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outdoor activities

Fire + Ice

By Calli Naish

Each year as the larch trees yellow and summer fades to fall, we wait in patient anticipation for the temperature to dip below zero so that we can warm up by an open hearth. In honour of this tradition, here are some suggestions for this winter’s hottest ice activities and coolest fireplaces.

Embrace The Ice

Climb it. When asked, “what is ice climbing?” Kris Irwin, owner and lead guide of Rockies Ice and Alpine Specialists, gives a slight chuckle before providing the obvious answer: “The act of climbing frozen water with ice axes and crampons.” But this is just the beginning of his insights on the “low impact, high intensity” sport many people are eager to try. The fact that outfitters offer ice climbing instruction (complete with equipment) for beginners and experts alike is one of many reasons Irwin sees so much interest in the sport. People often come to the Rockies for the intensity associated with skiing, but not everyone is able to ski. The nature of ice climbing offers the heights and exhilaration visitors are searching for, without the same stress on the joints. With the age of climbers ranging from eight to eighty, it is a sport that most anyone can try. And unlike skiing, where your lift pass determines your location, climbing will have you following a guide to the best spot for the day. When temperatures are severe, south-facing falls at lower elevations make for a warmer experience; north-facing climbs at higher elevations are perfect for days when we find ourselves welcoming a warm Chinook wind. Other great outfitters offering ice-climbing instruction by experienced guides include Yamnuska Mountain Adventures and Rockaboo Mountain Adventures.

Photo courtesy of Kris Irwin Collection


Layer you can’t live without:

For ice climbing, Irwin suggests a seriously insulated coat with a hood as a must have.


Walk it. If heights seem daunting, appreciate the icy topography of the mountains (and the brave climbers who tackle them) with both feet planted firmly on flat ground. While many people come to the mountains for adventure, we can’t really blame others who visit simply for the landscape. The Canadian Rockies offer unparalleled visuals with snow-covered trees, winter wildlife, endless views, and of course, impressive ice formations. From that first glimpse of ice on Cascade Mountain to the awe you feel looking over Athabasca Falls, the towering masses of ice are fascinating whether you find them around Banff  or Jasper. Get up close and personal during an ice walk. Admire natural ice sculptures from the steel catwalks of Johnston Canyon, search the icy rock walls of Grotto Canyon for native pictographs, and discover the secret behind Medicine Lake’s disappearing act at Maligne Canyon. Though you can explore these canyons on your own, a guided tour will provide you with ice cleats (an ice walk essential) and a guide to offer insights on the area. Discover Banff Tours, White Mountain Adventures, Banff Jasper Collection by Pursuit, and Maligne Adventures provide guided tours.

Photo courtesy of maligneadventures.com


Layers you can’t live without:

For ice walks, dress for a day of skiing complete with snow pants. The guides at Maligne Adventures insist you don’t forget your gloves because the “look, but don’t touch” rule doesn’t apply to ice.


Fish it. If your understanding of ice fishing involves a solitary man shivering over a hole in the ice, then you might be stuck in the past. The sport has evolved to be a social event that is fun for all ages. With heated huts, it might be icy, but it’s not freezing. Head out with Banff Fishing Unlimited onto the beautiful frozen Spray Lakes surrounded by towering mountains. Take a moment to appreciate the serenity before crawling into your fishing hut with a couple of friends. Spend the morning immersed in conversation, and by the afternoon, you’ll be feasting on your fresh catch. Those looking to head into the parks and surrounding areas with their own gear can visit local information centres in Banff or Jasper  to find details on fishing permits and where to get their hooks under the ice.


Layer you can’t live without:

For ice fishing, no one should head out without a toque; however, this item is so essential to Canadian winter warmth that it should probably never leave your head.


Skate on it. Against the backdrop of the towering Victoria Glacier, join together in cold camaraderie on Lake Louise where hockey enthusiasts of all ages and skill levels can lace up their skates and get their sticks on the ice. If you want to join in without a puck, don’t worry: there is plenty of room on what has been considered the “World’s Best Skating Rink.” While it’s certainly the most impressive rink in the mountains, it’s not the only one. In fact, you could probably plan a whole trip skating the natural rinks of the Rockies making your way from The Pond in Canmore, all the way up to Lac Beauvert and Pyramid Lake in Jasper.

Photo by Jake Dyson


Layer you can’t live without:

For ice skating, skates are kind of a must. If you don’t have your own you can rent a pair in Banff or Jasper. Be sure to rent a helmet for the smaller skater-tots out there.


Find Your Fireside

Indulge in a meal that will warm you from the inside out. Boasting menu items like Alberta game meatloaf and a full roast chicken dinner, the floor-to-ceiling stonework of the hearth may not be the most impressive thing at The Iron Goat in Canmore.

Photo courtesy of The Iron Goat

Charcuter-eat at Canmore’s Table Food + Drink, where you can melt into the sofas on the lounge side of their double-sided fireplace. Order big knowing that the extra calories are helping you add a layer of warmth for your next day out on the ice.

One-up the candlelit dinner and curl up close to someone you love for a romantic fireside evening. After dinner at their heritage dining room, find quiet intimacy by spending the night in a cabin at Emerald Lake Lodge west of Lake Louise. The tranquility and seclusion of the area offer a winter getaway and the welcome hug of a comfortable armchair.

Photo of Emerald Lake Lodge by Kendal & Kevin Photography

Heat up on skates at Baker Creek Mountain Resort between Banff and Lake Louise. If there was an award for the most fire, they’d win. With two fireplaces inside their bistro and three fire pits outside, you’ll be begging to go out in the icy cold. Thankfully, they’ve obliged with a free skating rink (and rentals on-site) to enjoy before you head in for dinner.

Relax by the fire in style after an icy day in Jasper. Take in the views from the Skyline Lounge at the Lobstick Lodge or head to the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge and settle in with a local brew in the lakeside Emerald Lounge.

Start your day when the sun goes down and have your fire on the rocks where the only thing hotter than the fireplace is the cocktail menu. Though Park Distillery is located on busy Banff Ave, once you walk upstairs you’ll find yourself transported to a back-country cabin. The drink menu is nearly endless and it features concoctions shaken with Park’s own spirits, making it an ideal place for a fiery sip. 

Wherever you choose to take off your toque, you’ll find that cozying up to an open fire is the best way to recount the icy adventures of the day.

Canada’s 10 Best Island Holiday Destinations

By KAT TANCOCK

Cape Breton Island (Photo: Nova Scotia Tourism)

When we think of island vacations, the tropical always springs to mind: hot sun, sand, flip-flops and a fruity drink with an umbrella. But Canada has islands on offer, too, with a lot more to attract visitors than you might think. Here are 10 picks to consider for your next vacation.

Start the slideshow of top island destinations »

6 Places to Enjoy the Outdoors in Calgary

Enjoy Southern Alberta's big blue skies and warm weather this summer. Courtesy Blue Devil Golf Club.

Take in Alberta’s big blue skies and warm summer weather (Photo: courtesy Blue Devil Golf Club)

Alberta’s mountain parks are well known recreational destinations, but a wide variety of warm-weather outdoor fun can be had in and around Calgary. (more…)

12 Best Places to See the Northern Lights

Labrador, on Canada’s east coast, is one of the best places to see the northern nights

We admit it, we’re a bit aurora borealis obsessed here at Where.ca. But can you blame us? Canada is one of the best places on Earth to see the northern lights in all their glory. Travellers interested in seeing the show should know that the phenomenon is most vibrant in winter, though they can be seen all year in certain spots. In this gorgeous slide show, we’ve singled out the best places to see the northern lights from coast to coast.

• Start the slide show for the best places to see the northern lights »
• See a map of all the best places to see the northern lights »

Hot Entertainment: Easy Cycling in Whistler

Cycling photo by Chad Chomlack courtesy Tourism Whistler

Spinning your wheels in Whistler? Tired of other tourists? Rent a bike in the village from a supplier such as Salomon, pick up a trail map from the Tourism Whistler Information Centre and pedal to the quiet side of Whistler. The peaceful Valley Trail (pictured) winds under Highway 99 and away from the village, through grassy parks and leafy residential neighbourhoods, and around placid lakes dotted with red and yellow canoes. En route, kids clamber on jungle gyms as parents set out snacks on picnic tables. Rent for an hour—maybe cycle to Alta Lake and back—or go for longer to cover more of the 40-km (25-mi) route. It’s wheely fun!—Louise Phillips

Wildlife Viewing Tips in the Canadian Rockies

By Peter A. Dettling

Although archeologists have determined that First Nations used the Canadian Rockies regularly for 11,000 years, the idea that bears, cougars and other ‘predators’ were vermin to be eliminated was a European notion that arrived with the explorers in the late 1700s. As the non-Native presence in the Rockies grew, over hunting brought these large carnivores to the brink of extinction, and also depleted the ungulate population including elk and moose.

Thanks to the creation of protected areas, re-introduction efforts, hunting restrictions and changing attitudes towards large carnivores, we now find all pre-European settlement species in the Rockies, except free roaming bison. But don’t take a grizzly or wolf sighting for granted. Seeing large animals in their natural habitat is a privilege.

Since you are a visitor in their home, treat animals with respect by giving them space to decide what to do and where to go. When viewing wildlife from your car, pull off of the road, shut off the engine and silently enjoy the sighting. Stay in your vehicle, especially when watching wolves or bears. It will ensure a safe and pleasant experience for both you and the animal you’re observing.

Wildlife sightings in our mountain parks are frequent and widespread occurrences. Elk are common. In fall, visit Vermillion Lakes, Lake Minnewanka Loop or Golf Course Dr near the town of Banff, or Athabasca River flats near Jasper, to see bugling elk. Your best chance to see bears is in early summer north of Lake Louise on Icefields Parkway’s avalanche slopes and in roadside dandelion patches, or beside Jasper’s Maligne Lake Road (Map 5, 5P). Elusive wolves can sometimes be spotted early summer west or south of the Jasper townsite. Kananaskis Country often hosts moose, bears and wolves.

Try walking scenic mountain trails to feel truly connected with your surroundings and yourself. It is especially exhilarating to see animals on slopes and meadows away from the road.

Editor’s Note: Peter Dettling owns Canmore’s Terra Magica gallery and is the author and photographer of The Will of the Land. Visit TerraMagica.ca for details on his award-winning work.

Summer Activities in Whistler

View from atop the High Note Trail. Photo by Steve Rogers courtesy Tourism Whistler

Whistler may be best known for skiing and snowboarding, but an abundance of warm-weather activities attract outdoor adventurers even when the perfect powder is long gone

By Sheri Radford

No matter what type of summer adventure you’re after, Whistler has it.

(more…)

Haliburton County: Ontario’s Little-Known Adventure Gem

By LIZ BRUCKNER

Photo: Theodore Smith

Contrary to popular belief, you need not board a plane to score your next adventure fix. Head two-and-a-half hours north of Toronto to the Haliburton Highlands for a hearty dose of the Ontario outdoors.
(more…)

10 Unusual Off-the-Grid Accommodations

By Waheeda Harris

Tired of the conventional beige box hotel room? Get off the beaten path with these unusual places to stay. (more…)

Hot Attraction: Skiing in Gatineau Park

Gatineau Park makes for a serene skiing destination. Photo credit: National Capital Commission.

Want to get outdoors, but don’t want to go far? Look no further than Gatineau Park. Located just 15 minutes from downtown Ottawa, this conservation park has more than 50 cross-country ski trails ranging in both length (7.9 km- 40 km) and level (beginner to advanced). There’s nothing like gliding over fresh snow on a winter morning. Marvel at the forests and open fields as you fly by, then warm up by a wood burning stove at one of the 10 shelters, which are outfitted with picnic tables so you can enjoy a snack from home.

The Newest Mobile, Interactive Bird-Watching Guides

BirdsEye app

Are you a bird nerd? Well, there’s never been a better time to be one.

Smartphone apps for bird-watchers are improving daily. One of our favourites is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s BirdsEye, an app that allows users to upload recent sitings and pins them to a map, so you can see where particular birds have been spotted recently. You can also search for birds, see photos and descriptions and hear birdsongs and bird calls. It’s pricey ($19.99) but serious birders say it’s worth it. Plus it’s available for iPad, and in a “lite” version ($1.99), which has a fraction of the species of the full version. (more…)

Hot Entertainment: Serenity Now

Waterfront Yoga at Canada Place

Even if you don’t know a dosha from a chakra, you’re welcome to practice your poses during Waterfront Yoga at Canada Place (to Sep. 19). Not only can you work on improving your body while gazing at the scenery, but you can work on improving your soul, too: proceeds from the program help feed local children.—Kristina Urquhart