Top 5 Ways to Enjoy Winter in BC

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Don’t hibernate this winter—embrace it. Here’s our guide for celebrating all that BC has to offer this season, from city escapes to exploration of Mother Nature’s best.

Crooked Lake | @kaleighbrinkmanphotography via Instagram

1. Wander Winter's Wonderland

Staring into a sky of flickering green, blue, and purple light is an ethereal experience. Luckily, for British Columbians, the aurora borealis can often be seen in Northern BC from November through March⁠. When the geomagnetic activity is high, head for Northern Rockies Lodge along the Alaska Highway and look up on cold, clear nights for a spectacular show.

For a more rugged experience, winter camp or RV at Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park. Here you can warm up in hot pools while you gaze into the sky.

Prefer to be active? Hike amongst snow-covered trees to frozen waterfalls in Wells Grey Provincial Park. Visitors can take a self-guided hiking tour to four waterfalls, including the largest, Helmcken Falls, towering at 141 metres (463 feet). Depending on the temperature, this otherworldly show is a mix of tumbling water, mist, icicles, and snow.

Gliding through nature is an option, too. In the Kootenay Rockies, visitors can skate along the Lake Windermere Whiteway, the longest ice-skating pathway in the world—at 34 kilometres (21 miles) long—for a perfect winter’s day out.

BC’s 13 major ski resorts make for the perfect winter escapes even if you don’t ski. Across the province, these mountain towns have snowshoeing routes, cross-country ski tracks, and trails for wintery walks.

Lake Windermere Whiteway | Kari Medig
Liard River Hot Springs | @insta_ines_travels via Instagram
Ainsworth Hot Springs | Kari Medig

2. Relax and Decompress

Sometimes chilly days and snow-covered landscapes are best enjoyed from inside cozy cabins, relaxing yoga dens, and soothing spas.

For an island escape, hop over to Galiano where Bodega Ridge and newly-opened sister resort, Bodega Cove, offer a quiet escape for those looking to curl up by a fire with a good book.

On Salt Spring Island, rejuvenate in a wood-burning barrel sauna at Salty Pear.

Visit Bowen Island and Nectar Yoga B&B for yoga classes in a geodesic dome and overnights in forest cabins.

Venture to the Sunshine Coast, where Painted Boat Resort Spa & Marina hides amongst the islands and inlets of Pender Harbour. This spa beckons weekend warriors looking for an experience like Whistler’s Scandinave, but without the crowds. Spend hours soaking in the hot and cool pools, sauna, and around the outdoor fire pit after a deep tissue massage.

Up for adventure? Follow the Hot Springs Circle Route and soak in five different outdoor, mineral hot springs nestled between mountain towns in the Kootenay Rockies.

Tofino | @entwistlephoto via Instagram

3. Feel Nature’s Power at the Edge of the World

It’s easy to become hypnotized the rhythmic energy of waves as they crash into the edge of the world.

BC’s storm-watching capital of Tofino is a regular go-to, but if you seek something different, head for Haida Gwaii. Curl up in a cozy cabin to witness a consistent swell break onto a remote beach or gaze upon powerful storms as they move across the Pacific Ocean. Here you will find locals willing to teach you a few things, about the ocean, and a whole lot more.

Learn about the living Haida culture and peoples of Haida Gwaii at the Haida Heritage Centre and Haida Gwaii Museum, or in conversation with locals who have been protecting this powerful place since time immemorial.

If you’d rather be amongst it, grab a surfboard and jump in. Cold-water surfing is not for the faint of heart, but those who dare know there is nothing quite like moving in tandem with the sea. Surfing or storm watching, both experiences will instantly connect you to nature’s power.

Victoria | Reuben Krabbe

4. Take a City Getaway

BC’s urban centres come alive with vibrant celebrations to pass the darker and drearier days of winter. It’s the perfect time to leave your hometown and venture to a new city.

The Vancouver International Wine Festival welcomes enthusiasts and connoisseurs with more than 700 wines from 163 wineries around the world.

For artistic and cultural inspiration, check out the bold, contemporary expression of photographer Cindy Sherman at the Vancouver Art Gallery. In Whistler, celebrate the development in photography at the  with The Extended Moment: 50 Years of Photography. Visit Victoria to explore  Canada’s increasingly experimental approach to art-making at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria‘s Unformable Things: Emily Carr and Some Canadian Modernists will delight visitors.

Craving energy? Head to Whistler for Whistler Pride Week (January 26 – February 2, 2020) where the days are  packed with winter sport, culture, and entertainment.

In the historic fishing village of Steveston, visitors can visit the Cannery Farmers’ Market (happening on select Sundays until April) and browse local artisans inside the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site.

A trip to the Okanagan is perfect for wine and food lovers, too. From January 15 to February 2, savour three-course meals (wine pairings optional, but recommended) during Dine Around Thompson Okanagan.

High on Ice Festival in Fort St. John | Christos Sagiorgis
High on Ice Festival in Fort St. John

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5. Attend a Winter Festival

The strong sense of community and pride in small towns is often best exemplified when they come together to celebrate, and the winter months are no exception.

The Rossland Winter Carnival (January 23 – 26, 2020) has been a favourite of residents and visitors alike since 1898, making it Canada’s longest running winter carnival. Learn to luge, enjoy a beverage at an ice palace, and dance to live music. Don’t miss the signature bobsled race, where participants race down a hill in (often quirky) homemade bobsleds, reaching speeds of up to 85 km (53 mi) per hour. Past entries have included everything from a hollowed-out log to a piano.

For a taste of true Canadian north, you won’t want to miss the High On Ice Winter Festival (February 14-17, 2020) in Fort St. John. Immerse yourself in winter sports and culture at this annual Northern BC event. Enjoy the snowy landscapes on a horse-drawn sleigh ride, catch a good ol’ hockey game, and admire intricate ice carvings the festival is famous for. With higher latitudes come longer nights, and if the geomagnetic activity’s high, you may even see some northern lights!

The historic streets of the Okanagan’s oldest community come alive with over 100 events at the Vernon Winter Carnival (February 7-16, 2020). Events are spread throughout the town and nearby SilverStar Mountain Resort. Sip and savour the Okanagan’s best, get your heart pumping during a guided snowshoe tour, or have a birds-eye view of the area from one of the many brightly-coloured hot air balloons that fill the sky during the festival.

For something completely different, head to the Cariboo region for the annual Sled Dog Mail Run. These competing sled dog teams become official Canada Post mail carriers during the race as mush along the Gold Rush Trail from Quesnel to Barkerville.

High on Ice Festival in Fort St. John | Christos Sagiorgis
High on Ice Festival in Fort St. John | Christos Sagiorgis

Winter is the perfect time to explore BC, and you don’t need skis to do it. Discover a new town, a new activity, or a new event around the province this season.

Header image: Halcyon Hot Springs | Kari Medig

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