Bordering the Pacific Ocean, British Columbia is arguably one of the most breathtaking provinces in Canada. It seamlessly blends the ebb and flow of the ocean with sandy coastlines, thriving rainforests, serene lakes, and towering mountain peaks, offering picture-perfect vistas and a wealth of outdoor recreational opportunities.
British Columbia beckons exploration and adventure throughout the year. Whether it’s skiing at renowned resorts like Whistler Blackcomb or kayaking the waters of Pacific Rim National Park, the province promises unforgettable experiences!
Ideal for outdoor enthusiasts, British Columbia also caters to those seeking a cosmopolitan ambiance. Must-visit places include Victoria, the provincial capital, and Vancouver, its largest city. These urban centers boast world-famous attractions and iconic landmarks, drawing millions of visitors annually.
Explore towns rooted in British Columbia’s gold rush history or delve into the rich cultural heritage of Canada’s indigenous peoples, known as the First Nation. For those inclined towards fine dining and a vibrant arts and cultural scene, British Columbia offers a wealth of options that are sure to impress.
1. Yoho National Park
Situated in the eastern Rocky Mountains of British Columbia, Yoho National Park rests on the western slopes of the Great Divide. The breathtaking panoramas of mountain summits, glaciers, and thundering waterfalls create a profoundly rewarding travel experience.
Being one of the most captivating destinations in British Columbia, the park attracts travelers seeking hiking and scenic adventures. The park’s name, “Yoho,” originates from Cree language, meaning “awe,” perfectly capturing the essence of the awe-inspiring encounters visitors have in Yoho National Park.
A prime illustration is Emerald Lake, one of the most exquisite lakes in the Canadian Rockies. Its waters boast a remarkably vibrant hue that captivates the gaze, harmonizing with the surrounding mountains and forests to create a surreal picture.
Immerse yourself in the natural wonders of Yoho National Park through its extensive hiking trails, offering a chance to explore the beauty of alpine lakes, towering peaks, and cascading waterfalls!
Nestled at the base of the Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, Whistler stands as the hub of Canada’s largest winter sports area. In 2010, this premier ski resort garnered global attention as it hosted the downhill ski events for the Winter Olympic Games.
Beyond its renowned status in Canadian skiing and snowboarding, Whistler is a year-round destination boasting hiking trails, mountain biking routes, golf courses, and stunning summer landscapes to explore. Even non-active visitors can relish the charms of this delightful town. A major highlight is the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, connecting Whistler and Blackcomb mountains over a record-breaking distance of 4.4 kilometers. The 11-minute ride provides breathtaking views of the surrounding area.
Whistler Village presents a modern, upscale atmosphere with luxury hotels, high-end shopping, and fine dining. However, casual restaurants and regular retail and grocery stores are also available.
Located just a two-hour drive from Vancouver, Whistler’s close proximity ensures easy accessibility. The journey from Vancouver along the Sea-to-Sky Highway is not only convenient but also showcases the beauty of the region, with popular stops including the community of Squamish and the stunning Shannon Falls.
3. Pacific Rim National Park
Pacific Rim National Park in British Columbia is a haven for nature enthusiasts, offering rugged coastlines and lush rainforests. Annually, around 700,000 people make their way to one of its three sections – Long Beach, Broken Group, and West Coast Trail. Accessible by car, Long Beach, while Broken Group requires boat or ferry, and the West Coast Trail is accessible by both.
Situated on the west coast of Vancouver Island, the park safeguards pristine landscapes, including lush temperate rainforests and extensive sandy beaches. The iconic West Coast Trail, historically used by the First Nations for travel and trade, provides a once-in-a-lifetime hiking experience. Along the trail, hikers encounter man-made bridges, ladders, beachside campsites, and the diverse flora and fauna of Vancouver Island, creating a profoundly rewarding journey.
The Broken Group Islands within the park serve as an idyllic camping destination, offering various outdoor recreational activities like kayaking and hiking. With over a hundred islands, the scenic vistas feature sugar-sanded beaches, glassy waters, and a backdrop adorned with mountains, promising an abundance of adventure.
The Long Beach Unit of Pacific Rim National Park boasts the longest beach on Vancouver Island, renowned among surfers for its notorious swells that attract enthusiasts worldwide to this wave paradise.
Vancouver, British Columbia’s largest city and the third-largest metro area in Canada, is a picturesque cosmopolitan hub offering residents a high quality of life. Explore the diverse international district, savor ethnic cuisine, wander through the enchanting Stanley Park, and experience the thrill of walking across the Capilano Suspension Bridge.
As one of Canada’s premier travel destinations, Vancouver seamlessly blends nature with city life, providing an array of tourist attractions and activities. The Museum of Anthropology offers insights into the First Nations, Canada’s indigenous peoples, showcasing intricately carved totem poles by West Coast tribes. Discover the vibrant Granville Public Market or immerse yourself in marine life at the Vancouver Aquarium.
Surrounded by three nearby mountains—Grouse Mountain, Cypress Mountain, and Mount Seymour—the city offers ideal opportunities for hiking and sightseeing. Cypress Mountain, renowned among skiers and snowboarders, played a role in the 2010 Winter Olympics. In the summer, Vancouver becomes a sun-soaked haven, inviting relaxation at its numerous beaches, including Jericho Beach and Kitsilano Beach.
Nestled in the Selkirk Mountains on the west side of Kootenay Lake, Nelson is a cherished destination exuding warmth and charm. Steeped in history from the silver rush era, Nelson is affectionately known as “The Queen City.”
The city’s enchanting mountain backdrop, illuminated trees, and blooming flowers create a welcoming ambiance, ensuring a truly memorable visit. Summer draws crowds to Nelson for adventures on Kootenay Lake and participation in renowned festivals like the Shambhala Music Festival. In winter, skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts converge on Nelson to tackle the slopes at Whitewater Resort, home to world-class courses.
Baker Street, meticulously restored to its former glory, gained fame when Steve Martin filmed Roxanne here. Today, strolling through the historic district along Baker Street stands out as a top tourist attraction.
A favorite activity for both locals and visitors is hiking to Pulpit Rock, offering breathtaking vistas of the city and the river valley below—an enriching adventure in the heart of Nelson.
6. Okanagan Valley
The Okanagan Valley, located in southern British Columbia, seamlessly combines snow-covered mountains with sandy beaches, creating a year-round recreational haven. Despite its excellent skiing opportunities, the Okanagan is recognized as one of the warmest regions in Canada, often referred to as the “Palm Springs of Canada.” The region’s breathtaking scenery unfolds from Osoyoos on the U.S. border to Salmon Arm in the north.
Dotted in between are several lakes, with Okanagan Lake standing as the largest, graced by Kelowna, the valley’s largest city, on its shores. A springtime drive along Highway 97 treats travelers to the delightful sight of thousands of blossoming fruit trees. The Okanagan boasts a burgeoning wine industry, contributing to 82 percent of BC’s grape production.
A beloved summer retreat for Canadians, the thriving valley offers a plethora of activities. Among the most popular is exploring the numerous wineries and indulging in tastings of locally produced wines, exemplified by destinations like Mission Hill Family Estate Winery. The region’s rich cultural and artistic scene comes to life through numerous art galleries and museums waiting to be explored.
Situated on the southern side of Vancouver Island, Victoria, the capital of British Columbia beckons visitors on a captivating journey through its deep ties to British history. This travel destination unfolds its heritage through remarkable architecture, immaculate gardens, and a vibrant tapestry of food, culture, and arts.
Widely regarded as one of the most picturesque cities in British Columbia, Victoria charms with horse-drawn carriages ambling along streets adorned with tearooms, museums, and art galleries. The Royal BC Museum earned its prestigious “Royal” title following approval from Queen Elizabeth II in 1987. Focused on the people and landscapes of coastal British Columbia, the museum boasts world-renowned exhibitions and artifacts, including works by luminaries like Leonardo da Vinci.
8. Glacier National Park
Established in 1886 as one of the pioneering national parks in Canada, Glacier National Park stands as one of seven such parks in British Columbia. Encompassing segments of the Selkirk Mountains, and Columbia Mountains, and boasting the country’s largest cave system, Nakimu Caves, this park is a natural marvel.
The primary transportation arteries, the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Trans-Canada Highway provide visitors with the optimal vantage points to behold the breathtaking panoramas of the Columbia Mountain Range and the Canadian Rockies. Iconic peaks like Mount Dawson and the visually captivating Mount Sir Donald add to the splendor.
Touring Glacier National Park is a popular pursuit, offering glimpses of local wildlife, including caribou, timber wolves, moose, and golden eagles. The well-established trail system ensures visitors a spectacular exploration of this scenic park.
9. Kootenay National Park
Encompassing a substantial portion of the Canadian Rockies, Kootenay National Park is renowned as the realm of fire and ice, showcasing contrasting natural marvels. Its striking glaciers, sweeping valleys, thermal hot springs, alpine lakes, and verdant grasslands collectively contribute to its status as one of the premier destinations in British Columbia.
Among the park’s key attractions, Marble Canyon holds particular acclaim. The brief and straightforward hike to the canyon offers opportunities to witness awe-inspiring vistas of glacial waters, towering mountains, and cascading waterfalls. From the summit of Marble Canyon, one can enjoy panoramic views against the backdrop of Vermillion Peak, named for its rich scarlet hue.
The Stanley Glacier Trail stands out as one of the most favored hiking routes, leading to a close-up encounter with the glacier that shares its name. The shale beds in the vicinity were once the ocean floor, providing a chance for those with a keen eye to discover prehistoric fossils. A visit to Radium Hot Springs serves as a perfect conclusion to your Kootenay National Park journey, offering a soothing soak to cap off the experience.
10. Haida Gwaii
The Queen Charlotte Islands, more commonly referred to as Haida Gwaii, form an archipelago off the west coast of British Columbia.
Often hailed as the Canadian Galapagos, these islands boast a lush landscape with indigenous wildlife, such as the Sitka deer, and serve as the ancestral home of the Haida First Nations. The archipelago stands as unspoiled nature, offering an ideal retreat for nature enthusiasts, adventure seekers, and those eager to explore the cultural heritage of the Haida Nation.
Haida Gwaii hosts over 500 archaeological sites, preserving the islands’ rich historical legacy. Along the Queen Charlotte Highway, officially designated as Highway 16, Sitka deer graze in meadows while eagles gracefully traverse the skies. The Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site showcase flourishing rainforests, ancient carved totem poles, and remnants of fallen longhouses.
11. Salt Spring Island
Salt Spring Island, situated in the Strait of Georgia among the Gulf Islands, lies between the mainland of British Columbia and Vancouver Island. Its history traces back to the Salishan people, but in 1859, immigrant pioneers settled on the island, subsequently renaming it Admiral Island.
Renowned for its natural beauty, Salt Spring Island is particularly famous for sheep-rearing. With over 200 farms, the island’s rolling pastures stretch endlessly, adorned with grazing sheep.
Over the years, the island has been a magnet for artists, attracting talents like the well-known Canadian painter and naturalist Robert Bateman.
Salt Spring Island’s charm has swiftly made it a peaceful retreat for friends, family, and couples seeking a reset in nature and the enchanting ambiance it offers. Explore the island by bike, discover faerie doors while hiking up Mount Erskine, or embark on a therapeutic kayaking adventure along its waters.
12. Vancouver Island
On the far western coast of Canada, Vancouver Island boasts stunning coastal scenery, mountains, lakes, and other natural wonders, along with charming small towns and the provincial capital of Victoria. Coastal beaches, especially near the tourist hub of Tofino and the adjacent Pacific Rim National Park, offer year-round surfing opportunities.
As the largest island on the Pacific coast of North America, much of Vancouver Island remains remote with limited access. Exploring the island reveals incredible hiking trails, including the renowned multi-day West Coast Trail, considered one of the premier hikes in Canada. Campers can choose from a variety of excellent campgrounds scattered across the island.
Situated west of the city of Vancouver, Vancouver Island can be reached by a short flight or a ferry ride. Ferries or flights connect to the Victoria area or to Nanaimo, another popular town on the island.
13. Fraser Canyon
While Arizona boasts the Grand Canyon, British Columbia’s Fraser Canyon holds its own with equally impressive views. The canyon offers breathtaking scenes from the highway, rising 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) above the Fraser River. Comprising a series of canyons, each with its distinct name, Fraser Canyon captivates travelers.
In Boston Bar, an air tram descends to the river at Hell’s Gate, featuring fish ladders. The scenic highway journey includes passing through seven tunnels, one of which ranks among the longest in North America. Hope, known for being the filming location of the original Rambo movie, First Blood, invites exploration.
Fraser Canyon has evolved into a hub for white-water rafting enthusiasts, attracting both locals and tourists to navigate the rugged landscape of rushing rivers and formidable mountains. Spanning the Fraser River is the Alexandra Bridge, a striking steel arch adjacent to the park sharing its name.
Situated north of Vancouver, Squamish is a town surrounded by formidable mountains, including the granite monolith Stawamus Chief. Known for its abundant wildlife, mild year-round climate, rock climbing, and hiking trails, Squamish is a sought-after destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Its advantageous proximity to mountains, oceans, and rivers makes it a hub for various recreational activities such as hiking, skiing, kite surfing, and kayaking.
Within the town lies Shannon Falls Provincial Park, showcasing two magnificent waterfalls fed by Mount Sky Pilot and Mount Habrich. These falls rank as the third highest in British Columbia. In close proximity to downtown Squamish is Brohm Lake, a popular spot for swimming and summer relaxation.
Surrounded by the ancient old-growth rainforest known as Brohm Lake Interpretive Forest, the lake provides an idyllic setting for a refreshing retreat. Howe Sound, another noteworthy attraction, is a fjord named after a British Naval Officer. Dotted with hidden coves and islands, Howe Sound is perfect for activities like paddleboarding, kayaking, and wildlife sightseeing.
15. Barkerville Historic Town
Barkerville Historic Town, the largest living history museum in Western North America, holds the distinction of being a National Historic Site of Canada.
Following William “Billy” Barker’s lack of success in the California gold rush, he ventured north to central British Columbia. It was in 1862, after striking it rich, that the town near his claim was named after him.
Presently, visitors can immerse themselves in the heyday of British Columbia’s gold rush at Barkerville Historic Town. Transformed into a historic park, it features 107 heritage buildings and 62 replicas, offering activities suitable for all ages. From observing women cooking over wood stoves (with a chance to sample the results) to delving into the intricacies of goldfield justice, exploring museums, and, of course, trying one’s luck at gold panning, there’s much to experience.
16. Butchart Gardens
Drawing millions of visitors annually, the Butchart Gardens in Brentwood Bay near Victoria on Vancouver Island holds the distinction of being a National Historic Site of Canada. Remarkably, these expansive gardens have been flourishing for over a century!
Jennie Butchart, the visionary behind the cultivation, ensured that the gardens remained a family legacy. They are still privately owned and operated, maintaining the botanical splendor that originated with one woman’s passion. Jennie’s ambitious vision was to transform an old limestone quarry in her backyard into a sanctuary of blooming flowers. Over the years, she crafted the Rose Garden, Italian Garden, and Japanese Garden, turning the space into a canvas of vibrant colors and natural magnificence.
For his 21st birthday, Jennie’s grandson, Ian Ross, inherited the Gardens. Under his care, the Gardens evolved into the globally renowned Butchart Gardens we know today. Noteworthy attractions include the famous outdoor concerts, the winter Magic of Christmas event, and the enchanting summer night lighting.
Q: What is the best time to visit British Columbia?
A: The best time depends on your preferences. Summer offers outdoor activities, while winter is ideal for skiing and winter festivals.
Q: Are there family-friendly attractions in British Columbia?
A: Yes, there are plenty, including Science World, Stanley Park, and interactive museums suitable for all ages.
Q: How can I contribute to sustainable tourism in British Columbia?
A: Choose eco-friendly accommodations, engage in responsible activities, and support businesses with green initiatives.
Q: What unique experiences can I have in British Columbia?
A: Explore hidden gems like Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre, Haida Heritage Centre, and Tofino’s Hot Springs Cove.
Q: Is it necessary to rent a car to explore British Columbia?
A: While not necessary, renting a car provides flexibility, especially for exploring remote areas and scenic routes.