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.
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.
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.
Vancouver’s Stanley Park enjoys a stellar natural setting, surrounded on three sides by the Pacific Ocean and laid out against the backdrop of the snow-capped North Shore Mountains. At nearly 1,000 acres (405 hectares) in size, it’s a mix of coastal red-cedar forest, lakes and lagoons, and scenic meadows. A walk along the public park’s seawall is an essential part of experiencing Vancouver.
Get your fill of Vancouver's famous natural landscapes at the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, a quintessential British Columbia experience and one of the Pacific Northwest's most popular attractions. Travelers are drawn to the park to walk out onto the the 450-foot (137-meter) suspension bridge as it sways between the temperate rain forest trees over the rushing Capilano River below. Other highlights include kid-friendly guided nature walks; several First Nations totem poles; the 700-foot-long (213-meter) Cliffwalk; and the TreeTops Adventure, a swinging network of smaller, open-ended suspension bridges strung between eight towering Douglas fir trees.
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.
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.
More Things to Do in British Columbia
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gliding along the world’s longest unsupported span, Whistler’s Peak 2 Peak Gondola connects two side-by-side mountains—Whistler and Blackcomb—and is the longest and highest continuous lift of its kind. The gondola was built for skiers, snowboarders, hikers, and sightseers alike to travel between the two internationally renowned snow- and sun-sport wonderlands. With incomparable views of the surrounding peaks, you’ll get some of the freshest mountain air and most spectacular vistas in all of British Columbia.
An inlet dividing downtown Vancouver from the rest of the city, False Creek borders some of Vancouver’s busiest shoreside neighborhoods, from chic Yaletown to Granville Island. The inlet hums with the activity of ferries, kayaks, and other boats, while the water’s edge is lined with scenic paths.
Once the British Empire’s biggest copper mine, the Britannia Mine’s tunnels, shafts, and structures are now preserved in an award-winning museum. Come to the Britannia Mine Museum to ride a train into a mine, pan for gold flakes, and learn about the lives of generations of miners who worked copper deposits at the edge of Howe Sound.
The summit of Grouse Mountain features some of the best views in all of British Columbia—from Vancouver’s downtown towers to the green expanse of Stanley Park and the entirety of Fraser Valley. Visitors can ride the Skyride aerial tram or hike up to the 3,642-foot (1,110-meter) peak for panoramic vistas and a variety of outdoor activities.
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.
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.
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.
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