I love these lesser-known places in Canada’s west coast – you will too. You don’t actually have to leave home to virtually and splendidly tour some of British Columbia’s lesser-known destinations. I’m not talking YouTube but I am talking movies filmed in British Columbia. Check out This Means War with Reese Witherspoon, filmed in Vancouver. Eight cities in the province set the stage for George Clooney’s Tomorrowland: Enderby, Armstrong, Richmond, Surrey, Burnaby, Delta, Langley and Vancouver. And, the classic movie Five Easy Pieces featuring Jack Nicholson was filmed on Vancouver Island in Victoria and Saanich. The list goes on…
However, likely such movies will simply whet your appetite to visit British Columbia. There’s nothing like the real thing. Most first-time visitors to British Columbia usually spend time exploring Vancouver’s main sights before venturing to Vancouver Island or British Columbia’s ski fields. With an area of 944,735 km², it’s challenging to pick favourites in magnificent British Columbia. So if you’re looking for lesser-known off-the-beaten track destinations, here’s my bucket list of lesser-known places in British Columbia.
1-Kayaking in Horseshoe Bay, Vancouver
Hardly off-the-beaten-track itself, nonetheless, Vancouver offers fabulous lesser-known activities and destinations. Kayak Horseshoe Bay, with North Shore Kayaks, to discover up-close-and-personal views of the Georgia Strait which most people only experience from the ferry. Or, hire a motorboat for the day at Sewell’s Marina. When our godchildren were young, we did just this, pretending we were pirates. We anchored the boat, swam, picnicked and played.
2-Hiking in Lynn Canyon Park
Most tourists have heard of the Capilano Suspension Bridge (which is fun) but if you’d like to experience something a little less touristy, venture to Lynn Canyon Park and Suspension Bridge. Wander forested trails such as the Baden Powell Trail, marvel at waterfalls, cross the suspension bridge and swim in the enormous pool on its far side.
Tip: take a swimsuit.
3-Exploring Steveston Village
Richmond is south of downtown Vancouver and is home to the International Airport and famous for its night market, the largest in North America. Of course, it draws an enthusiastic crowd – including me, because I love the lights, the fun of sampling street foods, and just enjoying the vibe.
Richmond’s territory now includes Steveston Village. A former cannery town on the mouth of the Fraser River that is now a safe harbour for fishing boats, it’s a cool place to hang out. Tour the Gulf of Georgia Cannery museum. Rent a bike at Village Bikes and cycle the dykes protecting Richmond and Steveston village from being swamped ocean water.
Tip: Dine on fabulous seafood at the uber-casual Pajo’s Fish & Chips on the floating wharf where you can buy fresh salmon, halibut or cod, and dine al-fresco by the water.
4-Horse riding in Muskwa-Kechika
My husband, Eric, and I love nothing better than to explore rugged mountainous terrains on horseback. Enter Wayne Sawchuk’s expedition rides into the Muskwa-Kechika, a sprawling region of 6.4 million hectares (roughly the size of Ireland) in northern BC.
We rode for 11 days through magnificent valleys, crossed the Continental Divide, and swam our mounts through tumbling turquoise rivers. Offering a variety of trips, Sawchuk is an environmentalist extraordinaire who’s been leading trips through this remote region for more than 20 summers.
On our expedition, we slept in tents, and all participants take turns cooking meals on an open fire. Riders also help catch and saddle their horses, as well as help look after them at day’s end.
Tip: If you’re a beginner, don’t be shy: but you must be genuinely fit for this truly out-there adventure. This is serious backcountry, and the riding goes through grizzly, moose, mountain goat and other critters’ home territory, where we are merely guests of nature.
5-Canoeing in Bowron Lake Provincial Park
Love canoeing? Paddle the five to seven-day circuit chain of lakes known as the Bowron Lakes Circuit, where you have the chance to see moose grazing in the shallows. Drive north to Quesnel, stock up on provisions for the week, and head off on a stunning backcountry experience in this British Columbia Park.
6-Sleeping with the ghosts in Barkerville
While in the north and still near Quesnel, visit Barkerville, an old gold mining town that’s now a living museum. Stay overnight at Kelly and King House B&Bs, both of which are restored homes in the heart of the village.
7-Biking the Kettle Valley Rail Trail
Meanwhile, did you know British Columbia boasts a fabulous wine-growing region? There are more than 200 wineries in the Okanagan Valley, where the city of Kelowna boasts at least 30. Enjoy a wine tour in the valley, and then? Bike the Kettle Valley Rail Trail. Some tours take five days but for sure you can rent a bike and explore for a day. If you wish, cycle aloft on top of trestle bridges that may leave you breathless with their span above deep, craggy canyons.
8-Fly to Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands)
Want remote? Want amazing? Fly from Victoria, Prince Rupert, or Vancouver to the mystical Haida Gwaii, formerly known as Queen Charlotte Islands. The flight is magnificent, offering fantastical views of the jagged mainland’s coastline. Suddenly, Haida Gwaii appears: a string of islands together resembling a curved finger, pointing westwards. Clad in rainforest, draped in swirling mists and home to windswept beaches and ancient totem poles, it’s unforgettable.
It’s also remarkable to think of the Haida Gwaii First Nations living here: in ancient times they wore pounded, woven cedar clothing to protect them from the elements. Don’t miss the Haida Heritage Centre at Ḵay Llnagaay where the living culture of this remarkable First Nations culture is revealed.
Tip: Visit Louise Island.
Wanting to get a sense of how the Haida once lived among totem poles and cedar houses, I took a tour with Moreseby Explorers. They offer a one-day outing circumnavigating Louise Island in a zodiac boat, but also have up to four-day and even custom tours. We visited Skedans Haida village site, aka K’uuna Llnagaay (Point Town) where cedar totem poles and house foundations are slowly returning to Mother Nature.
Onsite, watchmen take over from the Moresby outfitter-guides and explain the fragile environment which they protect. Using heritage photographs, they contrast what we see today with the village which used to border the ocean. Typical of Haida villages, totem poles once thronged the shoreline: today’s remnants speak eloquently of a time now past, whose spirit lingers. We can only imagine how impressive the village poles would have been, greeting all who visited.
Whatever your inclination, British Columbia serves up grand adventures in urban, rural, and backcountry environments. Enjoy!
Katharine Fletcher is a Quebec-based freelance writer who has visited British Columbia too many times to count.