While blanket scarves, apple-picking, and pumpkin-spice lattes generate all the fall buzz, I’d like to add another item to your autumn it list. It’s outdoors. It’s soothing. It’s gorgeous. And, I promise: Once you experience it, you may even put apple pie-baking and pumpkin patch visits on hold in lieu of this fall indulgence.

Blending self-care, forest bathing, and leaf-peeping into one colourful experience, the “fall soak” is the act of checking yourself into an outdoor spa when the leaves are in peak form, and soaking under a canopy of brilliant autumn hues.

Because we could all benefit from an extra dose of physically-distanced self-care right now, let’s dip our toes into Canada’s best outdoor spas to peep fall’s kaleidoscope of colours.

Please check provincial and federal guidance for safe travel as protocols continue to evolve. Find out what to expect and how to find flexible travel on the Expedia COVID-19 travel guide

British Columbia

Scandinave Spa

Scandinave Spa

Located 90 minutes from Vancouver in Whistler Resort, find Scandinave Spa, a hydrotherapy haven, including massage therapy, a farm-to-table bistro, and a healthy dose of mountain views. Framed by a rainbow of deciduous and evergreen trees currently in peak fall form, British Columbia’s premier outdoor spa is t-h-e spot to sink into the season with their hot-cold-relax pools, plunges, and waterfalls promoting skin detoxification, improved circulation, and tension-relief. For optimal health benefit, the outdoor spa recommends repeating the circuit of heating, cooling, and relaxing your body at least three times during your visit. In other words: Stay awhile!

As someone who has indulged in water therapy circuits around the world for several years, I’ve been visiting Scandinave—my nearest and dearest outdoor spa—regularly since 2010 when it first opened. My body and mind never tire of the experience and jaw-dropping location set in Canada’s West Coast Alpine. The juxtaposition of intense relaxation-come-invigorating buzz you feel during and after the circuit is a testament to the healing properties of the spa’s well-rooted therapies, which have been in practice for more than 2,000 years.   

Alberta

Kananaskis Nordic Spa

Kananaskis Nordic Spa

Nestled into the Canadian Rockies between Calgary and Banff, Kananaskis Nordic Spa celebrates the outdoors in every season with the understanding that its location is as healing as its treatments. Fall enthusiasts will especially relish in the nature-centric refuge during leaf-peeping season as pops of yellow and crimson create an intricate Bob Ross-style backdrop.

Here, soak into 50,000-square-feet of wellness at this modern mountain getaway complete with five pools, barrel saunas, a hammam, steam rooms, outdoor gathering spots, and a wholesome bistro. To make the most of your fall spa-cation, book either either a morning (9:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.) or afternoon (3:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.) hydrotherapy session, and arrive early.

For those wanting to spa and sneak away for a night, book the spa package at the on-site hotel: the Kananaskis Mountain Lodge so you can linger in your spa moment.

Manitoba

Thermea spa manitoba

Thermëa by Nordik Spa-Nature

Perched on a hill atop Winnipeg’s urban core, Thermëa by Nordik Spa-Nature woos those in need of intense of a physical and mental reset with all soothing things: thermotherapy, body care, facials, massages, a gourmet restaurant-lounge, and a natural setting complete with log structures and red-hued autumn leaves making you say, “Oh Canada!”

Boasting the full thermal cycle—including saunas—offered by many Canadian outdoor spas, Thermëa digs deeper into the wellness experience focusing on a roster of clever treatments beyond hydrotherapy and massage. From detoxifying salt scrubs, to aromatherapy, to plant-based facials, this tranquil escape celebrating Manitoba’s natural assets takes a day at the spa to new heights.

Bonus: At Restö—the spa’s restaurant and lounge—you can actually imbibe… in your robe. Mic drop.

Ontario

Scandinave blue mountain

Scandinave Spa Blue Mountain

Surrounded by 25 acres of birch, maple, and pine trees showing their richest pigments in fall, Scandinave Spa Blue Mountain takes the act of rejuvenating in nature into another realm with its unique forested location overlooking the UNESCO Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Reserve.

Honing in on the centuries-old practice of hydrotherapy, Scandinave’s specialty is thermal spa therapy. Think: cleansing hot pools; invigorating nordic waterfalls and cold plunges; and tranquil resting areas that invite the body into full relaxation-mode. What elevates this experience to an even higher vibration, is its code of silence allowing guests to fully tune into nature, and navigate the art of total escape.

Serious fans of body work will not want to miss the onsite massage pavilion completely devoted to registered massage therapy. Hint: Book an RMT massage and bath access is complementary.

Note: Due to local health regulations, the steam and sauna are currently closed.

Quebec

Balnea Spa QC

BALNEA Spa and Thermal Reserve

A symbiosis with nature is the raison d’être behind BALNEA Spa and Thermal Reserve in Quebec’s Eastern Townships region. Created as a place to commune with the outdoors, this sustainable retreat with minimal-footprint buildings and award-winning modern design is a treat for the body and soul.

Set in a 400-acre natural reserve gently sloping into Gale Lake, this curated health resort is graced an exquisite network of mountain trails; a full roster of massage techniques, body care therapies, and facial treatments; and a chic restaurant serving seasonal fare. Complementing this already impressive spa scene is its thermal reserve, inspired by ancient Scandinavian and Asian health traditions.

Here, heat up your core in the Finnish saunas, the forest-side Turkish bath, or in one of the seven hot tubs dotting the landscape. Cool down by stepping into the cascading waterfall, forest pond, or cold water basins. For the rest portion of the thermal trifecta, chill in the Moroccan lounge, aquarium space, or outdoors on a lounge chair (when weather permits).

At this serene retreat (as well as every other outdoor spa I’ve highlighted), plan the entire day around your fall soak to take in the beauty and temperate nature of the season—often touted as ideal outdoor spa weather because it’s not too hot and not too cold.

So, grab your blanket scarf and bathing suit, and hit the road. Canada’s outdoor spa season awaits. Ahhhh.

Best Practices and Protocols for Outdoor Spas (During COVID-19)

  • Keep tabs on your health and stay home if you are feeling sick
  • Maintain a 2-metre distance from other guests who are not in your bubble
  • Booking your hydrotherapy slot in advance allows spas to create a safe and crowd-free environment
  • Wash or sanitize your hands before entering and leaving the facility (and several times throughout)
  • Bring a mask for use in public spaces
  • Plan to shower before entering the spa and again when your spa session completes
  • Want to indulge ASAP? Check with the spa for last-minute cancellations or same-day bookings
  • Book a massage—RMT or classic—and add-on hydrotherapy for a fraction of the cost

What is your favourite way to experience fall’s colours?

(Photo Credits: Lead photo + Whistler: Scandinave Spa/Justa Jeskova; Alberta: Kananaskis Nordic Spa; Manitoba: Thërmea by Travel Manitoba; Ontario: Scandinave Spa Blue Mountain; Quebec: BALNEA)