Let’s be real, life is not often full of Hallmark family moments. But our Rideau Canal skating adventure was pretty close. I looked behind me and saw my mother and daughter gliding together hand-in-hand and then turned around to have my husband and son grab my arms and slingshot me down the ice—everyone smiling, everyone laughing—and it felt like a moment of pure happiness. The kind of happiness that comes from checking off a long-awaited item on your bucket list. 

I’m a big believer in bucket lists. In creating them, dreaming about them and then chasing down the experiences to make them a reality. So when I had the opportunity to help my mom cross something off of her bucket list during our ultimate Canadian winter road trip, I jumped on it. When she opened up her Christmas present and saw she would be joining us for skating on the Rideau Canal, her eyes were teary. And as I skated with her down the canal and watched her realize one of her dreams along with the people she loves, my eyes got teary.

50th Anniversary of Rideau Canal Skating

fire pit in the middle of the snow so that skaters on the rideau canal can warm up

This year happens to be an extra special year to skate on the Rideau Canal because it is their 50th season. People have been lacing up their ice skates to skate on this rink—the largest naturally frozen ice rink in the world—since 1970. The rink winds 7.8km through Canada’s capital city of Ottawa and is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site. Best of all, it is free for everyone to enjoy. So what are you waiting for? Let’s get you there!

Plan Your Own Trip to Rideau Canal Skating

boy skating fast on the rideau canal

If you’re reading this and thinking you don’t want to just see pictures of skating on the Rideau Canal but be in the photos as you skate through the heart of Canada’s capital city, then it’s time to add it to your bucket list. But before you pack up your skates and head to Ottawa, let’s break down a few important details.

Timing is Everything

map of the rideau canal skating route

Canada may have earned the nickname The Great White North but as many of you know, we don’t live in a year-round snowy paradise. Come to the Rideau Canal with plans to skate in spring, summer or fall and you will be disappointed. Even once winter hits, it takes time for the ice to form and reach a safe level of thickness. 

Because the skating season on the Rideau Canal is weather dependent, it varies each year. Typically all or part of the canal is open from early January to early March with many activities taking place in February as the Skateway is part of Ottawa’s winter festival, Winterlude.

Once the season is underway, people are free to skate 24 hours a day. As night falls you’ll see people skating with headlamps on. If you’re going as a family it’s a good idea to pick a time where everyone has a lot of energy—read: well-fed with maybe a little sugar for a boost. Keep in mind ice maintenance is often done at night. 

Location Location Location

beaver tail stand on the rideau canal skating trail

When you’re looking at booking your accommodation, one thing to keep in mind is that not all parts of the Rideau Canal are always open to skate. This may mean even though your hotel is within walking distance, you may need to travel a bit further to a section that is open.

We weren’t able to walk from our hotel but since the Winterlude Festival is in full swing, we hopped on the complimentary festival shuttle—the Sno-Bus—that took us to Fifth which is one of the main rest areas on the canal. It turned out to be the perfect starting point for our Rideau Canal skating adventure. With skate rentals, washrooms, food options,—including Canada’s favourite cinnamon-sugar treat: BeaverTails—changerooms and fire pits to help keep you warm along with first aid attendants skating around and other staff members skating with big question mark signs, we felt welcomed, safe and like we had everything we could need. 

I highly recommend starting off your time on the Rideau Canal at Fifth. But no matter where you go on the canal, always check the ice conditions first.

Prepare to Create Memories While Rideau Canal Skating

little girl with her grandma skating on the rideau canal

“I will always remember skating it with my grandma.”

Yes, it’s a historic place. Yes, it’s in a beautiful setting. Yes it’s known around the entire world. But what my daughter said she would remember most about her afternoon on the Rideau Canal was that she experienced it with her grandma.

There is something magical about witnessing another person fulfil a dream. It is even more magical to take part in it with them. And my mom was right to have this on her bucket list—it was an unforgettable experience. I hope you add it to yours, dream about it and then make a plan to go. You won’t regret it!

Planning an Ultimate East Coast Canadian Winter Road Trip? Check out these other articles for inspiration!

Is this a sponsored post?: Yes, while this is a sponsored adventure, all thoughts, experiences and views are our own.