The Rideau Canal Skateway is the world’s largest ice rink, and it is truly an awe-inspiring sight to behold. This picturesque ribbon of white curves gracefully through some of Ottawa’s most iconic landmarks and green spaces. Every year thousands of people gather to experience this unique public space on skates or simply take in its beauty from afar. Let’s take a closer look at this natural winter wonder!
Where is the World’s Largest Ice Rink?
The world’s largest ice rink is the Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa, Canada. The Rideau Canal, also known as the Rideau Waterway, is an undeniable gem of the Canadian landscape. With its unique history as a National Historic Site of Canada since 1925 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2007, it’s no wonder that this 200-year-old canal still stands proudly today. Stretching from Lake Ontario to the Saint Lawrence River, the Rideau Canal is now primarily used for recreational purposes such as fishing, boating, swimming, hiking, and cycling. Its beauty is unparalleled and continues to be an incredible piece of Canadian history to explore.
The canal was built after the War of 1812 to provide a secure supply line in Canada in case the United States decided to invade. However, after its completion in 1832, the canal was used for economic development more than for military operations. Today it is mostly used for recreation. People travel from all over to skate on the Rideau Canal during the winter. Many Canadians in Ottawa even use it to skate to school and work during the winter season.
How Big is the World’s Largest Ice Rink?
The Rideau Canal in Canada is the world’s largest naturally frozen ice rink, stretching 4.8 miles long and with over six square miles of ice to skate on. This remarkable attraction is equivalent to 90 Olympic ice rinks! With that much ice, even on busy days, there is plenty of room for skating on the frozen canal. And the best part? It is totally free to use!
In addition to recreational activities on the ice, there are many rest stops along the canal’s length with fire pits, kiosks, mini lodges, equipment rentals, and hot chocolate to keep you warm. Of course, to truly enjoy a day on the Rideau Canal Skateway, you must stop by one of these vendors for a classic Canadian “Beaver Tail”. These deep-fried cinnamon and sugar pastries are warm and absolutely delicious!
When Can You Visit the World’s Largest Ice Rink?
Since the Rideau Canal Skateway is a naturally frozen body of water, it doesn’t open until the ice is deemed safe for use — which varies depending on the weather each year. However, in general, the ice rink opens in January and runs through late February. Before the ice is safe for skating, the river must freeze to at least 12 inches thick. To achieve the thick ice, there needs to be at least 10 to 15 days of consecutive cold winter nights that reach below -10 to -15 degrees Celsius, or 14 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit.
The National Capital Commission (NCC) in Canada monitors ice levels each year. To check if the ice is open for skating, you can go to their website. Once the ice rink is open for skating, the NCC maintains the entire canal all day, every day. For 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the NCC continually checks for cracks in the ice (and fills them in), clears away ice shavings and snow, and ensures that the canal and ice are stable and secure. With 20,000 visitors skating on the ice each day, it’s a pretty big job!
Winterlude at the Rideau Canal Skateway
While skating is perhaps the most popular winter pastime on the Rideau Canal, there also are many festivals and other activities held on the ice to celebrate the winter season. One of the biggest, Winterlude, occurs during the first three weeks of February. The NCC created Winterlude to celebrate Canada’s unique northern culture and climate. They were inspired by their ancestors who, during the long winter months, would take advantage of every opportunity to enjoy each other’s company. The festival is full of fun activities, like ice skating, tube riding, curling, ice carving, and snow sculptures.
It also includes the Ice Dragon Boat Festival, where international teams gather together from all over the world and race their long dragon boats along the ice of the canal. Another highlight of Winterlude is the Snowflake Kingdom in Jacques-Cartier Park. This enormous winter playground has snow sculptures, outdoor shows, games, snow tubing, and a 600-foot zip line.