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Winter in Canada might be cold, but winter also brings snow and ice, and that often means that fun times are not far away! With the great outdoors on its doorstep and plenty on offer in the city, Edmonton serves up an unforgettable Canadian winter experience. Here are our top 6 things you should do this winter in Edmonton for you and the whole family.
Spot a bison and other wildlife at Elk Island National Park
Photo credits: Parks Canada / Cameron Johnson
Spotting a bison in the wild is not an every day event! But just 35 minutes east of Edmonton is Elk Island National Park where you’ll find these magnificent creatures roaming freely. The goods news is that winter is also one of the best times of year to spot them, and the park is one of the only places in Canada where you might encounter a bison traffic jam! Elk Island National Park has played a vital role in the conservation of bison by providing a protected sanctuary for over a hundred years and saving them from near extinction.
As the park’s name suggests, bison aren’t all that you may encounter. The park is home to a large number of wildlife, with elk, moose and 250 species of birds. Open year round, it provides the perfect escape into the Canadian wilderness with ample scenic drives, snowshoeing and cross country skiing opportunities. If you’re lucky, you might even spot the Aurora Borealis, otherwise known as the Northern Lights.
Marvel at the Aurora Borealis aka the Northern Lights
Photo credits: Parks Canada / Hugo Sanchez
Edmonton is one of the best places in Canada to watch the breathtaking spectacle of the Northern Lights. They are active during the winter months and best viewed around midnight. Grab your camera and a hot drink, wrap up warm and get ready for a show to remember. You can see the green and pink dancing lights within the city but the light pollution does make them dimmer and harder to see. You’ll get a better view if you head out of the city – Elk Island National Park is a good spot.
As a natural phenomenon there’s no guarantee of when they will show, so keep an eye on the AuroraWatch website. If you’re looking to capture a photo to treasure, then a tripod and a camera where you can adjust the shutter speed to a long exposure are recommended.
Enjoy the festive lights
Photo credits: Mark Male
Get into the festive spirit by exploring some of Edmonton’s holiday lights. As one of Edmonton’s most iconic buildings with its marble pillars and beautiful architecture, a stroll through the Alberta Legislature Building’s grounds is special in any season. However, during the festive season expect the grounds to take on an even more memorable appearance as they are lit up with thousands of lights.
When you have finished at the Alberta Legislature Building, visit Luminaria (7-9th December 2018) at the Botanical Gardens, where you’ll find a beautiful display of thousands of candles lighting the pathways of the Kurimoto Japanese Garden. This event does sell out so be sure to buy your tickets in advance.
If those whetted your appetite for light shows, then Edmonton has more up its sleeve to entertain you on dark nights. Head over to the High Level Bridge, where over 50,000 LEDs light up the bridge with a variety of colours to mark events and cultural celebrations, or make your way to the Neon Sign Museum, where restored, historic neon signs on 104 Street will light up your evening.
Slide into the season with these winter sports
Photo credits: Edmonton Tourism
If there’s one thing Canadians do well it’s winter sports! From skiing, to snowshoeing and snow tubing there’s something for everyone.
Edmonton is blessed with a number of downhill ski hills, which take advantage of the slopes carved out by the North Saskatchewan River as it winds through Edmonton. Choose from Snow Valley Ski Club, Rabbit Hill Snow Resort or Sunridge Ski Area. All offer lessons and equipment rental for the whole family, although if you’d rather bring your own equipment, remember that in addition to your checked baggage allowance, Air Transat accepts at no extra charge one select sporting item up to 20 kg per passenger.
If cross-country skiing is your preference, then Edmonton’s river valley and parks system feature 160 km of trails for you to explore. If you’re visiting Elk Island National Park, why not combine your trip with a visit to the nearby Strathcona Wilderness Centre, where you can rent both classic and skate skis and take a lesson if you are new to the sport. Para-nordic skiers can also try and out enjoy a lesson with sit-skis. In between spotting moose, deer and birds, warm-up in the skiers’ lounge. Once you’ve had your fill of skiing, venture out into the snow with a pair of snowshoes. Both Strathcona Wilderness Centre and Elk Island National Park offer rentals and a network of trails.
We’ve saved the best to last though. Snow tubing has to be the best of all the sports, as after all, what could be better than sitting back and flying down a hill with your family or friends? Don’t just take our word for it though, visit Sunridge Ski Area for your snow tubing experience!
Winter sports don’t stop there, because as the temperatures start to drop, parks, ponds and public spaces are transformed into free skating rinks and trails surrounded by beautifully snowy scenery. Edmonton knows how to do winter! For the quintessential Canadian skating experience head to the Victoria Park IceWay where you’ll find a 3 km skating trail winding through the trees. Visit in the evening for an even more magical experience when the trail is illuminated with a kaleidoscope of lights. Washrooms, change rooms, lockers and warming huts are all available on site.
Alternatively, there are a number of outdoor skating rinks across the city. For skating in the heart of downtown visit the skating rink at Edmonton City Hall by Winston Churchill Square. If you haven’t got your own pair of skates, then head to Hawrelak Park where skate rental is available, in addition to a warming pavilion with lockers and washrooms.
Did someone mention a mall?
You might have heard something about Edmonton having a shopping mall. Well, that’s not surprising, as West Edmonton Mall was once the world’s largest mall, and today is still the largest in North America. So if you want a break from the Canadian winter and to indulge in some indoor activities or retail therapy to warm up, then this could well be for you. The mall is home to hundreds of retail outlets, over 100 dining venues and two hotels. The huge World Waterpark is also on-site, with numerous pools, slides and a wave machine. Once you’ve dried off, visit Galaxyland, North America’s largest indoor amusement park with 27 rides; say hello to sea lions, penguins and sea turtles at Marine Life; enjoy bowling or adventure golf among the many other activities; or ease yourself back into winter with some skating at the Ice Palace.
Photo credits cover picture: IQRemix, Flickr