When considering the Canadian winter, images of days spent on the slopes and evenings by the fire of a log cabin come to mind. But the world’s second largest country is much more than boutique resorts and high-adrenaline activities.
That great crumple in the North American continent – the Rockies – are a world-beating destination full of dramatic sights. Forming the colossal hunched backbone of continental America’s west, its snow-capped peaks are an imperious backdrop to glistening lakes, criss-crossing hiking trails and world-class ski resorts. Its crown jewels – Banff and Jasper – are among the oldest national parks in the world and were, more recently, designated UNESCO World Heritage sites.
And, no crown would be complete without its sapphire – in this case the spectacular Lake Louise. Here, towering pines fringe still waters whose faint ripples do little to disturb the reflected grey and white of the surrounding peaks. After you’ve overdone the postcard photos, pay a visit to Columbia Icefield. As a 350 metre thick hangover from the last ice age, it covers an area the size of nearby Vancouver city straddling a plateau between two peaks; it makes for humbling viewing. If you prefer your water more lively, head to Jasper’s Athabasca Falls where torrents have cut so deeply that they’ve formed everything from potholes to whole canyons. Finally, after a day on the slopes warm up with a trip to Banff’s hot springs.
And while London grinds to a halt at the mere sight of snow, Canada’s great cities embrace its winters. In artsy Vancouver you’ll find a restaurant scene that takes its notes from around the world while still remaining faithful to its succulent West Coast seafood as Toronto’s multiculturalism – over 140 languages are spoken there – informs a diverse cultural experience. Or, head to French Canada where turreted chateaux give way to the cobblestone streets and sidewalk cafés of Québec City and Montréal’s 19th century basilica, famous the world over for its stunning assortment of carved wood curves and gilded sculptures.
With winter bringing long, clear nights it’s the best time to spot the Northern Lights. Head to the Yukon – a frontier region in the country’s northwest – where the aurora is often its brightest, perhaps enjoying the sky gazing from a resort hot tub. Alternatively swap coasts and jump aboard a Tundra Buggy in Churchill to chase the light displays along with an indigenous population of polar bears.