Seasonal Planning for British Columbia Travel
British Columbia has two main climate zones. The temperate, coastal Pacific Northwest offers warm summers and rainy winters, while the interior is more extreme, with hot summers and cold winters—particularly in the higher elevations of the Kootenay and Canadian Rocky mountain ranges. Shoulder seasons of spring and fall linger along the coast, while the interior can seem to change from sun to snow in a snap.
Summer is the most popular time to visit and travel throughout British Columbia. Long, sunny days make it easy to enjoy the outdoor playground of B.C. for active adventures like hiking, biking, surfing, and camping, music and cultural festivals, and relaxing road trips. The ideal weather draws crowds, so plan to book far in advance if you're headed to popular areas. Or, better yet, explore a less-visited region—there are plenty to choose from in this huge territory.
Winter creates a different sort of playground for British Columbia when it becomes a prime destination for snow sports at its many world-class ski resorts. While the coastal areas rarely receive snow, they can become quite rainy during winter. This means occupancy is lower with many deals to be had and gives a good excuse to check out indoor activities like museums, shopping, and dining. For a different sort of holiday, winter “storm watching” has become a popular attraction, particularly at Tofino on Vancouver Island.
Spring and fall are British Columbia’s shoulder seasons. Conditions can be cold and wet at times, but this results in fewer crowds and better prices. Spring still has many days of fine weather, giving you the chance to try skiing and golfing, kayaking or hiking, all in a single day on the cusp of the seasons. Fall provides the setting for scenic foliage across the province and the opportunity to attend harvest food and wine festivals. Crisp air and few tourists also make this a good time to try late-season hiking and camping in solitude.
|Season||Months||Pros||Cons||What to Do||Where to Go|
|Summer||June-August||Great sunny weather, long days||Most crowded tourist season||Hiking, biking, camping, fishing, outdoor exploring||Everywhere! But the far north and interior have fewer crowds.|
|Fall||Sept-November||Shoulder season deals||Weather getting cold||Fall foliage, harvest festivals, wildlife viewing||Wine country, farm areas, scenic forests|
|Winter||Dec-February||Snowsports fun!||Can be very cold, rainy||Skiing, ice-climbing, storm-watching, museums||Whistler, Kootenay Rockies Ski Resorts, Tofino|
|Spring||March-May||Fewer tourists||Lingering winter chills||Early season hiking, city trips, multi-sports||Vancouver, coastal region|
Summer means sunshine in British Columbia, bringing hot temperatures particularly to the interior (highs can reach 86-104˚F / 30-40˚C). Fortunately, the interior also offers high elevation mountains with cooler weather, as well as brisk streams, lakes, and even the occasional glacier to provide an escape from the heat. Coastal areas are more temperate in summer, with sunny weather in the 70˚F / 20˚C range—an ideal setting for outdoor activities.
In Vancouver, residents emerge from a rainy winter to fully embrace the sunshine, strolling or sunbathing in the large and popular Stanley Park and enjoying many outdoor festivals including June’s Jazz Fest. Music and cultural festivals all across the province prove a summer drawing point for visitors (see more in Summer Events below).
Both the coast and interior are popular for hiking, biking, kayaking and camping throughout the summer. And while British Columbia’s Pacific shores boast many fine beaches (and the interior has many lakes and rivers), don’t expect a tropical getaway here, as waters remain chilly year-round. Still, surfing is hugely popular, particular around Tofino on Vancouver Island—just don’t forget your wetsuit.
“Visit for Winter, Move Here for Summer” is a saying around the ski resort town of Whistler, as well as the nearby outdoor coastal mecca of Squamish, and throughout the interior Rockies, where residents and tourists enjoy outdoor sports and incredible scenery all summer long during the “off-season” from skiing.
Crowds at popular summer tourist spots make the season a good time to explore some of British Columbia’s more remote and less-visited areas. While Tofino and the province's biggest city of Victoria can get packed in summer, other smaller Vancouver Island towns like Port Hardy, Nanaimo, and Ucluelet are more peaceful getaways. Farther afield, the Haida Gwaii Archipelago (Queen Charlotte Islands) and coastal Great Bear Rainforest offer spectacular natural summer nature reserves to visit, with unique ecosystems and plentiful wildlife, without the tourist rush.
Northern British Columbia (reaching farther north than Juneau, Alaska!) provides a remote setting for summer road trips through Provincial Parks with epic forests, mountain and lake areas. Start from the beginning of the Alaska Highway at “Mile 0” at Dawson Creek and see what the province offers. The “Wild West” of the Chilcotin region, from coast to mountains is another less-visited summer destination, featuring ranches with horseback riding, mountain biking in the hills, and history to explore.
It’s no secret that summer brings great weather to British Columbia, which means many tourists both local and foreign embark on trips across the province. Be sure to book early for popular vacation destinations like Tofino, Whistler, and Vancouver.
Vancouver International Jazz Festival (June). One of the world’s biggest and best jazz fests, with more than a half-million people attending hundreds of performances over a two-week period in Vancouver.
Dragon Boat Festival (June). Watch dozens of teams compete paddling colorful Dragon Boats in races in the waters of Vancouver in the biggest festival outside of Hong Kong. The festival also celebrates the heritage of the large Chinese community there.
Canada Day (July 1). Canada’s national birthday celebration with fireworks and fun events across the country. Expect many holiday accommodations to be booked, particularly if the date provides a long weekend for residents.
Crankworx (July). Mountain biking competition and festival on the slopes of Whistler ski resort. Not only fun for watching some of the world’s best mountain bikers, but an opportunity to try some of Whistler’s trails for yourself.
Kamloops Powwow (August). First Nations cultural learning is an important part of exploring British Columbia. This mid-summer festival in south-central B.C. is one of many in the province that celebrates native cultures with song, dance, and traditional celebrations.
Fall is considered a “shoulder season” in British Columbia, a pause between summer fun and winter sports—but this doesn’t mean you should skip the province during this time. In fact, the cooler temperatures and lack of travelers make this a great time to visit. You can generally expect lower prices for lodging, easier access to fine dining, and a little more peace in British Columbia’s more popular spots.
Fall foliage is in full effect, with spectacular displays from coastal mountains to the wild interior. Fall is also harvest time, meaning B.C.’s many farms will be bringing fresh produce direct to the tables for local meals, including Whistler’s noted Cornucopia Food Festival. Okanagan wine country celebrates its harvest with its signature wine festival, and that temperate region is great to tour during this time.
Wildlife viewing is also prime during fall, with bears foraging for pre-hibernation meals at destinations including Vancouver Island, around Whistler, and the Great Bear Wilderness. While snows begin in the mountains usually by late November, September and October still are fine times for hiking and camping, with trails emptied from the summer crowds (and summer insects!), with pleasantly cool temperatures meaning you can hike that much longer without overheating. But the beginning of winter’s rainy season along the coast means visitors should pack waterproof jackets and prepare for changing weather patterns.
Cornucopia, Whistler (November). This late fall food feast on the streets and in the restaurants of Whistler Village celebrates the bounty of B.C. and the talents of local chefs
Okanagan Fall Wine Festival (October). British Columbia’s primary wine region celebrates harvest time with their 40th annual Fall Wine Fest in 2020 with more than 100 wine-focused events including tastings, seminars, wine-stompings, and paired dinners
Sunshine Coast Art Crawl (October). Fall is a good time to visit the Sunshine Coast region northwest of Vancouver to see fall foliage and check out the more than 300 artists showcasing their works in galleries, studios and street venues in small coastal towns
Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival (November). Go wild in the scenic Fraser Valley in this long-time fall festival that features guided bird watching, eco-tours, and tasty salmon feasts
British Columbia’s mountains are a wild winter wonderland, with world-class ski resorts and plenty of activities for non-skiers, including dog sled rides, snowmobiling, ice climbing, Canada's favorite sport of hockey, and warm indoor escapes as well. While temperatures in the interior can get quite cold, dropping below -20˚C/-4˚F, with heavy snows, the coastal region, including the metropolis of Vancouver, rarely receives any snow and remains above freezing, averaging around 5˚C/45˚F.
The Christmas-to-New-Year’s holiday period is often booked solid at the top ski resorts like Whistler, Revelstoke, Kicking Horse, Big White, and Fernie, but good deals are available in the periods just before and after the rush. Many summer resorts and attractions in the interior are closed during the winter months, but coastal destinations offer great deals for visitors.
On the windswept western shores of Vancouver Island, Tofino has become a popular destination for winter “storm watching” where visitors marvel at huge ocean swells and massive rain squalls from the comfort of cozy beachfront lodging with picture windows.
Vancouver in winter gets plenty of rain, but this provides a good excuse to stay indoors and visit its great museums, art galleries, renowned aquarium, peruse its shopping districts, stay in discounted hotels and dine at a fabulous array of restaurants.
Chinese/Lunar New Year (Jan-Feb). Given the large ethnic Chinese population in Vancouver and nearby Richmond, this is a huge celebration with a massive parade, street festivals, and food events.
Rossland Winter Carnival (Jan). Bobsled races, parades, performances and an ice palace-beer garden highlight this fun festival that’s been happening since 1898 in this mountain town in the Kootenay Rockies
High On Ice Winter Festival (February). Appreciate a real Canadian northern experience in this ice-carving festival in the remote small town of Fort St. John with sleigh rides, sledding, and even a chance to see the Northern Lights.
Coldsnap Winter Music Festival (January). The city of Prince George on the northern coast dances the winter nights away for more than a week in January as international artists perform across town and hold music workshops
Springtime in British Columbia means the snows are melting in the mountains, the sun is peeking out from the clouds on the coast, and the tourists haven’t yet arrived for the summer rush. The temperatures are rising on the coast upwards of 10˚C/50˚F, cooler inland, with a high degree of variability. Dress in layers and be prepared for anything from dazzling sunshine to sudden rain showers (or even snowfall).
One of the most fun things about spring in British Columbia is the opportunity to combine the tail end of ski season (which can last through April and even into May) with the beginning of summer sports season, and the chance to try skiing and golfing, or perhaps snowshoeing and kayaking in the same day.
The smaller crowds mean great deals on lodging, tours, and attractions, so spring can actually be the best time to visit British Columbia, assuming you’re willing and able to handle some changes in weather.
World Ski & Snowboard Festival (April). Annual celebration of skiing, music, and ski/snowboard culture with competitions, performances and big-time parties at and around Whistler ski resort and a chance to enjoy some sunny spring skiing.
Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival (April). The month of April finds Vancouver awash in pink blossoms of cherry trees in parks across the city, with concerts, picnics, bike tours, and Japanese cultural performances to celebrate the scene.
Abbotsford Tulip Festival (May). Spring is flower time in the Fraser Valley home to many commercial tulip growing farms. Come see the fields in amazing multicolored bloom and celebrate the impending harvest with food, fun and floral education.
Victoria Beer Week (March). British Columbia is well known for its tasty and varied array of local microbrews, so this festival in the quaint town of Victoria is a fun way to sample the offerings for more than fifty B.C. craft brewers.