If you don’t ski or snowboard, you may not think of visiting Vernon in winter. But this North Okanagan town has a lot more to offer during the colder months.
In Vernon, winter isn’t a season to just survive, it’s one to enjoy! There are a surprising amount of things to do during this time of year, especially if you like being active outdoors.
We recently visited Vernon for the first time in winter and discovered this for ourselves. Compared to our home town of Penticton, we found winter activities to be a lot more varied and accessible in Vernon.
In this post, I’ll share the very best things to do in Vernon in winter. Not only will it prove how much there is to do in this North Okanagan city during the colder months but it’ll also help with future trip planning!
What to expect in this post:
- Winter in Vernon: What to Expect
- What to do in Vernon in Winter
Vernon, SilverStar Mountain Resort and SilverStar Provincial Park are located on the traditional territory of the Syilx and Secwepemc Nations.
Published March 2022. We visited Vernon in partnership with Tourism Vernon. This post includes affiliate links. If you make a booking or purchase via one of these links, we may receive a percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you.
Winter in Vernon: What to Expect
Vernon is situated in the northern Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. Three lakes surround the city, which help to keep winter temperatures on the milder side (by Canadian standards!) but do also cause fog and low lying cloud.
At lake level (392m elevation), the winter weather can be pretty variable, with a mix of mild, sunny days alongside freezing cold, cloudy and snowy periods. Cold snaps come and go, usually lasting around a week or so.
The average daytime temperature in December and January is a few degrees below freezing (-3°c), with February being slightly warmer (-2°c) and March even more so (4°c).
December is the snowiest month. SilverStar Mountain Resort is usually around 8°c colder than the city itself.
During our visit in early March, we experienced four beautiful days of sun with in-town temperatures around 8-13°c. Thick fog swamped the city one morning but was non-existent at higher elevations.
Of course, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. If you wrap up warm, it’s easy to make the most of winter in Vernon! Read our winter clothing guide for tips.
What to do in Vernon in Winter
Now you have an idea of what weather to expect when visiting Vernon in winter, let’s get on to the fun stuff! Keep reading to discover our favourite things to do in Vernon in winter.
Downhill skiing and snowboarding
With more than 3200 acres of skiable terrain (covered with 100% natural snow!), SilverStar Mountain Resort is the fourth largest ski resort in British Columbia. Only 25 minutes drive from downtown Vernon, it is also incredibly accessible.
With such a large amount of terrain (10 lifts, 132 runs) on offer, that convenience can be enjoyed without fear of huge crowds. Visiting midweek, our longest lift line was 7 minutes and that was a one off.
The front side of the mountain is relatively mellow, with plenty of cruisy blue runs alongside some easier and harder terrain. Experienced skiers should head to the backside of the mountain, which features some amazingly steep, long groomers.
SilverStar’s 1915m summit offers spectacular panoramas of the Monashee Mountains. The city of Vernon can also be spotted from the top of the Christmas Bowl, one of our favourite runs.
Located at mid-mountain level, SilverStar’s colourful village may look small on initial glance but conceals a myriad of restaurants and cafes. Black Pine Social is our top pick, specialising in elevated pub cuisine with Japanese influence.
Vernon is a great place to go snowshoeing, with maintained trails both at Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre and also at SilverStar Mountain Resort. After a significant snowfall, it’s also possible to snowshoe on trails closer to Vernon as well.
To elevate your snowshoeing experience, consider a guided tour with Dialed Rides. Owner Brett knows the SilverStar trails like the back of his hand and shares his favourite viewpoints with an enlightening commentary about the history of the land, resort and local wildlife.
Dialed Rides’ schedule includes both sunset and full moon tours as well as the quirky Snowshoe Disco, which includes a dance party under the stars.
We joined Brett for a private evening tour at SilverStar, our first ever time snowshoeing in the dark! It was a somewhat surreal experience as we explored the almost deserted trails in the darkness, with a crescent moon and a thousand stars above us.
Cross country skiing
Vernon is home to Canada’s largest daily groomed cross country ski network, a combination of trail systems at SilverStar Mountain Resort and Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre (situated within Silver Star Provincial Park).
Ski teams from across the world come to train here, taking advantage of the superb high elevation snow as well as the world class grooming. But this cross country trail network isn’t just for experts, as we found out.
Sovereign Lake, in particular, is super beginner friendly, with a huge learning area and plenty of green trails. We took a lesson with veteran skier Val, who was endlessly patient as we learned the fundamentals and skied up and down the practice tracks and ‘bumps.’
Cross country ski rentals are available at both Sovereign Lake and SilverStar Mountain Resort. Tickets are valid at each location only, but there is an reduced price ‘add-on’ which makes it possible to access the entire trail network.
Impressive to view at any time of year, waterfalls look even more spectacular in the winter when they transform into natural ice sculptures.
Set into a cool canyon and shaded by trees, BX Falls stays frozen until the end of winter. It is accessible via a very short (350m one way) trail which culminates with a very steep set of stairs.
If you go, know that microspikes are absolutely essential to descend to the waterfall safely (we used these ones). Even with microspikes, caution is still required.
Cosens Bay Waterfall (also known as Cosens Creek Waterfall or simply Cosens Falls) is located in Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park.
While not signed, it is a very short detour from the Cosen’s Bay Express Trail (check the route on AllTrails). The frozen falls forms a dramatic wall of ice.
Please note that the terrain is quite steep around the waterfall itself. Again, we found microspikes very helpful.
As we have affirmed many times before, Vernon has one of the best hiking trail networks of any city in the Okanagan Valley.
By early March, most of the snow at lower elevations had melted. Shaded or heavily used trails did have some packed snow. We still found it handy to have microspikes.
Check out our dedicated post featuring our favourite hiking trails in and around Vernon. It remains a work-in-progress as we discover more excellent walking and hiking paths in the area.
On our most recent winter trip, we enjoyed exploring the Coldstream side of the Grey Canal Trail.
For a short walk with a big payoff, park at the trailhead at the very northern end of Cypress Drive. A spectacular viewpoint of the city of Vernon and all three lakes is located just 500m up the trail.
Events and live music
With large scale events returning, there’s now even more to do in Vernon in winter! Here’s a taste of what is on offer:
- Vernon Winter Carnival – 10 day festival in early/mid February featuring tournaments, tastings, races, themed dinners and more
- Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre – Two venues showcasing comedy, interpretive dance, drama, live music, acrobatic performances
- Marten Brewing – Craft beer venue with live music every Friday evening starting at 6.30pm. No cover
- Vernon Vipers Junior A Hockey – Regular hockey games at Kal Tire Place throughout the winter months
- Los Huesos – Authentic Mexican restaurant with live music every Friday and Saturday, reservations highly recommended. No cover
- Vernon Jazz Club – Volunteer-run, non-profit society in downtown heritage building, reservations highly recommended
- SilverStar Mountain Resort – Numerous competitions, events, film festivals and live music performances throughout the winter season
For some wholesome, nostalgic winter fun, head to Brewer’s Pond at SilverStar Mountain Resort. The 2.5 acre natural ice rink is the perfect place for an evening glide or casual hockey game.
The rink is just a short walk from the the Tube Town Café, where you can warm up with a cup of hot chocolate next to the outdoor fire. Skate rentals are available.
It’s also possible to go ice skating closer to downtown Vernon. Public skating is available indoors at the Priest Valley Arena and outdoors at the Centennial Outdoor Rink, both situated within Vernon’s Recreation Complex.
Skating at the outdoor rink is completely free but is subject to favourable weather conditions. It is usually open from early December to early March.
Could there be a more fun and effortless winter activity than snow tubing? Not in my mind! Loved by all the family (including the young at heart), tubing is easy and also fairly affordable.
SilverStar’s Tube Town features four lanes of sliding and spinning action. The speed varies on the weather conditions but the enthusiastic staff always ensure a fun ride. Slide down on your own or spin with a group before returning to the top via the conveyor belt-style lift.
Tickets can be purchased at the adjacent Tube Town Café, where an outdoor fire glows in the evenings. Hot beverages also available.
A celebration of local food producers and artisans, Vernon’s Tasting Trail features 33 small businesses in and around the city. Many of these businesses remain open in winter, so you can still partake in the Tasting Trail while visiting Vernon during the colder months.
Some of our favourite Tasting Trail locations which are open year round include:
- Planet Bee Honey Farm – 100% raw honey producer and curator of high quality, cruelty free honey bee products
- Honeymoon Meadery – Hand crafted honey wine made with entirely natural ingredients, complimentary tastings
- Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery – 30+ varieties and variations of gin, vodka, whiskey and other liquors made with 100% locally grown fruits and grains
- Olive Us Olive Oil and Vinegar Tasting Room – Taste, pair and compare ultra premium (single varietal) olive oils, balsamic vinegars and infused olive oils
- Hot Bread Shoppe – Small batch artisan bakery utilising organic flours from a local mill, without the use of preservatives, dough enhancers or other synthetic additives
Sparkling Hill Resort
Designed to restore mind, body and soul, Sparkling Hill Resort is a luxurious adults-only spa retreat located just south of Vernon.
While open all year round, I would say that winter is a particularly special time to visit Sparkling Hill. There’s nothing better than basking in the outdoor infinity pool overlooking Okanagan Lake, surrounded by snow, before alternating between the multiple sauna and steam rooms.
The mountain views (showcased by spectacular floor to ceiling windows) are just that much more impressive in winter as well, with white capped peaks rising above the lake.
For the ultimate Vernon winter getaway, consider a stay at Sparkling Hill Resort. Check out our Sparkling Hill review for more details.
Other things to do in Vernon in winter
Here are a few more quick ideas to round out your winter trip to Vernon, British Columbia!
- Go fat biking on the dedicated trails at SilverStar Mountain Resort
- Explore the grounds of O’Keefe Ranch (by donation)
- Tour Vernon’s downtown murals featuring notable people, places, businesses and events
- Go heli-skiing with Eleven Experience
- Pick up a coffee and freshly baked doughnut at Ratio Coffee and Pastry
- Take a horse drawn sleigh ride to the Wild Horsemen’s Cabin
- Explore the Grassland Trail at the Allan Brooks Nature Centre (when gates are open)
- Browse the independent stores of downtown Vernon
- Enjoy brunch at Okanagan Eatery or EATology
Check out these other Vernon posts next:
One half of the Canadian/British couple behind Off Track Travel, Gemma is happiest when hiking on the trail or planning the next big travel adventure. JR and Gemma are currently based in the beautiful Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada