Head to Quesnel for winter fun and Games


- with files from Brenda Beatty (originally published on SnowSeekers.ca)

When it comes to winter travel destinations in BC, you have your pick from Island escapes to interior BC mega resorts. But with the 2024 BC Winter Games set to descend on the northern BC town of Quesnel, now is the time to get to know this northern BC winter hub. Think pre-Olympics Whistler (on a slightly smaller scale). 

A winter weekend getaway in Quesnel BC puts you in the heart of the action, but free from the crowds of bigger name destinations. This haven for outdoor pursuits, such as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice-fishing, offers countless snow-covered trails within a 10-minute drive from the heart of the city, making it a winter lovers' paradise.

Skiers enjoy the winter wonderland up at Hallis Lake Nordic Centre.

Brenda Beatty, now vice president for the 2024 BC Winter Games, had this to say about why Quesnel was chosen for the games: "I love Quesnel, I’m really proud of my city and I feel most of the people who live here have that really great affection. Our winter recreational facilities are top-notch: Hallis Lake (cross-country skiing), Troll Ski Resort, amazing venues and the clubs are so organized and known for hosting really great, high calibre events. Everybody wants to be involved. 

"Guests coming here for the games are going to have an amazing experience, not just watching their kids compete but encountering locals and exploring a real gem in this town."

Among the cool elements of the games this year, is a hosting partnershp between the local Indigenous community and the town. The games are known as the Lhtako Quesnel Winter Games, and have included board guidance from the Lhtako Dene, as well as cultural exchange opportunities for spectators and athletes during the games weekend.  

For some more local insights, ZenSeekers caught up with returning "expats" Bevin Thomson and her husband Mike. While Bevin grew up in Quesnel, the couple recently returned after years away, and spent some time getting reacquainted with winter in northern BC. 

Here is their hit list for a weekend of winter adventure in their hometown of Quesnel.

Snowshoeing at West Fraser Timber Park

Snowshoe trails at West Fraser Timber Park meander through northern boreal forest.

Start off a sunny afternoon with a snowshoe around West Fraser Timber Park. The network of gentle trails takes you along the valley floor, past frozen ponds and wide, open meadows. 

"Snowshoeing is cool because you can go wherever you want to go! It’s a nice way to slow down,” said Bevin. “ You feel sure-footed and there is a strangely satisfying crunch sound as you walk on snow.”

If you don’t have your own, rent snowshoes at Rocky Peak Outfitters (337 Reid St) in Downtown Quesnel and ask for some trail tips while you’re there.  

Ice fishing on Dragon Lake

ice fishing quesnel BC
Photo: Bonnie Grenon
Sunsets over the lake are a great catch too.

Pop by the Quesnel Visitor’s Centre (703 Carson Ave) on your way out of town to borrow a free ice-fishing kit (auger, rods, ice scoop and tackle box) and get the details on current ice conditions. Pack some chairs and a warm beverage, then drop by the public boat launch on Dragon Lake. 

Settle in and test your skill at hauling up the freshest trout ever as the ice glows with another incredible Cariboo sunset. Neither Bevin nor Mike had gone ice-fishing since they were kids and their dads bored the holes in the ice for them. 

"Drilling a hole in thick ice makes you feel hard core—and we caught the most epic…sunset,’ said Bevin. 

Cross-country skiing at Hallis Lake Nordic Centre

Four kilometres of lit trails await at Hallis Lake.

Continue up Hydraulic Rd for a ski at the Cariboo Ski Touring Club’s Hallis Lake Nordic Centre, where 75km of trails, a lodge and rentals (classic skis, skate skis and snowshoes) make it easy for anyone to feel the glide, day or night. 

For night skiing, four kilometres of trails are lit at night, or bring your own headlamp and ski any trail. For the most magical ski nights, go out on a full moon when the skies are clear, with only the moon to light your path. 

No matter how much you’ve skied, doing it in the dark increases the ‘thrill factor’. Every downhill seems faster and more daring as you ski in the tunnel of your own light. The corners seem tighter and the trees glow and sparkle with frost. 

Apres at Barkerville Brewery in Quesnel

Barkerville Brewery serves up award-winning craft brews and upscaled pub food to end your day.

Once you’ve worked for your appetite, head to the Barkerville Brewing Co. for some fresh, local brews and satisfying snacks. Anything with focaccia is a winner! 

Catch the golden hour from the heated patio and you’ll feel satisfied about making good life choices.

When you go

For more winter adventures in northern BC, check out the #SkiNorthBC expedition on our companion site SnowSeekers.ca.

The Lhtako Quesnel 2024 BC Winter Games run Feb 22-25; for more details check out the BC Winter Games Website.

For an extra local tip, Brenda Beatty recommends a walk along the Riverfront Trail, a network of paved walking trails with sections along the Fraser River (5km) and Quesnel River (6km) that reveal beautiful winter scenes.

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