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A mother and daughter hike along a trail in Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island. (Photograph by Henry Georgi, Corbis)

British Columbia, Two Ways

Do you remember the movie Sliding Doors? In it, Gwyneth Paltrow plays a character whose destiny depends on whether she catches or misses a train. As viewers, we get to watch her life unfold twice as she experiences the outcome of each scenario. It’s a fascinating concept; too bad the one person whose life is affected by this pivotal moment is oblivious to her alternative fate. Gwyneth’s character never knows what might have been.

When I’m traveling, I often long for that double foresight—for the ability to play Choose Your Own Adventure with a trip. Sometimes I’ll visit a destination with my husband, Ish, or solo, and come upon a place I’d love to experience with my two sons. Similarly, I’ll be on a family vacation and see very clearly how Ish and I would have done things differently if it were only the two of us. Neither option is better, just different.

The great thing about travel is that given enough time—and money—alternate endings are possible. All it would take is a return trip with the company you didn’t take the last time to experience it all anew.

On a family road trip through British Columbia this summer, I had no regrets about seeing it with the whole brood first, but I also made notes about how Ish and I will do it again when we come back one day, sans kids. Here’s B.C. two ways, so you can choose your own adventure.

The route: You’ll need time to get to Tofino (30 minutes from Vancouver to the ferry, 90 minutes on the boat to Vancouver Island, three hours more to drive to your final destination), but you won’t be bored. Watch for whales and jaw-dropping mountain views as you cross the Georgia Strait; then slow down for fir trees you can’t wrap your arms around and trails you won’t want to leave on your way through Pacific Rim National Park.

Adults only: Eat.

Local produce and proximity to the sea have led to a ridiculous congestion of award-winning cuisine. Start at the Tacofino food truck for the best fish tacos in B.C. and end with handmade ice cream from local couple Kim and Cam Shaw’s Chocolate Tofino. (Tip: Ask for the secret menu.) Linger over meals at Shelter or Sobo for innovative and tasty cuisine. In between, learn the art of glass-blowing at the Solart Glass Studio or take a private tour of Pete Clarkson’s Washed Up Workshop gallery where he transforms marine debris into one-of-a-kind art installations.

With the kids: Relax.

Pacific Sands Beach Resort is the family cottage you wish you had. On your doorstep is Cox Bay, one of few beaches gentle enough for little kids to play in the sand while bigger ones grab a wet suit and learn to surf. (Tip: Family lessons from Surf Sister will put newbies at ease.) While the weather holds, bicycles transform trips to town into chances to meet locals and explore.

> Vancouver to Whistler

The route: From Vancouver, take a scenic two-hour drive north to the Coast Mountains on the appropriately named Sea-to-Sky corridor (Highway 99) and passengers can keep on the lookout for bears, eagles, and stop-worthy photo spots like the giant lumberjack in Squamish.

Adults only: Stay out late.

In Whistler, start a pub crawl with live music at Dubh Linn Gate and cap the evening in Bearfoot Bistro‘s Belvedere Ice Room, where more than 40 varieties of vodka are stored and enjoyed at -25°F (just don’t forget to borrow a parka). The next morning, thaw out in the medicinal waters at Scandinave Spa.

Looking for a slightly tamer plan? A romantic walk through the village or long conversations over morning coffee at Lift Coffee Company mean being able to sip while watching the mountain come to life.

With the kids: Get active.

A family downhill cycling class at Whistler Mountain Bike Park, making First Nations cedar bracelets at Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, and a guided glacier hike are among your day-filling options. Tip: Keep close to the action. Booking a family suite at the Pan Pacific Whistler Mountainside meant we could watch the hills long after we’d left them.

> Whistler to Clearwater (and beyond)

The route: The secret to this six-hour (one-way) drive: Duffey Lake Road (another scenic section of Highway 99). The two-lane highway winds you through British Columbia’s coastal mountains and into the verdant heart of its interior.

Adults only: Sip.

Stay in the area a few nights for the views, then start your journey south to the Okanagan Valley, Canada’s Napa. Make a base at Watermark Beach Resort in Osoyoos, Canada’s only desert. Tour the world-class wineries by electric bike on a “sip-and-cycle” tour or hop into a vintage 1952 Mercury truck and let Gene Covert show you around his organic family farm.

With the kids: Catch your breath.

Explore the North Thompson River through activities that keep your offspring on guard for moose, osprey, and more. Ease downriver by rubber Zodiac with the whole family, or up the adrenaline level by tackling white-water rapids. Want to connect with the local wildlife? Join a local specialist to search for bears from the safety of an eco-friendly boat as you zip through the world’s only inland temperate rain forest.

Heather Greenwood Davis and her family were recognized as Travelers of the Year by Traveler magazine in 2012. Watch highlights of their adventures on Follow Heather on Twitter @GreenwoodDavis

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