Top 10 Things to Do in British Columbia
Canada’s most western province has just about everything when it comes to the great outdoors: majestic mountains, mystical rainforests and the Pacific Ocean. Guaranteed to impress and inspire, we’re counting down 10 of the best things to do in British Columbia.
1. Go whale watching on Vancouver Island
Being on the Pacific presents the opportunity for some breathtaking encounters with sea mammals. A journey on one of British Columbia’s BC Ferries could be accompanied by a pod of dolphins or orca whales swimming alongside, but a surefire way to see these magnificent creatures up close is to take a whale watching tour. There are a wide variety of tours offered up and down the coast of Vancouver Island, from Campbell River to Tofino to Victoria. In March, whale enthusiasts can take part in the Pacific Rim Whale festival, which takes place throughout Tofino, Ucluelet and Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. The event celebrates the 20,000 Grey whales that pass through the region on their 13,000 km journey from the waters of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula to the Bering Sea.
2. Hike the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island
What was once a telegraph line and lifesaving route for shipwrecked mariners is now one of the greatest hiking routes in Canada. British Columbia’s West Coast Trail is a 75 km backpacking trail across the southwestern edge of Vancouver Island. The trail, which leads hikers through sprawling beaches, up rickety ladders and across sludgy gullies, takes between four to seven days to complete and is not for novice trekkers. And while it’s considered to be one of the most challenging hikes in North America, the scenic and remote landscape more than make up for a few blisters.
3. Sample the wines of the Thompson Okanagan
British Columbia’s Thompson Okanagan is a must-visit destination for wine lovers. Sip, spit and savour the samples from the 120-odd wineries scattered throughout the region, which range from high-end estates to mom-and-pop vineyards. The area is home to a number of award-wining wines, like Mission Hill, which won the top prize at the 2013 Decanter World Wine Awards. Visitors can take self-guided tours or arrange to take part in a bike tour of the region. The wines, combined with the stunning lake-side scenery makes the Thompson Okanagan a optimal destination for any foodie.
4. Soak up the scenery at Harrison Hot Springs
Mountains, ocean and forest surround this tiny village in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley. Located 90 minutes east of Vancouver, it’s the ultimate getaway for both locals and out-of-towners. While the main attraction is the village’s namesake-its natural hot springs-there is plenty more to take in. Every fall, millions of salmon return to spawn in Harrison Lake, attracting large groups of hungry bald eagles. It’s a perfect opportunity for nature watchers and photographers of all skill sets.
5. Shop Salt Spring Island’s Saturday Market
The 100-mile diet started in British Columbia, thanks in part to the abundance of regular farmers’ markets that takes place across the province. At the Salt Spring Island Saturday Market, which runs between April and October, customers are guaranteed local goods. That’s because as a rule, vendors must “make it, bake it, or grow it” themselves. It’s the perfect way to explore, sample and buy local-not to mention fresh.
6. Experience Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach
A theatre-lover’s dream come true, Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach is one of Canada’s largest not-for-profit, professional Shakespeare festivals. The summertime staple is set in enormous open-ended tents along the waterfront in Vanier Park, with the nearby mountains serving as a spectacular backdrop. Here, the city’s finest thespians hit the boards in lavish stagings of everything from Romeo and Juliet (above) to The Merry Wives of Windsor.
7. Ride the gondola from peak to peak at Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort
Whistler Blackcomb is considered one of the world’s top destinations for outdoor adventure seekers, and rightfully so. One of the resort’s most unforgettable experiences is the Peak 2 Peak, an 11-minute gondola ride between the two mountains that affords passengers a breathtaking 360-degree view of the region. The highest point is 436 meters, but there’s nothing scary about this ride: It runs smoothly and frequently and has the same feeling as a hot air balloon-a dreamy float through the sky.
8. Stroll through “Muraltown” aka Chemainus
When faced with the closure of the local lumber mill, this oceanside town on Vancouver Island came up with a creative solution to put it back in business. More than 40 colourful, detailed murals were painted throughout Chemainus, depicting the history and culture of the region. Soon, it became a road trip staple, with hoards of visitors dropping in to check out the art around town. You can explore “Muraltown” (as it’s been nicknamed) by foot or by horse drawn carriage. There’s even an actor who will give tours (while in character!) of the town’s original first lady, Isabel Askew.
9. Dine on sushi in Vancouver
If Vancouver had an official food, it would undoubtedly be sushi. Sushi restaurants seem to outnumber banks, grocery stores and boutiques, regardless of the neighbourhood. From upscale (Tojo) to famed (Minami) to hole in the wall (Sushiyama), there is a sushi for every palate-and budget. The wide range of choices is a direct result of the proximity to the ocean and the freshest fish around. Many Japanese chefs even move to Vancouver to lend their culinary expertise.
10. Experience downtown Nelson, British Columbia
Nestled in the heart of British Columbia’s Selkirk Mountains, this charming city is truly one-of-a-kind. Although only 9,804 live there year round, Nelson has personality in abundance, striking a balance between quaint and vibrant. The downtown core is crammed full of artisan shops, sidewalk cafes, restaurants with locally sourced food, and art galleries. The city is famous for attracting interesting characters-it was a mecca for draft dodgers in the 60s-so don’t be surprised if you leave having made some new friends.