Cosy Cabins: Some quiet retreats to beat the winter chill
Picture a typical northern BC winter scene: snow covers everything with its blanket of white, mountains scrape the sky on the horizon, icicles cling to the fringes of things. It’s beautiful but cold—toque, scarf, and mittens cold—and daylight is scarce. Winters up here last a long time! To rejuvenate during the cold season, some folks immerse themselves in snow sports—skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, ice-climbing, and so on—while others retreat into a kind of human hibernation, laying low and keeping cosy indoors while temperatures plummet outside. Many locals save up their pennies to follow migratory birds south for a holiday in the sun—but there’s a lot to be said for sticking close to home. Everyone needs some time away from routines and chores now and then, so what about a winter retreat right here in northern BC?
Holing up in a cosy cabin with wood heat and good company is a perfect way to spend a few nights experiencing the “dark side” of northern BC. Here are a few cabin getaways to spark your imagination and help you on your way to a winter holiday in a region of the country that looks and acts the part of stereotypical Canada: a spectacular snowy wonderland.
Haida Gwaii Snow doesn’t necessarily cover the Northwest, however. Haida Gwaii’s wet temperate coast is usually without the white stuff for most of the winter. Instead, it gets storms—storms of epic proportions. The seas surrounding the northern archipelago are often whipped into a winter frenzy for weeks on end. The beaches are bereft of life, save for a few hardy souls and birds built to withstand the cold, wet weather. It’s a starkly beautiful place, lonely and isolated, perched on the edge of a vast Pacific wilderness. The truly adventuresome who come here plunge into the tempestuous sea on North Beach, clad in thick wetsuits, and surf the waves that endlessly crash onto the sand. Whether you come to brave the waters or just watch the storms, when you’ve had enough of being battered by the salty winds and relentless rains, there’s a refuge waiting for you, just off the beach.
North Beach Cabins are rustic retreats that provide shelter from the storms. Tucked into the trees on the dunes that roll back from the water’s edge, these four cabins are a great spot to relax and read or simply warm up and refuel after a day spent in the winter surf. Go to northbeachcabins.com for more info.
Other cabins are available at North Beach, including the amusingly named and pet-friendly All the Beach You Can Eat. As the website proclaims: “More sandy beach than you can run in a day.” allthebeachyoucaneat.com
Of course, North Beach represents just one small part of the islands and there is plenty to explore south of here. There are options all over Haida Gwaii for both rustic and luxurious winter accommodations. gohaidagwaii.ca/where-to-stay/cottages-cabins-and-suites
Port Edward A few kilometres from the port city of Prince Rupert is the small village of Port Edward. Past the town itself is a little winding road that follows the coastline until it culminates at Cassiar Cannery.
Built in the late 1800s, this historic site was converted into accommodations five years ago and opened to visitors in 2011. As a winter destination, it is truly exceptional. “Being so close to nature, Cassiar Cannery’s activities are generally dictated by the natural cycle of the seasons,” says owner/operator Justine Crawford. “The winter is a time of rest after the busy spring, summer, and fall. Most visitors at this time of year use the time to recharge their batteries: spending time with friends and family, watching the water move through the tide cycle, reading, walking or watching movies. It’s also a good time to walk the estuary as the grass disappears and one can see the rivulets along the foreshore that are covered during the growing season.”
Cassiar Cannery is a historic hideaway where visitors can take time to reconnect with the coastal climate while immersing themselves in a snapshot of BC’s coastal past. cassiarcannery.com
Terrace For those travellers who can’t bear the thought of a winter holiday spent sitting still indoors, there’s a place not far from Terrace where a retreat means a helicopter ride, backcountry skiing, and self-sufficient accommodation in a small cabin nestled among big mountains. The Larsen Ridge cabin is maintained by the Mount Remo Backcountry Society and it’s accessible only by helicopter. But it’s a short heli ride and the rewards are enormous: limitless backcountry to explore with a cosy cabin waiting for you when you’re too tired to ski anymore. mtremo.ca/cabins.html
For something both a little closer to town and more accessible to all types of travellers, try Waterlily Bay Resort on Lakelse Lake. The lakefront property just a short drive from town includes a few cabins available for rental all year. waterlilybay.com
Terrace also has a number of rustic lodges, typically set up for the influx of sport-fishing tourism. In the winter they are havens for travellers who want a quiet place to hole up.
Bell II Backcountry skiing isn’t always about “roughing it” in a little cabin up on a ridge. If that isn’t your style, consider heading instead to Bell II. Luxurious winter accommodations coupled with world-class heli-skiing or heli-boarding is what Last Frontier Heliskiing is all about. North of Kitwanga on the Stewart-Cassiar highway, Bell II isn’t advisable for the inexperienced skier or for those travelling on a tight budget. But it is an exceptional spot and anyone who makes the effort to get there will be richly rewarded. The mountains are big—really big—the snowpack is deep, and the terrain is epic for skiing. The lodge and its accompanying cabin accommodations are pure luxury with just enough of a rustic edge to remind you you’re in northern BC. (In other words, after you’ve had dinner and drinks, you have to walk from the main building to your private chalet—less than 100 metres away.) lastfrontierheli.com/heliski-lodges.html
Smithers The Bulkley Valley is a winter wonderland. The area’s residents, accustomed to an annual inundation of snow, relax into the weather. Smithers itself seems to have a feeling of winter magic to it, with its alpine-styled buildings and spectacular surrounding mountains. Spending a few winter days here is like walking into a fairytale. And there’s no shortage of cabins to choose from for a winter getaway. Here are a few to whet your appetite.
About 40 kilometres from town is Chapman Lake, a scenic spot where Aspen Bay Cabins has rustic cottages available for rental all year round. Off the beaten path—but still accessible by car—these comfortable little cabins are ideal for someone looking for peaceful solitude in the snow. aspenbaycabins.com
A bit closer to Smithers and all its winter activities, but still secluded and peaceful, is Round Lake Resort. Just southeast of Telkwa, Round Lake in the winter is great for cross-country skiing, ice fishing, snowshoeing, or just enjoying the snowy ambience. roundlakeresort.com
If you’re feeling more adventurous, the Joe L’Orsa Cabin in Silverking Basin, part of Babine Mountains Provincial Park, is a phenomenal destination. It’s ski or snowshoe access only, but the nine-kilometre gradual climb is well worth the effort. This is a rustic but spacious and well-equipped backcountry cabin, and at $5 a night it’s a great deal. env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/babine_mtn
A 20-minute helicopter flight will take you to the Burnie Glacier Chalet, nestled in the remote and rugged Howson Range. This comfortable and well-appointed cabin now boasts running water and electricity generated from the small stream nearby. Back-country and cross-country skiing are the daytime activities of choice, with a sauna, fine food and good company awaiting you indoors at the end of the day. bearmountaineering.ca
Go to tourismsmithers.com for more cabin options in and around Smithers.
Fort St. James Stuart Lake in winter is a quintessentially Canadian scene: the windswept lake, shadowed on one side by the sheer bluffs of Mount Pope, is frozen solid for months. The ineffectual cold rays of the sun are reflected by the snow and ice and while the light might not cast any warmth nor stick around for long, it does create memorable and picturesque winter scenes. The town of Fort St. James is quiet in the winter, but there’s still plenty to do, including dogsledding, snowshoeing, cross-country and downhill skiing. When you’ve had your fill of the outdoors, head to Stuart Lodge, home to five cabins perched on a little hill overlooking the lake. stuartlodge.ca
Prince George The residents of northern BC’s “big city” are no strangers to long, cold winters and they equip themselves against the snowy darkness with an astonishingly large list of recreation opportunities and winter destinations. There’s something out there for all types of travellers, from the hardcore backcountry skier to the business traveller taking an extra day to warm up while on the road.
For self-sufficient folks looking for solace in the snow, there’s nearby Sugarbowl-Grizzly Den Provincial Park where there are three cabins travellers can trek to: Eight Mile, Grizzly Den, and Raven Lake. env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/sugarbowl
Front-country skiers can head up to Purden Ski Resort. There are several cabins available to rent right on the mountain. Après-ski, anyone? purden.com
For something a bit different, and close to town, try the cottages at Norton Ranch. The 300-acre ranch is most definitely in the “rustic western” style, and it is a real working ranch. But the cottages themselves are self-contained and contemporary, and anything but rustic. nortonranch.com
Finally, Northern Outback Adventures offers a variety of either guided or self-guided winter tours from their lodge and guest cabins, including snowshoeing, ice-fishing, and snowmobiling. northernoutbackadventures.com
Of course, there are many other options available to winter travellers in this area. To find out more, check pgbrs.com/services/cabins and tourismpg.com
Robson Valley If the slower speed of self-propelled travel isn’t your idea of a good time, then snowmobile holidays could be more your thing. At Terracana Ranch Resort, between Prince George and Jasper, just a few minutes from Mt. Robson, sledding is a way of life. And when the day is over, there are cosy cabins waiting to warm you up. terracana.com
Jasper Jasper National Park all but shuts down in the winter. The droves of tourists and seasonal staff who flood the town of Jasper every spring, summer and fall head home and the little town is left with a few locals who live there year-round. What is for most of the year a bustling mountain town becomes a quiet sanctuary for those travellers looking for a little peace and quiet. There are only a few cabins that operate all year—one enticing spot is the Gingerbread Cabin, a log cabin just outside the park. It’s a great place to spend a few winter days away from it all. cottagesincanada.com/gingerbread