British Columbia is located in between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Its south-western position leaves its coastal towns blessed with mild winter weather. Vancouver, the largest city in the province and the third largest in Canada, is great to visit all year round and is a fantastic springboard for the area.
Whether you choose to fly into Vancouver, drive there on a road trip or take the Rocky Mountaineer Train from another Canadian city, there are some amazing experiences that should not be missed in the region. If you are on a whistle-stop tour or intend to stay a little longer, make sure you tick off some of the highlights from the ultimate British Columbia bucket list.
Haida Gwaii – The Galapagos of the north
For those with an interest in the First Nations inhabitants of British Columbia, Haida Gwaii is a must. Haida Gwaii is made up of about 150 islands in an archipelago off the West Coast of British Colombia and while Graham and Moresby islands make up the bulk of the landmass, canoeing between the other islands is an incredible experience. The archipelago is separated from the mainland by the Hecate Strait and due to the remote location, the temperate rainforest is under conservation. The flora and fauna of the area are very much under protection and is currently being restored to its state before European influences. The Old Haida Village of Ninstints is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and can be visited in small groups. You will also learn about the village as one of the Haida Watchmen talks about its history. Many people visit Ninstints to see the 26 totem poles that guard the village as these are central to the Haida culture, their political system and their history of storytelling. These Totem poles can be a couple of hundred years old, but you can now see the tradition continued as local Haida have begun carving new poles.
Ksan Historical Village and Museum
Located near the ancient village of Gitanmaax is the Ksan replica village, which is situated between the Bulkley and Skeewan rivers on what was once an important fishing and transportation site in the North West of British Colombia and near the Seven Sisters Provincial Park. Ksan follows ancient traditions in building and decoration to allow people to understand what a Gitxsan Village would have looked like. The Gitxsan are considered to be part of Pacific Northwest Coast culture, despite their territories being historically in the interior. The replica village of Ksan has been created to educate others on a culture that has a history dating back 6,000 years. The Gitxsan are matrilineal and trace their ancestry through the female line that make up independent houses (known as Wilp) of each clan. Their historic language is called Gitxsanimaax and traditional arts such as Chilkat Blankets, totem poles and intricately carved sheep horn spoons are still produced in communities. The museum contains around 600 artefacts from the local area and illustrates the great diversity of the material culture within Gitxsan.
Summer outdoor activities
West Coast Trail
Following the southwestern edge of Vancouver Island, walking part of this 47-mile trail is perfect for those who want to discover the beauty of British Columbia’s coast. Part of the Pacific Rim National Park, the West Coast Trail is often cited as one of the best hiking trails in the world. As it heads up the Berkley Sound, it is a great route to spot wildlife as this is one of the migratory routes for killer whales. The trail is open from May until September and though accessible the rest of the year, it is not regularly patrolled.
Via Ferrata – Mount Nimbus
For those unafraid of heights, Mount Nimbus’ Via Ferrata is the largest in Canada. A Via Ferrata is (in Italian) an iron walkway to aid traversing mountainous terrain. These were popular throughout the Dolomites in the First World War to help move troops. No climbing experience is necessary for this trip through the clouds as you are harnessed in, however, Mount Nimbus is fairly remote and this part of the Purcell Mountain Range is only accessible by helicopter. The Purcell Mountain Range is in the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy Provincial Park and Protected Area and is in the South East of British Colombia.
For a more leisurely wander through British Columbia’s history, Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park is affectionately known as the Othello Tunnels and follows the part of the Kettle Valley Railway through five tunnels and a series of bridges. The stunning views over the Coquihalla canyon are easily accessible throughout the summer and this rare trail gives you an exciting insight into Canada’s rail history. Bring a picnic and enjoy the setting of various famous action movies such as Rambo: First Blood and War for the Planet of the Apes. Vancouver Trails describes the ease of the hike:
“The Othello Tunnels trail is a short, easy 3.5km return trail that passes through several tunnels and over the rushing river below. It’s the perfect hike for a family and is a great place to make a stop driving from Vancouver to the interior as it’s about a 10-minute drive off of the Coquihalla Highway.”
Penticton River Channel Float
Everybody loves a lazy river and this channel float is an absolute must in the summer. Chill out through the hot summer afternoon with friends, drinks and a floatation device. The Okanagan River Channel is just outside Penticton in South West British Colombia and about four hours east of Vancouver. The channel was created to control local flooding, but at 7km long and with Coyote Cruises offering flotation devices to rent and a shuttle back to the car park, it is the ultimate way to relax in the Canadian countryside.
Spotted Lake Osoyoos
East of Vancouver and along the American border, the spotted lake is a sight to behold in the summer. Due to the high mineral composition of the water, during the summer when much of the water evaporates, large mineral pools are left. There are 365 spots in the summer that changes in size and colour. The space between the spots hardens into the walkways due to the mineral deposits in the lake bed. The lake is believed to be a medicine lake amongst the Okanagan Syilx people with each spot supposed to contain different healing properties.
Winter outdoor activities
Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park
Take a dip in the glorious natural heat of the Liard Hot Springs while surrounded by the lush boreal spruce forest of the Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park. The second largest hot springs in Canada are perfect for a winter stop off to observe the local wildlife while also relaxing after a day on the slopes. It is deep in British Columbia’s interior and is closer to the Yukon’s Whitehorse than to Vancouver.
Though unable to compete with Niagara Falls, at 30m high and 150m wide, it is impressive nonetheless. The Wapta Falls are the largest along the Kicking Horse River and are remarkable all-year-round. Combine a visit to the falls with other winter activities in Yoho National Park like snowshoeing or dog sledding for a truly memorable experience. Yana and Timon from Beard and Curly say Wapta Falls is their favourite waterfall in the area:
“The Kicking Horse River runs through Yoho and forms one of our favourite waterfalls, the Wapta Falls. The falls are nearly frozen in the winter with sections of flowing water. It is a beautiful sight, and can easily be explored with some good snow boots or snowshoes.”
Whistler Blackcomb is one of the largest ski resorts in North America and should be on the radar for any snow sports enthusiast. It gained world fame after the 2010 Winter Olympics with tobogganing and ski jumping offered at the Olympic Park. Beyond the slopes, many have fallen in love with the picturesque hub at Whistler’s centre. At two hours north of Vancouver it is a perfect distance for a day trip or a weekend to experience the best of Canadian skiing.
Attractions for foodies
Okanagan Wine Region
For those who know their wine, the Okanagan wine region is worth a visit. The Okanagan Wine Region stretches from just beyond British Colombia’s Southern Border with the United States of America to 150km north to the heart of the Trepanier Protected Area on the shores of Lake Okanagan. The second most important wine region in Canada (first is Niagara, Ontario) it produces 90% of British Columbia’s wine. The diverse terrain and soil types of the area all contribute to the different character of wine from this region. Stop for a tour of one over 200 vineyards that line Okanagan Lake and the waterways heading south such as Bench 1775 which has recently won awards for quality and taste.
If you are staying in the city there is so much to try on your own foodie adventure. Vancouver has various districts with a history of culinary delight. Gastown is the hub of Vancouver’s nightlife with great restaurants, bars offering craft ales like Steamworks and great nightclubs for those looking at extending their evening. Granville Island is a great place to peruse local food and based in the historic docks, you get a real sense of Vancouver’s past. Other restaurants around the city offer everything from a twist on traditional doughnuts at Cartems Donuterie to a taste of First Nation’s cuisine at Salmon and Bannock.
Vancouver takes inspiration from the melting pot of cultures that inhabit the city. This all melds to create the fantastic fusion cuisine and authentic street food that defines the city. From food trucks to fine dining, you won’t go hungry. Check out our food guide for Vancouver to start your own culinary journey.