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Side trips from Vancouver Offer Plenty to Do in the Winter

If you are spending the winter in the Metro Vancouver area there are many excellent attractions to keep you busy. Some of these include Granville Island, Science World, Planetarium Vancouver, the Vancouver Art Gallery and neighbourhoods such as cool Kitsilano and colourful Chinatown. There are also numerous festivals and events, especially around the Christmas season, as well as Chinese New Year celebrations in February and the Dine Out Vancouver Festival that takes place early in the year.

Saying this, with your RV or vehicle at hand, you may want to explore other options and see what nearby communities have to offer. Below are three suggested itineraries, each with various activities to choose from.

Vancouver to Harrison Hot Springs via the Scenic Hwy 7
Vancouver to Whistler on the Sea to Sky Highway
Explore the Communities South of Vancouver and the Fraser Valley

Fraser Valley Eagles near Harrison Mills, BC | Photo: Greg Schechter via Flickr

Vancouver to Harrison Hot Springs via the Scenic Hwy 7

The Vancouver to Harrison Hot Springs trip will, for the most part, take you along scenic Highway 7 from Coquitlam to the resort village of Harrison Hot Springs. Before you go make sure you have winter tires and that you have appropriate clothes and shoes for the colder temperatures.

Highway 7 runs east-west and follows the northern bank of the Fraser River. Head east on the highway in the direction of the Fraser Valley. The highway will deviate through the cities of Maple Ridge and Mission (expect traffic lights here) and then you are out into the country with stunning views of fields and mountains. The distance from Coquitlam to Harrison Hot Springs is approximately 100 km (62 mi) and takes about 1.5 hours’ driving time, not including stops. Here are some suggested stops and things to do along the way:

  • It’s worth the drive to Sasquatch Mountain Resort in the Douglas Ranges, which has excellent snowshoeing opportunities, from easy to more strenuous, and do-it-yourself or guided tours. There is also skiing, tubing and much more to experience on the mountain. The distance from Coquitlam to the turnoff at Sasquatch Inn is approximately 75 km (47 mi), then 10 km (6 mi) to the resort. Note that tire chains are mandatory to travel up the mountain road in the winter.
  • Between Mission and Harrison Hot Springs you may spot bald eagles in the area. The Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival takes place in mid-November when they come to feast on the spawning salmon, but there are eagles around from October to February. Viewing can be had at various locations including Kilby Provincial Park and along the rich ecosystem of Nicomen Slough on Highway 7 east of Mission from Dewdney to Deroche (take caution if parking on the side of the highway). 
  • Shortly past the Sasquatch Mountain turnoff you will come to the sign to Kilby Historic Site in Harrison Mills, a living museum of rural history. Don’t miss the right turn after a sweeping right-hand bend which crosses the Harrison River. If you miss the first one there is another right turn just along the highway. This historic museum houses a fascinating display of artifacts from the 1920s and ‘30s, a post office and the Manchester House Hotel; it’s decorated for Christmas too!
Kilby Historic Site | Photo: Kim Walker
  • Back on the road and still heading east you will come to a stop light (13 km / 8 mi) that directs you to turn right to continue on Highway 7; however, go straight on towards Harrison Hot Springs on Highway 9 north. It’s only a short distance away. This resort is very popular in the summer as visitors soak up the small-town ambience, relax on the beach or enjoy the lake. In the winter it is much quieter; enjoy a walk along the waterfront and stop for a hot chocolate or bowl of soup or take a relaxing dip in the hot springs at Harrison’s Public Pool. The hot mineral waters are pumped into the pool from one of the hot springs and cooled to 38°C (100°F). If you are there around the Christmas season, you will be able to experience the twinkling Lights by the Lake, which runs from the end of November to January. 
  • Now, turn around and head back the way you came. You may find some quirky little places to stop at such as Lake Errock and Deroche but we will take you on into Maple Ridge. If you need a diversion and want to stretch your legs, head to Golden Ears Provincial Park and Alouette Lake with its beautiful views of snow-capped mountains. Take 232nd St north off Highway 7, right on 132nd Ave and onto Fern Crescent and follow signs.
  • Maple Ridge has lots of food offerings; here are a few suggestions for a snack, dinner or whatever takes your fancy:
    • Kingfisher Waterfront Bar & Grill offers great atmosphere, fab food and Fraser River views. You can locate this restaurant by turning left (south) off Highway 7 at 240th St in an area known as Albion.
    • Big Feast Bistro offers a menu utilizing local suppliers and foods, all served with a big heart. Check out the frozen dishes that you can take back to enjoy. Find them at 11920-227 St in the heart of Maple Ridge, just a short distance north of Highway 7.
    • Heading west towards Pitt Meadows is Golden Ears Cheesecrafters offering their own farm cheeses (watch them make the cheese as well), country kitchen lunches and locally made items. Their cheeses are so tasty they are incorporated in menus at many of Vancouver’s premier restaurants. Situated in the ‘country’ north of Maple Ridge on 128th Ave, this little gem is worth a visit.
Golden Ears Cheesecrafters via Facebook
  • Since you are on 128th Ave we suggest you continue west turning right on 210th St which turns into 132nd Ave and then into Old Dewdney Trunk Road. At a T-junction you will need to turn right and then left at the next stop sign – you are still on Old Dewdney Trunk Road – until you come to Hopcott Farms in Pitt Meadows. This family butcher offers sustainable meats and other local produce, and you can enjoy a snack or lunch in their bistro. Blue Heron Fruit Winery, known for their cranberries and blueberries, is also next door.
  • Just a short distance along the road you will join up again with Highway 7. Turning right takes you over the Pitt River Bridge with options to head into Coquitlam and beyond or taking Highway 7A (the Mary Hill By-Pass) and onto the Trans Canada Highway 1. Heading into Coquitlam there are many choices – trails, lakes, shopping, theatres (such as the Evergreen Cultural Centre), casino and more (take in a dinner and show at the Hard Rock Casino).
  • Head to the 1.1 km loop trail at Lafarge Lake to stretch your legs and enjoy the stunning Lights at Lafarge, the largest free holiday lights display in the Vancouver area (open throughout December and into early January). If you need to polish up on your golf Eaglequest Golf Course is open year-round (weather permitting).
  • Finally, if you are here in December and haven’t experienced the CP Holiday Train, this is the time. The train crosses the country leaving Montreal at the end of November and completes its journey in Port Coquitlam just before Christmas raising awareness of hunger and collecting food donations along the route. The train is adorned with Christmas lights plus, has entertainment, and in this area stops at Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, Port Moody and Port Coquitlam – all close to Highway 7.
Lights at Lafarge Lake, Coquitlam, BC | Photo: SJ via Flickr

Check DriveBC for road conditions before you head out and visit websites or call businesses ahead regarding opening and closing times during the winter.

Looking ahead beyond winter, the blog article Three Ways to Welcome Spring in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley has more information on this area.

Vancouver to Whistler on the Sea to Sky Highway

Wherever you have chosen to over-winter in the Metro Vancouver area, getting out and exploring the region gives you a taste of what the southwest corner of British Columbia is all about (and maybe encourage you to return in the summer to experience more!). This trip starts on Vancouver’s North Shore, heads north on Highway 99 (Sea to Sky Highway) to Squamish and on to Whistler. The journey from the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing (also known as the Second Narrows Bridge) to Whistler is about 125 km (78 mi) and takes 90 minutes.

The Sea to Sky Highway hugs the coastline as it winds its way north offering up stunning views across Howe Sound and to the mountains beyond. It then heads inland north of Squamish to the year-round destination of world-famous Whistler and Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort. Mt Seymour, Grouse Mountain, and Cypress Mountain are all popular winter activity destinations, two of which are included in this trip.

Grouse Mountain Skating via Facebook
  • Rent a pair of ice skates and enjoy the exhilarating fresh air atop Grouse Mountain on their 8,000 sq. ft. ice skating pond. The Skyride allows for stunning views across Vancouver, Stanley Park and beyond. Access Grouse via Capilano Road North off Highway 1 at exit 14.
  • Take a self-guided snowshoe tour or go cross-country skiing at the top of Cypress Mountain through a forested winter wonderland. Warm up with a hot drink or bowl of soup. Exit Highway 1 at Cypress Bowl Road (exit 8) and head north for about 13 km (8 mi).
  • Back on Highway 99 and a further 18 km (11 mi) is the tiny, picturesque village of Lions Bay which hugs the shoreline. A must stop-off is the Lions Bay General Store and Café, located on the east side of the highway (take Lions Bay Avenue exit) and a favourite of those who have travelled this road for decades. You’ll find local products, great coffee, beer, lunch, souvenirs and great views too.
  • Adjacent to the highway is the Britannia Mine Museum, an award-winning natural historic site. It was a working copper mine from 1904-1974 and opened in 1975 as the BC Museum of Mining. You’ll be dazzled by the light and sound show as you are transported underground by train.
Britannia Mine via Facebook
  • Just south of Squamish is the entrance to the Sea to Sky Gondola. Be amazed at the stunning views of snow-capped mountains, old-growth forests and turquoise waters of the Howe Sound stretched out before you.  At the top take in the brisk winter air, try snow-shoeing or tubing and then warm up with a hot drink or visit the Sky Pilot Restaurant where you can enjoy delicious West Coast fare.
  • Like to try local craft beer? Howe Sound Brewing in Squamish produces an abundance of craft beer, from seasonal to year-round brews. Pair their excellent beer with small bites or big bites, all made in-house. It’s located on Cleveland Avenue left off Highway 99, almost at the end of town; you will see the pub on your right.
  • For some eagle spotting, head back to the highway and continue north towards Brackendale and Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park, one of North America’s largest congregations of wintering bald eagles. These majestic birds gather in this area from November to January to feast on salmon. (You may have seen an eagle or two along your travels but nothing quite like this experience!) There are plenty of lookouts and shelters to view the eagles (the Eagle Run viewing shelter is at 41015 Government Road) and you can take an organized tour or even an eagle viewing float trip. Visit Squamish Tourism’s web page on eagle viewing for more information.
  • Get back on the highway, it’s time to head to Whistler! There is so much to do in this world-renowned resort. In winter the snow is the big attraction with skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and more, but if you want to do something different or your ski legs need a rest there are fabulous restaurants, art galleries, spas, winter events, festivals and more. A must-see is the Whistler Village stroll where you will find fun and sporty shops, bistros and cafes, and the Whistler Olympic Plaza, which is transformed into an outdoor skating rink in winter.
  • To experience First Nations art, history and culture visit the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre in Whistler. Hear the stories and songs and admire the traditional regalia, carvings and art. This is a beautiful museum with stunning works and exhibits; guided tours are available.
Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre | Photo: Destination BC/Blake Jorgenson
  • If you are in Whistler on a Sunday evening from December to March check out the free Fire & Ice Show in Whistler Village. Grab a cup of hot chocolate or warm cider and be prepared to be amazed at the spectacle created as expert skiers jump through hoops of fire!
  • Once you have explored Whistler then it’s time to head back, and the views are just as stunning on the return journey! You will pass Furry Creek, known for its golf and country club, and the villages of Lions Bay and Horseshoe Bay, home of one of the BC Ferries terminals for taking travellers over to Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast and Bowen Island. Horseshoe Bay has some shops and eateries and it’s always fun to watch the ferries coming and going.

There is so much more to see in this area, particularly in and around North Vancouver and West Vancouver. You could spend a day or two exploring the parks and waterfront walks, Lonsdale Quay Market, with its specialty shops and services, or the historic and growing urban neighbourhood of The Shipyards District

Explore the Communities South of Vancouver and the Fraser Valley

Below are two trips that cover Richmond and Delta as well as White Rock and Langley. However, even though they are written and mapped as routes some of these suggestions could be undertaken on their own; a few are evening visits as well. So mix them up and do whatever takes your fancy but this winter get out and enjoy what the communities south of Vancouver have to offer.

Our first trip starts in Richmond then heads south to the Village of Steveston, across to Delta and the Village of Ladner. There are some lovely and decent country roads you can take to these destinations but as it’s winter we will let you decide which way to get there.

Chinese New Year, Richmond BC | Photo: AE Creations via Flickr
  • Richmond celebrates Chinese New Year in style. With a significant Chinese population, it is a popular destination for both locals and those from further afield. Held towards the end of January into February this 15-day celebration showcases entertainment, authentic cuisine, pop-up gift shops and more. Many of the participating restaurants book up quickly so check the website and plan early.
  • A historic landmark, the Gulf of Georgia Cannery situated in the Village of Steveston in Richmond has interactive and fascinating displays showcasing the machinery, tools and life in the West Coast fishing industry over a century ago. For the month of December the Cannery also hosts the Festival of Trees, all decorated and sparkling for the holiday season.sparkling for the holiday season.
Gulf of Georgia Cannery
Gulf of Georgia Cannery | Photo: Kim Walker
  • For close to six weeks leading up to December 31 Steveston lights up and celebrates the festive season in style. Entertainment, food and fun provide a great way to spend a few hours alongside the waterfront. For more info: Steveston’s Winter in the Village
  • More interactive displays highlight what life was like in the early days of Steveston Village at the Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site. The shipyard building was built in 1889, originally as a cannery. It is located here among 12 or so buildings including bunkhouses, stilt homes and the manager’s house and interprets the life of the people and wooden boat building in this area. The site is also part of the Winter in the Village festive season.
  • If you enjoy watching birds in their habitat the Reifel Bird Sanctuary in Delta is a must on your list. It is home to thousands of snow geese that over-winter and many species live here year-round. Ducks, loons, teals, swans and sandpipers are just a few of the birds you are likely to see. Hundreds of acres of wetlands are criss-crossed by trails and quiet places to observe the birds
Reifel Bird Sanctuary, Delta BC
  • Located in Delta is the Historic Village of Ladner. The original village is very small but offers some fun opportunities to poke around coffee spots and unique shops, –fashion and gift boutiques, home décor, crafts and even a seed shop that yes, while it is a garden shop, also has interesting gifts.

Our second trip starts in White Rock. White Rock is a seaside community south of Surrey and Langley, its eastern neighbour, offers a country experience. Several golf courses are here and are open throughout the year when weather permits. This region is dotted with wineries, cideries, gardens, fruit and dairy farms open to the public, and even a turkey farm with a bistro. Some of these businesses may be closed for the winter season. However, we have  highlighted an eclectic mix of places to visit and things to see.

  • Our second trip starts in White Rock. White Rock is a seaside community south of Surrey and Langley, its eastern neighbour, offers a country experience. Several golf courses are here and are open throughout the year when weather permits. This region is dotted with wineries, cideries, gardens, fruit and dairy farms open to the public, and even a turkey farm with a bistro. Some of these businesses may be closed for the winter season. However, we have  highlighted an eclectic mix of places to visit and things to see.
  • A short distance east of White Rock, following 8th Avenue, will bring you to Campbell Valley Regional Park. This is a significant park with many kilometres of hiking, biking and horse trails. If you want to get out and stretch your legs this is a good place to visit.
Campbell Valley Regional Park, Langley, BC
  • Chaberton Estate Winery located on 216 Street is just around the corner from Campbell Valley Park. It is a well-known award-winning winery offering a variety of red and white wines. Sample some of these wines in the tasting room followed by a delightful lunch in the Bacchus Bistro which offers up an authentic French menu.
  • Up for some more wine tasting? A short distance further east on 232 Street is Backyard Vineyards. They produce award-winning bold reds and bubblies that will tingle on the palate.
  • When was the last time you went to a drive-in theatre? You can relive those days for a nostalgic evening by visiting the Twilight Drive In Theatre.  Showings and times are all on their website.
  • Fort Langley National Historic Site provides a glimpse into history when the Hudson Bay Company established a small post here to trade furs with the First Nations. Explore the various historic buildings and watch live demonstrations by costumed storytellers that showcase what life was like here in the 1800s. A short walk from here is the community of Fort Langley which is known for its unique antique shops, eateries and gift boutiques.
Fort Langley National Historic Site | Photo: Kim Walker
  • How about taking in a hockey game? The Vancouver Giants are Vancouver’s major junior hockey team and play in the Western Hockey League out of the Langley Events Centre. Giants’ games are an affordable alternative to the Vancouver Canucks, and you never know, you may be watching the next Wayne Gretzky!

For more information read the blog Explore Fort Langley & Gulf of Georgia Cannery Historic Sites

For attractions and discounted passes in Metro Vancouver go to Vancouver Attractions

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