It’s that time of year when I begrudgingly pack away all my fall and summer clothing, then the tables turn and I’m giddy once I dig into the attic and dust off my robust collection of beanies, parkas and scarves. What traveling girl doesn’t get excited rediscovering her winter wardrobe each year, I ask? I may not love this particular season in Tennessee specifically—it’s gray and gloomy, no white fluff to be found—but there’s one thing I love about the months between December and March and that’s finding an excuse for a good winter vacation to some place that is straight out of a fairytale. And of all my travels over the years, very few can beat our winter trip to Canada.
You may recall that back in January, Jade and I took our moms to British Columbia and Alberta in search of a winter paradise. We may or may not have coordinated our outfits for the trip—that sounds exactly like something we’d do, no?—and I haven’t had so much fun frolicking in sub-zero temps in my life. The great thing about Canada this time of year is you are essentially guaranteed a winter wonderland, plus it’s generally more affordable to visit Alberta in winter than in summer months. And need I mention just as stunning—if not more so—under a blanket of white? Guys, Elsa knows what’s up.
Despite being there for eight days, we only scratched the surface of Canada’s winter offerings, and I can’t wait to get back for more. If you’re looking for your own wonderland vacation this winter, I’ve rounded up some ideas in partnership with Canada by Design. They custom-tailored our trip to Canada in January—they handle train journeys, self-drives, wilderness lodges, winter skiing, and anything and everything in between—and I can’t imagine traveling there any other way!
Note: Canada by Design frequently has early booking deals like the current offer of up to $400 off for couples who book before Dec 21 on select popular Rail & Coach winter routes.
A Rail Trip Across Canada
I’ve now journeyed across western Canada twice by train—both VIA Rail and the Rocky Mountaineer—and it’s one of those iconic bucket list items everyone should tackle at least once. The trains are extremely comfortable, and the views unsurpassable—after all, much of the terrain isn’t somewhere you can visit by car or on foot.
If you want to travel across the entire continent, including seeing the surreal drama of a partially-frozen Niagara Falls, you also can do that on VIA Rail: 11 days from Vancouver to Toronto with stops along the way.
VIA is the only train that operates cross-Canada, and the luxury seekers among us should consider upgrading to Prestige Class. Not only are the Sleeper Plus cars super luxe and spacious, but you also get a private concierge and first-row seating held in the viewing car. I only spent a little under 24 hours on the train, so next up, that 11-day trip is going on my bucket list!
Don’t have that much time? No problem. You can mimic our own week-long train trip, comprising six nights from Vancouver to Calgary with stops in Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise. Note: While I love the Rocky Mountaineer to bits, VIA is the only option where you can sleep on the train overnight. Canada by Design puts together itineraries for both options, though, so go with your gut and pick what’s right for you.
Hit the Slopes in Banff
Of all the mountain towns in Alberta, Banff offers the most to do. On top of restaurants galore, great shopping and a natural hot springs on the slopes of a mountain, it also boasts a trio of ski slopes: Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise and Norquay. Ski safari? Yes, please! Best of all, you can enjoy staying right in the center of town, then shuttling up to the closest mountain for a few hours on the slopes, before getting your hot toddy on back in Banff at the end of a long, chilly, fulfilling ski day. If you’re the ultimate adventurer, consider a heliskiing deluxe package (then take me as your plus-one!).
Spend Christmas at a Fairmont Hotel
Fairmont Hotels originated back in the late 1800s, and the iconic Fairmont Banff Springs was the second property to open—and Canada’s first “railway hotel.” Today, it remains one of the most recognizable luxury hotels in the world, and I can vouch it’s every bit as glamorous as you hope it will be. But when I really love visiting Fairmont hotels is during the holidays; they go all out, no matter which one you’re visiting. Remember my Christmas trip to Fairmont’s D.C. property last year? Now, picture that on holiday steroids, but situated in a snowy, mountainous landscape. Sounds pretty dreamy, right?
It’s not too late to jet up there for this Christmas, you know! There’s limited availability left— Christmas dates book up fast in Banff and Lake Louise, so book ASAP if you want in on the action (or take advantage of early-booking offers and go ahead and plan your 2019 holiday adventures). Though we visited in January, we still got to see the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge all gussied up for the holidays. Another place I’m dying to visit in the height of winter: Quebec City and its famed Fairmont Le Château Frontenac.
Experience Mother Nature in Jasper National Park
Our train journey ended in Jasper, where we cozied up for two nights at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, and it took approximately five minutes after leaving the hotel before we saw a huge herd of elk grazing alongside the road that goes into the park. You can tack on an extended Jasper winter adventure to your train trip to really get a feel for this gorgeous national park. Exploring the ice-adorned limestone walls that make up the Maligne Canyon Ice Walk is a must-do, just be sure and wear all your layers as it gets pretty chilly while down there walking on (frozen) water.
Pro tip: Consider traveling to Canada in March when temperatures warm up and snow conditions for skiing are ideal.
Get Your Ice Sculpture on At Lake Louise
If you don’t Instagram yourself on a frozen Lake Louise, did you even visit Canada in the winter? Debatable. And while Lake Louise is pure pixie dust charm no matter the month of the year, why wouldn’t you visit during the annual Ice Magic Festival? It lasts for 12 days each January and spans dozens of ice-carving masterpieces.
I should mention that if you want to piece together the above ideas in any way, shape or form, Canada by Design can help you with that, too. The “design” part of the name is clutch—the crew there truly tailors all experiences to the traveler’s interests and budget. And I’ve never been on a vacation where everything went so seamlessly; Canada by Design sent us a booklet of vouchers in chronological order that included our train tickets, private transfers and attractions passes, and all we had to do was tear each of them off and present it to the driver or at the venue for check-in. So easy!
Looking for more tips to planning your winter trip to Canada? Check out my past posts:
- Taking My Mom to Canada: A Dream Winter Vacation in Alberta
- On the VIA Rail: A Train Ride Across Canada’s Rocky Mountains
- Real-Life Narnia: A Guide to Jasper, Lake Louise & Banff in Winter
Thanks to Canada by Design for sending Mom and me on our dream trip last winter and for sponsoring this post. As always, all opinions and fun had are my own.