An amoeba-shaped pool with steam rising from the surface with sparse trees behind it and a large lake in the background.

Top 5 Ways to Enjoy Winter in BC

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Halcyon Hot Springs | Kari Medig

Don’t hibernate this winter—embrace it. Here are some ways to celebrate all that BC has to offer this season, from city escapes to mountain retreats.

Fort Nelson | Northern BC Tourism/Ryan Dickie

Wander Winter's Wonderland

Staring into a sky of flickering green, blue, and purple light is an ethereal experience. In British Columbia, particularly in the north, the aurora borealis can often be seen between November and 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 the hot springs while gazing up at the stars.

Prefer to be active? Hike amongst snow-covered trees to frozen waterfalls in Wells Gray Provincial Park. Hike to four waterfalls, including the largest, Helmcken Falls, which towers at 141 metres (463 feet). Depending on the temperature, this otherworldly show can be a mix of tumbling water, mist, icicles, and snow.

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

BC’s 13 major ski resorts are the perfect winter escape, even if you don’t ski. These resorts offer snowshoeing routes, cross-country ski tracks, trails for wintery walks, and much more.

The Whiteway on Windermere Lake | Kootenay Rockies Tourism/Mitch Winton
Liard River Hot Springs | Ryan Dickie
Ainsworth Hot Springs | Kari Medig

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 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. Their 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 among mountain towns in the Kootenay Rockies.

Tofino | @entwistlephoto

Feel Nature’s Power at the Edge of the World

It’s easy to become hypnotized by the rhythmic energy of waves as they crash against the shore.

Visit Tofino, often considered BC’s storm-watching capital, or venture farther north to remote Haida Gwaii. Curl up in a cozy cabin and watch the consistent swell break onto a remote beach, and witness powerful storms as they move across the Pacific Ocean.

While you’re here, don’t miss the opportunity to learn about the rich living culture of the Haida Nation at the Haida Heritage Centre and Haida Gwaii Museum, or in conversation with locals who have been stewards of this powerful place for millennia.

If you’d rather be immersed in it—literally—grab a surfboard and jump in. Cold-water surfing is not for the faint of heart, but those who dare know there’s nothing quite like moving in tandem with the sea. Whether you choose surfing or storm watching, you’ll feel a connection to nature’s power.

Victoria | Reuben Krabbe

Enjoy a City Getaway

BC’s urban centres come alive with vibrant celebrations to brighten the shorter and wetter days of winter.

The Vancouver International Wine Festival welcomes enthusiasts and connoisseurs with 149 participating wineries from 12 countries around the world.

For artistic inspiration, check out the work of renowned Canadian artist Emily Carr at the Vancouver Art Gallery. In Whistler, visit the Audain Art Museum to celebrate another of Canada’s preeminent painters, Tom Thomson. Head to Victoria to engage with one of the world’s finest collections of Asian art at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.

Craving energy? Travel to Whistler for Whistler Pride Week (January 21 – January 28, 2024) where the days are packed with winter sport, culture, and entertainment.

In the historic fishing village of Steveston, take a break from the cold weather to learn about the history of the fishing industry on the west coast of Canada at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site. Exhibits include displays of the giant machinery used to process and can the fish, and a look at how advancements in technology have had an impact on sustainability.

A trip to the Okanagan is perfect for wine and food lovers. From January 17 to February 11 2024, savour three-course meals (wine pairings optional, but recommended) during the popular Dine Around event.

High on Ice Festival in Fort St. John

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Attend a Winter Festival

The strong sense of community and pride in small towns is on full display when residents come together to celebrate, and the winter months are no exception.

The Rossland Winter Carnival (dates to be announced for January of 2024) 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.

The historic streets of the Okanagan’s oldest community come alive at the Vernon Winter Carnival (February 2-11, 2024). More than 100 events are spread throughout the town and nearby SilverStar Mountain Resort. Sip and savour the Okanagan’s best vintages, get your heart pumping during a guided snowshoe tour, or marvel at the birds-eye view 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 (February 9-11, 2024). Competing sled dog teams become official Canada Post mail carriers during the race as they mush along the Gold Rush Trail from Quesnel to Barkerville.

For a taste of the true Canadian north, don’t miss the High On Ice Winter Festival (February 16-18, 2024) in Fort St. John. Immerse yourself in winter sports and culture at this annual Northern BC event. Watch snowy landscapes glide by on a horse-drawn sleigh ride, catch a good ol’ hockey game, and admire the intricate ice carvings the festival is famous for. With higher latitudes come longer nights, and if you’re lucky you may even see a display of northern lights.

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

There’s plenty to explore during a British Columbia winter, 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.

Originally published in October, 2019.

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