From the towering Rocky Mountains to lush vine-striped valleys, the crystalline waters of the Salish Sea to sweeping grasslands under an endless sky, British Columbia is a place of haunting and unforgettable beauty.
All that natural beauty offers plenty of opportunity for adventure, skiing, sailing, surfing and simply soaking in the scenery. But there is also a dynamic cultural life here, from the ancient traditions of the First Nations Peoples to the joyful blend of European and Asian influences in the cuisine.
Canada’s westernmost province is a gateway between Asia to the west and the rest of the country to the east. It is an important centre for trade and commerce with vibrant cosmopolitan cities and flourishing creative industries. It is, above all, a place where work and play, nature and culture, coexist beautifully.
Vancouver is the province’s biggest city, a modern, multicultural metropolis that is regularly rated one of the world’s most livable cities. Bordered by mountains and ocean, it has an easygoing lifestyle that combines outdoor adventure with urban sophistication. Vancouver is home to Canada’s largest and busiest port, as well as thriving film, tech, tourism and green businesses. It is also a centre for culinary excellence, celebrated for its obsession with fresh, seasonal farm-to-table ingredients. From Vancouver, it is just a short drive to the farming communities of the Fraser Valley, the exceptional Asian cuisine of Richmond and the seaside communities of the Sunshine Coast.
Escape to the idyllic isles along the Pacific coast. The largest is Vancouver Island, a ninety-minute ferry ride from the mainland. It is home to B.C.’s historic capital city, Victoria, as well as vineyards, mountain parks and the surfing mecca of Tofino. Between Vancouver Island and the mainland are the Gulf Islands, populated by a quirky mix of artisans and fisherfolk. Further north is Haida Gwaii, a remote archipelago of unspoiled natural beauty and traditional Indigenous culture.
PEAKS OF PERFECTION
Think of B.C. as wave upon wave of towering mountain ranges: the Coastal Mountains, Cascades, Selkirks, Kootenays and Rockies, just to name a few. Those mountains are not only scenic, they are also popular destinations for outdoor enthusiasts of all sorts. Many are located in the province’s more than 1,000 parks and protected areas. Others, like Whistler Blackcomb, Sun Peaks and Big White, are world-class ski resorts with full-service villages and year-round activities, including dozens of top-notch golf courses.
COWBOYS AND CHARDONNAY
The sunny Thompson and Okanagan valleys stretch through the middle of the province. To the west is the cowboy country of the Thompson region, with its dude ranches and vast grasslands. To the east, the Okanagan is B.C.’s wine country, with its vineyards, orchards and sophisticated culinary culture. Both offer plenty for outdoor enthusiasts to do, whether it’s houseboating on Shuswap Lake, scaling the Skaha Bluffs or cycling along the trestles of the abandoned railway line that hurtles across Myra Canyon.
INTO THE WILDERNESS
Back in the 1860s, gold was discovered up in the Cariboo region, and the Rush was on. Today, people are more likely to visit the wide open spaces of B.C.’s north for unparalleled wilderness experiences. That could mean bear watching along the northern coast, fly fishing in a rushing river, paddling through the still waters of the Bowron Lakes, camping out under the northern lights, or panning for gold in historic Barkerville.
Savour some of the best Chinese food outside China with two new tours in the City of Richmond. On the Richmond Dumpling Trail Tour, sample everything from crisp wontons to broth-filled xiao long bao (www.vancouverfoodtour.com). Then, starting in May, indulge in all the basil, chili and garlic-scented deliciousness of the Authentic Asian Eats tour (www.foodietours.ca).
Enjoy crisp, local wines, spectacular scenery and the occasional whale sighting on a luxurious five-day “Wines and Islands” cruise through the Southern Gulf Islands from boutique outfitter, Maple Leaf Adventures (www.mapleleafadventures.com).
Discover the culture of the Osoyoos First Nation in the south Okanagan Valley. Explore sacred Spotted Lake with a local Sylix tour guide (www.swiwsspirittours.com), then visit Spirit Ridge at Nk’mip Resort—home to Canada’s first Indigenous-owned and operated winery—and enjoy gourmet Indigenous cuisine at the new restaurant: The Bear, The Fish, The Root & The Berry (www.bearfishrootberry.com).
Get up close and personal with the abundant wildlife of the Great Bear Rainforest on
B.C.’s north coast. A new BC Ferries summer sailing whisks visitors direct from Port Hardy to Bella Coola, a prime spot for bear watching (www.bcferries.com). Then stay at Indigenous-owned Spirit Bear Lodge, which provides exclusive access to sacred sites and wildlife areas (www.spiritbear.com).
Whistler-Blackcomb has more reasons than ever to get out of the village and into the woods. Among them: Forest Bathing Therapy, which boosts wellness along the serene Medicine Trail (www.canadianwilderness.com), and the Salish Stroll, where cultural ambassadors from the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre guide visitors through local flora and fauna (www.slcc.ca).
Beauty and personality—Vancouver has it all. Think craft beer and food truck festivals, yoga on the beach and glitzy shopping destinations such as North America’s only McArthurGlen Designer Outlet (www.mcarthurglen.com). Embraced by the ocean and mountains, the city features a livable mix of high-rises and heritage homes, graceful gardens and funky neighbourhoods. At its heart is the lushly forested 400-ha (1,000-acre) Stanley Park, one of the world’s great urban parks. But Vancouver is also the glittering glass towers of downtown; the multicultural neighbourhoods of Chinatown, Little Italy and Little India; the hipster cool of Gastown and the trendy restaurants of Kitsilano; as well as attractions including Science World, the North Shore ski hills and Capilano Suspension Bridge Park (www.tourismvancouver.com).
Across the Strait of Georgia, at the southern tip of Vancouver Island, Victoria is a city of historic charm, passionate foodies and endless outdoor activities. It is considered by many to be Canada’s most cycling-friendly city, and is home to several spectacular gardens, including the world-renowned Butchart Gardens. Many of the city’s attractions cluster around the bustling Inner Harbour, including the floating homes of Fisherman’s Wharf, the Royal BC Museum and the neo-baroque BC Parliament Buildings (www.tourismvictoria.com).
Head inland to the Okanagan Valley and you’ll come to Kelowna, a bustling centre of commerce, technological innovation and wine culture (www.tourismkelowna.com).
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
In British Columbia, the great outdoors truly is just that—great: from ocean playground to mountain peaks, windswept plains and fertile farmland.
Head for the hills. This mountainous province boasts 13 major ski resorts (and many smaller ones) with epic powder, heart-stopping descents and pristine backcountry bowls, as well as miles of trails for those who prefer skinny skis and snowshoes. In summer, the resorts turn their lifts and trails over to daredevil mountain bikers and hikers eager to explore the alpine meadows.
But you don’t have to climb a mountain to find adventure here. Awash as it is with rivers, lakes and the Pacific Ocean, B.C. is popular for water sport enthusiasts. You can sail alongside orcas in Desolation Sound, paddle the Bowron Lakes, raft down the Fraser Canyon, surf the waves near Tofino or cast for trout in Lake Country.
Those who prefer to stay on dry land can also hike through dozens of national and provincial parks or ride a horse under the endless skies in the grasslands. Even city slickers can find mountains to climb and waters to sail right in their own backyard.
HERITAGE AND CULTURE
First there were the Indigenous Peoples who fished, hunted and traded for some 10,000 years in what is now British Columbia. Then the Europeans arrived, followed by newcomers from Asia. Today, the three cultural strands are woven together here, vibrantly and indelibly.
First Nations culture is preserved in many galleries and museums, including the renowned UBC Museum of Anthropology (www.moa.ubc.ca), and thrives in authentic experiences such as the Kamloopa Powwow (www.indigenousbc.com). Stories of the Europeans who arrived to extract B.C.’s vast natural resources in the 18th and 19th centuries come to life in Barkerville, a former Gold Rush town turned living museum (www.barkerville.ca), or the Fort Langley National Historic Site (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/langley). The Asian experience is captured in the historic Chinatowns of Victoria and Vancouver, as well as in the City of Richmond, with its modern Asian shopping malls (www.visitrichmondbc.com). And all three traditions come together at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/gulfofgeorgiacannery).
MUST SEE, MUST DO
Climb the Via Ferrata—an “iron road” of cables, ladders and handholds up Whistler Mountain (www.whistler.com). Then swing over to Whistler’s Audain Art Museum to take in a remarkable collection of works by B.C. artists (www.audainartmuseum.com).
In Vancouver, take the foot passenger ferry across False Creek to Granville Island and its galleries, shops, restaurants, theatres and popular Public Market (www.granvilleisland.com).
At the Great Bear Rainforest on British Columbia’s northern coast, First Nations guides will take you on a search for the elusive white kermode spirit bear (www.spiritbear.com).
Go faster, higher, stronger at the Richmond Olympic Experience, North America’s first official member of the Olympic Museums Network (www.richmondoval.ca/therox).
Join a whale watching tour from Tofino. You’ll spot dolphins, orcas, sea lions and, if you’re lucky, majestic humpbacks frolicking in the waters off Vancouver Island (www.tourismtofino.com).
Taking tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel is a longstanding Victoria tradition. Even better? Cocktails. Stop by for the royal purple Q 1908 cocktail at the hotel’s chic Q Bar (www.fairmont.com/empress-victoria).
From the rushing waters of Hell’s Gate to the First Nations heritage village of Tuckkwiowhum, the winding Fraser Canyon scenic drive along Highway 1 offers a thrill a minute, with delicious stops en route.
The open road of Route 97 takes you from the windswept grasslands of the Thompson River Valley cowboy country through the bountiful Okanagan Valley vineyards (www.route97.net).
The Pacific Marine Circle Route meanders from Cowichan Valley’s wineries to the towering rainforests of remote southwest Vancouver Island, with panoramic ocean views along the way (www.circleroute.ca).
Take the week-long Hot Springs Circle Route through the Kootenay Rockies and soak in the region’s spectacular mountain views as well as its mineral-rich hot springs.
For info on these and other driving trips visit: www.hellobc.com/travel-ideas/road-trips
Little ones (and big ones, too!) will love meeting British Columba’s wilder residents. Whale watching off Vancouver Island is an epic adrenaline rush, but you can also hang with sea lions and other marine creatures at the Vancouver Aquarium (www.vanaqua.org). Learn about cougars and coyotes at the BC Wildlife Park in Kamloops (www.bcwildlife.org), go bug-eyed at the Victoria Bug Zoo (www.victoriabugzoo.ca) and The Exploration Place Museum and Science Centre in Prince George (www.theexplorationplace.com), or visit the resident grizzlies at Grouse Mountain (www.grousemountain.com). BC
KOOTENAY NATIONAL PARK
Icy waterfalls and steamy hot springs. Deep canyons and towering mountain peaks. Remote wilderness within easy reach. Kootenay National Park is a place of beautiful contrasts. It is long and narrow, running eight km (five mi.) on either side of Highway 93 in southeastern B.C. Its quirky shape is the result of a 1920 agreement between the provincial and federal governments that created the park in exchange for a highway through the Rocky Mountains. Rugged though it is, many of the park’s greatest attractions are easily accessible, even by wheelchair, including the popular healing Radium Hot Springs. It is also home to Burgess Shale, one of the world’s most important fossil deposits, and is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/kootenay).
Forget the map, use the app: To explore Kootenay National Park, download Parks Canada’s first guided driving tour app, Explora Kootenay.
National Parks and Historic Sites: