Instead of Banff, British Columbia: Vancouver Island
Many places on Vancouver Island shut down in the winter because it’s the off-season for beach towns. But Tofino and Ucluelet welcome visitors for a whole season’s worth of storm-watching over the Pacific Ocean. Peek at the crashing waves through the windows of your accommodation, walk along the shore of Chesterman Beach or Cox Bay Beach in a raincoat, or join the ocean’s chaos from a surfboard (experts only).
Even if it’s rainy, it’s worth venturing into Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, which spans 197 square miles along the churning coastline. Near Long Beach, you’ll find the trailhead for the Rainforest Trail, a gravel and boardwalk loop through a forest of cedar and hemlock trees dripping with moss. A little farther south, the Wild Pacific Trail in Ucluelet leads to rocky bluffs, lighthouses, and ancient forests. When you’re done adventuring, the Tacofino taco truck is a local hotspot for fast and casual dining, while Shelter Restaurant, also in Tofino, serves bistro fare in an upscale space.
Smart Tip: On your way into either town, stop at MacMillan Provincial Park two hours to the east, where you can easily access the old-growth forests the island is famous for.
Instead of Mammoth Lakes: Big Bear, Southern California
Surf in the morning, ski in the afternoon. Within a morning’s drive of Los Angeles, Big Bear is more crowded than the desert in winter, but it’s more of a locals’ mountain than Mammoth Lakes or even Tahoe. At 8,200 feet, Big Bear Mountain Resort has learner slopes and terrain parks for all levels of skiers and snowboarders. There’s even designated spots for tubing at the Alpine Slide, Big Bear Snow Play, and Snow Summit.
In the surrounding San Bernardino National Forest, snowshoers wear down pathways along the expansive network of trails. Follow in their footsteps or hire a guide through the Big Bear Discovery Center, an educational center with interpretive programs and special events. Just make sure to grab an Adventure Pass at the Visitor Center to park at the trailheads.