7 World-Class Experiences That Don’t Require a Passport
Seeking something unique and exotic for your next vacation? A “staycation” in Western Canada can be just as spectacular as a far-flung destination. These world-class attractions in the Canadian Rockies and Pacific Northwest prove there really is no place like home.
Want to explore exotic islands?
Instead of the Galapagos, visit Haida Gwaii.
Formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, this archipelago off the northernmost tip of the British Columbia coastline is world-renowned for its mystical beauty and rich, indigenous culture. Home to the Haida people for more than 13,000 years, and protected by designated Haida Watchmen who live there, the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site features a number of breathtaking village sites. Here you’ll find ancient totems, densely wooded forests shrouded in mist, and orcas swimming offshore. Although it’s possible to see the sights in a day, most day-trippers end up wishing they’d arranged a several-night stay with one of the local outfitters who will ferry you deep into the protected area in an inflatable outboard motor boat.
Want to travel in the lap of luxury?
Instead of taking a European river cruise, treat yourself to a Rocky Mountaineer journey.
Cruise by train! World-class service kicks off even before Rocky Mountaineer’s elegantly appointed coaches pull out of station in Seattle or Banff. While mountains and valleys may be the most prominent feature of these luxury trips, guests will enjoy plenty of remarkable waterways on their journeys, too. On the “Coastal Passage” route from Seattle to Vancouver (or vice versa), the train skirts the shore. Guests are treated to expansive views of Puget Sound, then roll across Chuckanut Bay—the only place where the Cascade Mountains meet the sea—before getting up close with the beaches and famous stone at White Rock, which is said to have been hurled there by a god of the sea, demonstrating his strength. Connect in Vancouver with the “First Passage to the West” route, where the rails trace river valleys, dancing through canyons along the Fraser River to Hell’s Gate, through semi-arid landscapes along the South Thompson River, to Kinbasket Lake, whose blue-green waters are fed by the Columbia River. You’ll also travel next to the rushing Kicking Horse River and other waterways that are best seen by train.
Want that authentic alpine experience?
Instead of touring the Swiss Alps, soar up Grouse Mountain on the Skyride.
Towering more than 1,200 metres above downtown Vancouver—the western start or terminus of Rocky Mountaineer and a world-class city in every sense of the term—this all-seasons attraction offers alpine ski slopes in the winter and stunning scenery in the summer. Ride to the summit aboard an aerial tramway known as the Skyride, then take your pick of peak adventures, whether it’s a scenic helicopter ride, a visit with Grinder and Coola, two rescued Grizzlies, or a leisurely stroll along the mountain’s impressive overlooks.
Want a once-in-a-lifetime road trip?
Instead of Route 66, drive the Icefields Parkway.
Arguably North America’s most scenic stretch of highway, this legendary link between Lake Louise and Jasper winds through the frontal range of the Canadian Rockies. Although you can easily complete the 230-kilometre route in a matter of hours, this is a drive to be savoured rather than endured. Give yourself ample time to explore roadside stops like the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre, where you can shift from driver to passenger on a massive all-terrain Ice Explorer vehicle onto the Athabasca Glacier itself. Or better yet, take a motorcoach tour between the two destinations, and skip the driving altogether.
Want to conquer your fear of heights?
Instead of peering over the lip of the Grand Canyon, stroll the Glacier Skywalk.
About five kilometres west of the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre, you’ll come across the next marvel on any Icefields Parkway must-see list: The Glacier Skywalk. This open-air observation deck boasts awe-inspiring views of the glacier-formed Sunwapta Valley—along with glass floors for an unobstructed view of the landscape 280 metres below.
Instead of Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, plunge into Banff Upper Hot Springs.
It’s been 131 years since the restorative properties of these natural hot springs were first tapped as a tourist attraction, and they remain as alluring as ever. Flowing out of Sulphur Mountain (best known as the summit of the famed Banff gondola), these naturally heated springs fill an outdoor pool, where you can bask in the steaming 40-degree temperature waters while taking in Banff’s impossibly pretty scenery, including a magnificent view of the iconic Mount Rundle.
Fun fact: Although the Banff town site’s year-round, permanent population is around 8,000, nearly 4 million tourists visit Banff National Park each year.
Instead of Rio’s Sugarloaf cable car, ride the Peak 2 Peak Gondola.
Connecting Whistler, B.C.’s two most famous mountains, this vertigo-inducing gondola shuttles curious sightseers and skiiers alike between Whistler Mountain Roundhouse and Blackcomb’s Rendezvous Lodge. This remarkable feat of engineering shattered a number of records when it opened to the public in late 2008, and can still claim to have the longest unsupported lift span in the world, with one span of cable stretching a staggering three-kilometres between towers. If you can time your visit just right, hop in one of the silver-coloured cable cars. These particular cars are fitted with glass bottoms that give a unique (and thrilling) perspective on the remarkable landscape that’s sometimes more than 400 metres below.