Free in Winter

By the time February rolls around, we’ve hit the so-called dead of winter and may very well be in need of a pick-me-up to get us through until spring. Even better: fun things to do that won’t cost you.

Well, we’re just in time for Ottawa’s biggest winter party – Winterlude – and plenty of other cheap thrills to celebrate our northern-ness.

First, Winterlude. If you aren’t familiar with this Ottawa tradition, you’re in for a treat. Marking its 40th year, Winterlude celebrates our winter heritage. It’s centred around the Rideau Canal, which has to be one of the best things about living in Ottawa in the winter. Skating is free along the world’s longest outdoor skating rink and it’s a visual cornucopia of iconic Ottawa sights. If you do nothing else this winter, go for a skate on the canal.

Winterlude begins Feb. 2 and runs for three weeks, mostly on the weekends, until Family Day on Feb. 19. Other free Winterlude events include touring the ice sculptures at Confederation Park, watching bed races and the Ice Dragon Boat Festival on the canal, and Snowflake Kingdom. You can get more details here.

A bonus this year is the Canada 150 rink on Parliament Hill. This, too, is free, but you have to have a ticket and they do get snapped up quickly when they’re released. The rink is open until Feb. 25. Get more info here.

Other activities

Besides Winterlude, there’s lots to do. As mentioned in an earlier blog, you can always take advantage of the various spots around the city for cross-country skiing. You can find a list of many of them here.

Or take a hike … literally! The greenbelt is like a green and white scarf that surrounds the city, meaning it’s close for everyone. Take advantage of its undeveloped beauty and go for a walk. There are plenty of marked trails throughout the greenbelt. Find areas where you can not only hike, but ski, toboggan and snowshoe.

Speaking of tobogganing, we have a ton of great sliding hills in the region. You can find a map of them here, along with directions, ones that are free versus paid, safety tips and more.

And you may want to go for a skate at other spots besides the canal. The other tourist hot spot is the rink at Rideau Hall. Then there’s the city hall rink, which is refrigerated so it can be open even if the weather doesn’t want to cooperate to keep it cold, and there are also refrigerated rinks at Lansdowne Park and Ben Franklin Place in Nepean.

Not quite free

While the focus of this blog is on free winter pursuits, I have to mention two others that have admission, but are definitely worth considering:

Mosaivernales: Remember MosaiCanada this summer? It was the Canada 150 exhibit of giant living sculptures made from flowers and other plants and set up at Jacque Cartier Park. The skeletons of those sculptures are still there, only now they are snow sculptures. Admission is $10 (free for kids 12 and under). You can find out more here.

Lac-des-Loups: This is the forest counterpart to the Rideau Canal skateway. Built in the woods beside Gatineau park about 45 minutes from Ottawa, the three-kilometre groomed skating trail proved to be so popular in its first year last year that 19,000 locals and tourists stopped by. There’s a wood-fire-heated shed that feels like a sugar shack, with hot drinks and snacks to warm you up, and you can either skate, ski or walk the various trails through the property. Tickets range from $7.83 for children to $33.05 for families. Details are here.

So, get out and enjoy. Before you know it, the snow will be gone.

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