Steaming thermal pools, majestic mountain peaks and adrenaline-fuelled backcountry adventures await in the Columbia Valley, BC, which is the ultimate outdoor playground all year round.
Home to vacation spots like Radium Hot Springs, Invermere on the Lake, Panorama Mountain Resort and Fairmont Hot Springs, this corner of southeastern British Columbia has an enviable locale in the heart of Kootenay National Park with waterfalls and glaciers on its doorstep.
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The four season destination doesn’t slow down one bit during winter; it’s a popular getaway for folks from as close as Calgary (a three hour drive) and as far as Germany, Switzerland and Japan who are lured by the dramatic peaks of the Purcell and Bugaboo mountain ranges.
You won’t find glitzy resorts and uptight après ski sessions made famous in places like Aspen, Park City and St Moritz; instead, it’s all about spending a fun day on the slopes with friends and family, capping it off with a cold pint while listening to live music, then hitting Canada’s largest slopeside pools for a soak.
From hiking to frozen waterfalls to exhilarating adventures like heli-skiing and paragliding, here are 10 unique things to do in the Columbia Valley.
Map of the Columbia Valley, Canada
Take a snowcat ride to untouched terrain
With 1,300 metres of vertical, 9 lifts and 120 trails, Panorama Mountain Resort is a destination in itself.
Part of B.C.’s famous Powder Highway, the ski resort has seven different hotels and lodges, private townhomes, restaurants, cafes and bars.
With nearly three thousand acres of patrolled terrain the options for chasing powder are endless–and if that’s still not enough stoke, up the ante by hopping on a snowcat to the untouched terrain in Taynton Bowl.
The two Monster X snowcats–named Jekyll and Hyde, natch– shuttle skiers and snowboarders over to 950 acres of inbounds, backcountry-style runs, including a steep, open pitch in the centre which locals fondly nicknamed ‘The Monster’ years ago.
Some of the best lines are between Spectre and Get Out–keep in mind that due to the steep, challenging terrain this adventure is for experts only.
Cat-skiing operates from Thursday to Sunday and certain holiday Mondays, and pricing starts at $22 for single ride tickets.
READ MORE: An insider’s guide to Panorama Mountain Resort in BC, Canada
Enjoy the view while tandem paragliding (on skis!)
While the views from the 2,450 metre high summit at Panorama are incredible, nothing beats the view while tandem paragliding over the resort.
Max Powers has been piloting these exhilarating flights for a quarter century, and no previous experience is required to channel your inner eagle–as long as you’re not afraid of heights, of course.
The 10-15 minute flights start right from the hill, and after a safety and instruction demo Max buckles himself and the rider into a harness.
After skiing down the hill together for just a few seconds, the canopy rises up behind and before you know it you’re soaring high above the sweeping valley, looking down at the tiny chairlifts and riders below.
During the flight, Max also teaches guests the in-and-outs of paragliding, including how to adjust the speed and make 360 degree turns.
The landing area is at the Greywolf Golf Course driving range, and those 15 minutes are sure to be the highlight of a trip to Panorama.
Snowmobile to a frozen waterfall
For an equally exhilarating adventure back on ground, book in for a snowmobile excursion with Toby Creek Adventures.
Operating in the Purcells since 1996, they offer daily tours into exclusive terrain that’s groomed everyday to make this activity accessible for all comfort levels.
Tours kick off with getting a feel for the twists and turns of the hill and operating the sled, and the first stop is an abandoned 1900s silver mine and charming cabin complete with a wood-burning fireplace for a coffee break at 8,000 feet.
Next up is an expansive bowl where riders get to really let loose, and play in the powder at Paradise Basin.
Rev up the engine, zoom down steep hills, or simply admire the panoramic views from this otherwise inaccessible backcountry spot.
The fun continues with a barbecue of bratwursts and burgers back at the cabin, then a quick hike to frozen Marmot Falls on the way back down.
Go heli-skiing in the Purcells
Craving even more of an adrenaline rush? There’s another bucket list worthy, backcountry adventure to be had in Panorama: heli-skiing.
RK Heliski has been guiding trips through the towering peaks of the Purcells for more than 50 years, whisking skiers and snowboarders onto the Jumbo glacier for a day of fun on the slopes.
The chest-deep snow drifts make for incredible powder days, and at these high elevations the views are absolutely breathtaking.
READ MORE: An alpine adventure with RK Heliski in Panorama, BC
Pricing starts at $1,125 per person for three runs, to $3,705 for five runs over multiple days. Additional runs are $100 each, and costs include equipment rentals, snacks, lunch and evacuation coverage.
RK Heliski has also offered heli-fondue tours, where guests enjoy a quick helicopter ride up to Panorama Mountain Resort’s Summit Hut where a fondue feast awaits.
After filling your belly and watching the sunset from 2,730 metres high, slip on a headlamp and enjoy the unique experience of skiing back down the hill during twilight.
Soak in Canada’s largest slopeside hot pools
The best way to unwind after a pow day is to relax those sore muscles in a hot tub; fortunately, Panorama Mountain Resort just so happens to have bragging rights as home to Canada’s largest outdoor on-mountain hot pools.
All guests staying in on-hill accommodation have access to the warm pool, two hot tubs, cold pool and sauna which are just steps away from the chairlifts.
Towels, lockers and showers are also provided at the Panorama Springs Pools, and as if that all wasn’t enough most of the hotels also have their own private hot tubs for guests.
Relax at the hot springs
Speaking of hot pools, the Columbia Valley also has three major natural mineral hot springs open all year round.
The largest is the Fairmont Hot Springs, which is surrounded by a resort area, hiking trails, a waterfall, golf courses, zipline and restaurants.
Switch between the hot pool, cold pool and dive tank, which overlook the Columbia Valley and Purcell Mountain Range.
Another popular pick is Radium Hot Springs, which is impossible to miss as it’s tucked right off of Highway 93 and framed by steep cliff sides frequented by big horn sheep.
It’s particularly magical during winter, when thick blankets of snow cling to the rocks and steam swirls above.
A final option is heading to Lussier Hot Springs in Whiteswan Lake Provincial Park. The natural hot springs are found 17 kilometres down a winding logging road, and nestled in a rock bed along the shore of the Lussier River.
Just because it’s more remote doesn’t mean you’ll have the whole place to yourself, so try and visit early in the morning or on a weekday to avoid crowds.
READ MORE: Things to do in Invermere, BC in winter during a girls’ getaway
Go glamping in a geodesic dome at Winderdome Resort
Winderdome Resort is the cool new kid in the Kootenays, where three humongous geodesic domes are perched among a thick, tranquil forest on a private property just outside Windermere.
This enterprising endeavor is the brainchild of Debra Kotowski, who found herself scrambling to pay for the beautiful new pool she and her husband Dave had just ordered when the pandemic hit and she lost her speaking engagements.
These former Calgary cops may have been out of their element, but you’d never know it once you step inside one of the three animal-themed domes. Deb custom designed every inch, and absolutely no detail was overlooked from the built-in hammocks to the Astro Alan galaxy projector.
The layout of each dome is identical, with a kitchen, bathroom, dining area, two lounge areas, a king size bed on the main floor and a loft with two single beds.
38 feet of windows allows for plenty of sunshine and mountain views, while the massive private decks are ideal for barbecues and stargazing.
Winderdome Resort opened in July 2022, and has been booked solid ever since and played host to engagements and honeymoons. Oh, and that pool that started it all? You can rent it.
Room rates range from $250-$425 per night, and can be booked directly through Winderdome Resort, Expedia and VRBO.
Glide along the Lake Windermere Whiteway
One of the best things to do in Invermere, BC is head to lace up your skates and go for a glide along the Lake Windermere Whiteway.
With bragging rights as the world’s longest skating path, the 30-kilometre trail links the towns of Windermere and Invermere with groomed pathways, skating rinks, hockey rinks and cross-country ski trails along the way.
Donations are gratefully accepted to help maintain the trails, and skates can be rented at Inside Edge in Invermere.
Dine at a Bavarian restaurant
Back in the 1970s, the nearby mountain town of Kimberley, B.C. transformed itself with a Bavarian-theme in hopes of luring visitors, which has been done in similar west coast locales including Leavenworth, WA with great success. Just down the road in Golden, the Canadian Pacific Railway built a handful of Swiss-style chalets for guides they’d brought over from Switzerland to help kickstart the tourism industry.
The spillover effect from that is restaurants and inns scattered throughout the Columbia Valley which look like something straight out of the Swiss and German Alps, especially in Radium.
One of the most popular restaurants in Invermere is The Black Forest Restaurant on the outskirts of town, which is beloved for its steak and schnitzel.
Originally open since 1979, the building it’s currently in was designed to resemble a farmhouse from Germany’s Black Forest region. The walls are all hand-painted, there’s taxidermy in the bar, and heck, there’s even an entire room with viewing windows that’s like a giant bird cage.
Reservations are recommended, and it’s open from Wednesday-Sunday.
Go for a winter hike
The Columbia Valley delivers big time when it comes to stunning scenery, and you can make the most of it during winter by hitting the snowshoeing and hiking trails.
Some of the best spots are:
- Old Coach Trail, a 9 km out-and-back trail with views of the Purcells and Columbia River Wetlands. Start from the parking area in Dry Gulch, a five minute drive south of Radium.
- Marble Canyon: Take a quick scenic walk along turquoise Tokkum Creek, where multiple bridges cross over the gorge. If you have crampons, pack ‘em–this trail can be quite slippery and icy during winter months.
- Numa Falls Rest Area: A bridge spans over these beautiful falls, which are gem-toned during the warmer months and completely frozen over in winter. Just 300 metres from a roadside pullout, this is a good highway pit stop and there are also washroom facilities.
Globe Guide explored the Kootenay Rockies as a guest of Travel Columbia Valley. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles.
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