Visitors to Canada's westernmost province should pack a long list of superlatives to deploy here; the words 'wow,' 'amazing' and 'spectacular' will only go so far. Luckily, it's not too hard to wax lyrical about the mighty mountains, deep forests and dramatic coastlines that instantly lower heart rates to tranquil levels.
There's much more to British Columbia (BC) than nature-hugging dioramas, though. Cosmopolitan Vancouver fuses cuisines and cultures from Asia and beyond, while mid-sized cities such as Victoria and Kelowna are increasingly creating their own vibrant scenes. It's also hard to beat the welcoming, sometimes quirky character of smaller communities – from Cumberland to Powell River and Salt Spring – that are the beating heart of BC.
Wherever you head, the great outdoors will always call. Don't just point your camera at it: BC is unbeatable for life-enhancing skiing, kayaking and hiking experiences that can make this the trip of a lifetime.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout British Columbia.
One of North America’s largest urban green spaces, Stanley Park is revered for its dramatic forest-and-mountain oceanfront views. But there’s more to this 400-hectare woodland than looks. The park is studded with nature-hugging trails, family-friendly attractions, sunset-loving beaches and tasty places to eat. Why you should go Built in stages between 1917 and 1980, the park's 8.8km seawall trail is Vancouver 's favorite outdoor hangout. Encircling the park, it offers spectacular waterfront vistas on one side and dense forest on the other. You can walk the whole thing in roughly three hours or rent a bike to cover the route far faster. Keep in mind: cyclists and in-line skaters must travel counterclockwise on the seawall, so there's no going back once you start (unless you walk). Also consider following the 25km of trails that crisscross the park's interior, including Siwash Rock Trail, Rawlings Trail and the popular Beaver Lake Trail (some routes are for pedestrians only). The Beaver Lake route is especially recommended; a family of beavers resides there and you'll likely spot them swimming around their large den. The seawall also delivers you to some of the park's top highlights. About 1.5km from the W Georgia St entrance, you'll come to the ever-popular totem poles. Remnants of an abandoned 1930s plan to create a First Nations 'theme village,' the bright-painted poles were joined by some exquisitely carved Coast Salish welcome arches a few years back. For the full First Nations story, consider a fascinating guided park walk with Talaysay Tours. Continue on to the nearby Nine O’Clock Gun (it fires at 9pm nightly) and Lumberman's Arch, which is a good spot to see Alaska cruise ships sliding past. From here, you can cut into the park to the popular Vancouver Aquarium or continue around the seawall; it gets wilder and more scenic as you pass under the Lions Gate Bridge and face down the Pacific Ocean. Wildlife in Stanley Park Stanley Park is studded with appeal for wildlife fans. Neat the W Georgia St entrance lies Lost Lagoon, which is a bird-beloved nature sanctuary – keep your eyes peeled for blue herons. Its perimeter pathway is also a favored stroll for wildlife nuts. Plunging deeper into the park's more secluded trails, you'll also likely spot wrens, hummingbirds and chittering little Douglas squirrels. For an introduction to the area's flora and fauna, start at the Stanley Park Nature House. You'll find friendly volunteers and exhibits on wildlife, history and ecology – ask about their well-priced guided walks. While they mostly give humans a wide berth, you might also come across a coyote or two; aggressive incidents with coyotes are rare. However, be cautious and treat them with respect and give them a wide berth as well. Beaches in Stanley Park Second Beach is a family-friendly area on the park's western side, with a grassy playground, an ice-cream-serving concession and a huge outdoor swimming pool. It's also close to Ceperley Meadows, where Fresh Air Cinema offers popular free outdoor movie screenings in summer. For a little more tranquility, try Third Beach. A sandy expanse with plenty of logs to sit against, this is a favored summer-evening destination for Vancouverites. Opening hours and other practicalities The park is free to enter and open 24 hours a day. The park can be reached by taking bus 19 from downtown. There are additional fees for bike rentals and attractions in the park, like the Vancouver Aquarium. In summer, the seawall is packed with visitors; arrive early morning or early evening if tranquil nature-communing is your bag. There are often summertime queues to enter the aquarium; try to make it one of your first stops when you arrive at the park. Hotels near Stanley Park Buchan Hotel Times Square Suites Hotel Sylvia Hotel
To be accurate, this 1350-sq-km park should be called '430 Glaciers National Park'. The annual snowfall can be as much as 23m, and due to the sheer mountain slopes, this is one of the world's most active avalanche areas. For this reason, skiing, caving and mountaineering are regulated; you must register with park wardens before venturing into the backcountry. Check the weather and get an avalanche report. Rogers Pass ranks as one of the world's most beautiful mountain passes. Be sure to pause at the Hemlock Grove Trail, 54km east of Revelstoke, where a 400m boardwalk winds through an ancient hemlock rainforest.
This huge Unesco World Heritage site encompasses Moresby and 137 smaller islands at its southern end. It combines a time-capsule look at abandoned Haida villages with hot springs, amazing natural beauty and some of the continents best kayaking. A visit demands advance planning as the number of visitors entering the park each day is limited. The easiest way is to take a guided trip with a licensed operator; access to the park is by boat or floatplane only.
On a warm summer’s evening, with a 7.5km ascent under your belt and a pint of craft beer on the table in front of you, there are few better places in Canada than the top station of Squamish’s spectacular gondola. The glorious glass-and-wood Summit Lodge is a triumph of environmentally congruous Northwest architecture while the views – Howe Sound on one side and the 100m-long Sky Pilot suspension bridge on the other – are unforgettable.
Far more than just another pretty flower arrangement, Butchart is a national historic site and a triumph of early-20th-century gardening aesthetics. With its well-tended blooms, ornate fountains and diverse international flavor (from Japanese to Italian), it’s hard to imagine that this land was once an abandoned limestone quarry. Tour buses roll in relentlessly throughout the summer, but the gardens with their undulating topography are big enough to absorb the melee.
One in a magnificent seven of BC national parks, Pacific Rim is replete with wave-whipped beaches and brooding forests, most of them far from civilization. The park is split into three units, often visited separately. The northern Long Beach Unit, between Tofino and Ucluelet, is famous for its surf beaches. The Broken Group Islands Unit in Barkley Sound is a kayaking nirvana. The West Coast Trail Unit to the south contains one of the most famous multiday hikes in Canada.
Forming a natural circle with sections of the Isaac, Cariboo and Bowron Rivers, the park's 116km canoe circuit (permits $30 to $60) is one of the world’s finest. There are eight portages, with the longest (2km) over well-defined trails. The park website has maps, and details everything you’ll need to know for planning your trip, including mandatory reservations, which sometimes book up in advance. Campsites cost $18. Check out Bowron Lake Canoe Rentals (www.bowronlakecanoe.com).
This 1950-sq-km park is justly renowned for hiking trails colored by diverse flora, abundant wildlife and panoramic vistas. Summer hikers seem magnetically drawn here but the trails also double as cross-country ski routes in winter. There are five main trail areas – directions to each are marked by the blue-and-white signs you'll see off Hwy 99. Among the park's most popular trails, the Cheakamus Lake hike (3km) is relatively easy, with minimal elevation.
This 300-hectare sanctuary attracts feathered fowl and curious visitors in almost equal measure. Bald eagles, Siberian swans, blue herons and 264 other species roost here, and there are plenty of opportunities for viewing. Undoubtedly the most spectacular sight is when up to 80,000 snow geese drop by in the fall en route to Wrangel Island, off Siberia’s eastern coast.