Best for: Day-trip adventures, amazing restaurants, and urban culture.
Don't miss: Lynn Canyon, Stanley Park, Kits Beach, and Vancouver's seawall
The greater Vancouver area, with a population of nearly 2.5 million, offers everything that city-lovers want: culture, museums and galleries, music and sports, combined with the diverse food offerings of unique neighborhoods of its immigrant-rich population, and plenty of great places to rest your head. All this located in one of the most beautiful settings for any metropolis, spread between Pacific waters and snow-capped mountains, with expansive city parks and easy access to outdoor activities.
Vancouver, with its towering skyscrapers and dense population of more than 600,000 presents an amazing variety of activities for the visitor. Dive into city life by checking out the restaurants, shops, and galleries of historic neighborhoods like Yaletown and Gastown, sample farmers markets on Granville Island, then escape the hustle with a stroll along the paths of the 400-acre Stanley Park and visit its world-class Vancouver Aquarium. Depending on the season, sports fans can watch the national sport of hockey at a Canucks NHL game in Rogers Area, pro football with the BC Lions, or the popular Vancouver Whitecaps pro soccer team at the BC Place stadium. Culture-lovers will enjoy the summer Jazz Fest, the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Museum of Vancouver.
Richmond, Vancouver’s lesser-known sister city just to the south, is worth a visit not only for its famous Night Market and extensive Asian food offerings (including the yummy Dim Sum Dumpling Trail), along with its International Buddhist Temple, but it also still embraces its old agricultural background with fruit-picking excursions at fields in its outskirts, and visits to a salmon canning museum on the coast.
Best for: Coastal rainforest, wild beaches, and quaint towns.
Don't miss: Tofino, Ucluelet, Victoria, Northern Vancouver Island (camping-only)
A 90-minute ferry ride across the Haro Strait from Vancouver, the town of Victoria is like a piece of old England recreated in the Pacific Northwest. Classic buildings, elaborate gardens, double-decker bus tours, and walking tours make it a fun switch from the ultra-modern metropolises of Vancouver and Richmond.
With quaint seaside towns perched at the edges of the 285 mile (460 kilometer) long Vancouver Island, this region at the far southwest tip of the province provides plenty of space to explore wild nature while still being able to easily return at the end of the day to enjoy local restaurants and relax in cozy bed & breakfasts in towns like Tofino, Ucluelet, Port Hardy, and Nanaimo. There’s an active art gallery scene in Tofino, which swells to five times its population in busy summer months. The historic provincial capital of Victoria—a piece of old England recreated in the Pacific Northwest—is the cultural center and a comfortable jumping-off point for adventures in hiking, biking, surfing, paddling, fishing, and even some bear-watching and orca-viewing from nearby islands.
Summer months are great for hiking (including the easily accessible Wild Pacific Trail) and water sports, while the rough weather of winter provides the unique pastime of “storm watching” from Vancouver Island, as waves and winds put on a show for visitors from the comfort of their hotel rooms.
Boat or kayak tours are great ways to discover the best of Vancouver Island. Options include exploring First Nations cultural heritage on remote islands, and wildlife viewing tours (with areas around Port Hardy where bald eagles are perched seemingly as common as pigeons) and a focus on whale watching, including many resident orca pods. There are even some village-to-village beer sampling tours. Or, for a person-powered trip, grab some paddles and a kayak (or traditional carved wooden outrigger) and explore the islands around the inland bay near Tofino.
Best for: Adventure road trips.
Don't miss: Whistler, Garibaldi Lake, and numerous gondolas
The corridor from Vancouver to Whistler along the Sea to Sky Highway is one of the top scenic road trips on earth. There are times where you’ll have to pull over to the side of the road in awe at the snow-capped peaks in dazzlingly blue skies with the Pacific Ocean as a moving accompaniment. Along the highway, Squamish is an adventure-lovers playground with rafting, hiking, and rock-climbing options everywhere, while the West Coast Railway Heritage Park and the Britannia Mine Museum are good stops for family road trips.
Whistler is a four-season global destination offering the best of B.C. in one spot. Whistler Blackcomb is an expansive ski resort that hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics, offering both extreme ski terrain and family-friendly bunny hills. Its Peak-to-Peak gondola is the longest and highest such gondola in the world, offering scenic rides year-round. In summer, the resort accesses top-notch downhill mountain biking runs, and to popular hiking trails. Its village scene packed with restaurants and shops offering the best of the province with the fall Cornucopia festival a celebration of regional food and wine.
Best for: Minimal driving, beautiful beaches, quaint towns, and great breweries and restaurants.
Don't miss: Sechelt, Gibsons, and Powell River.
The Sunshine Coast and the Fraser Valley are less-visited than Whistler but are worth the trip. Get a little off the beaten track and explore the small coastal towns of the Sunshine Coast (where the artsy town of Sechelt is a good hub for day trips), and drive further inland to explore the dramatic mountain landscapes of the Fraser Valley. Both of these areas make for great road trip adventures discovering small-town British Columbia life that seems a world away (but is actually only a few hour’s drive) from Vancouver.
Best for: Wine and foodies.
Don't miss: Osoyoos, Kettle Valley Rail Trail, and Kelowna.
The Okanagan region in south-central British Columbia is rightly famous for the wine country of the Okanagan Valley, where winery tours and tastings abound near the central town of Kelowna. Kelowna’s Fall Wine Festival during harvest time is a great way to experience the area. This fertile valley also has a variety of farm tours, Instagram-ready photo ops in fields of lavender, and farm-to-table meals in many restaurants. Fueled up with all this fresh food, visitors can enjoy year-round outdoor activities ranging from skiing at resorts including Big White, to summer fun in provincial lake parks like Okanagan Lake and Christina Lake Provincial Park.
Near the U.S. border to Washington state, the Kettle Valley Rail Trail leads the adventurous into Boundary Country, with horseback adventures, mining relics, and small farming communities.
Best for: Outdoor adventure and funky mountain towns.
Don't miss: Yoho National Park, Kootenay National Park, Nelson, and Fernie.
The imposing mountains of the Kootenay Rockies region line the eastern border of the province with a setting that is awesome to look at and better to play in. In winter, the Powder Highway circling the Kootenay (and Selkirk) mountains in the southern part of the region give access to a dozen resorts, heli-ski and cat-ski operations with notable ski resorts like Revelstoke, Fernie, and Kicking Horse boasting big vertical drops, plenty of powder snow, and convivial ski town atmospheres.
In summer, the Kootenay Rockies region boasts four National Parks and more than 75 Provincial Parks that provide spectacular unspoiled terrain to explore by backpacking and camping with hut-to-hut treks, or shorter, easier, day trips hiking or mountain biking from easily accessible trailheads. Wildlife like deer, elk, and mountain goats are fairly common, while moose and bear sightings can be had in more remote areas. Many mountain lodges dot the area, ranging from basic cabins to four-star luxury experiences.
Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park is a must-see, with its historic lodge situated in the middle of a mountain paradise. The Radium Hot Springs at the edge of Kootenay National Park is a soothing stop for its mineral waters, and the area is a good base for further adventures. Radium is only one of many hot springs dotting the geothermally active region
Mountain towns in the Kootenay Rockies region, like Kimberley, Nelson, Revelstoke, and Cranbrook combine a friendly, small-town setting with a historic background of mining and logging from the 19th-century exploration, and continuing in modern operations. This means you can take a historical walking tour in these towns, then get outfitted with all the latest adventure gear from a local tour operator to further explore the region.
Northern British Columbia
Best for: Remote wilderness, outdoor adventure, and epic long road trips.
Don't miss: Hadai Gwaii, Prince Rupert, Smithers, Cassiar Highway
For those who want to get way off the beaten track, British Columbia has millions of acres of virtually untouched terrain in the northern part of the province, in the inland wilds bordering Alaska and the Yukon Territory, as well as the remote islands of Haida Gwaii.
The north has an edge-of-the-world feeling, with the mountain range descending into vast open tundra, where fossilized mammoth and dinosaur remains are regularly found, and solo gold prospectors still search out hidden treasure in the rivers and rocks. One of the most epic road trips around is to drive the Alaska Highway, about 830 miles (1340 kilometers) from its start at Mile 0 in Dawson Creek on the border of Alberta, and wind your way through spectacular provincial parks, stopping for a soak in the Liard River Hot Springs, then reaching the Yukon Territory border, and perhaps continuing beyond to Alaska.
Off the west coast of the province, Northern British Columbia’s Haida Gwaii archipelago is the setting for an island wilderness experience for the dedicated explorer. Not only do the islands feature an incredible variety of plant and animal life (earning the nickname of the “Galapagos of Canada”), but is rich in human history as well, with more than 500 archeological sites of the First Nations peoples who populated this area for centuries (and still do, in Haida Nation villages around the islands). Naikoon Provincial Park has trails and tours to explore the island’s dense greenery, while kayaking or sailing trips in Skidegate Inlet or Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve gives visitors the chance to appreciate the views of the rocky islands dramatically rising from the sea, and to have close encounters with sea life, including seals, sea lions, porpoises, and seasonal whale watching. The small villages of Skidegate and Queen Charlotte have scenic seaside lodging, tasty local restaurants, and access to First Nations and wildlife tours.
At the northwest-edge of the province, the Stewart Cassiar region stretches from the Rockies to the Pacific Ocean along Highway 16, The Yellowhead Highway, is another one of British Columbia’ awe-inspiring road trips, while the northbound Stewart Cassiar Highway is a gateway to the Yukon and Alaska. Along the highway and throughout the region, glacier-carved lakes and rivers are a paddler’s paradise. The remote Mount Edziza and Spatsizi Provincial Parks have seemingly endless pristine terrain to explore and view the summer wildflowers, fall foliage, and all the critters who reside there. Prince Rupert is a historic coastal fishing town at the terminus of Highway 16 that’s well worth a visit, not just for some fresh seafood served in a classic harbor town setting, but for the many nearby hiking trails to explore, and whale-watching tours launching from the marina.
Great Bear Rainforest
Best for: Remote coastal rainforest, and wolves and bear watching.
Don't miss: Bella Coola and Bella Bella.
A sub-region of the Cariboo Chilcotin, the Great Bear Rain Forest on the coast of central British Columbia is the largest coastal temperate rain forest in the world, a unique ecosystem of 16 million acres of dense moss-covered pine forests with towering thousand-year-old trees, and wildlife including the Spirit Bear, white-furred version of the more common black bear. Guided viewing trips can give you a glimpse of this real-life creature out of First Nations legends. The town of Bella Coola in the central valley of the area is a spectacular base from which to explore the nearby forest and mountains, with cabins, lodges, and campsites available for visitors.
Best for: History lovers and desert-like scenery.
Stretching from the Pacific Coast to the Rocky Mountains in central British Columbia, the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Region combines a rich Gold Rush and Cattle Country history with a still-wild landscape of fjords, forests, mountains, rivers, and lakes.
The Cariboo region is unique to British Colombia for its wide-open grassy plateaus with cattle ranches and fields of hay. Horseback riding ranch experiences are a visitor attraction in the area, as well as nearby mountain and river adventures. The region is also well known for its gold mining history, with a boom in the 1860s that brought waves of prospectors. The historic Wagon Road and Gold Rush Trail are fun road trips to explore the region’s mining legacy. Start in the old mining town (and current super-scenic town) of Lillooet, with its historic homes and nearby wineries and organic farms, and take a winding road north through Quesnel, the “Gold Pan City” and the Barkerville Historic Town with its 125 restored buildings and gold rush theater.
The mountainous Chilcotin sub-region has varied terrains of mountains for hiking, open plains for horseback riding, and glacier-fed remote lakes only accessible by floatplane for backcountry camping, wildlife viewing excursions (including grizzlies!) and fishing adventures. Nimpo Lake is a popular area destination for hiking, paddling, and fishing, while the Bridge River Valley in the South Chilcotin has all the variety of outdoor adventures, combined with gold-rush related attractions like historic mining relics and gold panning activities.