Planning Your Trip to British Columbia
When you’re organizing a British Columbia trip, the first thing to know is that Canada’s westernmost province is massive, extending nearly 365,000 square miles (945,000 sq km) from the Pacific Ocean to the Canadian Rockies, and north to Alaska and the Yukon. The most common starting points for travelers to Western Canada are Vancouver on the coast, or Calgary, Alberta, which has the closest international airport to the Canadian Rockies.
If you’re driving between these two cities, about 600 miles (975 kilometers) by the most direct route, following Highway 1 through Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, and Yoho National Parks en route to Banff and Lake Louise, allow at least 11 hours of travel time. But with spectacular scenery and so many places to stop along the way, it’s worth taking your time to make this road trip.
For more trip-planning advice, see Best Time of Year to Visit British Columbia.
British Columbia in 5-7 Days
With five to seven days, choose a smaller geographic area to explore, whether along the coast, in the interior, or in the mountains.
On the coast, divide your time between Vancouver, Vancouver Island, and Whistler or the Sunshine Coast. In Vancouver, cycle the Seawall around Stanley Park, the city’s urban rainforest, then visit the Public Market and art studios on Granville Island. Learn more about the region’s indigenous culture at the Museum of Anthropology, and take in the views from the North Shore Mountains.
Catch a ferry to Victoria, on Vancouver Island’s southern tip. Visit the exhibits about B.C.’s indigenous communities at the Royal British Columbia Museum, tour flower-filled Butchart Gardens, pedal Victoria’s cycling paths, or go whale-watching. It’s possible to day-trip to Victoria, but you’ll feel less rushed if you stay overnight; allow three hours to travel each way.
From Vancouver, it’s a two-hour drive to Whistler. In the warmer months, you can go hiking, canoeing, or arrange any number of outdoor adventures; in winter, Whistler-Blackcomb is among North America’s largest snow sports resorts.
Another day trip from Vancouver would take you by ferry to the Sunshine Coast, to wander along quiet beaches, check out local microbreweries, or hike to Skookumchuck Narrows, known for its dramatic tides.
A second option for a week-long British Columbia trip is to pair Vancouver with the Okanagan, traveling over the coast mountains into this fertile agricultural valley. The Okanagan has several large lakes for swimming or paddleboarding, and more than 200 wineries to sample.
With five to seven days, a third option is to tour the Canadian Rockies, starting and ending your trip in Calgary. You’ll see the highlights of Banff and Lake Louise, hike the trails in Yoho or Kootenay National Parks, drive the glacier-lined Icefields Parkway, and explore vast Jasper National Park.
Check out this weeklong road trip for inspiration—you'll explore the ice-capped peaks of the Canadian Rockies, the backcountry wilds and mountain towns of the Kootenays, and the fruit and wine belt of the Okanagan.
British Columbia in 8-10 Days
With 8-10 days, you have more time to dive into each destination and extend your road trip into other regions.
On Vancouver Island’s west coast, visit Tofino for its spectacular beaches, rainforest hiking, and good food scene; you can also book a whale-watching or bear-watching tour. Another island road trip follows the Pacific Marine Circle Route, from Victoria past the Cowichan Valley’s wineries to remote Port Renfrew, where you’ll find B.C.’s gnarliest tree in the rainforest of Avatar Grove.
If you’d rather spend time in the mountains, add visits to Revelstoke or Nelson to your Vancouver/Okanagan itinerary. From Revelstoke, you can adventure through Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks, while Nelson has an excellent art and history museum, a wide variety of restaurants, and plenty of lakes and trails to explore.
This 8-day trip plan showcases the best of Okanagan Valley's wine region. Split four days between Kelowna and Osoyoos, visiting both newer and more established wineries while taking in some outdoor adventure—including a bike ride along one of the most popular sections of the Kettle Valley Rail Trail.
British Columbia in 11-14 Days
With two weeks, you can travel between Vancouver and the Canadian Rockies, making either a one-way Vancouver-Calgary trip, or a circle route through the province.
If you’re traveling one way, pair the eight to ten-day itinerary with several days in the Canadian Rockies. If you’re making a loop to and from Vancouver, follow Highway 1 to Banff and Lake Louise; then, choose from two excellent options to return to the coast.
One route takes you north on the Icefields Parkway to Jasper, before turning west via Highways 16 and 5, passing Mount Robson, the Canadian Rockies’ highest peak, and beautifully remote Wells Grey Provincial Park, known for its waterfalls. Alternatively, travel south through Kootenay National Park, soak in the mineral pools along B.C.’s Hot Springs Highway, then meander along Highway 3 through Kimberley, Nelson, and Osoyoos on your way to Vancouver.
Consider an 11-day itinerary that covers the alpine lakes and dramatic peaks of the Coastal Range, the old-growth rainforests of Vancouver Island, and the rough-and-tumble shoreline of the Pacific Rim. Go whale watching, stroll driftwood-strewn beaches, and take in the Victorian-era architecture of the province's capital.
British Columbia in 2-3 Weeks
You can explore British Columbia in greater depth if you have two weeks or more. Add a visit to one of the Gulf Islands. Salt Spring Island is known for its art scene, while smaller Galiano Island has rocky beaches and good hiking trails. Or travel to Vancouver Island’s northern tip to the indigenous communities around Alert Bay.
Venture north into the Cariboo/Chilcotin region, to discover the coastal Great Bear Rainforest, or follow the 1860s Gold Rush trail through interior towns like Barkerville.
In the Kootenays, stop in New Denver for the sobering Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre, a Japanese internment camp during World War II; Kaslo for adventures on Kootenay Lake; Rossland for warm-weather hiking and mountain biking or winter skiing and snowboarding; and Fernie, another skiing-hiking destination with great cafés and places to eat.
And in the Rockies, you’ll have time to explore both the region’s culture and its outdoor activities. See what’s on stage at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity or on exhibit at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, or find out how a hidden hot springs led to the creation of Canada’s first national park at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site. In Jasper, take a local food tour or learn about the region’s early days at the Jasper Yellowhead Museum. You’ll have plenty of time to watch the sun rise over the mountains, too.
Start planning with this 15-day road trip, which features a trio of Canada's famed national parks. Starting in Calgary, you'll pass through Banff and Lake Louise before venturing into the dramatic landscapes of the less explored (and equally stunning) national parks of the Kootenays. Discover Okanagan wine country and Vancouver to round out your trip.