The Ultimate Guide to Winter on Vancouver Island

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Tofino | Jordan Dyck

Embracing the wonder of winter is easy on Vancouver Island. A visit in winter means finding peaceful quiet in the outdoors with a warm cup of cocoa in hand, avoiding the high-season crowds. Enjoy the excitement of a winter storm on the Island’s west coast, or get in on the action with some snow-based fun in the snow-covered mountains. While Vancouver Island has no off season, if you find yourself here in winter, be sure to try these stand-out activities.

Oak Bay Beach Hotel | Jordan Dyck

South Island

Where to Stay

A visit to Victoria’s luxurious Oak Bay Beach Hotel is always a good idea, but it’s an even better one in the off season. With three heated outdoor mineral pools, hot tubs, and a steam room, this hotel makes relaxation easy. Afterwar a dip (or a steam), enjoy a handcrafted pizza at onsite restaurant FARO, or grab a pint at The Snug Pub, an iconic Victoria institution and the city’s first neighbourhood pub.

Looking for a weekend escape into nature? Look no further than Wild Renfrew, located in Port Renfrew. Stay in idyllic natural surroundings in one of their cozy accommodations, which range from seaside cottages with private outdoor hot tubs to beachfront bedrooms with fire pits.

Where to Eat

In the winter months, the patio at LURE Restaurant & Bar transforms into WinterLURE. Dine in an ethereal outdoor dome under the glow of a fire as you take in the remarkable views of Victoria’s Inner Harbour.

Brunch is a must for any weekend trip to Victoria, and Aura at the Inn features panoramic views of the Inner Harbour alongside an impressive brunch menu that features ingredients fresh from the farm.

Indoor Activities

From now through January 2nd, 2023, discover the magical creations on display at the 14th Annual Gingerbread Showcase, held at the Parkside Hotel. The event supports Habitat for Humanity Victoria, with all donations going towards helping Victoria families create new beginnings through affordable home ownership.

Royal BC Museum, Victoria | Jordan Dyck
Royal BC Museum | Jordan Dyck

The Royal BC Museum’s 58th Annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition showcases captivating visual stories that highlight species from all over the globe through the lens of talented photographers. The exhibition runs from December 16th, 2022, to April 16th, 2023.

Outdoor Activities

The Magic of Christmas at The Butchart Gardens is a Victoria tradition. Wander through the garden’s incredible lights displays, hot chocolate in hand, while listening to carollers. Don’t forget to stop for a twirl on their outdoor skating rink, followed by a warm-up at one of the garden’s onsite restaurants.

Another place to experience the magic of the holidays is at Victoria’s largest free outdoor light display, Lights of Wonder. With interactive light tunnels and a towering 40-foot holiday tree, the photo opportunities are endless. The event features live music and plenty of warm treats to enjoy as you take in the glow of the lights.

Southern Gulf Islands

Where to Stay

Located on magical of Galiano Island, Bodega is a breathtaking spot to connect with nature. Cozy up with a good book in one of their cabins, and refuel at Lola, their newly opened restaurant that boasts a Southeast Asian-inspired seafood menu featuring locally grown ingredients, many found right on Bodega’s 22-acre property and farm.

Escape to the calm of Pender Island this winter and visit The Tides, a three-acre oceanfront retreat. Stay in one of several private coastal cottages, nestle in and relax in the outdoor hot tub, or enjoy a glass of wine on your private patio. Hunkering down here for a winter weekend getaway is the perfect way to bring about a seasonal reset in the calm of the wild.

 Where to Eat

Mayne Island’s Das Nest is an organic restaurant that focuses on farm-to-table cuisine and ethically raised meats. Their seasonal menu changes with the availability of local ingredients, so you can always expect something new and fresh to ignite your senses. Das Nest encourages guests to feel at home, providing a welcoming, cozy environment.

Salt Spring Island | Reuben Krabbe

Taking flavors and recipes from her childhood in Mexico, Chef Deb Peña brings an authentic celebration of Mexican cuisine to Salt Spring Island. This winter, Dos Amores introduced happy hour with discounts on their delicious food and non-alcoholic micheladas from 4-6pm daily to help pass the long winter nights with a bit of fun.

Indoor Activities

Featuring nearly 100 artists from the Southern Gulf Islands, Wintercraft is an indoor seasonal market held on Salt Spring Island.  The market features artisan goods including pottery, woodworking, textiles, and more until December 22, 2022, from 10am-5pm daily.

For an interactive experience and a chance to learn something new, try a Tea Culture Class on Salt Spring. Learn about the art of Gongfu tea in a magical tea house nestled in the forest while you enjoy some delicious origin-sourced brews.

Outdoor Activities

The much-loved summer market on Salt Spring undergoes a transformation and comes back with a bang over the holiday season. Christmas Markets in the Park are held on Saturdays (December 10, 17, and 24) this winter season. The market is a great place to find locally made gifts and food for your holiday tables.

Magic Lake Lantern Festival on Pender Island is an annual New Year’s Eve celebration. Bring your loved ones to the aptly named Magic Lake for a spectacle of light against the dark backdrop of winter. The festival is free to attend, and is a perfect opportunity to experience Pender’s community vibe.

Cowichan River Lodge

Cowichan Valley

Where to Stay

Nestled in the forest along the Cowichan River, Cowichan River Lodge is a perfect spot for a winter weekend getaway. Enjoy a home-cooked breakfast by the fire , then try your hand at the river’s renowned trout fishing. Or just relax and enjoy your surroundings—the lodge’s well-appointed cabin accommodations are reason enough to visit this winter season.

A winter wonderland awaits at the luxurious Villa Eyrie Resort in Malahat, with its eagle’s-eye view of the surrounding mountains and coastline. Work up an appetite in the indoor pool, then visit their onsite Michelin-quality restaurant to indulge in local ingredients from the Cowichan Region, artfully prepared.

Where to Eat

Unsworth Vineyards, a charming, family-owned winery and restaurant located on a heritage property, is a treat to discover. Enjoy wine and cheese pairings with a rotating selection of local cheeses in the winery, and prepare to drool over the restaurant’s seasonal dishes made with ingredients sourced throughout the valley.

Farm-fresh and comfort food go hand-in-hand at Merridale Cidery’s Farmhouse Eatery, with its menu that celebrates the bounty of ingredients found in the Cowichan Valley. Enjoy a leisurely meal with friends and family, and take in the holiday lights on display around the property.

Indoor Activities

Want to spend a cozy winter evening indoors with friends? The Fort in Duncan is a board game and video game cafe where you can play new games and old favorites while enjoying their onsite food options, including tacos, margaritas, espresso, and more.

Visit the “Mural Town” of Chemainus for dinner and a show at the Chemainus Theatre Festival. Each December, celebrate the holidays with a seasonally themed play or musical. This year, “A Tiny Christmas Carol” will be showing from December 2-23, with tickets available online and at the onsite box office.

Outdoor Activities

All aboard the Christmas Express as it travels through the twinkling lights of the 100-acre woods surrounding the BC Forest Discovery Centre. Bask in the glow of the season as you enjoy the miniature Christmas Village, outdoor fire pits, and festive photo spots. Limited tickets are remaining, so be sure to reserve your spot.

Open all winter long, The Raptors in Duncan brings visitors up close and personal with some of nature’s largest raptors, from falcons to bald eagles. Experiences available at the center include flying demonstrations and the opportunity to hold one of these remarkable creatures yourself.

Tigh-Na-Mara | Tourism Vancouver Island/Jordan Dyck

Central Island

Where to Stay

Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort in Parksville spans more than 22 acres of breathtaking forest and coastline. This family-friendly resort features several accommodation options including hotel rooms, oceanview suites, spa bungalows, and rustic cabins. The resort’s award-winning Grotto Spa is the perfect way to relax indoors, and there are two onsite restaurants and a lounge. This one-stop-shop makes for an easy and memorable family getaway.

In Courtenay, enjoy festive vibes and winter charm at the Old House Hotel. With an onsite spa and year-round outdoor heated pool, Old House is the perfect spot to relax after a long day on the slopes of nearby Mount Washington.

Nikkei Ramen-Ya | Comox Valley/Jordan Dyck

Where to Eat

Set inside Beach Acres Resort, the warm atmosphere of the Black Goose Inn in Parksville, built in 1921, is the perfect place to grab a pint and some comfort food overlooking gorgeous Rathtrevor Beach.

After a long day exploring wintery trails in the surrounding mountains, a big bowl of comforting ramen at Nikkei Ramen-ya is in order. Everything is made from scratch in their open kitchen, and their love of noodles is evident. With vegetarian, vegan, and meat-loving options, there’s something for everyone on this diverse menu.

I-Hos Gallery | Indigenous Tourism BC/Kimberley Kufaas

Indoor Activities

With an amazing collection of both traditional and contemporary Northwest Coast art created by Indigenous artists from around the province, I-Hos Gallery is a place to learn and to marvel.

After a day spent challenging yourself on the slopes at Mount Washington, it’s time for a relaxing sauna. Modeled after European public saunas, the services at the Lost Faucet Sauna House are self-administered so you can enjoy at your own pace. With restful spaces, cold showers, infrared rooms, and more, you’ll leave feeling rejuvenated and ready for another day of outdoor adventure.

Mount Washington Alpine Resort

Outdoor Activities

Open year-round, Little Qualicum Cheeseworks is a heritage dairy farm that offers self-guided tours, a farmgate store, and a petting farm. Bring the kids and learn about their milking process, peek into their cheese plant, and take home a gift or two from their shop.

Opening every December, Mount Washington Alpine Resort is the place to be for winter adventure in the Comox Valley. The powder skiing is legendary and there are frequent events and activities. Other available activities include snowshoeing, tubing, and fat biking, and there are onsite restaurants and cafes to help keep up your energy.

A person stands on the deck of the Black Rock Oceanfront Resort in Ucluelet
Black Rock Oceanfront Resort | Jordan Dyck

Pacific Rim

Where to Stay

With a 360-degree view of the Clayoquot Sound and Tofino’s harbour, The Shoreline brings you close to nature. Their cozy cabins and large A-frame house have options for groups of all sizes, and their proximity to town and Tofino’s incredible beaches make this resort an easy choice. Spend winter days storm watching on the beach, then warm up in the onsite sauna.

Located just off the well-known Wild Pacific Trail, Black Rock Oceanfront Resort is situated on Ucluelet’s scenic Big Beach. Explore the trail and stroll the beach, then head to the heated outdoor pool and hot tub. Choose between hotel-style accommodations and townhouses, sip and savour at the onsite pub and restaurant, and nestle in for as long as you’d like.

Where to Eat

Ucluelet’s newest cafe, Cedar & Salt Barbecue + Bakery, features incredible sourdough by the talented Steve Vardy, and unreal sandwiches and platters to go by Chef Brandon James Thompson. Grab a bite on your way to check out the town.

Nothing says winter comfort like Japanese diner food out of a vintage airstream. Located right outside Tofino Brewery, Hey Tokidoki is the perfect place to grab a pint and enjoy some okonomiyaki on the brewery’s heated patio. Beer’s not your thing? The Matcha Lemonade will knock your socks off.

Indoor Activities

If you’re looking to escape the rain in Tofino, look no further than Hotel Zed. There’s plenty to explore in this quirky hotel, from their 70s style interior and onsite restaurant and cafe to the mini disco. Perhaps topping the list is their secret retro arcade. Stop by Hotel Zed to learn more.

A couple walks out front of the Roy Henry Vickers Gallery on a clear sky day. Indigenous artwork is painted onto the front of the gallery.
Roy Henry Vickers Gallery | Jordan Dyck

Located in the heart of downtown Tofino, the Roy Henry Vickers Gallery features the work of this world-renowned Tsimshian First Nations artist. Take a seat in the gallery’s sunken living room, and admire the stunning work that surrounds you, from limited edition prints to original paintings.

Outdoor Activities

The perfect way to stay cozy on a wintery day is a Pacific Rim beach fire, which is permitted seasonally. There are several beaches to choose from that boast breathtaking sunset views, with Ucluelet’s Big Beach being a favourite. In Tofino, you’ll need to have a self-contained firepit. Always check local regulations before you start a beach fire, and fully extinguish it before you leave the area.

For the month of December, local businesses in the Alberni Valley have sponsored free skating at Coulson Rink, located at the Alberni Valley Multiplex. Filled with festive lights, Christmas trees, and other holiday decorations, you won’t want to miss this West Coast Winter Wonderland.

Upscale tub in the bathroom of a suite at the Kwa'lilas Hotel in Port Hardy | Tourism Vancouver Island/Jordan Dyck
Kwa'lilas Hotel | Tourism Vancouver Island/Jordan Dyck

North Island

Where to Stay

Kwa’lilas Hotel is a First Nations destination hotel located in Port Hardy, where visitors have the opportunity to experience the culture and traditions of the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw People in a luxury accommodation setting. With their onsite restaurant and tour offerings, the hotel is a one-stop-shop on any trip to Port Hardy.

Located on the land of the Kwakiutl people, Cluxewe Resort in Port McNeil is a magical resort for a quiet winter getaway. Accommodation options include beachfront cottages, and RV or tent camping. Gaze out at the ocean and enjoy the peaceful solitude.

Where to Eat

A family-owned craft brewery located in Port McNeil near the BC Ferries terminal, Devils Bath Brewing Co. features an outstanding menu full of local food paired with good beer. Take in spectacular ocean views in the comfort of their brewery and restaurant.

Located in Port Hardy and founded by the Cafe Guido team, Copper & Kelp Market allows locals and visitors to shop in a place with a hometown general store feel. With convenient takeaway food options, farm-fresh produce, and artisan-crafted gifts, the market is a must-do stop on any trip to Vancouver Island North.

A person walks through the U'Mista Cultural Centre with Indigenous art on display behind glass panels | Nathan Martin
U'mista Cultural Centre | Nathan Martin

Indoor Activities

A visit to the U’mista Cultural Centre, located in Alert Bay on Cormorant Island, is a must on a visit to the area. They house an outstanding collection of Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw cultural objects and share fascinating stories. Walk on to the ferry at Port McNeil, admiring the views along the way.

The Book Nook is located on the lower level of Cafe Guido in Port Hardy. It is full of Indigenous and Canadian books, gifts, and other fun objects to discover. Spend a rainy day wandering their aisles with a warm beverage from Cafe Guido in hand.

Outdoor Activities

Located in the territory of the ‘Namgis First Nation, Mount Cain is a much-loved local ski resort located near Schoen Lake Provincial Park. A community-owned and -operated ski and snowboard facility, Mount Cain offers a chance to experience the Island’s incredible snow-capped peaks without the business of the bigger ski resorts.

A person walks along the beach in San Josef Bay in Cape Scott Provincial Park
Cape Scott Provincial Park | Shayd Johnson

Wilderness camping is open year-round at Cape Scott Provincial Park, and winter is an amazing time to go. Take your pick of camping spots and enjoy the park’s pristine beauty, potentially without seeing another soul. Before heading out, ensure that you are AdventureSmart and adequately prepared for winter conditions that can quickly change.

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