11 Ways to Get Closer to Nature in British Columbia
From the coastline to scenic lakes to alpine mountains, you’ll find plenty to see and do in and around these four popular cities.
The beauty of British Columbia is that you don’t have to journey far outside its main cities to enjoy the great outdoors. It offers travelers a perfect pairing of urban and outdoor adventure.
Visit Grouse Mountain
Perched over four thousand feet above the city, Vancouver’s most accessible mountain playground is about 20 minutes from downtown. Hop aboard the Grouse Mountain Skyride, an aerial tram that ferries you up the mountain. At the top, you can hike well marked trails, catch a lumberjack show, and visit a research and conservation center that’s home to a pair of orphaned grizzly bears. You can also book a scenic mountain top helicopter tour over Vancouver’s breathtakingly beautiful coastline and mountains or hike up the Grouse Grind trail for ultimate views of both the city and the ocean.
Ride the Sea to Sky Gondola
Located just under an hour north of Vancouver, the town of Squamish is known as the outdoor recreation capital of Canada. Getting close to nature here starts with ascending nearly three thousand feet in only ten minutes aboard this popular Gondola. Breathtaking views of Howe Sound, the famous Stawamus Chief rock face and the Coast Mountains reward you at the top. From there you can explore a network of hiking and walking trails, local food in the Summit Lodge, or test your nerves crossing the 328-foot-long Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge that overlooks the fjord far below.
Bike the Kettle Valley Railway
This long abandoned historic rail line running through the Okanagan Valley has been transformed into one of British Columbia’s most scenic cycling routes. Many sections of its almost 400 miles of interconnected trails offer easy grades suitable for most riders, from casual day trippers to serious athletes. Pedal at your own pace, taking in the stunning views as you cross old wooden rail trestles, cruise through tunnels and follow winding pathways through the heart of the Okanagan’s celebrated wine region. You can tackle the trail on a self-guided journey or join an organized one. Some providers even pair cycling trips with brewery tours and wine tastings.
Indulge in Wine Touring
With the grape harvest in full swing and many wine festival events taking place, BC’s Okanagan region in fall is an oenophile’s delight. Over 175 wineries operate here, growing varietals like pinot gris, viognier, and gamay noir. You’ll find them dotted among a lovely chain of lakes, rolling hills and lakeside towns. Choose a self-driven excursion from Kelowna or join an organized wine tour, stopping often to sip and savor. You can even kayak or cycle between wineries, stopping for tastings before dining at one of numerous fine winery restaurants.
Take a Farm to Table Tour
From peaches and cherries to apples, the Okanagan is British Columbia’s orchard. With such an abundance produced near so many gourmet restaurants, this is fertile soil for culinary exploration. Locally grown produce appears on the plates of this gastronomic region’s best restaurants. On a farm to table tour you can meet growers and chefs, tasting for yourself how they infuse such bounty in the Okanagan’s delicious cuisine. Here amid the orchards, fields and kitchens, the path to your plate is a movable feast.
Go Whale Watching
Few outdoor experiences can compare to a close encounter with a whale in the wild. The nutrient rich waters off the coast of Vancouver Island are teeming with marine life, including orcas, grey whales, humpbacks and minkes. Seals, sea lions, porpoises, seabirds and bald eagles also call these temperate seas home. Join one of the many whale watching tours departing daily from Victoria’s Inner Harbor. Within an hour you could spot a sea lion colony or a majestic orca breaching and slapping its tail on the surface as you explore its watery world.
Escape to Salt Spring Island
Just a 35-minute float plane flight from downtown Vancouver, one of the most popular of British Columbia’s Southern Gulf Islands feels like it is worlds apart. This artsy enclave is home to one of Canada’s best outdoor markets, overflowing with locally grown produce, handicrafts and homemade confections. Spend a day hiking, golfing, cycling and kayaking. Tour an organic vineyard. Or chill out on a secluded beach. Then visit one of the funky coffee shops and cafes in the eclectic town of Ganges and soak up the relaxed island vibe.
Visit The Butchart Gardens
Dahlias, roses, chrysanthemums and other flowers have been exploding into riotous fall colors at these internationally acclaimed floral display gardens for over a hundred years. Meticulously maintained in a former quarry, The Butchart Gardens contains over fifty 50 acres of bedding plant varieties blooming in 26 greenhouses. Visit in fall to observe perennials making splashes of color, as well as Japanese maples turning gold, russet and red. Stroll through the Sunken Gardens. And indulge in award-winning locally sourced cuisine, surrounded by fragrant blossoms and blooms. Children can play in the domed Children’s Pavilion and Menagerie Carousel.
Walk the Cloudraker Skybridge at the Peak of Whistler Mountain
For unforgettable views, take a walk across the newly opened Cloudraker Skybridge to the Raven’s Eye Cliff Walk. The suspension bridge is located at the top of Whistler Mountain, spans over 400 feet crossing high above Whistler Bowl and offers an adrenaline-pumping activity at the peak of Whistler Mountain.
Hike the High Note Trail
Early fall is an excellent time to hike in Whistler. The higher trails are clear of snow, the cooler days are perfect for trekking and nature’s colors are at their most vivid. Unmatched for panoramic views of hundreds of snow-capped peaks, the High Note Trail is particularly Instagramable. After reaching the summit of Whistler Mountain via Gondola and an open-air chairlift, take this six-mile round trip offering spectacular views of Garibaldi Provincial Park and shimmering Cheakamus Lake. The hike starts and ends near the mid-mountain Roundhouse Lodge, where you can fuel up and then wind down feeling literally on top of the world.
For a lower elevation hike and just a few miles south of Whistler, Brandywine Falls Provincial Park is home to spectacular waterfalls and views of Daisy Lake and Black Tusk, the soaring monolithic remains of a dormant volcano.
North America’s premier snow sports destination also offers plenty of aerial outdoor year-round fun. One of Whistler’s most popular high-flying adventures is soaring like a bird through majestic old-growth temperate rainforests, across canyons and over creeks safely clipped to a zipline. Several local operators offer exhilarating guided zipline tours suitable for all ages and abilities. Routes follow networks of suspension bridges, boardwalks and trails while introducing you to Whistler’s diverse ecology.
Written by Mark Sissons, a Canadian travel journalist based in Vancouver. You can follow his journey on Twitter.