Seasonal Planning for Canada Travel
Canada is the second largest country in the world, with a land mass covering close to 4 million square miles (10 million sq km). With that said, there is no shortage of diversity in land and seasonal patterns, from rainforests in British Columbia and desert in Alberta to the varied lands and tundra of Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Nunavut and the windswept and rocky Atlantic provinces (Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick).
Summer months range an average between lows of 65°F to highs of 85°F (19°C to 30°C), while winter months hover around 20°F to -4°F (-5°C to -20°C), occasionally dropping to -22°F (-30°C) the farther north you go. As Canada is so large, the climate is varied, lending to significant differences in weather from one day to the next and from one part of the country to another.
Eastern Canada experiences some of the harshest winters, while their mild but short summers are a great time to visit. Ontario, Québec, and Manitoba run hot and humid in the summer, while Saskatchewan is warm and dry. Alberta and British Columbia also reach high temperatures in the summer months but stay milder along coastal towns like Tofino and Ucluelet. Be sure to visit Canada during the shoulder months to avoid the heat and influx of tourists.
|Seasons||Pros||Cons||Best for||Where to Visit|
|Spring (Mar-May)||Fewer crowds than in summer||Wet and cool temperatures||Iceberg viewing in Newfoundland, whitewater rafting, blossoming flowers, wildlife viewing||Ottawa, East Coast, Jasper National Park|
|Summer (Jun-Aug)||All areas are accessible to visit||Crowds and busy lines||Outdoor activities: swimming, camping, boating||Ottawa River, Cape Breton Island, Niagara Falls|
|Fall (Sep-Nov)||Fall foliage; fewer crowds; milder temperatures||Some visitor centers close; cooler, damp weather||Hiking, road trips, harvest festivals||Algonquin Park, Niagara-on-the-lake, Lake Louise|
|Winter (Dec-Feb)||Picturesque scenery; fewer crowds||Cold weather, winter storms||Winter festivals, cozy cottages, winter sports, northern lights||Québec City Winter Carnaval, Rocky Mountains (British Columbia and Alberta), Yukon|
Spring in Canada (March to May)
Spring is a pleasant time to visit, with the days getting longer and brighter and the temperatures warmer (particularly late spring—some parts of Canada still receive snow, and the weather is temperamental). Animals start to come out of hibernation, and flowers begin to blossom. The annual Ottawa Tulip Festival is held each spring in Canada's capital. Over 300,000 tulips bloom, making it the largest tulip festival in the world. Close by, the Ottawa River has rapids that peak as high as Class V, and with higher water levels this season, it's the perfect time to go whitewater rafting for optimal adventure and splash.
On the east coast, May is high time for icebergs to migrate south off the coast of Labrador and Newfoundland. Appropriately named "Iceberg Alley," many artists and sea kayakers head this way to catch a glimpse of these unique and beautiful ice formations. Meanwhile, the world's highest and lowest tides, with a change of 53 feet (16 m), occur at the Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick. Hopewell Rocks National Park opens in mid-May, though it's accessible year-round. Kayak around the rock formations while the tide is high, then return roughly six hours later to trek the ocean floor while the tide is out.
If you're on the opposite coast, in British Columbia, spring is a great time to raft the glacial waters on the Kicking Horse River or stay dry and hit the trails in Rossland, Canada's mountain bike capital. Trek the ancient rainforests of Clayoquot Sound or Barkley Sound for stunning scenery with fewer crowds, followed by a whale-watching excursion. Meanwhile, in Western Alberta, Jasper National Park offers wildlife, hiking trails, and overflowing waterfalls. See this article for a suggested 10-day itinerary through the Rockies that covers Jasper.
Events in Spring
Cherry Blossom Festival, Vancouver. Cherry blossoms bloom and paint Vancouver city with their pink petals in March. Enjoy live music, biking, walks, and picnics, as most events are free.
Elmira Maple Syrup Festival, Elmira. Canada holds the title of the world's largest exporter of maple syrup. In April, you can enjoy a variety of local vendors, tastes, and outdoor trails while learning about the history of maple harvesting in Canada.
Ottawa Tulip Festival, Ottawa. This colorful annual festival in May celebrates the return of spring in Canada's capital city. More than 300,000 tulips bloom along the Rideau Canal for picturesque scenery.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Summer in Canada (June to August)
Summer is high season, so you can expect warmer weather and crowds at all major sights, like the famous Niagara Falls. Visit in early June to avoid the tourist crowds and marvel at the 3,160 tons of water flowing every second; it's a powerful site to see. Drive 5 miles (8 km) along the Niagara Parkway to hike the Niagara Glen with views of the turquoise water in the Niagara Whirlpool and stunning rock cliffs in the gorge. Drive another 10 miles (16 km) up the river to visit the Old Town of historic Niagara-on-the-Lake. And as it's now cottage season in Ontario, venture to your lakeside retreat in the Muskoka's or Algonquin Park.
Summer temperatures on the east coast are slightly milder, running an average of five degrees cooler making it an opportune time to explore the friendly Maritime provinces by foot or car. Halifax, Peggy's Cove, and the Cabot Trail are must-sees in Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island. In Newfoundland, visit in June to beat the tourist crush and trek the historic hillside trail on Signal Hill for dramatic descents and aerial views of the capital of St John's. History buffs will want to make their way to the northernmost tip of the island to visit L'anse aux meadows to explore the first known Viking settlement in North America.
As the summer in Canada will always draw more tourists, consider a visit to the far north for optimal daylight and off-the-beaten-path adventures. For a unique summer experience with fewer crowds to compete with, check out this article for insights on visiting the Yukon during this season.
Events in Summer
Calgary Stampede, Calgary. Celebrating its hundredth anniversary in July 2012, the Calgary Stampede hosts rodeos, evening shows, live music, and food for millions of visitors each year. Grab your cowboy boots and hats and stomp on down to this lively festival.
Montréal International Jazz Festival, Montréal. Ten days of vibrant sounds and performances paint the city of Montréal every June. With over 2 million visitors, this cool and jazzy festival holds the Guinness World Record for the largest jazz festival in 2004.
Fall in Canada (September to November)
With the fall foliage beginning to change, vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges paint the view. Come early for the seasonal shift into cooler temperatures and an abundance of color. Algonquin Park in Ontario, the largest provincial park in Canada, is the best spot for hiking, canoeing, camping, and road tripping through the hills. Transitional weather in September lends to warm, sunny days and cool, breezy nights, so pack layers for maximum comfort. September is the perfect time to visit as there are fewer crowds now that school is in session and people are back to work.
For culinary enthusiasts, it's harvest season in Niagara's wine country. Grape & Wine Festival and the Ball's Falls Thanksgiving Festival explore the tastes of the season and give a chance to try Canada's world-class wines. Similarly, with milder temperatures, British Columbia is an excellent time to visit to sample local wines and explore the idyllic Okanagan Valley if you find yourself on the west coast. Check out this cross-province article for a 10-day itinerary through the Okanagan and the Canadian Rockies.
Next to spring, this is the perfect time of year to see orca and humpback whales on the Pacific, with tours available in Vancouver and all around nearby Vancouver Island. And while in northern Vancouver Island, watch the storms roll in off the Atlantic in coastal towns like Tofino and Ucluelet. The west coast has year-round hiking, surfing, and geothermal pools that are all the more enjoyable to visit with fewer crowds.
October kicks off the season with shorter days and darker skies. Regardless of the province, head north, and you'll have a great chance of spotting the northern lights. Some popular sighting locations are Goose Bay (Newfoundland), Yellowknife (Northwest Territories), and even Manitoulin Island (Ontario). Read this article for more ways to enjoy a northern adventure in the Yukon.
Events in Fall
Toronto International Film Festival ("TIFF"). This star-studded festival in September is one of the world's largest film festivals. Nearly 500,000 people visit Toronto for this special occasion to attend screenings and chance encounters with famous film actors.
Oktoberfest, Kitchener-Waterloo. Next to Germany's festival, Canada hosts the second largest Oktoberfest in the world. In September, the Bavarian celebrations are abundant with music, dance, traditional clothing, and food.
Polar Bear Marathon, Churchill. Race to the north come November to see polar bears, Beluga whales, and the northern lights in polar bear country, Churchill, Manitoba.
Winter in Canada (December to February)
Expect cold winter days and continuous snow cover in all provinces except for southern regions on the west coast. This is cabin lovers' season in Canada; cozy up with a hot chocolate and your favorite book, and watch the snow fall as you sit by the fire. Escape the city lights and book yourself a cottage in Northern Ontario. No shortage of winter sports; you can hike the trails in Algonquin Park, snowshoe around Blue Mountain Resort, or snowmobile in Bruce Peninsula National Park.
Winter months are milder on the west coast with little snow, but turn inland, and you'll find the right conditions for extreme winter sports and famous ski and snowboarding runs, like Whistler Blackcomb and Revelstoke. Enjoy dramatic views of Vancouver from the ski hills on Grouse Mountain or the fjords and coastal forest of Howe Sound on the Sea to Sky Gondola. Meanwhile, Alberta's Sunshine Village Ski and Snowboard Resort offers the Continental Divide on the Rocky Mountains: hit the slopes in both provinces (British Columbia and Alberta) and enjoy the après-ski scene in Banff.
Alternatively, while in Québec, you can expect copious amounts of snow. Bundle up and explore Québec City's Winter Carnaval, held in February, where the historical UNESCO-protected site transforms from cobblestone streets into a winter wonderland with impressive ice sculptures, slides, skating, and beautiful light displays. Farther north, in Nunavut, winter persists from November to March, with frigid temperatures and no crowds in the northern communities. For a genuinely off-road experience, the adventurous might try dogsledding or going on a snowmobile adventure. Consider this Yukon and Northwest Territories trip plan for an eight-day road trip following ice roads, scenic winter highways, and dogsledding!
Events in Winter
Québec Winter Carnaval, Québec. Thousands visit this annual festival held in historic Québec City every February. Parades, ice slides, snow sculptures, shows, and skating make it a winter wonderland for all ages to enjoy.
Distillery Winter Village, Toronto. Each year, the Distillery District in Toronto hosts a festive winter market. As you stroll the vendors' market and art galleries, the aromas of mulled wine and warm cooking infuse the crisp air.