A Guide to Winter in BC’s Northeast
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Skip mountain villages with bustling crowds and instead make your way to BC’s Northeast — a region that knows how to do winter well.
Blanketed in snow for much of the year and no stranger to cold temperatures, this is an area that comes alive between October and April.
Here, locals offer a blueprint for finding adventure and fun in the snow. Read on to see how they embrace winter in the Peace River Valley and Northern Rockies, and how you can, too.
Go Frozen Waterfall Chasing
The waterfalls around Tumbler Ridge and Hudson’s Hope are impressive and even more so in winter when they stand frozen in time. The stunning 60-metre Kinuseo Falls — which sits higher than Niagara Falls — is located in Monkman Pass and come winter freezes into a field of white and blue. A snowshoe or cross-country ski trek to the falls is well-worth the adventure and if you’re lucky, you might just spot intrepid (and experienced) ice climbers scaling its sheer frozen walls. (Note: the route to Kinuseo Falls in winter is challenging; make sure to seek local advice and prepare properly).
For an easier and shorter trek, head to Babcock Falls. This easy two-kilometre (return) trek takes you through a wintry landscape of mixed pine and spruce forests to an eight-metre tall frozen waterfall. Another good option? Dunlevy Creek in Hudson’s Hope is a 12-kilometre trail (return) follows frozen Dunlevy Creek in a gradual climb until it meets its namesake falls.
Soak in Hot Springs
Warm up with a soak at Liard River Hot Springs. In winter, these popular hot springs transform into a surreal landscape enveloped by a layer of ice and snow. Many locals consider this the best time of year to visit when you can slip into thermal pools and watch as the steam rises off the water against a backdrop of snow-draped trees.
Bonus: the hot springs tend to be less busy during winter and if you’re lucky, you might just find yourself alone. (Note: make sure to pack warm clothes and don’t visit during extreme temperatures when you’re at risk of frostbite.)
Ice Skate Frozen Ponds
There’s nothing more quintessential in winter than ice skating on a frozen pond. In the northeast, you’ll find plenty, including the vast Muncho Lake where, if you’re a guest at Northern Rockies Lodge, you can lace up skates and glide along a cleared section surrounded by snow-capped peaks or take part in an impromptu game of pond hockey. Skate rentals are available for hotel guests.
Other areas to skate in the Peace? Drop by the outdoor pond in Pouce Coupe, a favourite of locals in the area, and don’t miss the skating ribbon in Fort St. John (one of three places to skate outdoors in town) which winds its ways through snow-dusted trees.
Look for the Northern Lights
The wide-open skies and cold, clear weather make the Peace River and Northern Rockies regions a northern lights viewing playground. Between November and March on clear cloudless nights there’s a good chance you can look up and spot green and white wisps of light shimmering across a dark sky.
Aurora Borealis is visible across the entire region — you’ll want to head anywhere there is minimal light pollution — but good viewing areas include the immediate areas outside of Fort St. John, Dawson Creek and Fort Nelson. Planning a trip around Aurora Borealis? Read our guide to find out how and when to catch a show and the best spots to see the Northern Lights in BC’s Northeast.
Strap On Some Skis
You won’t find crowded lift lines in the Peace River. Instead, community ski hills and trail networks offer the chance to suit up and ski (or board) family- and beginner-friendly runs.
Bear Mountain Ski Hill, located five minutes from Dawson Creek, offers eleven runs ideal for families and beginners and anyone looking to clock in a number of good laps. Spend an afternoon (or evening; there’s night skiing available) skiing or boarding down freshly groomed runs then head for apres in the ski hill’s down-home chalet where you can mingle with locals around the communal fireplace.
While not technically in the Peace River, Powder King Resort, near Mackenzie, has long been hailed as a mecca for powderhounds in BC. It receives an average annual snowfall of 12 metres and with few other skiers and no lift lines you’re in for a powder day like no other. Mackenzie is also home to a Little Mac Ski Hill, an ideal beginner hill for people new to the sport located within walking distance from town.
The Peace River’s vast number of trails and hikes offers excellent cross-country skiing in winter. Dawson Creek’s Bear Mountain offers 20-kilometres of groomed Nordic ski trails in the Community Forest. Chetwynd is home to a grassroots community of Nordic skiers who groom six-kilometres of trails, perfect for spending a leisurely afternoon outdoors. Mackenzie offers 30-kilometres of groomed trails, including lit runs for night skiing and three warming cabins.
Tumbler Ridge’s rugged backcountry means an epic ski touring and splitboarding opportunities but if short on time and experience, try the Wolverine Trail System, a more leisurely 10-kilometre route set in a spectacular forested setting and featuring interlocking loops letting you decide how long and far you want to ski.
Try Ice Fishing
The fish bite year-round here — you only need to know how to catch them! Ice fishing is an ideal winter pastime that requires little gear or experience. All you have to do is drill a hole, drop a line, and wait for your line to tug. Take advantage of the crisp air and frozen landscape and try your hand angling for Lake Char, Northern Pike, Walleye, Arctic Grayling, Dolly Varden, Rainbow Trout and Mountain Whitefish — all species found in the many lakes that dot the Peace River.
Popular spots for winter anglers include Charlie Lake, Bearhole Lake, Moose Lake, Williston Lake and Moberly Lake.
Check Out Winter Festivals & Events
Northeasterners know how to throw a good winter party. The region’s best-known event is the long-running Fort St. John’s High on Ice Winter Festival, which features an international ice-carving competition that draws talent from other cold climates across the globe, as well as sleigh rides, ice skating, live music, toboggan races, and more.
The small-town community spirit is alive and well at Tumbler Ridge’s Winter Carnival and Pouce Coupe’s Truck Light Up Parade.
Fort Nelson’s Trappers Rendezvous celebrates the resilience and perseverance of its locals with activities like log-sawing, axe throwing, antler tossing, snowshoe racing, and tea boiling. Don’t miss the Fort Nelson Canadian Open Sled Dog Championship where you can see dog-sledding teams compete in their last final push of the season.
The Northeast is a sledding hotspot. Here snowmobilers are treated to vast expanses of terrain, reliable snow, scenic snow-filled valleys, frozen lakes, and rugged mountain slopes.
Explore the foothills and deep snow of the Northern Rocky Mountains around Tumbler Ridge or sled across Charlie Lake near Fort St. John, ideal after a fresh snowfall and when the ice density is thick. (Make sure to stop for a hot drink at the A-Frame club chalet in Montney Park, located at the lake’s northeast end.) Fort St. John is home to over 600 kilometres of trails, many of which are family-friendly and beginner accessible.
In Dawson Creek, the Paradise Valley Snowmobile Association maintains a large network of trails just south of town while Fort Nelson boasts wildlife and epic scenery at every (powder-filled) turn. Mackenzie is known for its more challenging terrain, long sledding season and passionate community of locals who take advantage of their porch-to-powder access.
Warm Up Indoors
Cozy up indoors at one of the many restaurants, cafes, museums and art galleries in BC’s Northeast. The Dawson Creek Art Gallery is housed in the annex of the community’s last remaining grain elevator and features work by local artists.
In Fort St. John, the North Peace Cultural Centre is a multipurpose space that hosts regular art exhibitions and film screenings. While there, grab a bite to eat at the Cultured Cafe or Whole Wheat and Honey Cafe, which serves up a selection of comfort food and features daily specials.
After a day skiing or snowshoeing in Dawson Creek, swing by the Post & Row Taphouse for happy hour over a pint of locally crafted beer or head to the beloved Rolla Pub in Rolla to take in live music in a venue filled with retro kitsch touches. Don’t miss the Dinosaur Discovery Gallery in Tumbler Ridge where you can learn about the fascinating paleontological history of the area. Follow it all up with a meal and some drinks at Western Steakhouse.
How to Get to Northeast BC
Direct flights are available into Fort St. John and Dawson Creek from Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton. Vehicle rentals are available from local airports; make sure to reserve in advance.
By road, there are multiple points of entry to Northeast BC. From Vancouver and the Okanagan, expect a two-day drive via Highway 1 and 97. Coming from Edmonton and Grande Prairie? Highway 43 is an easy one-day straight shot; from Calgary, Highways 2 and 22 will connect you to the main artery heading west in a longer but scenic route.
Highway 16 in Northern BC will connect you to Prince George, then onto Highway 97 north. Make sure you have winter tires and check road conditions before you embark.
What To Know Before You Go
Winter conditions can be hazardous. Make sure you are prepared to head outdoors — you should be carrying proper gear and, if exploring the backcountry, have avalanche training.
Take a look at BC Adventure Smart before heading out on any outdoor adventures, and always leave a trip plan.
Make sure to check availability of operators and accommodators in advance. Gear rentals for certain activities can be limited in the area, so best to check with each community’s Visitors’ Information Centres for up to date information.The weather at this time of year is below freezing; pack seasonally appropriate clothing.