A week-long road trip, featuring British Columbia's Coast Mountains and the wine region of the Okanagan. Starting and ending in Vancouver, you'll drive through Whistler, Sun Peaks, and then south through the Okanagan Valley to Kelowna and back to Vancouver. This route is relatively fast-paced and best suited for those who are short on time but want to cover the main highlights of the Coast Mountains and Okanagan. 

Highlights

  • Find a tranquil moment in Vancouver's Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
  • Search for bald eagles from Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park 
  • Drink award-winning wines of the Okanagan on the Scenic Sip Trail in Lake Country
  • Cross wooden trestle bridges over Myra Canyon on the Kettle Valley Rail Trail

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Welcome to Vancouver! Vancouver
Day 2 Sea-to-Sky Highway to Whistler Whistler
Day 3 Whistler to Shuswap Lake (5 h 30 min) Shuswap
Day 4 Shuswap Lake to Kelowna (1 h 30 min) Kelowna
Day 5 Explore around Kelowna Kelowna
Day 6 Drive from Kelowna to Vancouver Vancouver
Day 7 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: 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 3: Whistler to Shuswap Lake (5 h 30 min)

An old pioneer wagon
An old pioneer wagon

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)

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Day 4: Shuswap Lake to Kelowna (1 h 30 min)

Canoes moored in McGillivray Lake in the Shuswap Highlands
Canoes moored in McGillivray Lake in the Shuswap Highlands

Save your appetite for the several upcoming food-and-wine related stops. South of Vernon brings you into Lake Country. Follow the Scenic Sip Trail and sample award-winning wines from leading wineries en route to Kelowna, the valley's unofficial capital. Taste pinot noir at 50th Parallel Estate or stop at Arrowleaf Cellars. Pass through the suburban sprawl to Kelowna's heart, a welcome respite of museums, culture, and park-lined lakefront.

After settling into your accommodation, take a late afternoon stroll along Okanagan Lake's shore following the 1.5-mile (2.4-km) Waterfront Boardwalk and be sure to check out Brower Hatcher's Bear sculpture (illuminated at night). Partake in a pre-dinner libation at one of the city's brewpubs—like Red Bird Brewing or Vice & Virtue Brewing—then have dinner at RauDZ Regional Table, a relaxed, downtown bistro with a hefty list of Okanagan wines.

Driving time (Salmon Arm to Kelowna): 1 hour, 30 minutes (70 miles / 110 km)

Day 5: Explore around Kelowna

Terrace overlooks Lake Okanagan and vineyards of Mission Hill Family Estate
Terrace overlooks Lake Okanagan and vineyards of Mission Hill Family Estate

Sample regional varietals from multiple wineries on an in-depth winetasting tour with Okanagan Wine Country Tours or designate a driver and discover the local wineries at your own pace. For something unique beyond traditional varietals, get yourself to Indigenous World Winery and try the Hee Hee Tel Kin white or red blends. 

Next, enjoy a 45- to 60-minute tour of one of the area's grandest wineries, Mission Hill Family Estate, followed by a wine tasting. Stay for lunch with a view across the vineyards at Terrace and then sip sweet ice wine for dessert at Hainle Vineyards Estate Winery. On your return, stop to drink pinot noir at Quail's Gate and then check out downtown's 1932 Calona Vineyards, one of the province's oldest wineries.

Take time out of your winetasting for other fresh-air activities. Rent a bike or join a guided tour of one of the most popular sections of the Kettle Valley Rail Trail. Drive the 25 minutes from downtown to the Myra Station parking area to gear up and begin the 7.5-mile (12-km) ride through Myra Canyon, where you'll cross 18 historic wooden trestle bridges high above the canyon as well as pedal through two tunnels in the rock cliffs. 

Day 6: Drive from Kelowna to Vancouver

A vineyard in Penticton
A vineyard in Penticton

Following Highway 97 south out of Kelowna toward Keremeos, you'll have the opportunity to explore more of the Okanagan before zigzagging your way across southern British Columbia back to Vancouver. En route, tour the lakeside hamlet of Summerland and pick up a bottle of wine from one of the valley's finest, Sumac Ridge Estate, before having breakfast at the Bench Artisan Food Market in Penticton.

In Keremeos, check out the historic grist mill where you can purchase fresh-picked fruit from any of the roadside stands (the perfect snack to take on a short alpine hike). If you have a few hours to spare, hike the Heather Trail (12 miles / 20 km) to Three Brothers Mountain in E.C. Manning Provincial Park. For something less ambitious, pick up any number of self-guided nature trails directly off Highway 3.

At Hope, check out the Hope Museum and its exhibits, like the comprehensive collection of pioneer artifacts, local First Nations crafts, as well as artifacts from the original Fort Hope and gold rush days. Beyond Hope's downtown lies spectacular wilderness and recreational attractions. Stroll through the popular Othello-Quintette Tunnels, carved out of solid granite of the Coquihalla Canyon, and admire the views below from the vantage of a wooden bridge on the other side. 

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

Driving time (Kelowna to Vancouver): 5.5 hours (283 miles / 456 km)

Day 7: 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 - 7 Days
Map of British Columbia Circuit: Whistler, Shuswap, & Okanagan Valley - 7 Days