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Winter Hiking on Vancouver Island

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Wild Pacific Trail in Ucluelet | Tourism Vancouver Island/Ben Giesbrecht

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Hiking in the winter can be an otherworldly experience for nature enthusiasts. The trails are quieter, offering a feeling of solitude and serenity. Hikers may experience torrential downpours, snow-covered hills, chilly sunrises, and the heavy dew of a rainforest covered in moss. Winter hiking on Vancouver Island requires being prepared for all types of weather and terrain.

From north to south, here are five notable winter hiking destinations, and some tips on how to hike responsibly on Vancouver Island this winter.

Alert Bay | Nathan Martin

Alert Bay Ecological Park, Vancouver Island North

Level: Easy

Time: 30 minutes

Distance: 1.8-km loop

Typical Winter Conditions: Expect rain with some slippery sections on this boardwalk looped trail.

About the Hike: An easy, flat trail located in Alert Bay, on Cormorant Island (accessible via BC Ferries). With lots of variations in flora and fauna throughout the trail, Alert Bay Ecological Trail is a wonderful place to breathe in a bit of nature’s goodness in the wintertime.

Where to Stay: Located a 45-minute ferry ride from Port McNeill, Alert Bay is a quiet place to stay in the off season. Seine Boat Inn features panoramic ocean views and a rustic, sea-washed charm.

Where to Eat: For home-cooked Indigenous food, don’t miss Duchess’ Bannock & Desserts. The ‘Na̱mg̱is-owned and -operated restaurant offers daily lunch specials, with large portions that are great for refuelling after exploring the outdoors.

Alert Bay
Person in a blue hoodie and black pants stands on a wooden boardwalk trail that runs across what looks to be a marshy area with trees in the background.
Strathcona Provincial Park | Kaila Walton

Paradise Meadows Loop, Strathcona Provincial Park

Level: Moderate

Time: 30 to 90 minutes

Distance: 2- to 4.2-km loop options

Typical Winter Conditions: While the park receives heavy snowfall in the winter, this loop is considered safe for winter hikers. Most of the snow is packed, and it’s a popular trail, making it relatively easy for beginners.

About the Hike: Paradise Meadows has two different loop options for hikers. The shorter Centennial Loop runs along a boardwalk with a meadow and pond. Expect slippery conditions in the rain and snowpack in the winter. The full Paradise Meadows loop has stair features, several frozen ponds, and meadows.

Strathcona Provincial Park

Where to Stay: Located in Courtenay, a short drive from the park, Old House Hotel & Spa is the perfect jumping-off point for your winter hiking adventure. Homey suites include kitchens, fireplaces, and soaker tubs.

Where to Eat: After your winter hike, warm up with a bowl of ramen at Nikkei Ramen-ya in downtown Courtenay. With vegan options and noodles made from scratch, there’s truly something for everyone at this not-to-be-missed Japanese restaurant.

Wild Pacific Trail | Boomer Jerritt

Amphitrite Lighthouse Loop, Ucluelet

Level: Easy

Time: 30-45 minutes

Distance: 2.6-km loop

Typical Winter Conditions: Expect heavy rainfall on the West Coast during the winter months, with the occasional snowfall.

About the Hike: Located along Ucluelet’s Wild Pacific Trail, the Amphitrite Lighthouse Loop is a must on any trip to the Island’s west coast. In the winter, this is the spot to be for storm watching, as the waves crash onto the rocky shoreline in all its wild glory. The Lighthouse Loop leads to several extensions that can lead you to bogs, beaches, and more.

Where to Stay: Black Rock Resort is located on Big Beach, and they offer winter storm-watching packages.

Where to Eat: Winter is the off season in Ucluelet, making it the perfect time to escape the crowds. While you’re here, check out the Ucluelet Brewing Company for a locally brewed pint and a warm cup of soup.

Ucluelet
A growler from Longwood Brewery | BC Ale Trail

Ammonite Falls, Nanaimo

Level: Easy

Time: 60 to 90 minutes

Distance: 4.8 km out and back

Typical Winter Conditions: Be prepared for wet conditions as you wander through the rainforest.

About the Hike: Located just outside Nanaimo, Ammonite Falls Trail features lush forest views with towering trees. The crown jewel? Cascading Ammonite Falls. In winter, the final descent to view the waterfall is steep and can be treacherous if you are unprepared. Check conditions before you embark on this hike.

Where to Stay: With private patios overlooking stunning Long Lake, the Inn on Long Lake is a perfect spot to rest after a day on the trails. Conveniently situated on North Island Highway, it’s a great location from which to explore the area.

Where to Eat: Serving fresh and local cuisine inspired by the West Coast, Longwood Brew Pub is a must. Sample their handcrafted brews and relax over a good meal.

Nanaimo
Wild Mountain | Tourism Vancouver Island/Ben Giesbrecht

Beechey Head Loop, East Sooke Regional Park

Level: Moderate

Time: 90 minutes

Distance: 5.5-km loop

Typical Winter Conditions: Expect wet conditions on the hiking trails.

About the Hike: With panoramic views of the Olympic Mountains in Washington State, this trail begins from the Aylard Farm Trailhead off Becher Bay Road. Be aware that there are lots of roots and rocks that make the trail uneven at times, so be sure to wear appropriate hiking footwear. This scenic trail brings you into nature and back again.

Where to Stay: Sugar Bear Cove is located on 10 beautiful acres of rainforest backing out onto the Pacific Ocean. Sugar Bear currently offers a cabin that’s available to rent in the winter months, with yurts available in spring.

Where to Eat: Wild Mountain celebrates the coast through food, with a seasonal menu that reflects the harvest available in the area. Featuring a brick pizza oven and an ever-changing menu, a meal at Wild Mountain is not soon forgotten.

Sooke

Preparing for a Winter Hike

Select the Right Trail

The most important part of a successful winter hiking trip is being prepared, which helps us to stay safe on the trails, and can also help reduce any fear or anxiety as we explore the outdoors.

The first step is to be honest with yourself about your physical capabilities and skill level. Research the trails and hikes that you’d like to explore before committing, with an emphasis on the weather patterns during the season in which you’ll be hiking. A hike that is easy in the summer may not be easy in the winter.

Vancouver Island’s Strathcona Park, for example, receives huge snowfalls each year. In summer, the park is rolling hills of wildflowers and towering trees, but in winter trails are often covered in thick snow.

Pack the Winter Essentials

A good hiking kit is essential for a winter hike. Not only can a properly prepared bag ensure you have a comfortable hike, it can also quite literally save your life. Ensure that you pack hiking-specific equipment that’s built for winter adventures, including insulated hiking boots, thermal wool base layers, and waterproof outer shells. In addition, depending on where you hike, you may want to bring crampons or snowshoes to assist with tough winter terrain.

Other essential items include a headlamp, fire making kit, a whistle, extra food, extra clothing, a first aid kit, and navigational and communication equipment. On Vancouver Island, cell service can be spotty, especially in remote areas, so you will need a satellite-ready device in case of emergencies if you’re planning any serious backcountry winter hikes. It’s also a good idea to bring an emergency shelter or blanket that can keep you warm and dry in case of an accident or if you happen to lose the trail.

Plan for More Time Than You Expect

When you’re hiking in the winter, snowy or icy conditions can quickly turn a three-hour hike into five hours. That’s why it’s important to allow for extra time, and plan your departure and return time accordingly.

On Vancouver Island, winter weather can be dreary and days are short, and you don’t want to be caught out on a trail at night when you are unprepared. Check the sunrise and sunset times for the day(s) you are planning to hike, and give yourself generous buffer time.

Tell a Friend

Before you embark on your winter adventure, make sure you leave a trip plan with a friend or family member. Your trusted ally should know all the details of your trip, including when to expect you back. In the winter, weather can shift dramatically throughout a single day, so ensuring that someone knows your location and your timeline is essential in case of an emergency. Try the AdventureSmart Trip Plan app, which makes sharing this vital information easy.

Accept That Sometimes It's Safest to Turn Back

When you are hiking in the winter on Vancouver Island, you may encounter some unexpected weather or eroded ground. An expected bridge over a rushing river might be too slippery, or the ground on a climb might be too muddy for the gear you’ve brought. Don’t let your drive get in the way of your judgement when it comes to challenging conditions. If you are reaching a point where you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, turn back. The trail isn’t going anywhere, and you can always try again when the conditions are more favourable.

Plan Your Adventure Now

Know Before You Go

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Parks Canada

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AdventureSmart

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BC Parks

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