How to make the most of an activity-based trip to British Columbia

Stuart Forster

Stuart Forster

British Columbia, in western Canada, is renowned for rugged mountains and forest scenery, the beaches and nature of Vancouver Island, and for the Okanagan Valley's lush vineyards. Vancouver, the province's biggest city, can prove a good base for adventures in the surrounding countryside or for downtime following activities in the likes of Whistler and Yoho National Park.

How to make the most of an activity based trip to British Columbia © Hpbfotos - Fotolia.com
How to make the most of an activity based trip to British Columbia © Hpbfotos - Fotolia.com

Things to do in Vancouver

Cycle in Stanley Park

Stanley Park occupies the peninsula dividing English Bay and Vancouver Harbour. Sprawling across 400 hectares, the undulating landscape of the heavily wooded park is crisscrossed with trails, and proves rewarding to pedal around on a bicycle. One of the most popular stopping points is the cluster of totem poles at Brockton Point, depicting aspects of British Columbia's First Nations' heritage.

Cycling in Stanley Park, Vancouver © Chris Howes Wild Places Photography - Alamy Stock Photo
Cycling in Stanley Park, Vancouver © Chris Howes Wild Places Photography - Alamy Stock Photo

The Seawall, whose construction began back in 1917, runs for almost 9 km through the park and has demarcated sections for people on foot and visitors propelling themselves on wheels. The trail offers fine views of Vancouver's high-rise skyline, forming part of an uninterrupted 22 km waterfront route sweeping between Kitsilano Beach and the sail-like façade of the Canada Place events centre.

Walk in the city

Vancouver has a laidback vibe that lends itself well to exploring on foot. You can discover it through a free walking tour or simply grab a map and wander.

A terracotta-topped gateway marks the entrance to the city's buzzing Chinatown, one of the continent's largest. If your visit coincides with a mealtime why not pause at one of the numerous restaurants serving dim sum? Joining a guided tour provides a wealth of facts about the Ming Dynasty inspired Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, one of several parks and gardens across the city.

The steam powered clock in Gastown, Vancouver, British Columbia © Sinidex - Fotolia.com
The steam powered clock in Gastown, Vancouver, British Columbia © Sinidex - Fotolia.com

The cobbled streets of Gastown are home to a rare steam powered clock plus heritage buildings that include a triangular 'flat iron' style structure from the early 20th century. From there it's a short stroll to the Vancouver Lookout, whose observation deck provides urban panoramas from a height of more than 168m (553ft).

Cross Capilano Suspension Bridge

The origins of the Capilano Suspension Bridge, set in woodland in the north of the city, date to 1889, when a Scottish civil engineer, George Grant Mackay, had a footbridge erected. Running for 137m (450ft), 70m (230ft) above the Capilano River, the bridge offers views over the surrounding rainforest.

The park's Treetops Adventure, a series of seven bridges hanging between Douglas firs, also provides opportunities to view birdlife in the canopy. Throughout summer you can also see creatures such as great horned owls and ferruginous hawks being handled by the experts of Raptor's Ridge.

A cliff walk arcs for 213m (700ft) along the granite rock face skirting above the river. The jutting viewing point, with its glass floor, may prove a bridge too far for anyone with a fear of heights.

Walking across the Capilano Suspension Bridge, British Columbia © Rick - Flickr Creative Commons
Walking across the Capilano Suspension Bridge, British Columbia © Rick - Flickr Creative Commons

Excursions from Vancouver

Whale watching in the Strait of Georgia

Summer proves the best time of year for spotting orcas, humpback and minke whales in the body of water separating mainland British Columbia and Vancouver Island. Seals and porpoises are seen regularly during whale watching tours, as well as from the decks of the ferries that take around two hours to cross between Vancouver and Nanaimo, a fishing town on Vancouver Island.

Scuba diving off Vancouver Island

The wrecks of HMCS Cape Breton and HMCS Saskatchewan count among the dive sites that make Nanaimo popular among scuba divers. The underwater ledges of Snake Island are rich in wildlife and form part of a wall dive plummeting to formidable depths. Back at the surface you can relax while observing harbour seals.

If you don't dive you could spend time exploring Nanaimo's boardwalk with a camera. Following the circular trail around Buttertubs Marsh Park, near the edge of town, brings opportunities to spot bird species such as the rufous hummingbird and purple finch. Alternatively hop aboard a ferry to Newcastle Island, where you can participate in walking tours led by Snuneymuxw people, providing insights into their First Nations' heritage.

Ride the Rocky Mountaineer

Board the Rocky Mountaineer for a luxury train journey along one of four different routes through the countryside of northwest Canada. Cars with domed windows allow you to enjoy panoramic views of the mountain ranges.

Sightseeing on the Rock Mountaineer, British Columbia © Lee Foster - Alamy Stock Photo
Sightseeing on the Rock Mountaineer, British Columbia © Lee Foster - Alamy Stock Photo

Travelling through the wilderness of the Fraser Valley brings opportunities to view bald eagles soaring while dining on gourmet cuisine made with ingredients from the region. The service, which began in 1990, holds the distinction of being the longest passenger train to have run on Canadian tracks - 41 cars were pulled in 1999.

Wine tasting and horse riding in the Okanagan Valley

Kelowna, four hours' drive inland from Vancouver, stands at the heart of the Okanagan Valley's rolling landscape. Thanks to the region's long hours of sunshine, the wineries are winning a reputation for the high quality of their produce. You don't need to be an experienced rider to take to the saddle at Kelowna Stables. Horse riding brings opportunities to head into the hills of Myra-Bellevue Provincial Park.

Outdoor activities in Whistler

Whistler, two hours drive north of Vancouver in the Coast Mountains, is renowned for powder snow that makes it an outstanding winter sports destination, and it's gradually making a name as a summer destination. In addition to cycling and hiking trails, zip line tours provide a way of exploring the landscape and crossing creeks while learning about the region's nature and wildlife.

National parks in British Columbia

British Columbia is home to seven national parks (not to mention over a thousand provincial parks and protected areas). These include neighbouring Yoho and Kootenay national parks, in the Canadian Rockies, plus Glacier National Park in the Columbia Mountains. For hikers, the parks' trails present opportunities to view peaks reflecting in lakes and to observe wildlife encompassing black and grizzly bears. You can find out everything you need to know about exploring these landscapes via Parks Canada.

British Columbia is a rich natural playground for outdoor lovers, and there are many ways in which you can make the most of your time there. For adventure tours, there are specialist companies offering great deals on trips to British Columbia, including G Adventures, Explore!, and Titan Travel.

Weatherwise, it depends what you're planning to do, but if it's summery activities like hiking, cycling and even diving, then conditions are at their finest in the summer months. You can find out more about the weather in British Columbia to help you decide when is the best time to go for you.

Stuart Forster

Stuart Forster
Posted on Tuesday 26th September 2017 in: Adventure City Nature North America

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