Wintertime is for ice skating outside on frozen ponds and lakes in Canada (most of it at least). Hockey’s pretty popular too! Whether it’s downtown at a busy public arena with music and lights, on a iced-over cul-de-sac in the ‘burbs, or in the quiet woods under snow-frosted trees, it’s exhilarating to glide along in the fresh, brisk air, bundled up in mittens, a coat, scarf, and toque — that’s Canadian for beanie — then warm up afterwards with steaming hot chocolate. It’s also a wonderful way to get into the holiday spirit.
Find out what all the fun is about at Canada’s top outdoor ice rinks. Nearly every community has one, of course, but here are the very best.
Great Slave Lake - Yellowknife, Northwest Territories
Hearty locals from the Northwest Territories can’t wait til it’s that time of year again to skate across massive Great Slave Lake, North America’s deepest. They also delight in skating the “ice roads.” Or for something more conventional, join lively folks at Yellowknife’s 650-foot-long Olympic Oval at Tommy Forrest Park.
Rideau Canal Skateway - Ottawa, Ontario
Canada’s most beloved outdoor rink happens to be the world’s largest:
Ottawa, Ontario’s picture-perfect Rideau Canal. You can skate nearly five miles along the naturally frozen canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, usually open January to March. Views of the city are fabulous — and, it’s free, just bring your own skates or rent them from a hut along the banks.
Shipyards Park - Whitehorse, Yukon Territory
A historic steamboat industrial zone, today the reclaimed Shipyards Park in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory is a hub for year-round recreation and special events, including a skating loop, tobogganing, and for the daring, ice tower climbing. If you can, visit during February’s raucous 10-day winter festival, the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous, an institution since 1945.
Lake Louise - Lake Louise, Alberta
Cameco Meewasin Skating Rink - Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Skating is free at Cameco Meewasin Skating Rink, always decorated with twinkle lights during the holidays. A classic Canadian city rink, it only closes when temperatures drop below -24 F! This one’s in downtown Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in Kiwanis Park on the South Saskatchewan River, next to the stately historic Delta Bessborough Hotel, with some skate rentals onsite. Take advantage of the fire pit and warm-up shelter post-skate.
Bonsecours Basin - Montreal, Quebec
Emera Oval - Halifax, Nova Scotia
Built specially for the 2011 Canada Games, 55,000-square-foot Emera Oval in Halifax, Nova Scotia is one of the East Coast’s largest outdoor, machine-chilled surfaces — the size of three NHL rinks. Open daily, there are free public programs, such as learn-to-skate lessons and speed skating 101, plus weekly themed events. Fun!
The Forks - Winnipeg, Manitoba
Ottawa’s may be the biggest, but Manitoba’s is the longest outdoor skating rink. And history is the thing at The Forks National Historic Site, a place of commerce and trading dating back 6,000 years. Today, it’s a hip gathering spot, especially in winter. In downtown Winnipeg, The Forks includes just shy of a mile of park trails to skate and an Olympic rink. Or, hit the six-mile stretch skirting two rivers, the Assiniboine and Red, stopping in at the artsy warming huts designed by global talents.
If you haven’t ice skated outside before, what are you waiting for? It’s big fun and a beautiful, active way to celebrate winter.