This post by Michelle Pentz Glave was originally published on the Hello BC website.
Wild is British Columbia’s middle name. It’s a huge province of which more than two-thirds is unspoiled rainforest, mountains, and coastline. It’s also as varied as it is untouched — from arid desert and lichen-draped rainforest to glaciated peaks and wide-open grassland. The creatures are just as diverse. You’re as likely to see a black bear, caribou, moose, or bighorn sheep as orca, blue heron, burrowing owl, or bald eagle. Here are some of BC’s most distinctive landscapes and how to take them in.
Lift-hike in the Rocky Mountains
You can heli-hike (or backcountry ski) the Rockies — to seldom-visited places like magical Elizabeth Lake in the shadow of Mt. Assiniboine. Or try the budget-friendly approach: take the Fernie Alpine Resort chairlift to the Polar Peak Ridge Walk along the Lizard Range for sweeping panoramas 2,100 metres up. Another stunner is the epic Mountain Lakes Trail (AKA Heiko’s Trail): from the resort, 21 kilometres each way of switchbacks passing meadows, massive limestone caves, cliff walls, canyons, and waterfalls — rated “very difficult,” yes, but the payoff is worth it.
Wilderness-camp in the Muskwa-Kechika
In the far north, Muskwa-Kechika is 6.4 million hectares of internationally important wilderness — one of North America’s largest tracts. Marked by its biodiversity, sights run the gamut from wetlands and glaciers, unusual hoodoos and folded mountains, to hot springs and waterfalls. Residents of this Serengeti-like land include moose, elk, and mountain goats. The best way to see it, or at least some of it, is to take a guided horseback expedition for a rigorous, once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Go river rafting near Smithers
The famed whitewater Babine isn’t called the “river of the grizzlies” for nothing. Ride the rapids downstream for six days to spot bald eagles angling for fish and grizzlies munching on salmon. It’s a regular bear smorgasbord: you’ll find the world’s largest wild steelhead and rainbow trout here. With narrow canyons and thickly-forested banks, the central BC river — a tributary of the Skeena — is also known as one of the province’s most pristine. This place is remote and the season short, so plan ahead.
Sail through the Great Bear Rainforest
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. called the Great Bear Rainforest on BC’s coast “the last magnificent stand of the great North American rainforest.” Imagine 6.4 million hectares of biodiverse coastal temperate rainforest in beautiful isolation. Like a real-life Middle Earth, it’s an emerald green landscape filled with ancient spruce, cedars as tall as 20-storey buildings, estuaries and fjords, ferns and lichen, wolves, and the elusive Spirit bear — a rare white black bear subspecies called the Kermode. Get to know this precious place, its wild creatures, and Indigenous culture. Maple Leaf Adventures access the area by sailing ship, catamaran, and tugboat, with seasonal tours ranging from bear, wolf, and whale watching to naturalist flora and fauna walks and Indigenous village visits. Summer and fall sailings fill early, but spring sailing space may still be available.
Hike and sip in Osoyoos
Osoyoos is Canada’s only desert — in a province otherwise known for its lush evergreens and green peaks. Just next to the Okanagan Valley’s wine country, small-town Osoyoos is arid and toasty with some 2,000 hours of sunshine a year. Take a guided hike through the fragrant sage-carpeted scrub of this pocket desert. Sample new vintages in spring, when local wineries release their latest and host vertical tastings under the blossoms. In fall, the weather is idyllic — sunny, but not too hot — and you can weave a harvest festival or two into your itinerary. Pick corn and peaches, join a harvest party or feast at a winemaker’s long-table dinner. Stay at First Nations-owned NK’MIP Resort, where you can learn about Indigenous history, desert ecology, and wildlife at the NK’MIP Desert Cultural Centre.
Road trip the coast
Stop for a kayaking, fishing, or whale-watching expedition from the Coastal Circle Route around Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast. Though ocean life is only one highlight along this scenic 564-kilometre highway journey. The coast is a magnet for artists and crafters, farmers, and their foodie fans, so allow for diversions in towns along the way. Browse books in Sidney, stroll the world-renowned Butchart Gardens in Brentwood Bay, wine and cider taste on the Saanich Peninsula, and visit Victoria’s museums and galleries, with a trip down the Ale Trail. Other highlights en route include fresh oysters, Indigenous carvers, beach picnics, waterfront strolls, community festivals, and farmers’ markets. Allow at least three days, though a week is best.