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.
Chase Frozen Waterfalls
The waterfalls around Tumbler Ridge and Hudson’s Hope are impressive and even more so in winter when they stand frozen in time. Visit one of the tallest waterfalls in BC — Bergeron Falls — in Tumbler Ridge. Come winter, this 100-metre tall waterfall freezes into a cascade 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.
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 out-and-back trail that follows frozen Dunlevy Creek in a gradual climb until it meets its namesake falls.
Wander Through Snowy Forests
Winter in Northeast BC offers some of the best hiking in BC, from protected parks with diverse geological features to inland temperate rainforests. But when winter hits, there’s no need to put away your hiking boots — just add microspikes or snowshoes and discover a new season to these incredible landscapes. Tumbler Ridge is surrounded by snowshoe routes, many of them are well-signed and lead to geosites within the area’s UNESCO Global Geopark.
Parker Lake Ecological Reserve, near Fort Nelson is made accessible in the winter months by snowshoe, winter hike, and cross country skiing across a frozen lake and bog lands. This reserve is home to three rare plant species mixed into the bog forest characterized by birch and tamarack trees (coniferous trees that drop their needles like leaves each year). Baba Canyon is another fantastic winter excursion in the Northern Rockies; strap on some snowshoes or ice cleats and wander amongst the canyon’s giant pillars.
Pidherny Recreation Site in Prince George is a designated non-motorized area with 30 kilometres of hiking trails and snowshoe routes. Nearby, Chun T’oh Whudujut/Ancient Forest is home to the only inland temperate rainforest in the world and stands of western red cedars whose boughs hang heavy with snow in winter. There are trails that crisscross the park and lead you along ridgelines and to the ‘Big Tree’, a massive red cedar that towers above the forest canopy.
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. Looking to extend your stay? Liard River Hot Springs Lodge, which is owned by Fort Nelson First Nation, is located across the highway. 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 BC’s Northeast? 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 way through snow-dusted trees. The Prince George Outdoor Ice Oval welcomes skates of all skill levels, whether you’re chasing Olympic dreams or a family-friendly spot to lace up skates. This 400-metre-long, inclusive track speed skating facility is made from natural ice, lit for evenings, and features picnic tables, washrooms and a warming hut.
Look for the Northern Lights
The wide-open skies and cold, clear weather make the region a prime spot to see the Northern Lights. 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 the 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.
While it’s easy enough to spot the Northern Lights in close proximity to communities, there’s something special about heading off the grid into the deep, remote backcountry, where you’re treated to more than the possibility of a brilliant starry show. The Muskwa-Kechika is one of the most intact wild areas remaining on the planet — roughly the size of Ireland — and home to incredible biodiversity. Located near Fort Nelson, here you can spot a vast array of wildlife in winter, from Canadian lynx and red fox to caribou and elk.
Other wildlife corridors include Tumbler Ridge, where you’ll find a high concentration of wildlife, such as elk, moose, deer, wolves, lynx and more, and the area around Muncho Lake, which is home to Stone’s sheep and bison. The Northern Rockies Lodge offers you the benefit of staying right on Muncho Lake or flying high above the surrounding wilderness on a wildlife-viewing flight with Northern Rockies Adventure
Strap On Some Skis
You won’t find crowded lift lines in BC’s Northeast. Instead, community ski hills and trail networks offer the chance to suit up and lap beginner-friendly runs while resorts and backcountry ski areas serve up deep powder stashes and fresh lines.
Bear Mountain Ski Hill, located five minutes from Dawson Creek, offers eleven runs ideal for families and beginners and anyone looking to clock in lap after lap. Spend an afternoon or evening skiing or boarding down freshly groomed runs then head for après in the ski hill’s down-home chalet where you can mingle with locals around the communal fireplace. 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. Just around the corner, Azouzetta Lake Lodge offers cozy a-frame cabins to rent. Mackenzie is also home to Little Mac Ski Hill, an ideal beginner hill for people new to the sport located within
The region’s vast number of trails and hikes offer excellent cross-country skiing in winter. Dawson Creek’s Bear Mountain Nordic Ski Area is home to 20 kilometres of groomed Nordic ski trails in the Community Forest. Chetwynd‘s grassroots community of Nordic skiers groom six kilometres of trails, ideal for spending a leisurely afternoon outdoors. In Mackenzie, you’ll find 30 kilometres of groomed trails, including lit runs for night skiing and three warming cabins. The Whiskey Jack Nordic Ski Club in Fort St. John maintains trails groomed for both classic and skate skiing at Beatton Provincial Park on Charlie Lake, a short drive from the city. Prince George’s Caledonia Nordic Ski Club celebrates all things on two sis, from an extensive trail network to an agility park and even a biathlon range.
Tumbler Ridge‘s rugged backcountry means there’s epic ski touring and splitboarding available, but if short on time and experience, try the Wolverine Trail System, a more leisurely 10-kilometre route set in a spectacular forested setting with interlocking loops that let you decide how long and far you want to ski. The Fort Nelson Demonstration Forest which has various maintained nordic ski trails with interpretive signage through diverse boreal forest. Keep an eye on the Fort Nelson Cross Country Ski club for moonlight ski events (rentals often available) approximately once a month during the winter.
For hut-to-hut touring, head to the snowy backcountry slopes of Sugarbowl Grizzly Den Provincial Park near Prince George. You’ll find even more powder and fresh lines with Bearpaw Heli-Skiing, whose tenure includes 1.4 million hectares over four mountain ranges. Big open gladed tree lines, high alpine bowls, glaciated runs — take your pick.
Try Ice Fishing
Ice fishing is an ideal winter pastime that requires little gear or experience. The fish bite year-round here, you only need to know how to catch them. 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 region. Popular spots for winter anglers include Charlie Lake, Bearhole Lake, Moose Lake, Williston Lake and Moberly Lake.
Check Out Winter Festivals & Events
Locals know how to throw a good party in winter. One of the region’s best-known events is the long-running High on Ice Winter Festival in Fort St. John, 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. In Prince George, Coldsnap is a winter music festival that sees local and national performers take to the stage in venues across the city over the course of a week.
The small-town community spirit is alive and well at Tumbler Ridge’s Winter Carnival and Pouce Coupe’s Truck Light Up Parade. 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.
BC’s Northeast is a sledding hotspot. 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, ideal after a fresh snowfall and when the ice is thick. Tumbler Ridge, with its expansive riding area, huge bowls, stunning landscapes and deep, deep powder should be on any serious sled head’s bucket list. Check with Tumbler Ridge Riders Snowmobile Association for maps and other info. Guided snowmobile tours and rentals are available through Wild River Adventures.
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 the Hasler Trail Network in Chetwynd provides 56-kilometres of terrain, from easy riding zones to challenging hill climbs. Mackenzie is known for its “porch to powder” access, thanks to a long sledding season and a passionate community of locals who build and maintain trails that start directly from town. “Sled-by” wildlife and epic scenery are available at every powder-filled turn near Fort Nelson.
Warm Up Indoors
Cozy up indoors at one of the region’s many restaurants, cafes, breweries, museums and art galleries. 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, head to Cool Beans Cafe, which serves up a rotating selection of comfort food from a menu that changes weekly. In Prince George, after a day of shopping and a trip to Two Rivers Art Gallery, warm your insides with a delicious meal from Betulla Burning.
After a day skiing or snowshoeing in Dawson Creek, swing by the Post & Row Taphouse for a pint of locally crafted beer. Over in Fort St. John, you can follow up happy hour at Mighty Peace Brewing with a show at the historic and much-loved Lido Theatre, a former 1950s-era cinema turned live music venue.
This is just a small sampling of the indoor winter opportunities available in BC’s northeast. please check each individual community’s website for more information.
How to Get to Northeast BC
Direct flights are available into Fort St. John and Dawson Creek from Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton. There is also an airport in Fort Nelson, with connecting flights through Prince George. 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 the 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.