10 Must-Have Experiences in British Columbia

Expand your travel horizons in British Columbia, a wild and scenic wonderland perched at the edge of the Pacific.

By Maryellen Kennedy Duckett
SG̱ang Gwaay (Anthony Island) is located in the southwest corner of Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve ...
SG̱ang Gwaay (Anthony Island) is located in the southwest corner of Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve in Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, Canada. The Haida name means "wailing island" and is based on a sound created at certain tides when air is pushed through a hole in a rock on the island.

British Columbia is where the Canadian Rockies meet the Pacific Ocean, creating an enticing mountains-to-ocean mix of awe-inspiring backdrops, outdoor adventure options, and seafaring First Nations history and traditions. Sample it all by using British Columbia’s 10 Must-Have Experiences as a guide to embracing B.C. life the best way possible—outside.

Explore Ancient First Nation Sites

Voyage by boat or sea plane to Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site, located at the southern end of the remote Haida Gwaii archipelago. The lush rainforest preserve protects Haida First Nation ancestral lands and traditions, such as weaving and tree carving. See an eerie stand of weathered cedar mortuary poles, cedar longhouses, moss-covered canoes, and other ancient Haida village sites and artefacts on a guided sea kayaking, boating, or sailing trip.

Plunge into Lift-Accessed Mountain Biking

Pump up the adrenaline level by trying lift-accessed mountain biking on an actual mountain. Sun Peaks Resort, interior British Columbia’s largest ski resort, is a mountain biker’s paradise in summer. The Sun Peaks Bike Park’s 40 lift-access trails gives mountain bikers of all abilities—including beginners—the chance to experience the rush of riding down a mountain. Rent gear and take a lesson before tackling the Smooth Smoothie: the wide top-to-bottom downhill mountain biking trail designed for beginner riders.

Sun Peaks Resort operates a lift-accessed mountain biking park.
Courtesy Jason Nixon, Sun Peaks Resort
After a day of biking, enjoy a relaxing evening at one of Sun Peaks Resort's restaurants.
Courtesy Sun Peaks Resort, Kelly Funk

Go Kayaking with Wildlife

Paddle the pristine waters surrounding Vancouver Island North on a wildlife-watching sea kayaking tour. The area’s forested coastline, offshore islands, and saltwater inlets are teeming with wild things, such as seals, sea lions, bears, eagles, humpback whales, and the largest of the dolphins—orcas. North Island Kayak, Sea Kayak Adventures, and other local adventure outfitters offer a wide array of guided kayaking tours, from half-day trips suitable for kids (ages five and up) to multi-day, paddle-and-camp wilderness expeditions.

Ride the World Record Breaking PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola

Soar high above rainforests, glaciers, and ancient volcanic peaks on the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola. Connecting the high alpine terrain of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains in only 10 minutes, the sky-high Gondola breaks two Guinness Book of World Records for the longest and highest lift. The PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola runs in both summer and winter but summer visitors get access to a network of walking and hiking trails plus the new Cloudraker Skybridge and Raven's Eye Cliff Walk with breathtaking views from the peak of Whistler Mountain.

The gondola offers stunning 360-degree views of Whistler Village, mountain peaks, lakes, glaciers and forests.
Courtesy Tourism Whistler, Mike Crane
The Peak 2 Peak Gondola connects Whistler Mountain's Roundhouse Lodge with Blackcomb Mountain's Rendezvous Lodge in Whistler, British Columbia.
Courtesy Destination British Columbia

Soak in Eight Scenic Hot Springs

Follow the 530-mile Hot Springs Circle Route to relax and recharge in eight of British Columbia’s most scenic hot springs. The route starts and ends in Cranbrook and winds through the rugged Kootenay Rockies. Book a stay in a cedar chalet at Nakusp Hot Springs, then luxuriate in the restorative waters of Halcyon Hot Springs. The route’s last springs are in Ainsworth, where a horse-shoe-shaped tunnel leads to a mineral water cave pool.

Enjoy a dip at Halcyon Hot Springs Resort and Spa over Upper Arrow Lake, near Nakusp, British Columbia.
Photograph by Witold Skrypczak, ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Shop Local at Vancouver’s Granville Island Market

Try and buy organic caviar, Okanagan cherries, fresh cheese curds, maple pecan ganache, spicy mango chutney macarons, and other local flavours at Vancouver’s Granville Island Public Market. The indoor market is open seven days a week and is the place to shop for foodie treats and hand-crafted souvenirs that are made, grown, or otherwise from British Columbia. Venture just outside the market to browse First Nations art galleries, participate in an artisan sake tasting, and visit local ceramic studios.

Photograph the Elusive Spirit Bear

Journey into the primordial Great Bear Rainforest on a wildlife photography safari, possible only in British Columbia. The province’s 19-million-acre Pacific coastal rainforest is home to the Kermode bear, a white-fur black bear called the spirit bear by the Gitga'at First Nation. The bear, which is exclusively found in British Columbia, primarily lives in Great Bear Rainforest, a protected expanse of fjords, old-growth forests, islands, and channels that’s teeming with wild things. To see and photograph the rainforest’s spirit bears, grizzlies, black bears, whales, and other wildlife, embark on a multi-day Spirit Bear Quest Tour.

Drive the Legendary Alaska Highway

Take an epic road trip on part of the Alaska Highway, or ALCAN. Widely considered among North America’s top wild-and-scenic drives, the historic highway connects Dawson Creek, British Columbia to Delta Junction, Alaska. The first 613 miles of the 1,387-mile route are in B.C. From milepost 0, cruise northwest through wilderness past jaw-dropping natural wonders, such as Sikanni Chief Falls. Watch for wildlife in Muskwa-Kechika, a protected region that is home to some 2,000 grizzlies, 22,000 moose, 7,000 Stone’s sheep, and several species of bison.

Savour the Flavours of the Dumpling Trail

Follow the taste-tempting aromas along Richmond’s Dumpling Trail, a 20-restaurant self-guided tour filled with all manner of boiled, pan-fried, and deep-fried stuffed goodness. Arrive hungry so you can sample the dumpling bounty: traditional wontons, taro-stuffed wu gok, salmon-roe siu mai, lotus and sesame jian dui, pork-stuffed xiao long bao, and guo tie pot stickers. Some dumplings only are available during dim sum lunch hours. Check menus in advance to chart your course. Continue to expand your palate at the Richmond Night Market, brimming with over 500 international food choices.

Watch Coastal Winter Storms Roll In

Experience the raw power and natural beauty of winter storms on Vancouver Island’s West Coast. November to February is prime storm-watching season and Tofino is a top spot for watching Pacific Rim ocean squalls, churning clouds, and generally wild weather. For front row views of the action stay at the Wickaninnish Inn, where guests can don hotel-provided rain gear to watch storms from the beach. Staying dry indoors also is an option since every room comes with an ocean view as well as binoculars to use during your stay. Mere minutes down the road in the lesser-known Ucluelet, find the perfect spot to view these natural theatrics from anywhere along the Lighthouse Loop hiking trail. Or, enjoy another dry-viewing option from one of the beach-front rooms at Blackrock Resort, just north of Big Beach.

November through to February is the best time for winter storm-watching on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
Photograph by Michael Wheatley, ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Maryellen Kennedy Duckett is a frequent contributor to National Geographic Travel. Follow her journey on Twitter.

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