By: Jim Bamboulis
Yes, winter is the perfect time to be lethargic and whine about how cold it is. But winter is also the perfect time to get in the car, take a road trip, get outside and breathe in some fresh, crisp air. It’s also a great time to get the heart pumping. You could get another gym membership or you could get your heart pumping with these 10 outdoor activities. Not only will these gems make you feel great but you won’t even feel like you’re exercising.
Yup, you read that right. Free Spirit Tours and One Axe Pursuits offer hiking and caving experiences along the Niagara Escarpment. Snowshoe out to the forest and to the caves, then crawl and climb in and throughout them. Young or old, beginner or expert, this is an activity that requires some physical endurance and is great for the family.
The tires are oversized and the rims are bigger. Call it a bicycle on roids.
Originally invented and designed to make cycling on snow and sand easier, fat biking has become somewhat of an obsession for many across North America. And we’re not talking about just from passionate cycling enthusiasts. We’re talking about the general public, including families and young kids.
You can rent a fat bike at a very affordable rate, take to the trails and feel like you’re riding on air. You’ll have a smooth, comfortable and fun ride all without noticing that you’re breaking a sweat. Just remember, bike etiquette is important!
The fact that there’s a Global Fat Bike Day says a lot. Locally, fat biking has become popular over the past few years in the Muskoka region of Ontario and increasingly in the Toronto area. There are a few shops that sell them in the city starting at around $600 but if you don’t want to spend that kind of money and want to just give it a try close to home, your best bet is to hit up this site for details about trails in your area.
Just think about it. No bugs and no humidity. Just fresh, crisp air and serenity. If you’re a seasoned camper, then setting up your own tent and campsite is no problem. But for those who aren’t big or experienced campers and still want to enjoy the experience of winter camping, then you’re in luck!
There are several Provincial Parks that offer Yurts and Camp Cabins for overnight accommodations. Yurts come equipped with winterized comfort stations which includes heat, hot water, flush toilets and showers.
No matter what direction out of Toronto, there’s a place to reserve and winter camp. Click here for information about full amenities available at each park and fees involved.
Horse Drawn Carriage Rides
This activity is perfect for couples and families and allows you to opportunity to enjoy the beauty of winter in a relaxed, comfortable and peaceful way.
If you’re going north of Toronto, hit Back of Beyond Equine Centre near Huntsville. It offers sleigh rides that take you through scenic woodland trails. The ride itself is about 40 minutes long but packages are available. Evening sleigh rides are also available and give you an opportunity to enjoy it while under a (hopefully) clear, star-filled sky.
If you want to head west, drive to St. Jacobs (map), a little more than 1 hour from Toronto. A prominent Mennonite community with a famous farmers market, this country location provides the perfect backdrop to a serene outdoor winter adventure.
In my opinion, snowshoeing is one of the most underrated and under appreciated winter activities out there. But it’s quickly gaining popularity everywhere there’s snow. In fact, several US schools have incorporated snowshoeing into their physical education classes to combat obesity.
After getting a brief breakdown about how to strap on the shoes, turn around, ascend and descend a hill, you’re ready to go. Snowshoeing is easier on your feet and turns a familiar hike into fresh, new adventure. And trust me, your body will feel some muscle pain the next day.
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There’s no shortage of snowshoeing facilities within driving distance of Toronto. For the most comprehensive breakdown of where to find snowshoe trail near you, refer to Ontario Trails. If there’s a snowshoe trail out there, these guys know about it.
Dog sledding isn’t just for those training for the Iditarod. This outdoor adventure is available for everyone across many parts of Canada, including within driving distance of Toronto. It’s adrenaline filled and when combined with the sincere love and appreciation for the dogs doing a lot of the hard work, it’s an activity that you’ll love.
There are several dog sledding facilities to choose from. Haliburton Forest offers sledding along groomed trails that run along countless lakes and through thick forest and rolling hills and North Ridge Ranch has 50 Alaskan Huskies that lead you through some of the most breathtaking terrain in Central Ontario. In Algonquin Park, three companies including, Voyageur Quest, Wilderness Adventures and Snow Forest Adventures offer 1-day or multi-day dog sledding trips you won’t soon forget.
One more well-known dog sledding company located in Haliburton is Winderdance. They offer everything from 2 and 3 hour tours to multi-day and moonlit runs. No matter what time of day and for how long you decide to go for, the remote, picturesque beauty of the landscape will invigorate you mind, body and soul.
There are several beautiful waterfalls located both near and far from Toronto. My favourites are located about 45 minutes west of Toronto in Hamilton, Ontario, The Waterfall Capital of the World. Yup, it’s true. Over 100 waterfalls grace the city and although they look stellar during the warmer months, they look incredible frozen over.
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For a list of all of Hamilton’s waterfalls, including location and size, check out this website.
See Niagara Falls iced over
Niagara is loaded with tourists and crowded parking lots during the warmer months. That’s why you should go during the winter. Sure, it’s colder but the sight of The Falls frozen over is worth the trip. Park the car, take a walk and see the colourful light display reflect off the rising, frozen mist that only Niagara can produce. It’s an amazing sight to experience.
There are several notable outdoors skating rinks in Toronto including outside City Hall and the one near Harbourfront Centre. But if you’re looking to get out of the city and enjoy the great outdoors while lacing them up, drive north to Arrowhead Provincial Park and experience a “Fairy Tale Skate Through the Canadian Forest”.
Named one of the 19 Stunning Natural Ice Skating Rinks Around the World by Travel + Leisure, Ontario’s longest man-man skate trail is 1.3 kilometres long andwinds through evergreen forest and is an experience you’ll never forget.
Meanwhile, located about 2 1/2 hours northwest of Toronto, Harrison Park in Owen Sound features several outdoor winter activities including an awesome outdoor skate rink. Admission is free and it’s open on cool, crisp winter evenings.
Take a hike
Personally, I’m a fan of hiking without constantly having the need to spray bug repellant all over myself. That’s why I love winter hikes; they’re both rewarding and challenging sans mosquitos. Strap on a solid pair of hiking shoes, pack snacks and water, dress in layers, start early in the day and enjoy the fresh, cool air in the great outdoors.
I love heading along the Bruce Trail, Canada’s oldest and longest marked footpath that spans nearly 900 km and 400 km of side trails!
There you go. 10 amazing winter activities that hopefully will stop you from hibernating and keep you active and happy during the winter months. Of course, please consult a doctor before doing anything strenuous.
Hey y’all. I’m Jim. Cute pic, no? That kid went on to spend 16 years in the broadcast media world before starting up Travel Mammal, a site dedicated to travel, food and cultural experiences.
Travel Mammal isn’t about the selfie or checking things off a list. It’s about experiencing both the journey and the destination. To breathe, learn and really absorb what’s around you, in the moment and experiencing in a way that is both memorable and meaningful.
Happy travels, y’all.