Winter is just around the corner on Vancouver Island, and with a change of seasons comes a fresh batch of ways to explore the elements.
In this edition of Island Moments, we’re celebrating the best all the best the season has to offer. From mountain-top hikes to underground explorations and festive activities for everyone in the family, there’s no shortage of events and activities across the region at this time of the year.
If you’re planning to escape for a little Island time this winter, here are some of the best ways to take advantage of unique experiences offered this season only.
The holidays are one of the most popular times of the year to visit Vancouver Island, whether it be to spend the holidays with family or simply reconnect with nature. From big cities to small towns, communities come alive with festivities and dazzling light displays. If you’re visiting Vancouver Island…
The holidays are one of the most popular times of the year to visit Vancouver Island, whether it be to spend the holidays with family or simply reconnect with nature. From big cities to small towns, communities come alive with festivities and dazzling light displays. If you’re visiting Vancouver Island this month, here are a few ways to make the absolute best of the season with your family.
The quaint town of Sidney is located just a half-hour from downtown Victoria on the Saanich Peninsula. Sidney is the Island’s gateway, close to BC Ferries’ Swartz Bay terminal, home of the Washington State Ferries’ terminal, and just down the road from the Victoria International Airport. A common hub for coming and going, Sidney is well worth a stop, especially during the holidays.
Bring the whole family to Sidney this holiday season for an evening of fun and festivities. Stroll through the charming main streets, discovering the carefully hand-painted scenes on store windows and cheerful lights strung high above. Carolers can be heard filling the streets with classic holiday melodies, and businesses are buzzing with activity. We recommend grabbing a coffee or hot apple cider and wandering down to the Mary Winspear Centre to view the Festival of Trees, and checking out the unique display of holiday-themed teddy bears at the Sidney Museum. Visit the Sidney BIA website to learn more about all of the upcoming events this month.
Christmas is the fifth season at Butchart Gardens! While the gardens are one of the most sought-after attractions on the Island during the summer, brilliant blooms are replaced with thousands of lights, bringing the Magic of Christmas to life during the holiday season. Take your loved ones and skate beneath a canopy of twinkling lights, sing along with the carolers to your favourite Christmas classics, and stroll through the impressive Twelve Days of Christmas display with a hot chocolate.
The Magic of Christmas display is open from December 1 to January 6, from 9 am to 9 pm each day (1 pm – 9 pm on Christmas Day). For more information about rates and dining, visit the Butchart Gardens website.
For those living in Central Vancouver Island, the Ladysmith Festival of Lights is the area’s annual kick-off to the Christmas season. The town is known for its charming, old-town atmosphere, but once December comes, it transforms into a dazzling spectacle found throughout each neighbourhood, not just 1st Ave. Feeling inspired by a sense of camaraderie, residents harness their inner Chevy Chase in an attempt to outshine their neighbours. Load up the car, grab some hot cocoa, and be sure to include a drive-by or walking tour of Ladysmith with your family.
Holiday Travel Tips
The holidays are one of the busiest times of the year to visit the Island. If you’re coming from the mainland, be sure to plan your travels well in advance to avoid waiting at terminals.
If you’re pressed for time or don’t need a vehicle, flying can certainly be a great (and exciting) option. There are several operators that fly from Vancouver International Airport and downtown Vancouver directly into downtown Victoria and Nanaimo, but bear in mind that weather can sometimes cause flights to be delayed or cancelled, so it never hurts to have a backup plan.
If you’re taking a ferry, it’s strongly recommended to make a reservation to avoid sailing waits. Reservations are limited, so it’s best to book as well in advance as you can. If you can’t plan ahead (or simply prefer to wing-it), then you may want to try and show up for the first or second sailing of the day, or the very last one (although this latter suggestion is certainly more of a gamble).
Lastly, if you’re driving on the Island, be sure your vehicle is outfitted with good snow-rated tires. Despite our warm, coastal climate, the area typically receives a few snow days a year, and lately, those days have coincided with the week of Christmas.
It’s no secret that Islanders like to boast about our winters. While it’s true that our winters are typically a little more mild than other parts of the country, Mother Nature still delivers her fair share of precipitation. Don’t let the rainy season dampen your spirits; there are plenty of…
It’s no secret that Islanders like to boast about our winters. While it’s true that our winters are typically a little more mild than other parts of the country, Mother Nature still delivers her fair share of precipitation. Don’t let the rainy season dampen your spirits; there are plenty of great things to do, both inside and out, to ignite your spirit and satisfy your thirst for adventure!
No where else offers storm watching quite like the west coast of Vancouver Island. From Port Renfrew to Port Hardy, there are countless opportunities to catch the raw force of Mother Nature, pounding wave after wave against the rugged coastline. Suit up and stand back as 50-foot waves crash into headrock, sending seawater high into the sky. Or, stay warm, dry, and cozy in a private beachfront cabin or condo-style accommodation overlooking the water.
Storm watching is a great opportunity to sneak away to the Island for a little rest and relaxation. Because it falls within the region’s shoulder season, it tends to be a little quieter and room rates are generally lower, making it easy to justify a weekend getaway even on a modest budget.
Alpine Skiing & Snowboarding
Vancouver Island has not one, but two great places to hit the slopes this winter. Mount Washington Alpine Resort, located just 20 minutes from Courtenay, is the larger of the two with 1,700 acres of terrain, five lifts, and four Magic Carpets, making it a great destination for the whole family. If there’s anyone in the family who isn’t so comfortable with the idea of skiing or snowboarding, the resort also has a great snow tubing park too. Once the season kicks off, the resort is open every day and has several places to stay on-mountain, or you can stay in Courtenay, Comox, or Cumberland to explore even more of what the area has to offer.
Mount Cain is located further north on the Island, approximately two hours from Campbell River. Mount Cain is Vancouver Island’s community owned and operated ski hill, so while it’s not as large as a common resort-style destination, it’s one of the region’s best-kept secrets. It offers five green and seven blue runs for the relaxed or inexperienced crowd, but it’s abundance of black diamond runs and backcountry attract alpine enthusiasts from across the Pacific Northwest. Because it’s volunteer-run, Mount Cain is only open on weekends (and the occasional Friday, too), giving snow base the chance to accumulate throughout the week. Every Saturday has the potential to be a powder day! At just $59 for a day pass, it’s also one of the more affordable mountains in BC, too.
Cross Country Skiing & Snowshoeing
Whether you prefer a nice, smooth slide or a heart-pumping workout, the alpine regions of Vancouver Island have several scenic trails for all ages and abilities. At Mount Washington, you’ll find over 55 kilometers groomed trails shared between the resort and Strathcona Provincial Park , all of which are well-maintained and include a variety of terrain for everyone from beginner to advanced. If you need any lessons or equiptment, the nordic center at the Raven’s Lodge has you covered.
Caving is just as much fun, if not more fun, in winter than it is in the summer. Caves maintain an annual temperature of 8 degrees celsius, so in the colder months it can actually be more comfortable inside rather than out. Spelunking, the term used to describes caving, is mostly a dry activity but can get a little wet from time to time thanks to rivers running through the cave and small droplets forming from cracks in the rock. Horne Lake Caves, located about a half-hour from Parksville, has all the equipment you need to head underground. Their guided tours are a great way to spend a few hours learning about the area’s geography and common cave formations. Whether you’re a little timid of tight spaces or eager to explore every crevice, Horne Lake Caves has a tour for you!
Hiking & Mountain Biking
Regardless of the season, it’s always a good time to go for a hike or ride a bike! There are thousands of trails in every part of the Island, from short and easy walks like the Kinsol Trestle in Shawnigan Lake to summiting mountain like Mt. Benson in Nanaimo. Once you set foot (or tire) on a trail, you’ll get to know another side of Vancouver Island you simply can’t find in the city. It’s being surrounded by lush flora and fauna, with nothing in earshot but the sound of birds chirping and water dripping on the leaves, creating the most idyllic sense of peace and tranquility. Go ahead, chase waterfalls, find breathtaking viewpoints, and get a little dirty in the process.
throughout Vancouver Island