Canada’s new winter playground

ABOVE: A winter sunrise on the Halifax waterfront. (Photo: Tourism Nova Scotia/daveyandsky)

by Darcy Rhyno

In these unprecedented times, we need to shake things up a little. Let’s start with some new winter getaway ideas. Instead of fleeing Canada’s snowy season, let’s embrace it. Let’s get creative and plan a bold itinerary packed with surprising rewards. I know just the place—Nova Scotia. In winter, the culinary scene is at its peak, playing in the snow is compulsory, and fun on the water takes on a whole new meaning. Whether it’s a week away or an extended stay, Nova Scotia is Canada’s ocean playground … even in winter!

Canada’s most unexpected winter adventure has to be surfing off Nova Scotia’s Atlantic coast. Think of it as snowboarding on the ocean. Sure, the water’s cold, but winters here are relatively mild. Many local surfers prefer this time of the year for the superior waves. Getting bold about winter in Nova Scotia means signing up for surfing lessons with certified instructors at Lawrencetown Beach near Halifax. Surf shops and schools provide everything required for the pursuit of truly unique winter thrills.

ABOVE: Winter surfing on Lawrencetown Beach is a thing!  (Photo: Tourism Nova Scotia/Acorn Art Photography)

In winter, Nova Scotians keep their surfboards waxed and their bikes oiled. At The Keppoch near Antigonish, cyclists are in for a snowy ride aboard fat tire bikes on groomed trails that provide lots of thrills. There’s cross country skiing and snowshoeing too. Equipment rentals, competitions and hot drinks by the fireplace in the lodge make for tons of easy winter fun.

Down on the South Shore, fans of the fat tire ride take to the 119 kilometre Rum Runner Trail that links Halifax and Lunenburg. From cafés to scenic lookouts to cozy accommodations, there are lots of stops along the seven-segment route to make the trip more enjoyable. At the Train Station Bike and Bean in Tantallon, grab some grub and head out on the trail in either direction. They repair and rent bikes too, so even when there’s not much snow, the Train Station has what you need year round. Other bike shops like Sweet Ride Cycling in Mahone Bay and Pedal & Sea Adventures in Halifax rent bikes and offer tours.

Nova Scotia’s outdoor adventure scene is complemented by its winter culinary scene. Maple syrup is made right in the 200-acre maple forest at Sugar Moon Farm near Truro. Hit the sugar shack to see the sap from 2500 trees boiled down into delicious syrup using the time-honoured wood-fired evaporation method. Sample the goods in the log restaurant.

For some good old fashioned winter fun at a cool new venue, hit the Emera speed skating oval in central Halifax. All over Nova Scotia, local arenas offer public skating timeslots, but skating outdoors on the oval is special. For downhill and cross country fun, hit the trails and slopes at Ski Wentworth in northern Nova Scotia and Ski Martock in the Annapolis Valley. With everything from lessons for kids and beginners to highly competitive races, there’s something for every skill and interest level. 

(Photo: Tourism Nova Scotia/daveyandsky)

ATVers know that winter makes riding even more fun. From Cheticamp in the north to Yarmouth in the south, ATV clubs organize group trips on designated trails. See some of the province’s finest scenery while making new friends on well-maintained, environmentally friendly trails. Check out the ATV Association of Nova Scotia for maps and contact information.    

Looking to slow things down? Try guided snowshoeing. It’s the latest trend for getting outside on a Nova Scotia winter day. Hike Nova Scotia hosts a winter hiking series that doubles as a snowshoeing series when the conditions are suitable. These guided snowshoeing tours take place all over the province, including in Nova Scotia’s two national parks, Kejimkujik and Cape Breton Highlands. Hike Nova Scotia can help find inexpensive and even free snowshoes to rent so everyone can join the fun on scenic, wintery trails.

(Photo: Tourism Nova Scotia / daveyandsky)

There’s lots to do indoors, too. Learn how the tiny community of Birchtown played a pivotal role in the story of African slavery at the new, creatively designed Black Loyalist Heritage Centre. Head to Parrsboro and the Fundy Geological Museum where visitors are transported back 350 million years when Nova Scotia was a steamy jungle crawling with creatures that pre-date the dinosaurs. In Stellarton at the Museum of Industry—the largest museum on the East Coast—see Canada’s oldest surviving steam locomotive and immerse yourself in Nova Scotia’s coal mining past. The Museum of Natural History in Halifax is a fun trip through millions of years of Earth history and thousands of years of human habitation. On the waterfront, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic tells countless tales of the sea, including the tragedy of the Titanic.

Nova Scotia winter festivals are always food-forward. Delicious fun continues throughout February with the Nova Scotia Lobster Festival. Restaurants, community halls, shops, breweries and whole communities participate in the month-long celebration in the middle of lobster fishing season in the southwestern part of the province. Or take a day trip to the Annapolis Valley where the wines are still flowing. Tasting tours at several wineries provide a glimpse into the award-winning vintner scene in Nova Scotia and don’t forget they make some fantastic icewines too.  Enjoy dinners paired with local wines and stay at some of Nova Scotia’s stately historic inns.

ABOVE: Just a few of Nova Scotia’s award-winning icewines.  (Photo: Tourism Nova Scotia / Michelle Doucette)

Anyone looking for a way to freshen up their winter getaway plans should look east, all the way to the ocean’s doorstep. Awaiting those seeking bold, new itineraries is Nova Scotia where winter getaways have an East Coast vibe. In Canada’s ocean playground, it’s all about embracing the season and welcoming visitors with hospitality as warm as a great big thick pair of wool mittens.

For more information to plan your getaway to Canada’s new winter playground, visit