There are few places around the world that embrace winter with such incredible joie de vivre spirit as in Quebec, Canada. One of its most famous sons, singer-songwriter Gilles Vigneault even wrote a song about how his country is winter. “Mon pays, ce n’est pas un pays, c’est l’hiver.” Growing up next to la belle province in Ontario, I learned this song in school as well, though we couldn’t truly own it in the same way as Quebeckers do.
Quebec’s relationship with winter is truly special. Its citizens embrace and celebrate winter in countless ways, with lights, music, activities, food, even a world famous carnival. After all, if you can’t beat it, you may as well get out and enjoy it. During my recent visit in Outaouais and Eastern Townships, I took part in some of the amazing things to do in Quebec in winter. Take a peek at these twelve activities and events where you can learn to embrace winter in Quebec too.
The Top Things to do in Quebec in Winter
The key to enjoying winter activities in Quebec is to Go Play Outside! Yes, it’s cold out, BUT that’s what layering and long underwear is made for. We’ve got the deets on what to pack for winter in Quebec too, but first, get inspired about all the fun you can have in the snow globe of a Quebec winter. And remember, these are all great activities if you’re visiting Quebec in winter with kids too.
Snowshoeing in the Gatineau
Gatineau Park sits just across the Ottawa River from Canada’s capital city of Ottawa. This incredibly popular park is governed by the National Capital Commission, which oversees many of the buildings and public lands in the National Capital Region, including the Gatineau. The 361 square km park is busy at any time of year, especially in the fall during the leaf-peeping season. But in winter, the landscape is transformed into a snow-covered wonderland made for active outdoor lovers enjoying cross-country skiing, snow walking and snowshoeing.
The Park maintains mile and lies of snowshoe trails. As you wander through birch and beech forests, be on the lookout for animal tracks, birdsong and woodpeckers knocking on tree stumps. If you go on a guided snowshoeing tour, your guide may point out claw marks on beech trees, made by black bears climbing to fatten up on nuts before hibernation.
Cross-country skiing in Mont Orford
The rolling hills and scenic farmland in the Eastern Townships region south of Montreal make for idyllic photographs, especially when they’re blanketed in fluffy white snow. It’s a perfect countryside for waxing and wearing your cross-country skis for long glides through birch forests and past lakes and streams. The 50 km of groomed, cross country trails in Parc National Mont Orford offer loops of different lengths and difficulty levels for any type of skier. If you’re thirsting for downhill action, there’s a family-friendly ski hill in the park as well. Book a stay in one of the coveted in-park cabins and be fully wrapped up in a cozy Townships winter experience.
Howling with wolves at Parc Oméga
You can do a lot more than howl with the wolves at Parc Omega. You can sleep with them too. Visit with all manner of Canadian wildlife at this unique rehabilitation and nature preserve in Outaouais. Open year round, this 890 hectare wildlife park allows you to observe many species of wild animals roaming free in a natural habitat. Including black bears, red deer, elk, mountain goats, bison, caribou, wolves, wild boars and arctic foxes. Book one of the two cozy white-pine Wolf Observatory cabins for a night, and your family can enjoy watching, howling and yes, dancing with wolves all night long.
Downhill Skiing at Mont Tremblant
Sure, I’m a western girl with love for our amazing British Columbia ski hills. But when in Quebec and in search of serious downhill thrills, the queen bee hill of the east is Mont Tremblant Resort. Situated in the Laurentiens just a few hours from either Ottawa or Montreal, Tremblant has a picturesque pedestrian-only village, a variety of skiing and riding runs for all levels of skier, serious snow-making ability to keep those runs open as long as possible, kids activities, family-friendly restaurants, and lots of other activities for the non-skiers in the family. Fun things like tubing, telemark skiing, dog-sledding, and snowmobiling.
Curling at Le Chateau Montebello
Not all the winter fun has to take place outdoors. How about curling at the largest log cabin in the world? Built from 30,000 red cedar logs in the 1930s, the Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello is not just a historic and recently renovated hotel property complete with six-sided fireplace on the Ottawa River. It’s also got its own log-cabin curling rink for you to learn how to ‘hurry hard’ and throw 42 lb rocks down the ice to score points in the house. This is an addictively fun sport that anyone can do. I like to think of it as Canada’s ‘other’ favorite ice activity. (Hint: Hockey is numero uno.)
Fat Biking at Parc de La Gorge de Coaticook
If you’ve never tried fat biking in the snow before, you should. You’re essentially riding a bike, but with extra large knobby tires that are designed to be grippy in the snow. I’m not going to tell you that it’s easy, because I found it quite challenging. Especially going up hills on our 5 km trail into the woods of Coaticook Gorge. But, it’s a very cool experience that many people will absolutely love, hills or no hills. You can also snowshoe in this large park area, complete with a covered bridge, as there are 21 km of looping trails perfect for all skill levels.
Dog-sledding at Hotel Sacacomie
Go to the dogs and enjoy a winter classic, dog-sledding at Hotel Sacacomie in the beautiful Mauricie region. A local guide-musher takes you to the kennels where you’ll meet the 125 husky and malamute dogs on the property. Choose your sledding dogs and prepare for an energetic ride in the forest or on the lake, wrapped up cosy in fur blankets. You can even try mushing your own sled. Then relax with some hydrotherapy at the Hotel’s GEOS Nordic spa, complete with gorgeous views of Sacacomie Lake.
Celebrate at Quebec City Carnaval
Many would consider the Quebec City Winter Carnaval to be the apex of all things winter in Quebec. After all, it’s two weeks of pure winter celebration, where more than 750,00 visitors come to stay, party and embrace the season every year. Born in the 19th century and reinvented in the 20th, this Carnival has pedigree, events, music, parades, and Bonhomme, the mascot of all mascots. There’s also an Ice Palace, sports competitions, light shows, Parade and more beaver tails, poutine and smoked meat than most could handle. This is a super family-friendly event as well, with special kids activities like sleigh rides, playing hockey, eating maple taffy, and meeting Bonhomme of course!
Kick sledding in Eastern Townships
Kick sledding is a fun and active way to get around snowy trails. Originating in Scandinavia, the kick sled is a self-propelled sled with a chair and two rails that you ride with one foot and kick off with the other foot. You glide your way on a snow trail (that hopefully isn’t too icy), enjoy the scenery and work up a bit of a sweat getting around. It was great fun, a great workout, and when you break for a hot chocolate or snack, you’ve already got your chair with you. How cool is that?
Try your hand at ice fishing
Fishing in winter is a whole other ballgame. First of all, you won’t need a boat, and secondly, you’ll have to drill your own hole to access the fresh water and fish below. Which is a great warm-up activity for waiting on the ice while the fish decide whether to nibble on your line. Which is baited with corn rather than worms. The sweet bait works surprisingly well in the cold water, as landing a trout during our ice fishing experience at Parc Decouverte Nature in Eastern Townships proved. Everyone in our party caught a fish, quite satisfying even if you’re only going to catch and release it. If you’ve caught lunch, the Parc has on-site facilities for cleaning and frying up your fish on the BBQ next to the pond.
Ice skating on a forest trail
You can ice skate pretty much everywhere in Quebec. Indoor rinks and outdoor skating loops through forests and around lakes are plentiful throughout the province. If you want a truly magical ice skating experience, lace up those blades and hit the 12 kilometer forest labyrinth skating rink in Mauricie, two hours north of Montreal.
Jingle all the way on a horse-drawn sleigh ride
Horses, winter, sleighs, they were made to go together. Bundle up and climb into a sleigh pulled by two gorgeous brothers – Percheron horses Colt and Royale – at the Equestrian Centre Jacques Robidas in Eastern Townships. The brothers, each 17 hands tall (that’s tall) pull the wooden sleigh through sugar maple forests on land that the family has owned for generations. Fun fact: In olden times, when families had their own sleighs to get around (before the car), every family had their own unique jingle bell combo. It’s how you’d know that your neighbours were coming for dinner.
What to Pack to Enjoy Winter Fun in Quebec
A Quebec winter is the real deal. Chances are it will be cold, but how cold is it exactly? Starting in November the temperature starts hovering around freezing. From mid-December to mid-March, the temperature ranges anywhere from -5C to -20C, depending on your location in the province. It will get colder as you move north.
In order to really enjoy winter in Quebec, you need to dress properly. And that means merino wool, layering, especially for outdoor activities like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and skating. Head gear, warm gloves, scarves and good waterproof boots are critical to. Our downloadable winter packing list can be found be here to help you plan and pack the items you’ll need to enjoy winter in Quebec with kids or on your own, but below you’ll find the essentials.
Yes, it’s all about the base. Layers, that is. What they now call base layers used to be called long underwear, but the intention is the same – to stay warm and dry in the cold.
Merino Wool Base Layer Top: I swear by my Icebreaker merino wool camisole. Super soft and 100% wool to keep my core warm and arms free while doing activities. If you want a heavier base, try this heavyweight base layer top with zip for maximum warmth. Both my husband and sons have and love this Icebreaker long sleeve crew shirt.
Merino Wool Base Layer Leggings: Again, soft 100% merino wool comfort underlay that’s breathable, comfortable and insulating in the cold. You can find the men’s version here. And don’t forget about the kids. They need to keep their limbs warm as well, and this soft wool doesn’t have the itch factor like when I was growing up.
Wool Socks: What’s with all the wool? Wool works in the cold. It insulates, breathes well, and keeps you warm even if it gets wet. Choose higher socks that cover your calves for winter activities and you’ll keep your muscles warm and dry.
Warm Walking Boots with Solid Treads: You won’t get far if you can’t walk through snow, slush and navigate the ice. Choose well-made, waterproof winter boots that are insulated and comfortable enough to walk for hours at a time. Test them out before you leave (avoid those blisters). I’ve gone through a few pairs of winter boots in my day, and my favorite brands are Cougar, Sorel and Kamik. They’re all fashion-forward and keep your feet and toes WARM. That’s the key.
Tops and Outerwear
Flannel Shirts: I love my Salomon flannel shirt. It’s my ski and winter-fashion Go To item of choice. Anything that fits over the layers and my Kit & Ace technical cashmere turtleneck is a win in my book. You can even wear it to dinner and look fabulous.
Winter Coats: Your choice of outwear coat is going to make or break your winter experience. I pack a Mountain Hardwear ski jacket on my winter outings. It’s perfect for all my active adventures. The jacket has underarm vents so when I got overheated while cross-country skiing, I simply zipped the vents open and cooled off. If you have lots of fleece jacket layers, you may opt for a lighter outer shell jacket, which works for many people as well. I also love Swedish brand Stellar Equipment for their inner and outer layers. Maximum environmental protection while looking good at the same time.
Winter Pants: For outdoor activities like downhill skiing, fat biking, dog-sledding and snowshoeing, choose insulated ski or snowboard pants. For cross-country skiing though, the less bulky the better. I love Fjallraven hiking leggings, which give greater freedom of movement when you’re constantly moving and pumping those arms and legs, working up sweat.
Warm Hats: A warm hat is a necessity to ward off the chill on urban streets or snowy trails in Quebec. I’m partial to pompom hats and slouchy beanies, and usually pack several hats for different occasions. Choose the form and function that works for you.
Scarves: Keeping your neck warm is just about as important as your head. Wool scarves are a great option, as are buffs and fleece neck gaiters. Get a washable wool or fleece product as you’ll want to launder those items after a long active day or week in the outdoors.
Gloves: You’ll need a good pair or two of warm gloves to protect your hands from the cold. Extremities can become frost-bitten in minutes. It’s happened to me and I do NOT recommend the experience. I pack a couple pairs of gloves for winter trips. One with finger touch pads so I can use my phone, and my Swamy ski gloves (with interior mittens) which I adore for maximum warmth. These gloves have a zipped pocket for hot pockets which offer extra heat for up to 8 hours, useful in really cold conditions.
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Disclosure: The writer was a guest of Tourism Quebec. As always, her opinions and love of winter are honest and her own. This article contains affiliate links. Thank you for your support.
Photo Credits: Claudia Laroye, Jay Kana, Shutterstock