Thursday, November 14, 2019

5 Reasons to Visit Golden, BC this Winter

Golden is a year-round adventure destination and is only 3 hours away from Calgary, making it an easy location to visit for a ski weekend this winter. Plan a longer getaway over a long weekend and you'll have plenty of time to explore the town and surrounding national parks.

Plan to spend at least one day at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, Golden BC 

5 Highlights of a Winter Getaway to Golden, British Columbia

1. Skiing or Snowboarding at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort 

We just visited Kicking Horse Mountain Resort as a family last winter for the first time (shocking I know!) What impressed me the most was the scenery. Don't believe me, just look at the views from the top of the gondola in the photo at the top of this story.

Scenery aside, other things families will love about Kicking Horse:

  • There's an easy way down from the top of the gondola, allowing for top to bottom skiing for all abilities. (See the ski map here.) I also found a good way down from the Stairway to Heaven chairlift that most "strong novice" skiers should be able to handle.

  • There's a beginner chair at the bottom of the mountain where you can warm up before getting on the gondola. I always appreciate having a beginner-specific chairlift when I'm at a new resort because I can just enjoy skiing without constantly checking the map to make sure I don't end up somewhere I won't be able to ski down. - especially useful when skiing with kids who like to ski ahead!

  • I like resorts with gondolas! Gondolas are so much warmer than open chairlifts and Kicking Horse is one of the few resorts here where you can get to the top of the mountain without having to ride several chairlifts.

The Eagle's Eye Restaurant at the top of the gondola 

  • There's a family-friendly restaurant at the top of the gondola! Reservations are recommended and I appreciated knowing I could show up and be guaranteed to have a table. (unlike trying to find space in a crowded day lodge.)

  • I liked the assortment of other restaurants at the resort including the Double Black Cafe in the Village. I'm a big fan of resorts having an authentic coffee shop rather than just a day lodge with cafeteria. (It makes for a nice place to unwind if you're a person who sometimes finishes skiing earlier than the rest of the family.)

  • Strong skiers will love the advanced terrain at this resort. With 5 alpine bowls and 85+ inbound chutes, you'll feel like you're backcountry skiing without the work of climbing up the mountain first. Note that a short hike is required to reach some of the bowls but you'll appreciate that ski down after you've worked a bit for it.

How's this for a sea of mountains all around you at the top of Kicking Horse! 
Climbing up to ski the Whitewall at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort 

2. Cross-Country Skiing at the Dawn Mountain Nordic Centre

I love downhill skiing, but I'm also very fond of nordic skiing and was very excited to finally visit Dawn Mountain on our trip to Golden last winter. The Nordic Centre is located less than a kilometre away from Kicking Horse so if you aren't a downhill skier, you could drop the family off at the hill, and then continue back to the nordic centre for the day.

At the Nordic Centre you'll find 33 km of trails groomed for both classic and skate skiing. There are loops for all abilities and the trails get freshly groomed within 24 hours of every snowfall. You can also phone ahead if you'd like to sign up for a lesson while you're here.

Dawn Mountain Nordic Centre day lodge 

Dawn Mountain has a full rental shop and so my son rented skate skis for our outing here. He'd been begging to try skate skiing all winter and I was happy that he finally got the opportunity on such meticulously groomed trails.

You can also rent snowshoes if you'd prefer to check out the trails around Dawn Mountain while hiking. There are a couple of short snowshoe loops here that would be perfect for families.

The Nordic Centre also has a beautiful day lodge where you can warm up  between ski loops or have your lunch before driving home if you visit for a few hours of skiing Sunday morning (as we did.)

Learning how to skate ski at Dawn Mountain Nordic Centre 
Cross-country skiing at Dawn Mountain Nordic Centre

3. Winter Hiking and Chasing Frozen Waterfalls in Yoho National Park

There are many beautiful hikes near Golden, but my favourite is the Wapta Falls Trail in Yoho National Park. Best of all, you'll pass right by the trailhead on your drive to or from Calgary. Leave Friday morning for an extended weekend and you can hike to Wapta Falls on your way to Golden. Alternately, stop on your way home Sunday.

Wapta Falls from the first viewpoint above the river (most groups climb to the top of the snow pile in front)

The trailhead is located 32 km east of Golden, so this hike is definitely day-trip worthy from Golden as well if you're spending a few days in town.

Hiking across the frozen river to the base of the waterfalls 

In summer, the falls are reached in a round trip distance of 4.6 km. In winter, you have to add an extra 3.6 km for hiking the closed gravel access road from the highway. In total, it's an 8.2 km winter outing and fast parties can make the return trip in 2.5 hours.

Standing at the base of Wapta Falls 

I hiked this trail last spring with a few girlfriends and we didn't need snowshoes because the snow was packed down. If you go earlier in the winter, you'll want to pack your snowshoes. Depending on conditions you might also want ice cleats for the steep hill down to the river.

The snowpile in front of the falls makes for a great lunch spot!

4. Family Backcountry Adventure at Rogers Pass in Glacier National Park

We travel out to Golden and beyond to Glacier National Park to spend a couple of nights at Rogers Pass every winter. We rent out the entire A. O. Wheeler Hut, An Alpine Club of Canada property.

From Golden, you can reach Rogers Pass in roughly an hour (82 km away) when roads are good.

A. O. Wheeler Hut, Rogers Pass 

The Wheeler Hut sleeps 24 people in winter and is one of the larger backcountry huts managed by the Alpine Club of Canada. With three separate rooms on the main floor, it always feels spacious and comfortable for a big group. Reservations must be made in advance and you'll want to book your spots at least 6 months in advance (earlier if you want to stay on a weekend or you want to book the entire hut.)

Skiing into the Wheeler Hut, Rogers Pass 

In summer you can drive right up to the door of the hut, but in winter it's about a 30 minute hike in. You can also use cross-country skis to reach the hut from the highway.

From the hut, families can't go too far without entering avalanche terrain, but you can hike up to the first bridge in the Asulkan Valley and the kids will have fun playing in the ruins of the old hotel here.

Read more: The Easiest Family Winter Backcountry Trip (Wheeler Hut, Rogers Pass) 

Snowy hiking at Rogers Pass in the Asulkan Valley 

5. Unique Winter Tours and Activities for the whole family! 

Don't ski but still have a day or two to spend in Golden? Check out this large list of fun winter activities below.

Some of these activities are also great for the more "extreme" person in the family if you want to divide and conquer, sending one or more adults in your group off on a guided tour while others spend time with the kids.

Finally, there are a few suggestions below that definitely say "romantic weekend away without the kids!"

Eagle's Eye Restaurant on top of Kicking Horse Mountain Resort

Dogsledding with Golden Dog Sled Adventures (photo: Julie Brown and Golden Dog Sled Adventure)

Disclaimer: our stay in Golden was hosted by Tourism Golden. As always, all words and opinions are my own

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