Spending the night in North America’s only ice hotel

An unforgettable Nordic-inspired experience where ice and snow are transformed into an enchanting overnight stay

  • Dec 07, 2023
  • 1,272 words
  • 6 minutes
Hôtel de Glace (ice hotel), offers guests a one-of-a-kind winter experience just outside of Québec City. (Photo: Étienne Dionne)
Expand Image

When dealing with more than 30,000 tons of ice, you need to know your way around snow. Thankfully, the talented team that designs and builds North America’s only ice hotel knows how to do just that. 

Located in Saint-Gabriel-de-Valcartier, QC, Hôtel de Glace is a winter wonderland that has cozied its way onto many Canadian bucket lists. Consisting of 23,000 ice blocks, this frozen masterpiece includes non-heat-emitting fireplaces, fur-lined benches in a gorgeous chapel, unique carvings in each of the 30 rooms, and LED lighting throughout. Each year, the ice hotel is built from scratch at Valcartier, a resort complex located about a 40-minute drive from Quebec City. Beyond the hotel and chapel, you’ll also find an ice bar serving drinks in ice glasses, an ice slide and a Sugar Shack (a small wooden cabin built in the middle of maple forests where collected sap is used to make syrup). But don’t expect an ensuite bathroom at Hôtel de Glace – all this ice and snow is problematic for plumbing. This is how I come to be cocooned inside a thick sleeping bag, embroiled in a battle between brain and bladder.

During the day, each room at Hôtel de Glace is open to the public until 8 p.m. You can tour the entire site, take photos, party in the bar, or even get married in the chapel. It was the perfect venue for Disney when they launched their hit movie Frozen. Even HBO rented the hotel out for a Game of Thrones party, and Hallmark filmed three movies here (spoiler alert: the couple all get together at the end). The romance of an ice hotel draws tens of thousands of visitors each year, many of whom will stay in the adjacent and more traditional Hôtel Valcartier. But the brave can opt to spend the night in a hotel room where the temperature hovers between -3° and 5° degrees Celsius.

Each room at Hôtel de Glace includes a unique carving surrounded by LED lighting. (Photo: Étienne Dionne)
Expand Image
Ultra-comfy Arctic sleeping bags are provided to each guest for a comfortable stay. (Photo: Étienne Dionne)
Expand Image

Disregard your idea of a traditional hotel room. Besides the lack of a bathroom, there is no couch or television, no mirrors, climate control or closets. Some of the premium suites have a fireplace for ambiance, but most just contain beds and low lighting. At the mandatory onsite training session (yes, you need training for this hotel room) staff emphasize the importance of following the rules and procedures. Otherwise, you simply will not make it through the night. 

Abandoning your ice box is a common enough occurrence that every ice hotel guest also receives a complimentary booking in the adjacent Hôtel Valcartier – a large resort with hundreds of hotel rooms and more comfortable amenities, like hot showers, mirrors and heating. It also explains why 99 per cent of all ice hotel guests will spend just one night inside their romantic ice box.

Before bed, guests are invited to enjoy the Nordic area, which includes hot tubs and saunas under the stars. (Photo: Anne-Marie Desmarais)
Expand Image

All guests are strongly advised to layer up with winter clothing and bring along warm hats, scarves, gloves, socks and winter boots. You cannot take anything into your stylish igloo other than your sleeping and outer layers, and don’t expect to spend much time outside of the provided sleeping bags, which will insulate you in temperatures up to -30°C. Inside Hôtel de Glace’s interior court, guests are advised to warm up in the sauna and soak in the hot tubs for at least 15 minutes. Suitably heated up, use the bathroom, get your sleeping layers on, and get to your room pronto. Climb inside your single-sized sleeping bag as soon as possible, trying to leave as little skin exposed as necessary. 

“The two most important things I can tell you,” explains a bilingual staff member, “is don’t go to sleep cold, and under no circumstances go to sleep wet.” As our training continues, I watch the cold reality of spending a night on ice start to drain the amorous intentions of couples around me. Exposed skin, after all, may result in frostbite. Rooms don’t have doors either, just a curtain, but the walls are 1.2-metres thick and foot traffic in the ice tunnel hallways will be understandably light.

Other than your boots and coat, which conveniently store your glasses, personals, and fast-draining cellphones, nothing can be brought inside your ice room in case it freezes overnight and becomes part of the installation. The rest of your luggage is stored in lockers located inside a heated common area, where you’ll also find the blessedly heated bathrooms. The stars twinkle brightly in this part of the world but lower the stargazing expectations. Nighttime winter temperatures in Quebec City typically plummet well below -10°C.

Unique to North America, Hôtel de Glace includes beautifully crafted snow arches and crystal ice sculptures for guests to enjoy. (Photo: Anne-Marie Desmarais)
Expand Image

It is a brutally cold night in February. I order pizza in the common area (which I half expect to arrive in an ice box) and follow all instructions, warming myself up in a hot tub in the Nordic Area. Fellow guests are flushed with excitement and anxiety for the night ahead. Several make pacts that they will never evacuate to the heated hotel rooms. Others look ready to pull the plug moments after they exit the hot tub. Staff show me to my beautifully carved room, where a deer-skin lined and thermally insulated mattress sits atop a wooden frame. The fur is cold to the touch, and the air smells like ozone. As my body heat begins to evaporate, I quickly take my photos and videos. I climb into my soft bag liner, then into the sleeping bag, switch off the handily located LED room light, and lie flat, watching each warm breath form a cloud. That’s when my brain and bladder go to war. 

I took great care to use the bathroom before heading to my room, but I also took great care to enjoy the welcome cocktail and a couple of ice vodka shots, too. “No, it’s nothing,” says my brain reassuringly. “If you don’t get up to pee, you’re going to be thinking about it all night until you burst,” says my bladder.

“Any additional warmth inside the sleeping bag will be most welcome,” retorts my brain.

“Remember what the guide said about going to bed wet?” snaps my bladder. And on it goes, for hours and hours, until I do manage to restlessly drift off to sleep. The mattress is comfortable enough, and when the brain vs bladder battle subsides for half a minute, I reflect on the undeniable thrill of spending a night in a beautiful place that is utterly (and icily) unique. At first light, I leave my room, use the washroom with great relief, grab my things from the locker and beeline to my warm room at the resort for a good morning’s rest. 

Come spring, the Hôtel de Glace will begin to thaw, and all the snow, ice, hard work and unforgettable memories will melt away with it.


Are you passionate about Canadian geography?

You can support Canadian Geographic in 3 ways:

Related Content

The Fairmont Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City


Six notable moments in the Château Frontenac’s 125-year history

As Quebec's grand railway hotel turns 125, we look back at some key political and pop culture moments that happened there

  • 1184 words
  • 5 minutes


Go with the fleuve: 5 days in La Belle Province

Following the St. Lawrence’s winding course through Quebec delivers a feast of history, culture and food

  • 2137 words
  • 9 minutes


Highlights from The Great Western Canada Bucket List

With the second edition of his national bestseller, Bucket Listed columnist Robin Esrock adds new adventures to timeless experiences in British Columbia and Alberta

  • 1109 words
  • 5 minutes
Architect’s rendering of the exterior of the Pangea Pod Hotel in Whistler


Canada’s first ‘pod hotel’ is coming to Whistler

The Pangea Pod Hotel is part boutique hotel, part hostel, and entirely unique

  • 676 words
  • 3 minutes