The Great B.C. Bucket List
Wondering where to start your explorations of Canada's westernmost province? These 20 destinations showcase beautiful British Columbia at its very best.
The Best Places to Visit in B.C.
Famed for its jaw-dropping scenery, abundant wildlife and pristine parklands, British Columbia proves an irresistible draw to visitors from far and wide. From remote and wild corners to sophisticated urban centres, there’s such diversity in this province it can be hard to know where to begin your travels. Luckily, we’ve done the research for you. Check out these incredible places to visit in B.C.
Sidney by the Sea
Located on the Salish Sea near Victoria, you’d be hard pressed to find a more charming seaside community than Sidney by the Sea. There’s a waterfront sculpture walk, pebbly beaches to comb, plus kayaking and whale-watching tours. Prince Harry and Meghan weren’t immune to this town’s charms, either: During their 2019-2020 retreat from royal life, they lived nearby and frequently popped in. The quaint downtown is filled with vibrant public art, coffee shops, boutiques, and so many independent bookstores, it’s earned the moniker of “Canada’s Booktown.”
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A haven for nature lovers with a penchant for outdoor adventure and wine, Vernon is B.C.’s quintessential summer road trip destination. Situated in the North Okanagan valley, Greater Vernon’s vast network of accessible trails makes this community the “Trails Capital of B.C.” After cycling through the wildflower dotted loops of SilverStar Mountain Resort, take in some live music at SilverStar Village (above) or chill in their slopeside accommodation. Soothe sore muscles at nearby Sparkling Hill Resort, one of Canada’s largest spas that happens to be blinged out with over 3.5 million Swarovski crystals.
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Looking for a more affordable alternative to Vancouver hotels? If you stay in Surrey instead, you can reach Vancouver’s downtown in just 30 minutes thanks to the SkyTrain. But since Surrey boasts the most golf courses and parks in all of Metro Vancouver, you may just choose to stay put. When it comes to great eats, foodies flock to Surrey for its Spice Trail: A collective of 75 multicultural restaurants renowned for their creative use of spices. Follow the culinary route and you’ll sample everything from dosas to tandoori to dumplings and even multi-course fine-dining meals.
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The Sunshine Coast lies on the B.C. mainland, but with its strong island vibe, it feels far removed from Vancouver, a mere 30 kilometres away. That sense of remoteness is largely because this region is only accessible by boat, ferry or plane (including Harbour Air seaplanes, above). It’s pretty much a given you’re going to slow down and unwind when exploring its many beaches, trails and coastal towns. Take to the water on a kayak or boat tour to investigate the marine life thriving in the coastal bays and narrow sea inlets. Afterwards you can hit up the many local craft breweries along the ale trail.
The Rocky Mountain community of Radium has all-seasons appeal. Its location in the Columbia Valley is noticeably warmer than other mountain towns, making those lake dips less bracing. Should you wish to get really warm, though, the all-natural Radium Hot Springs is where you can enjoy a thermal reset. During the fall mating season, Radium’s rams (above) really like to strut their stuff, and visitors can look forward to head-banging, bighorn sheep-style. Whatever your jam, be it soaking, swimming, paddling or biking, you’ll find it accessible—and affordable—in this beautiful pocket of B.C.
Diverse, dynamic and downright gorgeous, Vancouver is frequently ranked as one of the world’s top cities for travel. It’s no wonder, given its location sandwiched between the ocean and mountains. The west coast metropolis offers easy access to outdoor adventures, sports an extensive parks system and is revitalizing its historic neighbourhoods such as Chinatown, now home to sleek cocktail bars and the Chinatown Storytelling Centre. To learn more about Indigenous culture, take Talaysay Tours’ Talking Trees Tour of Stanley Park and uncover rich stories of the land while learning how plants are used by Indigenous peoples as medicine and food.
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Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park
If you’re headed up north along the Alaska Highway, you’ll need to take the occasional break from driving. Why not turn your pitstop into a pleasure at the second-largest natural hot spring pool in all of Canada? Open year-round, Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park occupies a fragrant boreal spruce forest. Warm water swamps support diverse plant life, which you can investigate further along hiking and biking trails. The park is also a haven for wildlife like moose who like to graze at the wetland’s edge.
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Salt Spring Island
Known as the Island of the Arts, Salt Spring Island is a delightful artisan enclave situated between the mainland and Vancouver Island. The largest of the Gulf Islands, Salt Spring has a bit of a reputation as a hippy hangout-turned-retirement community. In truth, it’s home to a tight-knit bunch of creatives who come out in full force for a very popular Tuesday and Saturday market (above) that runs seasonally until November. Equine healing, forest bathing, yoga retreats and paddling out to see impressive marine life are but some of the island’s more popular adventures.
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Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
If ever there was a spot to trade in your vehicle for a surfboard, bicycle or a pair of hiking boots, Pacific Rim National Park would be it. The West Coast Trail is one of Canada’s greatest hikes, but even if you’re not up to the challenge of backcountry camping, you’ll find many other diverse hikes through this temperate rainforest. New and notable is ʔapsčiik t̓ašii, a multi-use path connecting Ucluelet to Tofino through the National Park Reserve. Not sure where to start? Take a complimentary interpretive guided walk with Parks Canada staff to get your bearings.
Parksville is all about forging family connections. A 40-minute drive from the Nanaimo Airport on the east coast of Vancouver Island, the city is famed for its 19-kilometre-long beach. A wide swath of sand that recedes up to a kilometre from shore, it’s perfect for wee-ones to wade into when the tide’s out. In fact, there are plenty of ways to tire kids out, from mini-golf to hiking in forests of fairytale proportions. One thing you can’t miss is watching goats graze on the roof of the Old Country Market in Coombs, a short drive away.
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Known as the basecamp for the Kootenay Rockies, Cranbrook is a great hub for a multitude of outdoor adventures. Here, you’ll find Canada’s first purpose-built trail networks for e-bikes, and more than a half-dozen championship golf courses within a 20-minute drive of the city. One of the more picturesque courses is at St. Eugene (above), which has the distinction of being Canada’s first commercialized former residential school. In addition to the golf course, it’s also a swish resort owned and operated by four Ktunaxa Nation communities and the Shuswap Indian Band.
If it’s culture you’re after, Victoria is one of the best places to visit in B.C. The provincial capital oozes old-world charm, while also delivering exciting new experiences. Classic Victoria activities include tucking into a posh afternoon tea at the storied Fairmont Empress, then taking a stroll through the city’s myriad parks, including the Butchart Gardens (above), rightly renowned as one of Canada’s most beautiful botanical gardens. Nearby, Malahat Skywalk is an accessible attraction that offers stunning views of both the Olympic Mountains and the Salish Sea. To better understand the land and its original inhabitants, you can explore the bustling Inner Harbour from an Indigenous perspective on a cultural tour with Explore Songhees.
Read up on why the Malahat Skywalk is one of the best places to visit in B.C.
You know you’re in a spot that encourages responsible travel when you’re encouraged to sign a pledge before visiting. Home to the Haida since time immemorial, Haida Gwaii is one of Canada’s most significant cultural and ecological areas. Formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, this archipelago off B.C.’s west coast comprises some of the most isolated Canadian islands. This isolation has protected its endemic wildlife, which is why some refer to these islands as “Canada’s Galápagos.” Nature-based activities around its beaches and bogs, as well as the impressive totem poles make Haida Gwaii one of the essential places to visit in B.C.
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Feeling adventurous? Golden is home to Canada’s highest suspension bridges—yes, both of them! After traipsing across Golden Skybridge, you can zip down a mountain coaster or soar high above the valley on a giant canyon swing. Sample mountaineering on the via ferrata course at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort or pay a visit to Boo, the bear—a grizzly rescue happily living in the world’s largest bear enclosure. And let’s not forget that Golden is on the famed “powder highway.” Once that snow starts flying, you’ll want to attack the Kicking Horse’s impressive slopes.
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Sandwiched between two divine lakes, Penticton is one of the best places to visit in B.C. for lovers of wine and water-based activities. If you’re in the right spirits, you just might spot Ogopogo, Lake Okanagan’s mythical lake monster. Landlubbers can enjoy the public beaches or cycle between orchards and vineyards along the Kettle Valley Rail Trail. Wine tasting is a huge draw and at Nk’Mip Cellars, the first Indigenous-owned winery in North America, visitors can saddle up to the tasting bar or revel in a food and wine experience featuring key elements of Indigenous cuisine.
Brush up on the legend of Ogopogo.
Great Bear Rainforest
Covering much of central coastal B.C., Great Bear Rainforest is the largest intact coastal temperate rainforest in the world. Towering old growth cedar and spruce forests shelter an array of wildlife best viewed from a safe distance with a guide. Have your cameras at the ready: Within this rainforest lives the all-white spirit bear, technically a black bear with a recessive gene. Set yourself up for intrepid adventures by basing yourself in Bella Coola valley. Here, you’ll find a variety of accommodation options, wildlife and cultural tours.
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Whistler Blackcomb may be one of North America’s largest ski resorts, but that doesn’t mean the fun stops in the spring. In fact, it’s now more popular to visit Whistler in the summer thanks to its abundance of hiking trails and lift-assist mountain biking. To rest and recharge after those exertions, look no further than Scandinave Spa Whistler, a luxe woodland wellbeing facility. Whistler is also a burgeoning cultural destination: First Nations history and fine art venues dominate the arts scene while November’s Cornucopia food and drink festival is as intoxicating as you can imagine.
Flanked by the raging Pacific Ocean on one side and old grown forests on the other, Tofino has carved out a near-perfect enclave for revelling in nature. Though this is one of Canada’s most desirable spots for surfing, you don’t need to brave the waves in order to get the essence of Tofino. Storm-watching is actually a thing here: It’s quite acceptable to curl up on your patio and simply take in the spectacle of the churning seas. Luxurious resorts like Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge offer unforgettable escapes into the wilds without having to rough it.
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B.C.’s northernmost coastal city has quietly transformed from a fishing and timber hub to a top tourist destination. The gorgeous harbour is an obvious attraction in Prince Rupert, but there are quite a few cultural draws, too. The Northwest Coast longhouse inside the Museum of Northern BC showcases thousands of years of Indigenous history. The misty mountains and jagged coastline all teem with wildlife, including coastal wolves, whales and grizzly bears. Accessible only by plane or boat, nearby Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary is where you can spot grizzlies grazing at the water’s edge.
There are more than 200 lakes encircling Merritt that tempt trout fishers from around the world. While North American fly fishing championships are held here, nobody will judge you for using a regular rod and reel. Ready to boot, scoot’n boogie? Country music reigns supreme in Merritt, as evidenced by the town’s many murals and the Walk of Stars, a display of over 70 handprints of country music legends. Merritt is also home to the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame and Kekuli Cafe, an Indigenous restaurant that specializes in bannock, a traditional flatbread.
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