Wake up in a cozy little mountain retreat, ready to hike or ski out the door into a snowy winter wonderland. Spend the afternoon soaking in a nearby hot spring pool and then head to the nearest town to sample the local cuisine. This is life in the East Kootenay Rockies of British Columbia and the adventure’s only just begun.
The Kootenay Rockies region of Southeastern British Columbia covers four mountain ranges, four national parks, and over 50 provincial parks.
This article focuses on the East Kootenays stretching from the town of Golden south to the village of Radium Hot Springs. It also focuses on the community of Invermere on the Lake, through the Columbia Valley, to the small mountain cities of Kimberley and Fernie.
Ten Experiences to Pursue in the East Kootenay Rockies this Winter
1. Ski, snowshoe, or bike out the front door of your cabin at Nipika Mountain Resort
Nipika Mountain Resort is an eco-resort located approximately 45 minutes outside the village of Radium Hot Springs. The resort offers visitors the opportunity to stay in one of their nine cabins, each with access to over 31 miles of groomed ski trails. The resort also has 15 miles of dedicated fat bike trails (groomed to perfection), and numerous snowshoe trails winding through the property.
You can also visit Nipika as a short excursion from Radium Hot Springs, using all their trails for a small fee per day. There is a great rental shop on site if you want the convenience of renting your gear while traveling, or you want to see what fat biking is all about (before committing to buying a bike.)
Key Highlight: Nipika is one of the few places I’ve found where you can ski, hike, or bike out the door of your own individual cabin (enjoying all three activities in the same day if you want.)
2. Go for a winter hike and then spend your afternoon soaking in a hot spring pool
There’s no better way to warm up after a crisp winter hike than by soaking in a soothing hot spring pool. Fortunately, there are a few options here in the Columbia Valley.
My personal “family favourite” is the pools at the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort. I like to soak in the hot pool while my boys swim and play around in the warm pool. They are situated side by side so I can keep an eye on them while I’m relaxing. In the summer, there’s also a dive tank where the kids will love jumping off the low and high diving boards. In the winter, this small pool is still open (minus the boards) and it’s a great way to cool off after you’ve been in the hot pool too long.
Other hot springs in the East Kootenays:
Lussier Hot Springs is a natural hot springs located near the village of Canal Flats, accessed via a rough logging road followed by a short hike. You may want an all wheel drive vehicle in the winter and snow tires would be very helpful.
Options for a short winter hike:
The Columbia Valley Greenways Trail Alliance website is a great resource for finding a trail by area and season.
A personal favourite is Findlay Falls, which is located near Canal Flats and Lussier Hot Springs. You’ll need a high clearance vehicle if it has recently snowed. You’ll also want to bring your snowshoes.
The Juniper Trail is another favourite and is located right in the village of Radium Hot Springs. You’ll just need a pair of ice cleats if the trail is slippery.
Key Highlight: We love running out of the pool at Fairmont Hot Springs to make snow angels on the grass, running back into the pool shrieking and laughing. I also love watching the steam rise in the air on really cold days and experiencing “crunchy spaghetti hair” after it’s frozen solid.
3. Spend a day playing on the Lake Windermere Whiteway
You can skate between the towns of Invermere and Windermere on the world’s longest ice-skating path, the Lake Windermere Whiteway. The full track is 21 miles long when the lake is fully frozen. The Whiteway also promotes community spirit, as the entire valley gathers in the same location to skate or ski around the lake. There are dedicated paths for both cross-country skiing and ice skating.
The lake is also a popular spot for ice fishing, and local cyclists ride around the lake on fat bikes with studded tires. The snowmobile community is out in force as well, using the middle of the lake as their recreational ground. There’s truly something for everybody on this lake in winter.
A $5 donation fee is requested from all Whiteway users (or a seasons pass can be purchased for locals.) Read more on the Invermere on the Lake website.
When you’re finished playing on the Whiteway, make sure you drop in at the Kicking Horse Café where you can enjoy a cup of locally brewed coffee. My family swears by Kicking Horse coffee and it’s all we’ll drink at home.
Key Highlight: When was the last time you skated on the world’s longest ice-skating path?? Even for me, it never gets old and I have a dream of skating the entire track in a day!
4. Experience village life at Panorama Mountain Resort
I love ski or hike in/out locations, and this is another prime contender for one of the best spots to enjoy a variety of winter sports, without ever having to drive anywhere. Walk out the door of your cozy condo in the Panorama Village and enjoy downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or fat biking. There are also rentals for all sports on site. With the amount of options here, you might just have to stay for a week!
Visitors wanting to plan a multi-day winter vacation will love Panorama Mountain Resort. It is conveniently located near the community of Invermere, and a short drive away from either Radium Hot Springs or Fairmont Hot Springs. This is your ideal basecamp for adventure in the Columbia Valley.
And you can soak your sore muscles away at the end of each day in the Panorama Springs Hot Pools, included with all stays in the Panorama Village.
Key Highlight: I’m a big fan of multi-sport weekends and I also appreciate resorts that offer something for every member of the family. We plan to visit Panorama this winter with extended family, and I know that each person will find a winter sport that’s perfect for them.
5. Snowshoe or ski around the Kimberley Nature Park
Kimberley is one of my favourite mountain towns, and has a quaint Bavarian themed plaza located downtown. A highlight here is the Kimberley Nature Park, a large natural area located completely inside city limits and containing more than 30 miles of trails for skiing, hiking, or snowshoeing. It is the largest municipal park in British Columbia and you’d never know you were in a city once you start hiking through the forest.
Spend an hour or two hiking through the park or plan a longer full-day adventure before heading downtown to the Platzl, where you’ll find no shortage of Bavarian-themed restaurants. My personal favourite is the Pedal and Tap, where I’m obsessed with their Vietnamese pulled pork subs with mucked-up fries. My son is a huge fan of their spaghetti balls and I have been known to plan ski trips to Kimberley around our family’s love of this restaurant. (Tip: Dine early because I’m not the only one who loves this restaurant, and the dining room is small.)
For visitors wanting to spend a weekend or a few days in Kimberley, plan to spend some time at the Kimberley Alpine Resort. There you’ll find downhill skiing, a Nordic centre for cross-country skiing, along with snowshoe and fat bike tours. They also have ski in/out condos on site.
Key Highlight: It’s always a good day for me when I can get out for a good winter hike or ski, spend a day on the slopes, or just go play in the snow with my family – followed by a good meal! Go explore the Nature Park or spend the day at the Alpine Resort -and then go downtown to feast!
6. Explore five different mountain areas through the multi-use trail system in Fernie
Below are some of the top choices for snowshoeing or winter hiking here:
Fairy Creek Falls – This hike starts from the Visitor Centre and is an easy 3-mile return outing to a beautiful set of frozen waterfalls.
Montane Hut – Hike up to a scenic warming hut looking over the valley and the town below. This intermediate trail is only 3.5 miles long.
Lazy Lizard Trail – This summer mountain bike trail leads the winter hiker through a gorgeous old growth forest to Island Lake Lodge. The trip is 10 miles round trip, but you don’t have to hike the entire distance before turning around.
Alternately, join a snow cat tour to Island Lake Lodge where you’ll ride up in comfort, enjoy a decadent lunch, and then have the option of hiking down the Lazy Lizard Trail after walking around the beautiful lake. (This hike has been on my winter must-do list for years now and I am determined to make it happen this winter!)
Read more about snowshoeing in Fernie here on the Tourism Fernie website.
Key Highlight: Choose your own adventure to visit frozen waterfalls, a warming hut high up on a bench overlooking the town, or an old growth forest. There is no wrong choice here and you’ll have an amazing day on whichever trail you choose to hike.
7. Snowshoe or ski into a backcountry cabin in Elk Lakes Provincial Park
In summer, it’s possible to drive in to the Elk Lakes Cabin from the small Town of Elkford (located near Fernie) if you have a high clearance vehicle. Most people choose to avoid the rough 40 miles of driving out of Elko though and opt to hike in to the cabin from the Alberta side. In winter, hiking or skiing is the only option.
In winter, your journey begins with a 6-mile-long ski or hike from Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in Kananaskis, Alberta. You’ll follow groomed cross-country ski trails or official snowshoe trails for the first 4 miles until you reach the British Columbia border. From here, it’s a quick descent down the powerline to the cabin.
The cabin sleeps 12 people and it’s a popular spot for groups who like to rent out the full place for a couple of nights. Once there, you’ll find a communal sleeping area on the upper floor with a kitchen and living room area on the main floor. All dishes and cooking supplies are provided, along with propane stoves and a wood fireplace for heat.
For more information on the cabin, visit the Alpine Club of Canada’s Website.
Key Highlight: This is backcountry camping with a few extra comforts most of us will appreciate in winter (including not having to sleep in a tent.) Cabin camping is one of our favourite things to do in winter and we try to plan an annual trip to Elk Lakes.
8. Get acquainted with a friendly group of huskies at Golden Dog Sled Adventures
Dog sledding is one of the classic winter experiences in the Canadian Rockies and Golden Dog Sled Adventures will get you all set up! Meet the company’s friendly group of pure-bred Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Huskies before heading out on an interactive tour.
On your tour, you’ll get the true “mushing experience” as you help harness the dogs, learn a few commands, and assist with some of the daily chores. Those interested in taking it to the next level can also try standing on the back of their sled with a professional musher to lead the team. Otherwise, enjoy the ride and the beautiful snowy views around you from the cozy comfort of your sled.
Guests are also welcome to stay on site in an off the grid cabin, accessible via a 5-minute walk with snowshoes. Each of the four cabins has a small kitchenette with gravity fed water, propane stoves, and coolers for food storage. This is a winter camping experience for those who want a unique adventure in Golden without having to sleep in a tent.
Key Highlight: If you’ve ever tried dog sledding, you’ll know how amazing it feels to go flying down a snowy trail, bundled up warm and cozy in a sled covered with blankets, as your trusty team of dogs runs ahead yipping and barking with excitement. The last time I tried dog sledding, I was ready to sell everything to jump into a new career as a musher.
9. Try wilderness yurt camping in the village of Radium Hot Springs
Radius Retreat offers the opportunity to try yurt camping in a backcountry setting where you’ll have just a short hike to reach the front door of your yurt. Each yurts comfortably sleep 3-5 people, depending on which one you choose, and up to a maximum of 6 people in the largest yurts.
The most remote yurt is reached via a 1.4 mile hike (with 700+ feet of height gain) so you’ll definitely want to bring a sled with you for hauling in your gear. The easiest yurt to reach is accessed in a short walk, only 328 feet away from the parking lot.
Each yurt comes equipped with a wood stove, beds (bring your own sleeping bags,) and a propane stove (bring your own fuel.) Cooking must be done outside the yurt, and there are compostable toilets beside each yurt. This is the real deal for backcountry camping and you’ll be melting snow for drinking water. (If you think snow levels will be low, it’s best to bring your own water with you on a sled.)
Key Highlight: While staying at Radius Retreat, you can enjoy hiking, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing on 1,000 acres of private land connecting you to the village of Radium Hot Springs, to Kootenay National Park, and to the hot springs themselves. This is an ideal ski or hike in/out base camp for folks wanting to reconnect with nature this winter.
10. Stay at North America’s first backcountry ski lodge
There are a couple of options for adventurous travelers wanting to ski or snowshoe the 17+ miles into Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park in winter, but most guests will opt for the helicopter flight in and out from Kananaskis in Alberta, saving their energy for ski touring or snowshoeing around the spectacular area once they arrive.
Mount Assiniboine is known as the “Matterhorn” of the Canadian Rockies and there is no finer scenery than what you’ll experience as you look out on Lake Magog and the giant pyramid of Assiniboine behind.
Guests will find comfortable accommodations at the Assiniboine Lodge (in one of six cabins or five rooms in the main lodge) where stays include all meals and afternoon tea. For a simpler DIY option visitors can also stay at one of the Naiset Huts for more of a winter camping experience (where you’ll do your own cooking and guiding on the area trails.)
Once at Assiniboine Lodge, guests can join guided ski tours or hikes each day with professional guides, and with trail options for all abilities. The lodge is also family-friendly with children’s rates available on all stays.
Key Highlight: A stay at Assiniboine Lodge is the perfect blend of backcountry rustic adventure, decadent lodge living, and indulgence. You’ll feast on gourmet meals and enjoy evening fireside conversations with guests from around the world, as your swap stories from your adventures on the trails that day. Most of us will also appreciate having our own private sleeping room or cabin at the end of the day rather than sharing a communal bunk room at a backcountry hut.
There is no shortage of amazing adventures waiting for you this winter in the East Kootenay Rockies. The only question is which one you’ll choose first.