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Best Things to Do in Boundary Country in Winter: Nature, Heritage & Culture

Tucked away in southern British Columbia with the Okanagan Valley to the west and the West Kootenays to the east, Boundary Country is the epitome of ‘off the beaten track.’ And, of course, that’s just the way we like it.

Back view of Gemma standing at snowshoe viewpoint with Phoenix ski hill in background
Snowshoeing at Marshall Lake

While we already knew that that Boundary had plenty to offer in both summer and fall, we recently returned in winter to see if the coldest season could deliver as well.

And, yes, we can confirm that Boundary Country is a four season adventure destination! This is particularly true if you like solitude, super soft snow and heritage rich communities.

Read on to discover the best things to do in Boundary Country in winter, why you need to go ASAP and how to make the most of your trip.

Looking across wintery landscape from Smitten Trestle, with the Kettle River below and forest and mountains in background
Kettle River near Christina Lake

This post was published in February 2023 in partnership with Boundary Country Tourism. We visited Boundary Country in January 2023.

There are some affiliate links in the text ahead. If you make a purchase or booking via one of these links, we may receive a small percentage of the sale.

Back view of JR standing on Observation Mountain looking right, with snowy town of Grand Forks below
Hiking Observation Mountain in Grand Forks in winter

British Columbia’s Boundary Country

Boundary Country is located within the traditional territory of the Ktunaxa, Sinixt and Okanagan Nations, who foraged and fished as they migrated through the land since time immemorial.

Surrounded by mountains on three sides and the US border on the other, the Boundary region is also intersected by three major rivers, two former rail lines (now multi-use trails) and two highways. Small towns, rich in history, punctuate the landscape at regular intervals.

Looking across frozen Kettle River in Rock Creek, with forest and mountains in background
Kettle River in Rock Creek in winter

As winter approaches, Boundary Country’s golden hills turn white and beckon adventurous travellers to explore.

Three characterful ski hills occupy the mountains, including one of Canada’s largest and also one of the smallest.

Screenshot of Google Map showing Boundary Country with marked activities and restaurants
Click here or above to view Google Map, which features all of the mentioned activities and restaurants

In this post, I’m going to share the best things to do in Boundary Country in winter. This includes recommendations for outdoor adventures as well as cultural activities that will help deepen your Boundary Country experience.

While planning your winter trip to Boundary Country, you may find these other articles helpful:

Looking down from trestle bridge into snowy canyon near Christina Lake, with steep rock walls and river below
Cascade Gorge near Christina Lake

Winter in Boundary Country: What to expect

Boundary Country is a relatively large region so winter weather conditions do vary. For the purposes of this overview, I will concentrate on the Highway 3 corridor from Rock Creek to Christina Lake.

Winters in Boundary Country are cold but fairly dry. Daytime winter temperatures hover around -3c to 0c, unless there is a cold snap. Wind chill can also be a factor.

Road view of downtown Grand Forks in winter, with two story buildings on either side and snowy mountains in background
Downtown Grand Forks in late January

Snowfall is possible from November to March, with December being the snowiest month. Boundary Country doesn’t receive huge amounts of snow, with an average of 120cm total annual snowfall in the larger communities.

Significantly more snow falls at higher elevations. Phoenix Mountain, for example, receives about 9 metres.

During our late January visit, Highway 3 was completely dry with only relatively small snow piles on the side of the road.

Urban paths in Grand Forks and Greenwood were also completely clear of snow and ice. Christina Lake was a little colder and snowier.

Shore view of Kettle River in Grand Forks, with reflective water and trees and snowy mountains in background
Kettle River in Grand Forks in late January

Explore Boundary’s winter wonderland

Outdoor adventure awaits in Boundary Country in winter, with a myriad of activities to choose from.

The Trans Canada Trail runs across the region, offering snowshoeing and winter hiking opportunities. Though an established route, you’ll probably have the path all yourself! We saw only a handful of other trail users while exploring the TCT in Boundary Country in winter.

Side view of JR leaning on wooden siding on trestle bridge in Cascade Gorge , with steep snowy canyon below
Walking the trestle over Cascade Gorge is definitely one of the best things to do in winter in Boundary Country

Alpine experiences, such as downhill skiing and cross country skiing, can be found in the south Monashee Mountains which surround the highways. That’s also where you’ll find the fluffiest snow!

When exploring isolated areas, be sure to bring the 10 Essentials, know how to stay safe and always Leave No Trace.

Looking up at the metal Smitten trestle above Kettle River, with snow on shore and falling from the sky
The Smitten Trestle is a must see in winter

Downhill skiing and snowboarding

Boundary Country is host to not one, but three ski areas. Each one offers something a little special. Wherever you go, incredibly light and dry powder awaits!

Looking through snowy trees to the ski runs at Phoenix Mountain on partial sun/cloud day
Phoenix Mountain

Big White Ski Resort is one of British Columbia’s largest ski areas, with 115+ designated runs serviced by 16 chairlifts. This is the type of mountain where you can still be discovering new areas and runs after a whole week of skiing.

Have non-skiers in your group? Big White is the perfect winter getaway as there are so many alternative downhill activities (skating, ice climbing, tubing and more) as well as a picture perfect alpine ski village to explore.

Colourful Big White Resort Village with clock tower at golden hour
Big White Resort Village

Baldy Mountain Resort is Big White’s smaller, laid back cousin. With two lifts and no lines, this modest resort offers good ‘bang for buck.’ It has a friendly local atmosphere too.

The resort is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, allowing the snow to build for up for ‘Powder Thursdays’ (our favourite day to go).

One particularly notable fact about Baldy Mountain is that it has the third highest base elevation of any resort in Canada (1719m/5650ft). So that champagne powder starts right from the chairlift loading station.

Two figures sit on chairlift at Baldy Mountain Resort, with very snowy trees in background
A very snowy day at Baldy Mountain Resort

Phoenix Mountain is a community owned ski hill located between Greenwood and Grand Forks. The name comes from the bustling mine site and city (pop. 1000) that once operated here.

Describing itself as the ‘best little mountain in BC,’ Phoenix has a wonderfully relaxed, home-town feel. It’s also incredibly family friendly.

The hill has 15 runs with 250m of vertical, accessed via a T-bar. Phoenix may not be big, but it doesn’t aspire to be. I may argue that it’s the most unpretentious place to ski in BC!

Looking up at A shaped cabin building at Phoenix Mountain on sunny day
The Lodge at Phoenix Mountain

Cross country skiing

15km of groomed trails await at Marshall Lake Cross Country Ski Area on Phoenix Mountain. This well maintained network features a good mix of challenging and easy trails, with open, forest and viewpoint sections.

A popular lunch or break destination is the Dacha (дача). A wood burning stove sits inside this rustic shelter, the Russian name of which translates as ‘summer residence.’ The views across the valleys and Monashee mountains are spectacular.

Three photographs in one, depicting the red Dacha sign on a tree (top left), wood stove inside the rustic shelter (top right) and Dacha view on approach (bottom) with views in background
Follow the signs to the Dacha to discover a cosy warming shelter with a stunning view

Additional designated cross country ski trails are located at Big White Ski Resort (25km network) and Baldy Mountain Resort (5km network).

Some sections of the Trans Canada may also be suitable for cross country skiing, depending on recent weather conditions. See below for more information.

Cross country ski tracks curve around a corner, surrounded by snowy trees, at Marshall Lake XC Ski Area near Grand Forks
Cross country ski tracks at Marshall Lake

Snowshoeing

The Marshall Lake Cross Country Ski Area can also be explored on snowshoes. Take the scenic route to the Dacha via the Grandview and Jolly Jack trails. Allow 1.5 to 2 hours to complete the full 4.3km loop.

Snowshoers should be careful to stay on the signed side of the trail, avoiding cross country ski tracks. The Phoenix Cross Country Ski Society welcome donations from non-members, with $10 suggested for adults.

Side view of JR snowshoeing at Marshall Lake near Grand Forks, with mountain views in background
Snowshoeing at Marshall Lake

The Trans Canada Trail (formerly the Kettle Valley and Columbia & Western railway routes) provides snowshoe opportunities closer to Boundary’s communities. The mostly flat, wide paths are ideal for snowshoeing after recent snowfall.

After a dry period, the trails can become a bit icy. During these occasions, it can be more comfortable to hike with microspikes instead of snowshoes (see below).

Close up of snowshoe and cross country ski sign at Marshall Lake XC ski area near Grand Forks
Be sure to follow the signage at Marshall Lake

Winter hiking

With Boundary Country being so relatively dry, it is still possible to hike during winter. During our late January visit, the local rail trails were better travelled with hiking shoes rather than snowshoes.

I’d highly recommend using a pair of microspikes for extra traction on trails. We use and love Kahtoola Microspikes – they’ve never let us down, even on the most steep, icy routes.

Looking down snowy Smitten Trestle, with Gemma in yellow jacket in the distance, with mountain looming above. The Smitten Trestle is a must see in winter in Boundary Country
Smitten Trestle Bridge near Christina Lake

My top picks for short winter hikes in Boundary Country are:

  • Cascade Gorge, Christina Lake: Park at the Welcome to Christina Lake’ sign on Highway 3 and walk down the (snowy) access road to Cascade Gorge, where a railway trestle bridge passes over a narrow canyon and rapids. Continue on the C&W to see Cascade Falls (click for more info)
  • Smitten Trestle Bridge, Christina Lake: This 153m long steel railway bridge is a must see in winter! Park at the Trans Canada trailhead on Highway 395 and walk 1km east to the Smitten Trestle
  • Observation Mountain, Grand Forks: This fast, steep hike provides an excellent workout. The challenging trail climbs 230m in just 1.25km, with sweeping views of the city on offer within the first 10 minutes! The trailhead is located close to the end of 2nd Street. Microspikes essential
Looking across snowy cliff over Grand Forks at sunrise on a sunny day, from Observation Mountain
Observation Mountain views at sunrise, Grand Forks

Ice fishing

Love a spot of ice fishing? There are a few different places to drop your line in Boundary Country.

The most popular (and accessible) ice fishing hot spot is Wilgress Lake on Highway 3 near Grand Forks. Some fishermen claim that there are ‘monster’ rainbow trout (up to 8lb!) in this small roadside lake.

The Wilgress Lake Family Fishing Derby usually takes place in mid February with a multitude of prizes on offer. The event raises money for local children and youth.

Jewel Lake is another local ice fishing destination. If the winter is particularly cold, it may be possible to fish on Christina Lake as well.

JR stands on 3D railway painting at Christina Lake Welcome Centre
Cristina Lake Welcome Centre (the 3D trestle bridge painting is amazing!)

Connect with local culture

Boundary Country is characterised by small towns, each boasting rich heritage and culture.

For a deeper winter trip experience, make time to connect with the region’s local communities. Here are some easy ways to do just that!

Heritage buildings in Greenwood next to Highway 3, with parked vehicles alongside road. There is a snowy mountain in the background
Greenwood is Canada’s smallest city (pop 700)

Attend the Christina Lake Winterfest (part of the 7 Celebrations)

Blending heritage, culture and new traditions, the Christina Lake Winterfest revival is a heartfelt celebration of community.

The first Winterfest was held in Christina Lake in 1991. After a five year gap, this seasonal gathering has been reimagined as one of the 7 Celebrations series of events across the wider Thompson Okanagan region.

The 2023 event was a huge success, with locals and visitors alike enjoying a weekend full of live music, Sno-pitch tournament, family friendly activities, photo competition, craft lessons and local market vendors.

Boundary Métis Drummers drum circle at Christina Lake Winterfest, with additional drummers lined up behind. A number of the drummers are wearing orange t-shirts as a symbol of the forced assimilation of Indigenous children in Canadian residential schools
Boundary Métis Drummers at Christina Lake Winterfest

A Polar Bear Dip (for the bravest of guests only!) and pancake breakfast closed out the event. For us, the highlight was the Boundary Métis Drummers, who performed a number of times during the weekend.

Wondering about the significance of the ‘7’ Celebrations? Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association’s regional pledge for sustainable tourism features 7 Affirmations for 7 Generations, based on Indigenous philosophy.

The 7 Affirmations are:

  • True rootsDiscover the soul of a place in its history
  • Tread lightly Be a guardian of the land, air and water
  • Be a good neighbourFeel at home and value it as the locals do
  • Travel safelyFollow the map of your heart, but venture wisely.
  • Live in harmonyLearn the laws of wilderness living.
  • Choose localBuy locally to nourish the strength and character of the communities
  • Educate othersAnything worth knowing is worth sharing

Read more on the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association website

Looking across snowy field to mill stones in front of wooden flour mill building in Grand Forks
This stone grind mill operated from 1915 to 1945 and is now looked after by the Grand Forks Doukhobor Milling Heritage Society 

Learn about the Doukhobors

Boundary Country is home to the largest Doukhobor community in Canada. Persecuted in their Russian homeland, more than 8,000 of this pacifist spiritual Christian group settled in the Grand Forks area in the early 20th century.

Located in a converted Doukhobor school, the Boundary Museum and Archives is open Tuesday to Saturday throughout the winter months. There is a large exhibit featuring the history and cultural impact of the local Doukhobor community.

Overhead view of wooden spoons on top of colourful Russian doll tablecloth
Handmade hardwood ladles

If you don’t manage to get to the Boundary Museum, the USSC website is a great source of information.

The Doukhobors are vegetarian, a factor that influences some local restaurant menus. Borscht is very commonly served, with the Doukhobor version being cabbage based (rather than beetroot). It’s the ideal choice for lunch in winter!

Overhead view of two bowls of borscht on white plates at the Borscht Bowl in Grand Forks. Buttered bread sits beside the bowls
Borscht at the Borscht Bowl in Grand Forks

Explore the Rail Trails

As previously mentioned, two rail lines once crossed the length of Boundary Country. As well as offering endless year round recreation opportunities, the KVR and C&W also provide a window into Boundary Country’s past.

Looking up at the trestle bridge over Cascade Gorge (Christina Lake) on a snowy day. The steep cliffs rising up to the trestle are covered in snow
Cascade Gorge with Columbia and Western Railway trestle bridge

Built primarily to serve local mining interests, maintain Canadian sovereignty and ensure Boundary Country’s economic prosperity, the KVR and C&W also created a vital link between the Coast (Vancouver, Victoria) and Kootenay regions.

The most obvious historical features on the rail trails are trestle bridges, tunnels and old station locations.

Looking through the metal struts of the Black Train Bridge in Grand Forks, to the reflective Kettle River below
The Black Train Bridge in Grand Forks (note the snow free pathway)

The Black Train Bridge is only a short 15 minute walk from downtown on a paved path. The trestle sits above a pretty section of the Kettle River.

From here, you can walk to the Grand Forks Station Pub, which is situated in the town’s old station building. It’s open for business throughout the winter. Be sure to check out the old rails at the back of the building.

To the east of town is the Nursery Trestle, also situated on a paved path. During our January visit, both paths were completely snow-free.

Looking up at Grand Forks Station Pub building on a sunny day, a two story building next to snowy railway tracks
Grand Forks Station Pub (back view)

The best places to eat in Boundary Country

Three dedicated visits to Boundary Country have enabled us to eat our way through much of the local restaurant scene.

For breakfast or brunch, we absolutely love the Wooden Spoon Bistro in Grand Forks. This modern downtown café transforms local ingredients into fun, creative dishes, many of which are vegetarian or vegan. I wish we had an equivalent in Penticton!

Borscht is the perfect lunch dish for winter days. Most restaurants in Grand Forks serve borscht, but the Borscht Bowl and Jogas Espresso Café make my favourite versions.

A handholds up a hot chocolate in the Board Room Cafe in Grand Forks, with board games and counter visible in the background
Taking a hot chocolate to go after lunch at the Board Room Café in Grand Forks

Another great lunch pick in Grand Forks is the Board Room Café. This relaxed venue has extensive lunch menu featuring sandwiches, hot dogs, wraps and Mexican fare. Pay unlimited games for $5/person.

If you’re out and about for lunch, drop by the Pony Espresso in Christina Lake (sandwiches, paninis, wraps) or Deadwood Junction in Greenwood (salads, sandwiches, sweet baked treats).

For dinner, the Bar + Kitchen is the place to go for creative appetisers (I’m still thinking about the ahi tuna nachos) and a glass of BC wine. If sharing doesn’t appeal, head to the historic Grand Forks Station Pub (classic and modern Canadian dishes).

Close up of ahi tuna nachos at the Bar and Kitchen in Grand Forks, with silver plate piled with fried wontons, avocado, tuna, seaweed and mayonnaise
Ahi tuna nachos at the Bar + Kitchen, with wonton chips

Our favourite restaurant outside of Grand Forks is Naere in Greenwood. This contemporary eatery has a small but succinct menu which showcases locally sourced, highly quality ingredients.

Visiting on a weekend? The Grand Forks Beer Company regularly hosts live music as well as other evening events such as trivia.

Grand Forks Beer Co taps on brick wall. There are ten taps, each spelling out one letyer of 'Grand Forks.' At the bottom is a flight of beers with a large glass of red kombucha
Grand Forks Beer Co

Discover the Hot Chocolate Festival

Is there a better way to warm up on a cold winter’s day than with a hot chocolate? I doubt it! Boundary Country celebrates this with an annual Hot Chocolate Festival, held from mid January to mid February.

And trust me, this festival is taken pretty seriously! Despite only being the second annual event, we witnessed so much enthusiasm for creating the unique hot chocolate varieties as well as the tasting experience.

In 2023, the Hot Chocolate Festival participants were:

  • Keg & Kettle, Midway
  • Deadwood Junction, Greenwood
  • Naere Restaurant, Greenwood
  • Jitterz, Grand Forks
  • Jogas Espresso Cafe, Grand Forks
  • Marketplace Ice Cream, Grand Forks
  • The Wooden Spoon, Grand Forks
  • The Bar + Kitchen, Grand Forks
  • The Station Pub, Grand Forks
  • Clyde’s Pub, Grand Forks
  • Grand Forks Beer Company, Grand Forks
  • Borscht Bowl, Grand Forks
  • Pascale’s Baked Goods, Grand Forks
  • Board Room Café, Grand Forks
  • Pony Espresso, Christina Lake
Close up of hot chocolate cup in window of Pascale's Baked Goods. A small brownie and cupcake tower over the chocolate surface of the drink
The special festival hot chocolate at Pascale’s in Grand Forks

We managed to try six different hot chocolates during our weekend visit.

For flavour, the clear winner was the strawberry white chocolate version at Pony Espresso. Fresh tasting and innovative but also indulgent. The Wooden Spoon’s sugar cookie-flavoured hot chocolate was a close second.

For style, no one could beat Pascale’s. The dark hot chocolate was topped with homemade marshmallows, a chocolate cupcake and mini brownie! The ultimate sugar rush!

Sandwich board outside of Wooden Spoon Bistro in Grand Forks on a sunny day, promoting the 2nd Annual Hot Chocolate Festival
The Wooden Spoon Bistro offered two different hot chocolates during the 2023 festival

Where to stay in Boundary Country

Grand Forks is the ideal place to base yourself for a winter trip to Boundary Country.

Almost all of the suggested activities in this article can be reached within 30 minutes drive from this small city. Grand Forks also has the biggest choice of restaurants and accommodation in the region.

For a no-nonsense motel stay in Grand Forks, we recommend the Grand Forks Inn. The property is an easy and short drive from downtown. The rooms are super clean and well-appointed, with a basic continental breakfast offered.

Side view of queen bed room at Grand Forks Inn, with desk and television on right side, couch on left and bed in far corner. The walls are brown and cream coloured
Queen room at the Grand Forks Inn

If you’re looking for a more personable experience, consider Noble House Suites on the banks of the Granby River. Each of the spacious B&B rooms have luxurious bathrooms as well as direct access to a games room/lounge, hot tub, home theatre and more.

If downhill skiing or snowboarding at either Baldy Mountain or Big White is your priority, I would plan to stay closer to the respective ski areas. Grand Forks is, however, very close to Phoenix Mountain.

Looking down into steep and snowy Cascade Canyon, with huge waterfall peeking out around corner in distance
Cascade Falls near Christina Lake

Final tips

  • Winter tires are mandatory for driving on Highway 3 from October 1st to April 30th. They are also required for Highway 33 from October 1st to March 31st
  • Although Boundary Country has a relatively mild winter compared to other areas of BC, winter driving conditions can be dangerous. Be prepared to drive slower, allow more time to reach your destination and remember that daylight hours are short
  • Be sure to bring an emergency kit (blankets, food, warm clothing) as well as jumper cables. Check that your spare tire is fully inflated. Top up your windscreen washer fluid before leaving home
  • Prepare to have the trails to yourself. While the solitude is wonderful, please be sure to tell someone where you are going and when you plan to be back
  • Phone signal can be spotty away from Boundary Country’s communities and highways. This is another reason to keep a trusted friend or family informed of your plans

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Check out these related posts next:

53 Amazing Things to Do in Osoyoos, British Columbia

Okanagan Valley Road Trip, BC: What to Do and Where to Stop

Hiking the Kettle Valley Rail Trail in Penticton, BC

A Complete Adventure Guide to Valhalla Provincial Park

74 Things To Do In Penticton and the Southern Okanagan, British Columbia

As winter approaches, Boundary Country's golden hills turn white and beckon adventurous travellers to explore. Three characterful ski hills occupy the mountains; one of BC's biggest and also one of the smallest. While we already knew that that Boundary had plenty to offer in both summer and fall, we recently returned in winter to see if the coldest season could deliver as well (yes!) Click here to discover the best things to do in BC's Boundary Country in winter. offtracktravel.ca

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Brian Fletcher

Friday 3rd of February 2023

Hey Gemma and JR;

Very much appreciate you pumping the tires of Boundary Country with this detailed article. Glad you enjoyed your trip throughout our winter playground.

The Phoenix Cross Country Ski Society maintains the trail system at Marshall Lake. We are slowly taking our system to the next level for the many people who user this area. In the next while we hope to replace the current signage, upgrade our grooming equipment, build new showshoe trails and improve our website; phoenixnordic.com.

Thanks again for the amazing story.

Brian Fletcher, PCCSS Chair, Registrar

Gemma

Tuesday 7th of February 2023

Hi Brian,

I'm so glad you liked our article! Thanks for reading and then letting me know. We loved exploring the Marshall Lake area; we were so impressed by the beautifully maintained trails. It sounds like we'll have to revisit to see the improvements as they happen (though honestly, the trail system is fantastic as it is now!)