Things to Do in British Columbia
Dedicated to the rehabilitation and protection of Canada’s native wildlife, the BC Wildlife Park in Kamloops is home to over 200 animals, including Arctic wolves, bison, and cougars, most of which have been rescued. Visitors can engage in activities ranging from observing grizzly bear feedings to holding a snake.
Stretching over 56 hectares of Howe Sound, North America’s southernmost fjord, the Porteau Cove Provincial Park makes a tranquil retreat from nearby Vancouver, and is renowned for its diverse array of marine life. Taking its name from the French ‘Porte d’Eau’ or ‘Water’s Gate’, the protected area offers a serene expanse of ocean, fringed by a pebble beach and dotted with campsites, swimming spots and lookout points.
While holidaymakers come for the glittering waters and dramatic sunsets, the star attraction lies beneath the ocean – an underwater playground for scuba divers, with artificial reefs, sunken shipwrecks and a diver’s float providing habitats for a colorful population of starfish, anemone and octopus. Windsurfing, kayaking, canoeing and boat tours are also popular activities.
The biggest ski resort in North America and mountain host of the 2010 Winter Olympics, Whistler-Blackcomb Mountains feature 8,171 acres (3,306 hectares) of terrain and over 200 trails. With lift-accessed mountain biking, hiking, and more in the spring, summer, and fall, Whistler-Blackcomb is a world-class resort year-round.
Butchart Gardens, established in 1904, treat visitors to an enchanting floral show that changes with the seasons. Covering 55 acres (22 hectares) on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, the botanical space is intricately laid out into separate themed gardens with landscaping that impresses and inspires gardeners and nature lovers alike.
British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley is bursting with vineyards, orchards, outdoor activities, and charming small towns. The latter offer wine-tasting rooms, fantastic restaurants, vibrant arts scenes, and resorts that serve as jumping-off points for adventures around the area. It all combines to make for a deservedly popular year-round destination.
Squamish’s Stawamus Chief Provincial Park is home to one of British Columbia’s most iconic landmarks: The Chief. The popular rock-climbing and hiking destination towers 2,300 feet (700 meters) above Squamish and is the second-largest granite monolith (freestanding piece of rock) in the world. Though it might be hard to believe from looking at the steep rock face, hiking to the top is a relatively moderate, two-hour hike. The Chief doesn’t get as much snow during the winter as the other nearby mountains and so enjoys a fairly long hiking season. The summit is usually clear of snow in the early spring, making The Chief a great warmup hike for the summer months ahead. There are three peaks, each accessible from the single trailhead. You can hike up each one individually, or summit all three if you’re feeling ambitious. Hikers should be prepared with sturdy footwear, clothing, food and water.
In addition to being a popular hiking destination, Stawamus Chief Provincial Park is a rock-climber’s paradise. There are hundreds of granite walls and multi-pitch crack climbing routes, the most well-known being The Apron and The Grand Wall. Even the most advanced rock climbers come from all over the world to be challenged during the busy summer season by these routes.
Vancouver’s Stanley Park enjoys a stellar natural setting, surrounded on three sides by the Pacific Ocean and set against the backdrop of the snow-capped North Shore Mountains. At nearly 1,000 acres (405 hectares) in size, it offers a combination of coastal red-cedar forest, lakes and lagoons, and scenic meadows. A walk along the public park’s seawall is an essential Vancouver experience.
Admire Vancouver's natural beauty at the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, a quintessential British Columbia experience and one of the Pacific Northwest's most popular attractions. The highlight includes walking out onto the 450-foot (137-meter) suspension bridge as it sways between the temperate rain forest over the rushing Capilano River below. With plenty more to see and do besides, it’s a must for adventurous visitors in Vancouver.
Although Highway 99 technically runs from the US border through Vancouver, Squamish and Whistler to the Highway 97 Junction just north of Cache Creek, it’s the 77 miles (124 km) from Vancouver to Whistler that is commonly referred to as the Sea to Sky Highway.
While it’s easy to whiz up the highway from Vancouver to Whistler in less than two hours, it’s also possible to spend days exploring all the see-it-to-believe-it landscapes along the route. Just after passing the Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal, the road begins to traverse a series of stunning landscapes: Porteau Cove and its beachfront campground on Howe Sound, the Britannia Mine Museum, the 1,100-foot (335-m) Shannon Falls, a towering granite dome known simply as the Chief, the outdoor-minded town of Squamish and a pinnacle of volcanic rock known as Black Tusk.
For many, the fun truly begins when the Sea to Sky Highway reaches Whistler Village. As the basecamp for Whistler Blackcomb, it is home to North America’s best-known ski and snowboard resort, possibly the world’s most famous mountain bike park and enough entertainment, shopping and nightlife to suit any traveler.
The highway does continue north to both Pemberton and Lillooet, two industry-led towns renowned for their nearby access to the Coastal and Chilcotin mountains, but after Pemberton the road is known as the Duffy Lakes Road rather than the Sea to Sky Highway.
Surrounded by water on three sides, downtown Vancouver is the place to go for sea views, bright lights, and action. The city’s commercial core, it encompasses several distinct areas including shop-lined Robson Street, the green expanse of Stanley Park, historic Gastown, and one of the largest Chinatowns in North America.
More Things to Do in British Columbia
Overflowing with art studios, theaters, restaurants, and kid-friendly activities, Vancouver’s Granville Island is a popular spot for both tourists and locals. The “island”—really a small peninsula—is an ideal getaway from the bustle of city life, with waterfront views, scenic alleyways, and a thriving food and art culture.
Opened in 1986, Canada Place is hard to miss: The complex was built to look like a ship, and its five large fiberglass “sails” are visible above the Vancouver waterfront. This is the city’s main cruise ship terminal, and the complex is also home to a convention center, a hotel, and FlyOver Canada, a flight-simulation ride.
One of Vancouver’s oldest and buzziest districts, Gastown is packed with Victorian architecture and cobbled streets. Named after John “Gassy Jack” Deighton, an English mariner who opened a saloon in the area in the 19th century, the district is filled with heritage buildings now hosting boutiques, coffee shops, hip restaurants, and bars.
Situated between Kistilano and Stanley Park, English Bay is one of Vancouver’s best spots for water sports, such as swimming, kayaking, and fishing. Two popular beaches—Kitsilano Beach and English Bay—face out onto the bay, as does part of the Stanley Park seawall, a waterside promenade used by cyclists and walkers.
A trim wedge of water rimmed with top landmarks, Victoria’s Inner Harbour is the city’s bustling port. Whether you’re hopping a whale-watching cruise or enjoying a sea breeze, the Inner Harbour is an essential stop when exploring Victoria. Among its highlights are the elegant Fairmont Empress hotel and the narrow streets beyond.
The impressive Lions Gate Bridge spans the Burrard Inlet, connecting North and West Vancouver with the downtown area. This suspension bridge originally opened in 1938, and is designated as a National Historic Site of Canada. At the bridge’s south end is leafy Stanley Park, another major attraction in Vancouver.
Tumbling 1,099 feet (335 meters) over granite framed by evergreen trees, Shannon Falls are a scenic highlight of the Sea-to-Sky Highway linking Vancouver to Pemberton. The hike to the falls from the parking lot is a beautiful way to get some fresh air and stretch your legs.
Perched 545 feet (167 meters) above sea level, this well-kept park affords wonderful views over downtown Vancouver. A sunken quarry garden, a 1,500-tree arboretum, a rose garden, floral displays, and public artworks make this 128-acre (52-hectare) recreational space one of the most pleasing outdoor hangouts in the city.
Streaming a sheer 230 feet (70 meters) from a rock ledge, dramatic Brandywine Falls is a sight in any season. Lucky for visitors, a short trail and viewing platform make getting to the falls a breeze, and the they aren’t the only reason to visit this provincial park, which is home to jewel-like lakes, lush forests, and rare frogs.
Sidney, British Columbia, is often called Sidney-by-the-Sea, and it’s an appropriate name. The town is flanked by Haro Strait, which flows directly into the greater Salish Sea. Most of the town’s attractions are either on the water itself or related to it.
Bird watching, whale watching, kayaking and scuba diving are all popular throughout the entire region. The town is also the gateway community to the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. This small park reserve protects a representative sample of the Strait of Georgia Lowlands, considered one of the most ecologically at risk natural regions in southern Canada.
The Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre, a not-for-profit aquarium and marine education complex focusing on the Salish Sea ecosystem, is located near the Sidney Pier, while both the Shoal Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary and Sidney Channel Important Bird Area are located nearby. Sidney is also the only Canadian port of call for the Washington State ferry system. Ferries run to and from Anacortes and the San Juan Islands.
During the 10-minute ride to the 2,900-foot (884-meter) summit station, passengers of the Sea to Sky Gondola are treated to sweeping views of some of British Columbia’s most epic landscapes. The floor-to-ceiling windows of the gondola cars reveal the sky-piercing peaks of the Coast Mountains and the glittering fjords of Howe Sound.
First established in the mid-19th century, Victoria Chinatown is among North America’s oldest. Now a National Historic Site, Victoria’s Chinatown is home to cafes, studios, herbalists, tea rooms, and shops, as well as the narrow Fan Tan Alley, which measures 35 inches (88.9 centimeters) wide at its narrowest point.
Built overlooking Victoria’s Inner Harbor, the British Columbia Parliament Buildings form an impressive architectural and historical landmark within a few steps of downtown.
When the provincial legislature outgrew its former home, the provincial government hosted an architectural competition to build the new legislative buildings. Francis Rattenbury, a then 25-year-old recent arrival from England, won with his three-building neo-baroque style plans, but construction didn’t go without its woes; the project soared beyond its original budget, but the new British Columbia Parliament Buildings did open their doors in 1898.
The white marble, massive central dome, and lengthy façade combined to make an innovative and impressive monument for what, at the time, was a relatively young Canadian province. The building remains equally impressive, today, and a few new landmarks exist on its property. A statue of Queen Victoria stands on the front yard, while a figure of George Vancouver sits atop the central dome. There is also a statue of a soldier to commemorate the province’s fallen heroes from WWI, WWII, and the Korean War.
Sheer natural beauty is just the start of the appeal of of Beacon Hill Park, which sprawls across the southern edge of Victoria, British Columbia. It’s a popular spot for locals and visitors alike, with a petting zoo, splash parks, playgrounds, sports fields, seemingly endless footpaths, and one of the tallest totem poles in the world.
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