Autumn and winter are a time of introspection and wonder. These seasons provide travelers with the time and space to connect with themselves and the world around them, and Canada is a vast and variegated landscape full of such opportunities. Yellowknife, the capital city of the Northwest Territories, is the best place to see the spectral greens and blues of the aurora borealis, which is visible up to 240 days a year, best from mid-November to early April. And a small town in the province of Manitoba, Churchill is the only human settlement in the world where you can see polar bears.
Canada’s incredible wildlife includes another rare creature, also found in Manitoba— the bison. The largest land mammal in North America, and ranking amongst the shaggiest, the bison used to dominate the continent’s landscape, roving in herds of millions. After the rise of ranching and industrial-scale hunting, these herbivores were nearly wiped out. However, conservation efforts have resulted in a herd at Riding Mountain National Park, where you can watch them roam the rolling hills and push snow away with their foreheads to enjoy the salt lick, a natural deposit where animals get essential minerals.
For humans, the landscape itself can also provide essential, more spiritual nutrients. During winter, Niagara Falls may appear frozen, but this is an illusion caused by massive icicles—in fact, Niagara Falls has only frozen over once in its recorded history, in 1848. A cruise is an excellent way to move through the frozen mist and experience this roaring natural wonder up close, and a wintertime sail is made even more magical by the millions of colorful lights that seasonally illuminate the charming town and surrounding region.
Traveling by rail is a meditative way to get acquainted with Canada’s vastness. Rocky Mountaineer offers train trips through the Canadian Rockies to Banff National Park, the first national park established in the country. Another route carries travelers from Vancouver through the historic Spiral Tunnels, with jaw-dropping, mountainous vistas laden with canyons. Known for its turquoise lakes and glacier-topped mountains, Banff National Park is home to Cave and Basin National Historic Site, a geothermal site that served as sacred waters for Indigenous peoples for over 10,000 years. Though you aren’t able to relax in the waters of Cave and Basin today, there are other places nearby where you can find spa-like relaxation as respite from the chill of winter.
Established in 1884, the Banff Upper Hot Springs is a historic spa and bathhouse overlooking the city of Banff and the park’s breathtaking alpine forest.
The combination of gazing at a winter landscape while soaking in natural hot springs is unlike any other. Or head to the vibrant city of Montreal, less than a two-hour flight from New York and you’ll find a similar experience at Balnea Spa. Here, at the large private estate, you will find Finnish-inspired saunas with panoramic views of the Appalachian wilderness.
Beyond taking the train, traveling by car is a perfect means of seeing Canada’s expansive and rejuvenating scenery. One stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway— offering astounding views of changing leaves and wintry beauty across the country— runs through Saskatchewan, where a wide variety of experiences await, including cross-country skiing in Moose Mountain Provincial Park, and tours of the rum- running tunnels underneath Moose Jaw, where Al Capone smuggled his illicit liquids. Spanning over 4,600 miles, the Trans-Canada Highway is one of the longest highways in the world, connecting the many terrains, communities, and cultures that make up this massive country.
Looking for another conveyance that will quickly refill your depleted reserves? Josie’s Old Crow Adventures is run by Paul Josie, a member of the Vuntut Gwich’in First Nation. Located in a remote portion of the Yukon, the westernmost of Canada’s territories, the town of Old Crow is powered by diesel generators and a solar farm. The historic mode of transportation? Dogsled.
Josie’s dogs—blue eyed and howling with excitement as they bring you to different sites around Crow Mountain— are accompanied by stories of local history. Sites include the traditional meeting grounds of the Vuntut Gwich’in and the Porcupine River, where caribou like to congregate. Like many of Canada’s most rewarding and eye-opening experiences, this one is only possible in the snow.
Bota Bota, spa-sur-l’eau, Montréal
Occupying a 1950s-era ferry now moored at the Old Port, this floating spa is an ode to l’eau—that’s “water” to non-Francophones—and the centerpiece activity is the water circuit, in which guests cycle through hot (saunas, steam baths) and cold experiences (including a dip in the St. Lawrence River).
St. Lawrence Market, Toronto
Toronto’s diverse internationalism is well represented at the historic St. Lawrence Market, where hundreds of vendors offer a delectable array of prepared foods and local ingredients. Ginger scallion relish, Chinese pork with rutabaga, and sweet potato gnocchi with brown butter and sage are just a few of the dishes available alongside the season’s freshest farm produce.
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