On this self-drive tour, you'll explore southwestern and central British Columbia, discovering alpine mountains, surprising deserts, and the famed Okanagan wine country in 10 days. The tour will take you from dynamic Vancouver through the snow-covered Coast Mountains to Whistler. The circuit continues east to the wooded hills and farmlands of Salmon Arm before leading you through the orchards and wineries of the Okanagan Valley and to the southern desert town of Osoyoos.

Highlights

  • Wander the cobbled streets of Vancouver’s historic Gastown
  • See snow-capped peaks, waterfalls, and canyons on the Sea-to-Sky Highway
  • Bike through the Okanagan's Black Sage Bench to taste rich Bordeaux-style reds
  • Pamper yourself with a spa, great food, and local wines at Naramata Heritage Inn & Spa

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Welcome to Vancouver! Vancouver
Day 2 Vancouver's Museum of Anthropology, Kits Beach, & Stanley Park Vancouver
Day 3 Sea-to-Sky Highway to Whistler Whistler
Day 4 Explore around Whistler Whistler
Day 5 Whistler to Shuswap Lake (5 h 30 min) Shuswap
Day 6 History & Outdoor Adventure around Shuswap Lake Shuswap
Day 7 Shuswap Lake to Osoyoos through Lake & Wine Country Osoyoos
Day 8 Relax and Explore around Osoyoos Osoyoos
Day 9 Osoyoos to Vancouver: Wineries & Local History Vancouver
Day 10 Depart Vancouver  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Welcome to Vancouver!

Stanley Park, Deadman's Island, and downtown Vancouver
Stanley Park, Deadman's Island, and downtown Vancouver

Fringed by the Pacific Ocean and backed by the stunning Coastal Range, Vancouver is one of the world's most livable cities with some of North America's best cuisine, rich indigenous heritage, and outdoor venues that beckon the active traveler.

It only takes around 30 minutes to get from the airport to downtown via taxi or Skytrain ride. The city center and surrounding neighborhoods are easily walkable, and all the main attractions are a short distance away. To get your bearings, start with a stroll along the seawall from English Bay to False Creek before wandering the historical, cobbled streets of Gastown and Chinatown

With over 60 different cultures, there is a slew of international restaurants serving anything from Asian cuisine to seasonal farm-to-table dishes. For dinner, choose from a selection of top-notch eateries—from downtown and the West End to the North Shore and Kitsilano vicinity. Bear in mind, Vancouverites love eating out any day of the week so be sure to make a reservation if it's a popular restaurant. 

Day 2: Vancouver's Museum of Anthropology, Kits Beach, & Stanley Park

A driftwood-strewn beach of Point Grey
A driftwood-strewn beach of Point Grey

In the morning, head southwest of downtown to the University of British Columbia's ("UBC") campus to dedicate a couple of hours to explore the Museum of Anthropology, a great introduction to the history of the Pacific Northwest. Showcasing spectacular First Nations totem poles and impressive carvings, join a free daily tour to get a better understanding of British Columbia's rich indigenous history.

After that, make your way along the coast to Vancouver's trendy beachside suburb of Kitsilano (locally referred to as "Kits") for an afternoon of picnicking on the beach and swimming in the ocean or the outdoor saltwater pool. From Kits' shoreline, you have some of the best views in the city of Vancouver's skyline and nearby Coastal Range. 

Walking distance from Kitsilano, head over to Granville Island, checking out the restaurants, gift shops, fresh food markets, and local boutique shops that reflect the island's maritime heritage. For a deep-dive of the island's culinary offerings, join a walking food tour that takes you through the bustling Granville Island Public Market.

Just before sunset, work up an appetite by walking (two hours) or biking (one hour) around Stanley Park's Seawall, a 6-mile (10-km) loop around a 400-hectare natural West Coast rainforest with views over the city. Time your walk to hit the midpoint at Siwash Rock and Third Beach for the best spot to watch the sun dip below the horizon.

Day 3: Sea-to-Sky Highway to Whistler

Morning light over Squamish, one of British Columbia's most popular rock climbing destinations
Morning light over Squamish, one of British Columbia's most popular rock climbing destinations

Collect your rental car (keeping in mind Vancouver's rush hour is from 8-9 am) and begin your road trip north to Whistler along the Sea-to-Sky Highway, one of British Columbia's most iconic drives. A scenic route between the ocean and mountains, there are several great places to stop to break up the short drive.

Halfway to Whistler—and where the ocean, river, and alpine forest meet—there's Squamish, an access point for outdoor activities and adventure. Just before reaching Squamish, you can see the area's most famous peak from the highway, the Chief, a sheer granite rockface popular with skilled climbers. Pick up the Stawamus Chief Trail for a hike up the back to reach the summit (divided into three peaks and graded as an intermediate hike, it takes the average person 3-4 hours to reach the first—and most visited—summit). Or, take the Sea-to-Sky Gondola up the mountain for excellent views of Howe Sound from Summit Lodge at the top where you can also grab lunch.

You'll reach Whistler, an upscale, chalet-style pedestrian village (and venue for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics) in the early to mid-afternoon. Whistler is North America's largest winter sports resort worth a visit at any time of year. The village is built around Whistler-Blackcomb, twin peaks accessed by an ultramodern lift system that provides opportunities to hike, bike, canoe, kayak, rock climb, or zip-line in warmer months and ski or snowboard in the winter.

From Whistler Village, take the Peak 2 Peak Gondola up the mountain for an afternoon adventure. You can hike through the high alpine to Harmony Lake (1.6 miles / 2.5 km from the top of the gondola) or touch the toe of a small glacier on a similarly lengthed trek. For something unique, rent a pair of snowshoes to explore areas covered in year-round snow. Alternatively, there are hiking trails you can take from the village itself. Follow the Valley Trail to Lost Lake, where you can take a dip or enjoy a picnic in the summer months or cross-country ski along its shoreline in the winter. 

If you're looking for something more relaxing, spend the afternoon exploring the village: people-watching from an outdoor café, hitting one of the great spas, such as Scandinave, visiting the Whistler Museum, or doing a little shopping. And if you arrive before 4 pm, head over to the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Center to sample First Nations cuisine and visit one of Whistler's best gift shops.

Driving time (Vancouver to Whistler): 2 hours (75 miles /120 km)

Day 4: Explore around Whistler

Peak 2 Peak Gondola
Peak 2 Peak Gondola

Whistler is an outdoor paradise and basecamp for mountain adventure. You can take the Peak 2 Peak gondola up the mountain to access alpine hiking and mountain biking trails, go ziplining, or head out on one of the longer multi-hour hikes nearby Whistler in Garibaldi Provincial Park. Or, simply take the day to relax next to the lakes, waterfalls, or at the plush Scandinave outdoor spa.

For day hikes atop Whistler, you can hike through the high alpine to Harmony Lake (1.6 miles / 2.5 km from the top of the gondola) or touch the toe of a small glacier on a similarly lengthed trek. For something unique, rent a pair of snowshoes to explore areas covered in year-round snow. Alternatively, there are hiking trails you can take from the village itself. Follow the Valley Trail to Lost Lake, where you can take a dip or enjoy a picnic in the summer months or cross-country ski along its shoreline in the winter. 

For something a bit more unique, head out on a flightseeing tour from Green Lake over the glaciers of Garibaldi Provincial Park or fly down the 2010 Winter Olympic Games' track on a bobsled with wheels (careful, you can reach speeds up to 50 mph (80 km/h). 

Day 5: Whistler to Shuswap Lake (5 h 30 min)

Green River in Nairn Provincial Park
Green River in Nairn Provincial Park

Today is a long day of driving. Head northeast, transitioning from the pacific coastal rainforest and mountains to the hot, dry interior of British Columbia's ranch lands. You'll pass through the small towns of Pemberton and Lillooet and cross the mighty Fraser River, entering into the Cariboo region of the province, famous for its gold rush history. 

En route, stop at Joffre Lakes Provincial Park to hike to a series of turquoise lakes that are framed by hanging glaciers and mountain peaks. The first (lower) Joffre Lake is a short 5-minute walk from the parking lot and Upper Joffre Lake (6 miles / 10 km, return) takes more effort but is well worth the views (if you have the time).

From Lillooet, continue east along the Gold Nugget Route toward Kamloops, taking in the changing desertlike scene of sagebrush-covered hills and mostly-barren landscape. In Historic Hat Creek, you'll find buildings from gold rush times still standing—some dating as far back as 1861. Experience the western atmosphere as you tour the grounds, and if you're hungry, dine on suitably western dishes, like bison chili, at the Historic Hat Creek Ranch.

Reaching Kamloops, elect to carry on or stop for lunch in the downtown heritage center. Arriving in Salmon Arm, the "Gem of the Shuswap," you'll be out of the desert and surrounded by wooded hills, farms, and the Shuswap Lake-based provincial parks. A popular outdoor destination in the summer, check into your accommodation before finding your way to the Salmon Arm Wharf for lake views and to take in the birdlife on a late afternoon stroll.

Driving time (Whistler to Salmon Arm): 5 hours, 30 minutes (249 miles / 401 km)

Day 6: History & Outdoor Adventure around Shuswap Lake

North America's longest wooden wharf, the Salmon Arm Wharf
North America's longest wooden wharf, the Salmon Arm Wharf

Just over two miles (2 km) east of Salmon Arm is the R.J. Haney Heritage Village & Museum, home to the town's main historic attractions. Discover Salmon Arm's earliest days and explore the park-like grounds of the adjacent Haney House. You'll find an early-20th-century farmhouse that holds a blacksmith's shop, an old fire hall, a church, and a tea house.

Farther afield, history buffs might venture to the Last Spike in Craigellachie, a 40-minute drive northeast along Shuswap Lake. An important part of Canada's history, it's here you'll find a cairn with a plaque and a piece of railway line to mark the spot where Canada was connected from sea to sea. On your return to Salmon Arm, stop in Sicamous to choose your flavor of ice cream at D Dutchmen Dairy and then plonk your towel on any of the sandy beaches that line the banks.

Taking advantage of the watery playground, join a 90-minute guided paddle of McGillivray Lake to see wildlife and uncover local history in a 30-foot (9-m) voyageur canoe replica with Northwest Voyageur Canoe Tours. Afterward, relax lakeside and indulge in a "fur trader's feast," a multi-course picnic add on (lunch and dinner options available).

Recommended activities:

  • Grass Root Dairies. Sample gouda as you watch the cheesemakers at work and explore the farm.
  • Marine Peace Park. Walk the trails and spot ospreys and blue herons from the boardwalk along the pier.
  • Hire a boat in Sicamous. Discover why it's known as the "Houseboat Capital of Canada."
  • Adam's River Sockeye Run. See spawning sockeye in the protected river (first three weeks in October).

Day 7: Shuswap Lake to Osoyoos through Lake & Wine Country

Kalamalka Lake near Vernon
Kalamalka Lake near Vernon

Save your appetite this morning and hit the road to work your way south through the bucolic Okanagan Valley past lakes, orchards, and vine-striped hills, enjoying the several food-and-wine related stops (not to mention outdoor activities) along the way. Just north of Vernon, stop at Silver Star Mountain Resort and take the chairlift to the top from where you can hike or mountain bike the trails back down.

After taking a dip in the clear waters of Kalamalka Lake at Kal Beach, make your way to the Kal Lake Lookout just off the highway. Here you can appreciate the sweeping vistas of the color-changing emerald and turquoise water of the marl lake and surrounding mountain panorama. Stop for lunch in Kelowna and dine on local seasonal eats at Krafty Kitchen + Bar or picnic in the shade of maples and oaks along Lake Okanagan, keeping an eye out for the elusive Ogopogo.

Resting at the arid southern end of the Okanagan Valley along the Canada-US border sits Osoyoos, a small town on a narrow spit of land ringed by the beaches of Osoyoos Lake, as well as the orchards, farms, and vineyards it irrigates. After a long day, don your swimsuit and relax in Canada's warmest freshwater lake.

Recommended stops and activities:

  • Historic O'Keefe Ranch. One of the Okanagan's first cattle ranches with a range of fun activities and history lessons.
  • Summerland. A lakeside hamlet with some of the valley's finest wines at Sumac Ridge Estate.
  • Rent a bike. Explore the 20-some well-respected wineries spread between Penticton and Naramata.
  • Black Sage Bench. Region renowned for its premium Bordeaux-style grapes. Check out Stoneboat Vineyards and Burrowing Owl Estate Winery.

Driving time (Shuswap Lake to Osoyoos): 4 hours (165 miles / 266 km)

Day 8: Relax and Explore around Osoyoos

The Native Chief by artist Smoker Marchand in Osoyoos
The Native Chief by artist Smoker Marchand in Osoyoos

A day to relax and explore the surrounding region. Head north to Covert Farms to pick fruits, taste organic wine, and shop the country-style market, an excellent local-approved spot to stock up on supplies. Then, if it's not too hot (Osoyoos boasts Canada's highest year-round average temps), return to Osoyoos to visit the Desert Center. Learn about this very unique corner of Canada, from the pocket desert to its desert dwellers, including 23 invertebrates found nowhere else in the world.

When the warm, dry weather becomes a little too much, head to Gyro Beach or Cottonwood Beach on Osoyoos Lake. There's also Sẁiẁs Provincial Park (Haynes Point), a skinny peninsula that juts into the lake south of town, that affords a narrow beach and a walking trail through the marsh. Dry off and have lunch from an outdoor table overlooking the vineyard at Nk'Mip Cellars, the signature restaurant of Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Center.

Early evening, make the short drive to Oliver for dinner at Terrafina, a Tuscan-style restaurant belonging to Hester Creek Estate Winery.

Recommended stops and activities:

  • Osoyoos Golf and Country Club. Take to its sagebrush-lined fairways for a round of golf.
  • Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Center. Watch Coyote Spirit and walk the trail through the desert to significant points of interest complete with interpretive panels.
  • Mount Kobau. Drive the gravel road to the summit (6,150 feet / 1,874 m) for a bird's eye view over Osoyoos Lake and look out for Spotted Lake, a curious natural phenomenon.
  • Naramata Heritage Inn & Spa. Pamper yourself with a spa, great food, and local wines.
  • La Stella Winery. Drink the highly-regarded Cabernet-Sauvignon-based Maestoso at this beautiful winery with terracotta roof tiles and floors—a vision straight out of Italy.

Day 9: Osoyoos to Vancouver: Wineries & Local History

Similkameen River near Keremeos
Similkameen River near Keremeos

Following Highway 3 out of Osoyoos, zigzag your way across southern British Columbia to Vancouver. Stop in the Similkameen Valley to visit a winery or two, like Forbidden Fruit or Orofino wineries in Cawston, or check out the historic grist mill in Keremeos and purchase fresh-picked fruit from any number of roadside stands in between. 

For a taste of gold rush history, visit Princeton and District Pioneer Museum to see pioneer artifacts from Granite City, Chinese and Salish artifacts, and a considerable fossil display. Stretch the legs and experience the lakes and alpine meadows of E.C. Manning Provincial Park. If you have three hours to spare, hike Heather Trail (12 miles / 20 km) to Three Brothers Mountain and enjoy the colorful views: a carpet of yellow, orange, and white wildflowers (late July to mid-August).

Approaching Vancouver, the scenery transforms from the bright sunlit rock faces of the Coast Mountains to misty coastal cedars and tall firs as you near the coast. Have dinner in the suburb of Richmond for some of the best Chinese cuisine outside of China.

Recommended stops and activities:

  • Canyon scenery. Twenty minutes off the main drag, cross the river at the north end of Princeton's Bridge Street toward whimsical Coalmont.
  • Othello-Quintette Tunnels. Five tunnels carved out of solid granite of the Coquihalla Canyon.
  • Hell's Gate Airtram. Ride the tram over the Fraser River Canyon, a scenic pit stop (and 50-minute detour north of Hope).
  • Harrison Hot Springs. Charming village and spring-fed mineral hot springs, popular with families.
  • Fort Langley National Historic Site. Heritage-style antique shops, boutiques, and restaurants with interpreters in period costume.

Driving time (Osoyoos to Vancouver): 4.5 hours (247 miles / 398 km)

Day 10: Depart Vancouver

False Creek in Downtown Vancouver
False Creek in Downtown Vancouver

Head to The Naam (open 24/7) for an early morning breakfast before making your way to the airport. If you're feeling indulgent, splurge on a seaplane harbor tour to take in the magnificent scenery of the mountain-and-sea-dominated city from a new perspective. Alternatively, enjoy some more time at Stanley Park, paying a visit to Klahowya Village via the Spirit Catcher miniature train to watch cultural performances. Here you can also purchase souvenirs and gifts of traditional First Nations arts and crafts from the Artisan Marketplace and Métis Trading Post.

It usually takes 30 minutes to travel from downtown Vancouver to Vancouver International Airport but allow extra time in case of traffic. Best to arrive at least two hours prior to your international departure while allowing extra time to drop off your rental car.

Map

Map of British Columbia Circuit: Whistler, Shuswap, & Okanagan Valley - 10 Days
Map of British Columbia Circuit: Whistler, Shuswap, & Okanagan Valley - 10 Days