‘North-West is best’ is a phrase you’ll hear from locals and see plastered all over souvenirs in British Columbia – the province (abbreviated to BC) is diverse with world-class cities, beautiful beaches, magnificent mountains and stunning natural environments right on your doorstep. For thousands of years, BC was occupied by First Nations communities along with the rest of Canada, and when the Canadian Pacific Railway encouraged travel across the country between East and West in the 1880’s, BC was opened up to the rest of the world. Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean on the West and Mountain Ranges on the East, British Columbia is unparalleled in terms of climate and scenery and has everything you’re looking for on your next Canadian adventure.
Victoria: The capital of British Columbia is a quaint city located on Vancouver Island that embraces historic architecture. Located on the South-East coast of the island, Victoria is home to museums such as the Royal BC Museum and Miniature World (an impressive display of miniature models depicting the history of North America) and the BC legislature building which is adorned with beautiful twinkling lights when the sun goes down. Unique breweries are spotted around the city and harbourside dining provides hundred of options with a view of Victoria Harbour. Take a walk along the Inner Harbour, or take advantage of the bicycle rentals, water taxi or horse-drawn carriage tours by the water.
Vancouver: Perhaps the best known city in BC, Vancouver has bustling streets, just about every food option under the sun, shopping galore, and the benefit of still being a harbourside location. Vancouver has a lot to offer, but in comparison to other major cities around the world it’s relatively small – you can walk all the way from Downtown Vancouver to English Bay in about 45 minutes, and if you’re not a fan of walking Vancouver’s public transit system is efficient and easy to use. Granville Island attracts both tourists and locals and is famous for its market (which takes place 9am-6pm daily), breweries and craft studios. Gastown is Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood – located East of Downtown Vancouver, and it has some of the best culinary experiences in the city. Take a walk along Water Street to see the Gastown Steam Clock and vintage lamp posts that hint at the city’s rich history. Stanley Park and its seawall are an oasis for those wanting to find peace and quiet and enjoy a leisurely bike ride or walk around English Bay.
Kelowna: a little further North East in BC’s interior, Kelowna is located in the Okanagan Valley which is famous for its many wineries. The city sits on the side of the Okanagan Lake (can you tell British Columbia loves it’s waterfront cities!?) and is rich in history and culture. Kelowna was initially settled in the very early 1900s and is now home to many art galleries, museums and theatres forming the Cultural District (right in the city centre!). Get a taste of the vineyards at the BC Wine Museum, or venture a little further out to the wine region and taste some of the best vino BC has to offer. Wine tasting and sightseeing tours leave right from the city, exploring wineries on the East or West of Kelowna.
With almost 650 interconnecting and diverse Provincial Parks and reserves in this province alone, nature is never far from your doorstep even if you’re in the middle of a city! British Columbia has some of the highest concentrations of protected land on the globe and its pristine ecosystems and untouched landscapes are just waiting to be explored.
Here are a few of my personal favourite Provincial Parks:
Wells Gray Provincial Park: covering over 5000 square kilometres, Wells Gray Provincial Park is diverse both in landscape and in its activities. There are over 40 named waterfalls in the park (and many smaller, unnamed streams and falls!). Helmcken Falls is perhaps one of the most famous waterfalls in the country and its protection is actually the reason for the formation of Wells Gray Provincial Park in the late 1930s. It is one of the tallest waterfalls in Canada, measuring a whopping 141m (163ft) from top to bottom, and is located a short and easy walk from a main road which makes it accessible to everyone. Dawson Falls (pictured below) is located along the Murtle River and can be found a short walk through dense forest from Clearwater Valley Road, it’s rushing water resembling a curtain stretching 90m across the river. The old-fashioned and picturesque town of Clearwater is located just outside the park and is often known as the gateway to adventure in Wells gray Park.
Garibaldi Provincial Park: Located less than 2 hours from the hustle and bustle of Vancouver, Garibaldi Provincial Park is easily accessible yet gives you that middle-of-nowhere feeling that allows you to truly relax and unwind (or to set out on your next brilliant exploration!). Garibaldi is a haven for those who want to set out on foot to explore the endless meadows, bubbling streams and winding mountain trails. My favourite overnight hike is the 25km trail to Russet Lake which starts on Whistler mountain. The path meanders over rolling hills joyfully titled the Musical Bumps, using switchbacks to wind its way towards the base of Fissile mountain where you can pitch a tent amongst the mountain and whistling marmots.
Rocky Mountains: The Canadian Rocky Mountains begin in Northern BC and extend almost 1000 miles south, forming the border between BC and Alberta. Serpentining roads give travellers a glimpse at giant peaks and emerald lakes, and Mount Robson is the highest peak in the affectionately dubbed ‘Rockies’ standing at almost 4000m. The Rockies are famous for bubbling hot springs and mineral pools, such as the Fairmont Hot Springs located in between the Rocky Mountains and Purcell Mountains. The BC Rockies also house the beginning of the Columbia River, the largest river in the Pacific Northwest of North America that continues to form the border between Washington and Oregon.
Resort Mountain Towns
British Columbia’s wild and rugged landscape has lent to the emergence of Resort Towns, sitting quaintly at the base of pinnacles dotted around the province. Ski Resorts are generally known for their winter activities, but visit during the warmer months and you’ll realise that the Summer at a Resort Town has just as much to offer! Skiing and Snowboarding is replaced by mountain biking and hiking, and frozen lakes and ice-skating by lakeside barbeques and picnics. Looking for a Resort town to explore on your next adventure? Here’s a few of my favourites:
Whistler Blackcomb: I might be a little biased, Whistler Blackcomb is my home – but I too, never understood the appeal of the mountains year round until I moved here.
It’s difficult to get bored on either Whistler or Blackcomb mountain when your goal is to speed down those groomers or find the freshest tracks on the mountain with over 200km of skiable terrain. During the winter, the ski-in ski-out nature of Whistler’s restaurants means getting a full day on the mountain but still finding time to rest and relax is simple. Not into skiing? There’s still plenty going on during the Winter – snowshoeing, ice-skating, tubing, ziplining, snowmobiling… the list goes on! When the weather warms up, thousands flock to Whistler to watch the Canadian leg of Crankworx (professional mountain biking), experience the Whistler Bike park for themselves, or participate in one of the many other summer activities – think Ziplining, quad biking, camping and hiking!
Lost Lake, Alta Lake and Green Lake are popular locations to lie in the grass with a book or take a refreshing lake dip to cool off, and the Whistler farmers market in the Upper Village is the perfect place to try local produce and seek out one of a kind souvenirs and crafts (held every Sunday during Summer).
Big White: located just over 50km from Kelowna, Big White is a smaller resort than Whistler Blackcomb and brings with it the charm of a small town while still being easily accessible. Free mountain tours are offered by the mountain during the winter, ensuring that you won’t miss the best ski runs and hidden powder patches – even if it’s your first time to Big White. Experience the magic of winter on a horse-drawn sleigh ride, or ski and board the slopes after dark with a night skiing ticket. In Summer, Rhonda lake is only a 40 minute hike from the village and it’s shoreline is the perfect spot for a picnic, and food and drink festivals bring locals and tourists alike into the village throughout the season.
British Columbia’s mainland is a fairly well known and appreciated destination for international and Canadian travellers – but being a coastal province gives BC the advantage of also being home to quite literally thousands of islands dotted along the coast, each with their own spectacular and unique environments.
Vancouver Island is one of the best known islands, and is easily accessible by ferry that runs multiple times daily between Metro Vancouver and Victoria or Nanaimo. Known for its wild and untamed coastline, Vancouver Island stretches almost 500km from top to bottom and each distinct region on the island has something different to offer. Visit the Pacific Rim for world class surf in the quaint town of Tofino (and be sure to check out Rhino Coffee House for delicious donuts while you’re there!), and check out stunning beaches and natural swimming holes in the South Island where the coast meets the forest (Ella Beach is a hidden gem, and Sooke potholes are the perfect place to have a picnic and spend a warm Summer’s day). Located not far from Nanaimo is a little town called Coombs, home to the famous Goats on the Roof old country market. This grocery and gift store stocks treats and delicacies from all over the world, and has a roof covered in grass which is munched by its resident goats!
Gabriola Island: If you’re looking for somewhere a little less touristy, Gabriola Island is a quick ferry ride from Nanaimo (on Vancouver Island). This island is much smaller than Vancouver Island, but still offers plenty of activities to its guests. Known as the ‘Isle of the Arts’, Gabriola Island has a thriving cultural scene, hosting festivals year round to celebrate local talent. Check out Cultivate Festival, which takes place over 4 days and showcases theatre, music and visual arts.
Whether you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of home and enjoy the tranquility of the mountains, explore the peaceful coast or indulge in the culinary delights that the province has to offer, British Columbia is the place to be and regardless of whether you’ve enjoyed a weekend or months away in BC you’ll always find a reason to come back! Next time you’re planning a trip around the Great White North, make sure the North West is on your bucket list!
By Rachel Lecnik