In this age, where travellers will pay top dollar to visit destinations they never heard of and to participate in activities and excursions they have only read about, the province of British Columbia can count a net full of these undiscovered places. In fact, there are so many amazing places in British Columbia you’ve probably never heard of you’ll need months to explore.
Canada’s most westerly province hugs the Pacific coastline and has prime spots perfect for wander lusters. Hello British Columbia! Home to Vancouver and Whistler, British Columbia is a natural jewel with 10 mountain ranges west of the Canadian Rockies. It’s the only province where you can golf and ski on the same day. Here are 10 surprising places in British Columbia that will have you packing your bags to explore.
A cluster of 15 islands located in the dramatic Strait of Georgia, between Vancouver Island and Vancouver, has been named by National Geographic Traveler as one of the world’s best coastal destinations.
What’s cool: Interested in seeing orcas, porpoises, sea lions, and otters in abundance? Head to one of their home turfs, the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. The weather is a big bonus too. The warm dry summers and warm winter climate is similar to the Mediterranean so don’t bring your skis. There is no hint of snow in this neck of Canada’s woods.
What to do: Expect lazy days of kayaking through a natural oasis of sheltered waterways. You are also sure to come across landmarks (totem poles) considered sacred by the Coast Salish First Nations, the first residents to these islands who have a rich heritage.
2Princess Royal Island
No wonder you’ve never heard of this fjord-rich islet. Located along a forgotten Canadian coastline, the remote island for good reason has been dubbed “Princess Royal.”
It’s a wilderness sanctuary to some of Canada’s precious wildlife. Picture a deserted island where no humans live, and to boot, an island only accessible by boat or floatplane. Yes, you have now discovered Princess Royal Island.
What’s cool: The Kermode (or spirit bear) is found here. Often mistaken for a polar bear or an albino, the spirit bear is a special paler looking black bear. The island is the home of this rare, endangered species. These four-legged furry creatures once used to roam wild and free on the mainland of British Columbia in the Great Bear Rainforest, which is an area from Bella Coola to Prince Rupert.
What to do: Arrive in August or October when the bears are creekside, feasting on spawning salmon.
3Great Bear Rainforest
The planet is blessed to have one of these final frontiers, home to grizzly bears and other big mammals. But not many know this chunk of paradise is a vast wilderness that is revered as the Amazon of the North.
Few roads, fewer people, it’s a land abundant in fjords and archipelagos. Environmentalists like Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., have labelled the Great Bear Rainforest as: “The planet’s last large expanse of coastal temperate rain forest.” We think so too.
What’s cool: The great bears
Among The Gulf Islands, Saltspring has long attracted resident hippies, artists and musicians. Some big names are musician Randy Bachman from the Guess Who fame and wildlife artist Robert Bateman.
Many Canadians have Saltspring on the radar due to its fame as a green way of living and easy going Western coastal lifestyle. But to outsiders, most don’t know about the riches found here.
What’s cool: The better known Gulf Island is a magnet for health and wellness seekers. Much of the enthusiasm can be attributed to the rich history of the Coast Salish people going back 5000 years.
What to do: For hiking and kayaking and cultural intoxication hit the many arts festivals and culinary cook-outs. There’s a great dining scene too.
5Bugaboo Provincial Park
Deep in British Columbia’s alpine meadow mountain country in the province’s south-east, just south from a town named Golden, lies the Purcell Mountains.
The big deal here is this remote park, known more among the locals and die-hard climbers, has been easily forgotten since the Bugaboo is in stiff competition with the neighbouring six national parks in the area.
What’s cool: You are in British Columbia’s ‘Columbia wet belt’ due to the snow heavy, rain heavy climate patterns. See the famous granite spires believed to be up to 1-billion years old.
What to do: The Bugaboos which are geographical rock formations are popular bucket-list peaks for rock climbers. The highest peak is the Howser Spire. Remember this is total wilderness at its finest and that means no supplies or equipment are available for sale within the park.
There are no stop lights and no malls. So it’s highly likely you’ve probably never heard of this place. Once a thriving hub in the mining world (it was a gold rush haven in its heyday). But these days, the gold is found in the colour of snow-white powder.
What’s cool: You’ll find the best value in backcountry skiing and a local ski resort bills itself as the last great unspoilt resort. Skiers who head to Red Mountain Resort are in for a treat because these slopes are the first in Canada’s famous “Powder Highway,” a popular span of ski resorts clustered in the British Columbia’s southeast.
What to do: Come winter go for the Big Red Cats, home of the world’s largest cat skiing operation but come summer you can hit the golf links or off-road in adventurous mountain biking.
If you were to imagine what the edge of the world looks like, look no further than this region in British Columbia. Amid the world’s tallest natural skyscrapers created care of Mother Nature it’s easy to get lost cranking your head skyward in the ancient growth forests.
What’s cool: Tree huggers can’t get enough of the beauty of the giant Sitka and Red Cedar trees. Mild winters and cool summers makes this area an ideal place to visit year-round.
What to do: Do the Canadian thing and canoe. There are numerous spots from which to launch one. The Masset Sound and rounding up by Kumdis Island is one recommendation.
Kumdis is a relatively flat island located at the bottom of temperamental Masset Sound where the tides switch resulting in stronger currents, making paddling interesting, to say the least. Fishing, camping, and hiking are other top activities, of course.
8Whiteswan Lake Provincial Park
When you think of white swans, perhaps fairytales and old Shakespearean plays come to mind. But did you ever think there might be a park around named after the elusive bird?
This pocket-sized provincial park tucked in the Kootenay Region of British Columbia might not be high on the radar but should be.
While it might be tough to spot the waterfowl you will most likely see a moose or two lakeside. The other discovery is the under-developed Lussier Hot Springs one of the finest hot springs in the area accessible by traversing a steep craggily trail.
What’s cool: You are completely off-line here. That means no cell phone service, no public telephones. It’s just you and Mother Nature in isolated back-country.
What to do: Go for it – hike, canoe, fish and camp. And by night, watch the night sky with its celestial carpet twinkling away.
What place in the nation dares call itself, “The Wine Capital of Canada?” This tiny hamlet tucked in the southern region of agri-rich Okanagan Valley does.
Oliver is in the heart of three distinct Thompson Okanagan winemaking regions.
Home to roughly 4,000 residents, Oliver is also close to the USA border. Its mild winters mean this year-round tourism destination is very favourable to those fleeing the white powder snow belt regions.
What’s cool: Oliver sits in Canada’s only desert region.
What to do: Hit the winery tours. Last winery count noted there were 39 in the area.
Sunseekers are most likely familiar with that other city named Clearwater, a popular Florida beach town. But there is a city in Canada also called Clearwater you have probably never heard of.
Located in a valley where the Clearwater River spills into the North Thompson River it’s one of Canada’s newest municipalities. Established in 2007, you’ll want to head here to discover some of its finer attributes.
What’s cool: The valley people (the town is home to nearly 2,400 residents) have a fabulous natural backyard of forests. It’s also a whistle stop for Canada’s iconic cross-country train known as The Canadian.
What to do: It’s a great spot for outdoor lovers. Think of just about any activity from bird watching to wildlife viewing to hiking, it’s all here.
For more places to explore in British Columbia read these for some great ideas.
APT’s Great Bear Experience is an amazing five-day adventure in British Columbia.