Top spots to explore off the beaten track in British Columbia
British Columbia is well-known for its spectacular destinations, from the city of Vancouver surrounded by mountains and the sea to its beautiful capital of Victoria on Vancouver Island and Whistler, the home of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. But there are numerous destinations that can be explored off the beaten track throughout Canada’s westernmost province that are well-worth travelling for, including these.
Getting out on the trails in the Purcell Mountain Bugaboos
The Purcell Mountains lie in the southeastern region of British Columbia, offering the opportunity to explore some most breathtaking wilderness around, tucked between the Rockies and Glacier National Park. This is the home of the Bugaboos, often referred to as ‘The Bugs,” one of the B.C.’s most stunning natural wonders, with sheer rock spires that rise out of endless snow and ice. Some of the peaks are nearly 10,000 feet high, attracting hikers and climbers from across the globe to experience a destination that’s unlike anywhere else.
Head to remote Bugaboo Provincial Park for a trek on the Conrad Kain Hut and Applebee Dome Trail, which can be accomplished in a day, or broken up by spending the night in the Applebee Dome, for extra time to take in all the magnificent scenery.
The 3.4-mile hike to Applebee Dome Camp may be one of the most scenic on Earth. Continuing past camp, you can visit a series of beautiful lakes that sit just below the Eastpost Spire. Rated moderate-to-difficult there is quite a bit of elevation gain, about 2,250 feet, but it’s worth the reward to take in the out-of-this-world vistas, while watching for the abundant wildlife along the way, including deer, elk, bald eagles and hummingbirds. At Conrad Kain Hut first, you’ll be mesmerized by the views that include a closeup look of Snowpatch Spire, Hound’s Tooth and the Bugaboo Glacier. The vistas keep getting better as you reach Applebee Dome campsite which showcases an overview of Bugaboo Glacier, the great walls of Snowpatch and the Bugaboo Spire.
Exploring the rugged Selkirk Mountains
The Selkirk Mountains are a lesser-known granite range with especially rugged terrain, plenty of solitude and, if you’re lucky, the rare opportunity to spot the extant woodland caribou as well as other seldom seen animals like the gray wolf, lynx and wolverine.
Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park offers multiple trails, including several easy and moderate treks. The Gibson Lake Trailhead Loop is just a little over a mile-and-a-half, providing fabulous views of the surrounding peaks and old mine workings, along with picnicking and excellent fishing opportunities with an abundance of cutthroat trout in the lake. Take the 2.8-mile trek to Kokanee Lake from Gibson Lake, and watch for the pikas and marmots along the shoreline.
If a road trip is more your speed, the Selkirk Loop winds 280 miles through Washington, Idaho and British Columbia as North America’s only international scenic byway. North of the international border in B.C., the drive traces the eastern shores of Kootenay Lake before crossing the lake on the longest free ferry in the world. It passes through Artsy Nelson, meandering south through the Salmon River Valley, crossing the border to Metaline Falls, following the Pend Oreille River in the southernmost Selkirks back into Idaho.
Tasting and touring Okanagan Wine Country
Okanagan Wine Country is famous for its hybrid and fruit wines, with more than 130 wineries found here, but it’s also filled with sparkling lakes, sandy beaches, mountains and charming towns. While outdoor adventure is popular here, travellers are increasingly arriving for the delicious local food and wine. There are multiple outstanding wineries that have been honoured with national and international awards, many boasting dining with awe-inspiring lake views, like the Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek Winery which serves farm-to-table dishes paired with Meritage or Pinot Gris. The Black Hills tasting room is a must for wine enthusiasts – be sure to sample the Nota Bene, its signature wine, one of the region’s big reds.
The Sparkling Hill Resort in Vernon is one of the top spots for a wine retreat, set within an elegant property nestled in the mountains overlooking Lake Okanagan, with over 3.5 million Swarovski crystals shimmering in its sleek architecture. After a day of exploring, relax body and mind at the wellness spa, one of the world’s most unique, infused with the custom Swarovski architecture, offering more than 100 innovative treatments designed to refresh and restore.
Viewing the many magnificent cascades at ‘Canada’s Waterfall Park’ - Wells Gray Provincial Park
A waterfall lovers’ dream, Wells Gray Provincial Park is home to 39 named waterfalls, with many referring to it as ‘Canada’s Waterfall Park.’ This jaw-dropping landscape is made up of 1.3-million acres of alpine wilderness, with towering mountain peaks and old-growth rain forests, serene lakes and roaring rapids. Activities like hiking, canoeing, river rafting, horseback riding and fishing can also be enjoyed here. Even history buffs can indulge their passion with the chance to learn about the early prospectors, trappers and homesteaders in the area, as well as the natural forces like glaciers and volcanoes that shaped the land.
The park’s most famous waterfall requires little effort to view. Helmeken Falls is the reason the park exists – Canada’s fourth largest waterfall plunges over 460 feet to the canyon below and can be accessed just steps from the road. You’ll be able to capture postcard-perfect panoramic shots from the viewing platform, which hangs over the canyon’s lip. If you’re up for a hike, take the Helmeken Rim Trail for vistas that are seen by more wildlife than people. A 2.5-mile walk will take you along the river right to the edge of the waterfall. In late spring, it’s at its most powerful, with rainbows frequently developing in the mist. In the summer, colourful wildflowers can be viewed along the way.
Another awe-inspiring waterfall, Moul Falls is one of the park’s best kept secrets, offering the unique opportunity to stand behind the veil of the cascades. Plummeting nearly 115 feet, a path winds behind the falls, ending in a cave in the lava rock providing a great way to cool off after the one-hour trek from Clearwater Valley Road.
Whale watching and more in Ucluelet
One of the world’s most stunningly unspoiled coastlines can be found on the west coast of Vancouver Island. While the neighbouring town of Tofino may be more well-known, Ucluelet is less-visited and also enjoys the wild and rugged beauty of the Pacific. You’ll be immersed in stunning natural beauty, with miles and miles of hiking trails for exploring it all, like the Wild Pacific Trail which twists through lush emerald forests with giant trees. The Lighthouse Loop portion is one of its most popular, though all sections provide breathtaking coastal panoramas of the Broken Group Islands, Barkley Sound and beyond to the Pacific Ocean.
Whale watching here is a must-experience as one of the best places on Earth to spot the majestic creatures, including humpbacks, grays and orcas, along with other wildlife like bears, harbour seals, sea lions, sea otters and bald eagles. In the village itself, you can pick up gifts and souvenirs like unique amber jewelry, First Nations carvings and Murano glass, as well as feed your appetite at one of several eateries serving everything from salmon pie to fish ‘n’ chips.
Witnessing rare wildliife in Haida Gwaii
Haida Gwaii is an outdoor adventurers’ and a wildlife enthusiasts’ paradise. Formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, the archipelago is often referred to as Canada’s Galapagos for its endemic wildlife. Visitors have the opportunity to glimpse Sitka deer, the unique Haida Gwaii black bear, shermine, dusky shrew and pine marten. There is an almost mystical feel in this remote area of the world, with the ocean mist that drifting through moss-draped trees. Twenty species of whales and dolphins have been recorded here, including gray and humpback, orca and minke whales, and the occasional sei or fin whale too.
With such nutrient-rich waters, expect to discover a foodie’s delight with menus frequently featuring dishes like halibut, salmon, scallops, clams and geoduck paired with fresh, local produce and exotic mushrooms. Visit artisan communities where local artists produce jewelry, soaps, essential oils, glass, candles, soaps and other creations from home workshops, and witness the living culture of the Haida people, who exist here in the same natural settings where people have lived for thousands of years.
Outdoor adventure abounds in Tweedsmuir Provincial Park
Tweesmuir Provincial Park is one of the largest of this province’s many parks, located in its west-central region. Not only does it offer some of North America’s most breathtaking scenery, but here, outdoor adventure truly abounds. Just some of the activities here including canoeing the Turner Lake Chain, hiking or horseback riding the wilderness trails, fishing and camping. For an especially unforgettable, luxury experience, stay at Tweedsmuir Lodge. It offers one of the best opportunities in the region for viewing grizzly bears and other wildlife. You’ll marvel at the animals from the wildlife-watching platform, witnessing them hunt and feast on the riverbed, and even see them grazing on the grassy grounds of the lodge.
Experience authentic cowboy life at the Williams Lake Stampede
The city of Williams Lake, located in the central interior of B.C., draws visitors from across the globe to attend the annual Williams Lake Stampeded. If you can plan your visit in late June/early July, you can take in four days of exciting, historic rodeo. The professional show features cowboys from across Canada as well as the U.S. to compete for bragging rights as the “best cowboy,” and includes a number of other events as well, like the wild cowgirls’ race, a mountain horse race, live entertainment and more.
Unforgettable ranch stays
For a true taste of the ranch life, there are multiple opportunities for ranch stays that allow guests to participate in a variety of activities surrounded by magnificent terrain. Campbell Hills Guest Ranch near Kamloops offers horseback riding through lush alpine meadows while watching the unique birdlife, as well as hiking and mountain biking, four-wheeling, wagon rides, fishing and campfires. After a day of play, you can unwind in the Wild Horse Saloon before retiring to your cabin or lodge room, all of which offer picturesque views of Campbell Lake and the surrounding forest-covered mountains.
Echo Valley Ranch & Spa, also near Kamloops in the Cariboo Mountains, offers the chance to indulge in spa treatments like a honey and cucumber facial or mountain-mist herbal steam bath after taking part in outdoor adventures, including guided horse rides, biking or hiking, fly fishing, whitewater rafting and gold panning.
Heli-glamping near historic Smithers
Heli-glamping is a bucket list experience among travellers, sometimes referred to as “glamping gone wild.” You’ll venture deep into the unspoiled backcountry of the Skeena Mountains east of the historic town of Smithers for the ultimate mountain experience that comes minus the hard work and sweat. Soar to the top of a mountain by helicopter, rising past waterfalls, lakes and glaciers, where a furnished, heated canvas tent awaits. It makes an ideal wilderness base camp for guided hikes, photography or just relaxing in the hammocks in solitude, taking it all in.
Whistler’s surrounding landscapes
Whistler may be best-known as a ski village, as the site of many of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, but the surrounding area offers an outdoor enthusiast’s playground in the warmer months of the year too. You’ll find hiking trails edged by a kaleidoscope of wildflowers in the alpine terrain, including a wide range of outstanding day hikes that lead to gem-like lakes such as Wedgemount, Garibaldi and Cheakamus. There are short and sweet nature walks around Lost Lake too, where the routes fan out from the lakeshore, meandering to peaceful forests filled with wildlife.
Grizzly-viewing and more in the remote Prince Rupert region
The small town of Prince Rupert is located on Kaeien Island, just before British Columbia becomes the Alaskan panhandle. In this remote region of the province you can take part in everything from hiking and paddling around the edge of a rain forest to some of the world’s best fishing or even hanging out with grizzly bears. Khutzeymateen Provincial Park and Grizzly Bear Sanctuary is one of the top spots on Earth for viewing the creatures in their natural habitat with some 80 grizzlies protected here.
Explore the wonders of British Columbia with these recommended tours and stays
Exhilarating BC - Whitewater Rafting, Biking & Hiking Self-Drive (14 nights)
Experience BC - Wilderness & Wildlife Self-Drive (12 nights)
Explore BC - Mountains, Wilderness & Ranches Self-Drive (14 nights)
Experience BC - Wineries & Walks Self-Drive (10 nights)
The West Coast Wilderness Lodge, near Egmont
Emerald Lake Lodge, Kootenay Rockies
Great Bear Lodge, Vancouver Island
Siwash Lake Wilderness Resort, Cariboo Chilcotin Coast
Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, Vancouver Island