True story: when I was two, my mother was trying to get home from my best friend’s house in the middle of winter. She told me we were going on an adventure, and apparently I stopped fussing long enough to get me into my stroller. Then when we were about two blocks away from home, I became outraged and yelled “this is not an adventure, this is going home!”
The fact is I take adventure seriously, and finding winter adventures is my favourite thing. Halifax has plenty to offer in terms of outdoor adventures for all tastes, from activity to beauty to special winter experiences. It’s going to be cold and wintry for quite a few months—use the spirit of adventure to enjoy it!
- 14 Family Winter Getaways in Nova Scotia
- 15 Resorts and B&Bs for Christmas or Winter Getaway in Nova Scotia
- 24 Winter Day Trips from Halifax
1. OUTDOOR SKATING
Outdoor skating is an adventure for: people who have never done it before, small children, and for days when the wind is high or it’s snowing. Halifax and its surroundings have a few different places you can go and enjoy this more low-key adventure, and there’s a sampling of those places below.
1.1 THE OVAL
The Oval is one of the best accidents to ever happen to Halifax. It was supposed to be temporary for the Canada games in 2011, but everyone liked it so much the city made it permanent. You can borrow gear for free with an ID, skate nearly all winter, and enjoy hot chocolate and a Beavertail from the Beavertail truck parked just beyond the benches.
1.2 LAKE SKATING
This could be a new adventure every winter as you try out different lakes. The HRM tests over 70 lakes for ice thickness weekly in the winter, posting the results and advice at the link below. From Albro Lake to William’s Lake, you can pick your favourite lake and head out for a skating adventure. Be safe, and have fun!
2. SKI RESORTS
Skiing and snowboarding are fantastic ways to burn off some of the cabin fever winter creates. There are a few ski hills across Nova Scotia, but the two main ones on mainland Nova Scotia are actually less than a two-hour drive from Nova Scotia, and they’re not too far from each other!
2.1 SKI MARTOCK
Ski Martock is just under an hour away from Halifax, and is a great place to get started in skiing, snowboarding, or both! They’ve got both green and blue trails (beginner and intermediate), and plenty of lessons for people at all levels. You can spend a day enjoying the downhill trails, finding your way through the cross-country trails, or do a mix of both.
2.2 SKI WENTWORTH
Ski Wentworth is just over 90 minutes away from Halifax proper, and as it’s taller than Martock with more trail variety. From beginner trails that you can even ski at night to gladed trails for experts to weave through trees, there’s adventure on the hill for everyone.
3. OUTDOOR HIKING
Hiking in the winter can be a magical experience—with a little imagination, you can be wandering through your favourite winter scene from fiction (or nonfiction if you want more realism in your fantasy). As long as you’ve got good warm clothing, good snacks, and realistic expectations of how long everyone’s going to enjoy being outdoors, you’re going to have a great time!
3.1 THE BLT TRAIL
I’ve hiked on the BLT trail at several points of the winter—from soggy-cold-mud to snowy-cold-bright, it’s still one of my favourite places to hike in the winter. A rails-to-trail, the trail is mainly flat and runs close to several towns along the way. That makes it a great choice for cold days when frequent stops for warm food and drink are necessary to enjoy this adventure to the fullest.
3.2 POINT PLEASANT PARK
This park is one of downtown Halifax’s best places to enjoy a wintry experience. The trails in this park range from steep hills in the forest to wide trails by the sea. Find the gazebo, pay your respects at the memorials, or put on a play in the Battery while you wait for summer and Shakespeare by the Sea to come around again!
Snowshoeing feels like something you should save for a wilderness trek, but the fact is that it makes winter walking into an adventure. Without having to worry about getting your shoes all wet or falling through the snow, you can walk anywhere you like, going off the beaten path or just getting outside to a favourite trail on a snowy day.
4.1 HALIFAX COMMON
The Halifax Common (or the Commons) comes highly recommended as a place to snowshoe, and it’s easy to see why. The wide green fields of the summer make for flat and easy terrain to learn how to step with much larger feet, and the practice will help you prepare for even bigger adventures down the line.
4.2 SHUBIE PARK
Whatever part of the HRM you live in, Shubie Park allows for year-round calmer adventures. The trails in the park are nice to walk, but if you want to explore all of it, a pair of snowshoes will make that much easier.
4.3 THE BLUFF WILDERNESS HIKING
The Bluff Wilderness Hiking Trail is both challenging and beautiful in all of its four loops, and it takes on another kind of beauty in the winter. Wearing snowshoes will allow you to explore more of the trail while keeping the physical effort involved more manageable.
Safety note: while this is a beautiful trail, it’s also demanding, especially in winter. Bring all necessary gear, know your limits, and know when the sun will set.
5. TOBOGGAN HILLS
Whether you call it a toboggan or a sled, whether you prefer wood or plastic, whether you’re ready for huge drops or a slower ride, head for the hills to find adventure. The HRM has dozens of great hills for tobogganing, so all you need to do is figure out what kind you like best, and then walk or drive there. Bring snacks and make sure everyone knows how to bail out of their sled, and you’ll have a fantastic snow day.
5.1 CITADEL HILL
I sometimes wonder if the people who built the Citadel Hill Fort all those years ago ever imagined that the hill would someday become one of the most popular sledding destinations in the city. The hill is huge and each “side” of it has a different slope, so you can choose your own difficulty. There’s sure to be plenty of people around, so you can share your adventure.
5.2 FORT NEEDHAM PARK
If you’re looking for something a little less tall (especially if you’ve got little ones), Fort Needham Park is perfect for a smaller and safer adventure. The smaller hills in the park make the slides safer and the climb up the hill shorter, so it makes the whole process more enjoyable for everyone. Which is really the point of adventures, right?
5.3 FLINN PARK
Ah, my childhood sledding hill, racing my friends, persuading my parents to sled with us, and finally being allowed to slide down the Big Hill. The entire park is on a hill, which makes finding a tobogganing spot fairly easy, and because it’s popular you’re likely to find sled tracks already made.
5.4 MERV SULLIVAN PARK
This hill is also known as The Pit, because it was once a quarry (which is a fancy and grown up way of saying rock pit). Steep and fast, the Pit is definitely an adventure best enjoyed by older and more experienced sledders. Bring a helmet, practice safe sledding, and get ready to make friends and go fast at the Pit.
6. SLEIGH RIDES/WAGON RIDES
Whether there’s snow or not, you can have an old-timey adventure on a sleigh or wagon ride. Cozy up with your friends and family and get ready to sing songs, enjoy hot drinks, and explore the rest of the farm once you’ve had your ride—maybe you’ll even be able to have a pony ride afterwards.
6.1 HATFIELD FARM
Hatfield Farm is a popular family destination for inhabitants of the HRM, most likely because it’s so close to Halifax (about a 20-minute drive), yet manages to take you completely into the farming life. You’ll find sleigh and wagon rides, pony rides, ice cream, a petting zoo, and so much more. Having fun on the farm is possible even on the coldest of winter days.
6.2 ROSS FARM MUSEUM
This living heritage farm is worth the hour drive. While you’re waiting for your sleigh/wagon ride, be sure to look at the 1800s era farm activity demonstrations, see the heritage animals and plants, and see the heritage buildings.
Note: Ross Farm is currently closed, but this is expected to be temporary as the province’s guidelines shift.
7. WATCHING WILDLIFE/BIRD WATCHING
Setting out to watch animals and birds in their natural habitat becomes even more of an adventure in wintertime. While many birds have flown south and some animals are hibernating, there are still plenty of creatures out and about in the winter. Bring binoculars, a camera, and maybe some seed if you’re bird watching—that’s a great way to make feathered friends!
7.1 SALT MARSH TRAIL
Recognized on an international level for having a huge diversity of bird species, the Salt Marsh Trail takes on an otherworldly look in the winter. The salt marshes don’t quite freeze, and between that and the birds flying around it’s oddly, beautifully full of life.
7.2 SHUBENACADIE WILDLIFE PARK
Now you may have thought you couldn’t visit Shubenacadie in the winter. I certainly did, but as it turns out you absolutely can! Some of the animals are hibernating, but the others are still moving around, and you can watch how they find fun in the winter.
7.3 LONG LAKE
Long Lake Provincial Park is full of trails from beginner to difficult (like need to bring a GPS and proper hiking equipment difficult), and those trails often have animal visitors. It’s a beautiful place to explore, and while you search for the perfect wildlife photo, keep your favourite places in mind—then come back and see them in the summer.
The HRM is full of beautiful places, and luckily there are lots of places to view that beauty scattered around too. Some places involve heights, some involve water views, and some involve a bit more strenuous walking/snowshoeing; all of them are worth it.
8.1 CITADEL HILL
If you’re looking for a view of Halifax, it’s hard to beat Citadel Hill. Once you’re at the top you can see nearly all of downtown, which is a tremendous beauty in the snow. If you feel like driving to the top at night, you’ll also get to see the city’s Christmas lights from on high.
8.2 SIR SANDFORD FLEMING PARK
This park has the Dingle Tower, which is a great way to view the Northwest Arm. The tower might be closed in the wintertime, but the view of the Arm from the beach is fantastic—all the boats float in the not-quite-frozen water, waiting for warmer weather, and the horizon seems closer and farther away all at the same time.
8.3 PENNANT POINT (CRYSTAL CRESCENT)
The Pennant Point hike at Crystal Crescent is a phenomenal way to get an intense winter workout in. The trail isn’t easy and navigational aids are highly recommended, but the view from the end of the trail of the beaches and miles and miles of open water, all with winter’s touch, is worth it.
9. NEIGHBOURHOOD WALKS
Window shopping in a Halifax winter is a great way to find holiday gifts or just things to brighten up your own day, with plenty of places to stop along the way for rest and refreshments.
9.1 SPRING GARDEN ROAD
Spring Garden Road is one of the best-known shopping streets in Halifax. With Park Lane Shopping Centre, several shopping centres, and a couple of food stops per block, it’s an ideal place to spend a winter shopping day.
9.2 BARRINGTON STREET
Barrington Street actually intersects with Spring Garden, but it’s far, far longer. Stretching from MacKay Bridge to Inglis Street, Barrington has the Scotia Square mall, several small shops like the Loop and Freak Lunchbox, at least a dozen restaurants, and City Hall, if you want to break up your shopping day with some local politics.
9.3 AGRICOLA STREET
A North End street bursting with fun both old and new, Agricola Street welcomes you to shop, eat, and explore. Find unique gifts, explore new cuisines, and even find things to decorate your home so you can enjoy the Agricola aesthetic on days too stormy for window shopping.
By: Adrienne Colborne