that you have a warm, dry place to sleep at the end of active days.
South Algonquin has a wide range of open accommodations throughout the winter and all year round.
Wherever you happen to be travelling, do your research on accommodations in the area!
You want to find a great place to stay where you can spend the day in the snow, and snuggle in with a hot drink and warm blankets at night. ☕
16 Winter Things to Do in Ontario
Wherever you travel in Ontario, there is always something to do in the winter. You just need to decide what your interests are, and the rest will fall into place.
If you’re new to winter adventuring, or you’re new to spending winter in Ontario, check out these winter activities to add to your bucket list!
1. Winter Stargazing
The best time to see the stars is actually when it’s cold! If you’re a stargazer and you want the best views of the night sky, winter is a great time to do it.
You’ll get the best views in a place where there’s minimal or no city light pollution obscuring your view of the sky. See if you can spot the northern lights!
2. Winter Festivities
Wherever you roam, check out whether there are any events or winter festivals planned in the area that you might be interested in attending. A good example is the Bracebridge Fire and Ice festival!
You can also check out the ice fishing derby at Bark Lake in South Algonquin on Family Day for those who are looking for some good fun and friendly competition!
3. Ice climbing
Ice climbing, like rock climbing, is climbing upward using tools and a rigging system – except that you’re climbing up solid water instead of rocks.
Travel prepared with your own ice axes and rigid crampons as you traverse the wintery wonder of frozen cliffs and waterfalls!
If you’re familiar with ice skating at an arena, just know that winter ice skating while surrounded by nature is even better.
Check on the local advisories on ice solidity in the area you’re travelling to, and if you’ve got the all-clear, strap on some skates, bring out your shovel, and clear yourself a rink in the great outdoors! For instance, try the Mew Lake skating rink in Algonquin Park.
5. Ice fishing
Pitch your tent or erect your hut, or else just sit in the quiet elements as you carve a whole into the ice and drop a line into the cool, wet depths. Stop by Spectacle Lake and take in the views while you wait for the fish!
Some rural townships have ice fishing festivals that you can participate in!
Winter hiking is fun with or without snowshoes, but most people don’t like to plod through snow that goes up to their knees (or higher!) for long periods of time.
That’s why snowshoes exist! Carry yourself above the snowfall and enjoy the trails in the winter with snowshoeing.
If you don’t have your own snowshoes, check to see if the area you’re travelling to comes equipped with a store you can buy or rent from to get the gear you need.
7. Cross Country Skiing
Take your skis and poles and traverse the snow-swept trails and majestic frost-tipped canopies that await you on hiking trails all around Ontario.
Looking for a place to do your skiing? Visit Leaf Lake Ski Trail in Algonquin Park, just above our township of South Algonquin.
Don’t own your own skis? We’ve got them to rent in South Algonquin! Stop by Camp Bongopix for ski rentals during your trip.
8. Downhill skiing
Snow-swept trails – but downward, and fast! Get your skis or snowboard out and hit the snowy hills of Ontario! Just remember to check that the place you’re visiting has slopes before you get your hopes up. 😉
9. Winter hiking
Traversing the winter wilderness will bring you to snow-kissed landscapes and beautiful scenery when you choose a destination that maintains their winter hiking trails!
10. Maple Syrup Harvest
Take a tour of a maple syrup forest. Watch as sap is collected from the trees and turned into tasty maple syrup through late winter (around mid-February) to early spring (mid-March)!
Many maple syrup farms come with well-stocked stores at which you can buy sweet treats and maple syrup to take home with you around the year. Be sure to look them up wherever you go so you don’t miss out!
Tow along a machine hitched to the truck or stowed in the trailer and find a snow machine trail for you.
For instance, check out the Old Rail Trail – newly updated and ready for use! There are dozens of trails throughout South Algonquin that welcome snowmobiles – and you can’t find anywhere more beautiful to shred some freshly fallen snow.
12. Fat biking
Fat biking, otherwise known as winter biking, is exactly what it sounds like – biking in the winter.
Bicycles with specialised “fat” tires that are wide enough to keep your bike above the snow will carry you along trails that those skinny-wheeled bikes of summer couldn’t dream of travelling.
13. Winter horseback riding
Many horseback riding locations still offer tours on horseback through the winter, as long as the conditions are appropriate for the animals.
Check out local horseback riding providers in the area you’re travelling to and book yourself a leisurely stroll through beautiful scenery atop a majestic beast.
14. Explore ice caves
Ice caves are underground caves with permanent ice deposits that are ready to be explored by the brave of heart!
Check out the ice caves around Lake Superior Provincial Park – in particular Old Woman Bay!
15. Drive a dog sled
Depending on where you are, you may have access to places that provide you with the equipment (and animals) you need to drive your own dog sled!
Test out this unique winter experience for a chance to really impress your friends and family with a winter activity that few others have tried.
16. Winter glamping
For some folks, the activity level isn’t the important thing about enjoying winter activities in Ontario – it’s simply being in nature, surrounded by snow and beauty.
For instance, visit beautiful Algonquin Provincial Park in the winter for your chance to camp or glamp during the winter.
Not up for camping or glamping in the winter months? Try finding a lodge, cabin, hotel or motel in a beautiful place that allows you to feel a step away from nature, but still be warm and snug (we’ve got some tips below!)
Where to book your winter stay in Ontario
Winter in Ontario isn’t just a season: it’s an experience.
Plan a spectacular adventure, explore the winter scenery free of crowds, and book a cosy room so you have a warm, dry and peaceful haven to settle down in each night after days of fun!
🌬️ From the early winter enchantment of sparkling frost to the late winter thaw that signals the arrival of spring, each stage of winter in Ontario has its own charm.
Places to stay in the winter in South Algonquin
You can explore places to stay in South Algonquin, and take a look at these curated lists of some of our favourite places to stay in the area:
Four Seasons Algonquin Cabins in Madawaska (right on the Top B trail)
So: book your room, pack your bags, bundle up – and get ready to discover a new appreciation for winter! ❄️