Instead of wishing winter would go away, lean into it. Here, ideas from sports to salty, across the country

The Northern Lights, or Northern Lights, light up the sky over Pickerel Lake in Quetico Provincial Park, which was recently named a Dark Sky Preserve.David Jackson/The Globe and Mail

light show

The Northern Lights may seem magical, but their appearance is pure science. When electrically charged solar particles enter our upper atmosphere, the Earth’s magnetic field redirects them towards the North Pole. This collision is visually manifested by beautiful “dancing” lights that are most easily spotted in the auroral oval, the region surrounding the Earth’s magnetic pole. And wouldn’t you know, between 80 and 90% of the land accessible under this oval is in Canada.

Some of these locations are easier to reach than others, meaning there’s an aurora experience for every travel style. In Ontario, they are often visible on Manitoulin Island (about 1 1/2 hours from Sudbury) and Pukaskwa National Park (3 1/2 hours from Thunder Bay), both of which are great getaways for families.

Churchill, MB, is accessible by train or plane – and as it’s touted as one of the top three places on the planet to view the Northern Lights, it’s well worth the trip. If you like the little luxuries, check out Frontiers North, a local tour operator that offers nighttime excursions in heated “tundra buggies,” custom-built all-terrain vehicles that even have on-board bars.

And for adventurers, remote Newfoundland and Labrador Torngat Mountains National Park is firmly in the territory of the trip of a lifetime. The park is located on unspoilt mountainous terrain that has been the homeland of the Inuit for millennia and is one of the best places in Canada to view the Northern Lights. Plan your trip through the Torngat Mountains Base Camp and Research Station, which provides accommodation, logistics and planning support and even bear rangers and local Inuit guides.

make tracks

Racquets have been growing in popularity for years, but during COVID-19 interest in the sport has increased, and for good reason. It’s low-impact, relatively inexpensive, and inherently remote, making it the perfect cold-weather pandemic pastime. Best of all, in many cities, including Vancouver, you don’t even have to drive to try it.

Whether you’re visiting Vancouver or it’s your home base, it’s easy to know where to put on your snowshoes. Grouse Mountain Station, which is located just 15 minutes from downtown, offers five snowshoe trails, including the beginner-friendly Blue Grouse Loop, the more challenging Dam Mountain, the Thunderbird Ridge Route (a short but sometimes steep loop in the back- country) and the Snowshoe Grind, a winter version of the famous Grouse Grind, the short but steep hiking trail that Vancouverites flock to during the warmer months. The resort offers courses for snowshoe beginners who wish to learn the sport. Plus, there are fun tours to choose from, such as fitness-focused excursions that take intermediate and experienced snowshoers on walks, resort backcountry jogs with a seasoned instructor, and awesome after-dark getaways where you can stargaze under the full and new moon. This winter, don’t miss the resort’s Light Walk, a forest trail illuminated by twinkling lights. Enter through a tunnel of glowing light, then follow the snowy paths for a magical nighttime walk.

Admission to the mountain is $61 for adults, $34 for children, or $161 for a four-person family pass, which includes round-trip travel via the Skyride and access to all current attractions (except skiing and snowboarding). Snowshoes are available for hire and there is no additional charge for the Light Walk, although tours are an additional cost and require pre-registration.

People skate on the Rideau Canal with temperatures around -15 degrees Celsius in Ottawa, Ont., January 22, 2019.CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters

Ice cream, baby ice cream

Canada is a country of ice rinks, but if you really want to skate, nothing beats skating rinks, icy outdoor paths that wind through snow-covered forests or large estates. At 7.8 kilometers long, Ottawa Rideau Canal is probably our most famous skating rink, but there are plenty of other options to explore. Here are three favorites.

For romantic evenings: Shipyards Park in Whitehorse

The in-line skating path in this public park turns into a skating rink when the temperature drops. Best of all, fire pits and heated cabanas dot its length, perfect for a romantic mid-skate cuddle.

For the whole family: Perth Outfitters in Perth, Ont.

Rent skates from Perth Outfitters, a popular leisure center on the bank of the Tay River in Perth, Ontario, then take a spin along its 400-meter groomed path or head to the shiny rink for a game impromptu hockey with the local team. When it’s time for a break, head to the log clubhouse, which features fire pits and delicious hot chocolate.

For nature lovers: Skating in the Forest at Lac-des-Loups, Que.

A three-kilometre loop that crosses the snow-covered foothills of Gatineau Park, this skating rink is the perfect combination of swimming in the forest and physical activity.

winter warm up

The words “hot springs” tend to conjure up visions of Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, with its pastel turquoise water, or the tiered pools of Pamukkale in Turkey, but Canada has some great springs too. In fact, wellness enthusiasts should take note: there is a Hot Spring Loop in British Columbia, making it the most relaxing road trip ever, with stops at six Kootenay Rocky Mountain hot springs in the province: Ainsworth, Canyon, Fairmont, Halcyon, Nakusp and Radium Hot Springs (well that the latter is currently closed for renovation).

Ainsworth belongs to the Yaqan Nukiy people of the Ktunaxa First Nation and has a large relaxation pool, a cold pool fed by a stream and a horseshoe-shaped cave lined with stalagmites and stalactites. Canyon offers two springs, while Fairmont has three, a 39°C pool and a slightly cooler pool and dive pool. HalcyonThe four soaking pools overlook Upper Arrow Lake and the Monashee Mountains, while Nakusp considers its two pools to be the best hot springs in the province thanks to their rapid filtration. The resort’s hot pool completely recycles its water in 30 minutes, while the hot pool recycles its water in two hours.

Like all hot springs, these wet pools are the result of geothermally heated water rising from the earth’s crust to the surface. This water is often filled with dissolved minerals and is said to have all kinds of health benefits. These claims are not yet proven, but we do know one thing: a good bath is super soothing.

moveable party

What better way to explore a new city than discovering its culinary hotspots one by one? If so, we haven’t found it – and clearly Stratford, Ont., agrees, as he’s curated a chocolate-focused culinary tour that offers visitors a chance to indulge and taste the best the city has to offer at the same time.

The Chocolate Trail is a 22-step tour of Stratford’s best bakeries, shops, breweries and other small businesses, including Boar’s Head Pub, Junction 56 Distillery, Snapping Turtle Coffee Roasters and Petit-Mart General Mercantile. Each offers a different chocolate treat, from the gluten-free brownie with fudge sauce, berries and French vanilla ice cream at Boar’s Head to the retro chocolate bars at Mercantile.

Visitors need only stop at one of four participating stores (Destination Stratford, Bradshaws, Small-Mart or Werk Shop) to pick up a pass with six $30 vouchers, which can be used in any of the participating stores. Then they can easily access their favorites to tag a chocolate product – and sometimes even chat with the makers themselves. (And yes, you can buy multiple passes if you want to try more than six locations.)

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