15 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in British Columbia
British Columbia, Canada's farthest western province, is one of the most popular regions in the country. The province has islands, rainforest, beautiful stretches of coastline, mountains, lakes, two outstandingly picturesque cities, and numerous attractive towns and ski villages. Most visitors to the province head for Vancouver, but the smaller and more remote city of Victoria is another gem that should also be on everyone's itinerary. The Okanagan Valley in the interior attracts visitors year round with the beaches of Lake Okanagan, golf courses, and numerous ski resorts. Other highlights of British Columbia include the mountain resort village of Whistler and several national and provincial parks that allow easy access to some of Canada's most inspiring natural areas.
The famous ski resort of Whistler, at the foot of the Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, is the center of the biggest winter sports area in Canada. In 2010, it attracted much international attention when it hosted the downhill ski events for the Winter Olympic Games. While it is closely associated with skiing, Whistler is a year round destination with biking, golfing, and plenty of beautiful scenery to explore in the summer. Its close proximity to Vancouver, only a two-hour drive from the city, means it is also easily accessible.
Whistler Village is a modern upscale town with top end hotels and a wide variety of shops and restaurants. Visitors don't even need to ski or be active to enjoy this lovely town. One of the main attractions is the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, which joins Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. The distance covered is a record breaking 4.4 kilometers. The ride takes only 11 minutes and offers spectacular views of the area.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Whistler
2 Yoho National Park
Yoho National Park is home to some of British Columbia's most rugged and scenic mountain terrain. Snow-capped peaks, waterfalls, rivers, and beautiful lakes, including the spectacular Lake O'Hara draw visitors to this park, particularly during the summer months. Hiking trails allow easy access to the backcountry, but even a drive through the park offers enough exposure to appreciate the landscape. Those with time to explore the park will want to take a drive up to Takakkaw Falls, one of the highest falls in North America.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Yoho National Park
3 Okanagan Valley
Found in the interior of the province, the Okanagan Valley, most often referred to simply as the Okanagan, is a lush, sunny valley with lakes, beaches, rolling mountains, and orchards. At the heart of the region are the 120-kilometer long Lake Okanagan and the town of Kelowna on the eastern shore of the lake. The Okanagan has hot dry summers and mild winters making it a popular retirement destination and a prominent summertime retreat for people from across British Columbia and neighboring Alberta. Some of the most common summertime activities are houseboating, golfing, and spending time at the beach. Several ski resorts, most notably Big White and Silver Star, lure visitors to the area year-round.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in the Okanagan Valley
4 Vancouver Island
Located west of the city of Vancouver, and reached either by a short flight or a 1.5-hour ferry ride, is Vancouver Island, the largest island on the Pacific coast of North America. It is home to British Columbia's capital city, Victoria, as well as many other interesting towns and picturesque mountains, inland lakes, and a beautiful coastline. Coastal beaches provide year round surfing, particularly near the town of Tofino and in Pacific Rim National Park. Resorts and lodges can be found along both the east and west coast of the island.
Accommodation: Where to Stay on Vancouver Island
5 Vancouver's Stanley Park
Stanley Park is one of the unique features of Vancouver that sets it apart from other major cities across Canada. This huge green space on the edge of the downtown core offers a beautiful nature retreat from the city for visitors and locals. The park is home to tall cedars and Douglas fir trees, with all kinds of walking trails through the forest and a paved seawall for walking, running, or biking. Inside the park is the Vancouver Aquarium as well as various other attractions, including totem poles, gardens, and beaches.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Vancouver
6 Butchart Gardens
Butchart Gardens, located in the dramatic setting of an old quarry, offers a fabulous display of plants, trees, and flowers. Located just outside Victoria, the mild climate is perfect for changing seasonal displays. Spring through fall is outstanding, with spring blooms, a fabulous display of summer color, and the changing leaves of autumn. Themed gardens and water features extend over the 20 hectare property.
7 Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii)
The Queen Charlotte Islands are one of Canada's undiscovered treasures, at least when it comes to tourism. These remote islands provide a wealth of culture and natural beauty, but are often overlooked by tourists. Also known as the Haida Gwaii, the Queen Charlottes are an isolated group of more than 150 islands lying out in the Pacific at the western edge of the continental shelf. The two main islands, Graham and Moresby, are located about 50 kilometers and 150 kilometers respectively off the coast of British Columbia.
The native inhabitants of the Queen Charlottes, the Haida Indians, are thought to have lived on these islands for at least 8,000 years. They were known as proud warriors and daring navigators. With their awesome 20 meter-long war canoes, they traversed the length of the Inside Passage as far south as Puget Sound. Nowadays, they are more famous for the skill and artistry of their carving. Their totem poles and elaborate argillite carvings can be found in every ethnographic museum on the Canadian Pacific coast.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Haida Gwaii
8 Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park, along with Mount Revelstoke National Park a few miles further west, is a very scenic area and a favorite with climbers and hikers. The parks lie in one of Canada's most inhospitable mountainous regions, the almost inaccessible northern Selkirk Range of the Columbia Mountains. The landscape is one of jagged peaks, steep descents, and narrow valleys cut deep into the rock. There are approximately 400 glaciers in and around Glacier National Park. At lower levels, up to about 1,300 meters, the dense forests are home to some enormous old trees - western red cedars, hemlocks, and firs - as well as a ground cover of ferns. Mountain goat, woodland caribou, black bears, and grizzly bears can be found in the park. Most visitors simply drive through, but there are numerous hiking trails and camping facilities. Rogers Pass National Historic Site is also located within Glacier National Park.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Glacier National Park
9 Salt Spring Island
In the Gulf Islands between Victoria and Nanaimo, Salt Spring Island has a small population and is known for its laid-back Bohemian lifestyle. Around the island are artists' studios; farms selling cheese and homemade products; funky stores, some of which sell clothes and trinkets that one might expect to find in Southeast Asia; and plenty of beautiful scenery. The main town on the island is Ganges, where visitors will find ice cream shops, cafes and restaurants, and more traditional retail establishments and souvenirs. There is a provincial park on the oceanfront with walking trails, camping facilities, and day use areas. The island also offers inns and other accommodation options.
Ferries run from Tsawwassen on the mainland (Vancouver), Swartz Bay (Victoria), or Crofton (Nanaimo).
10 Kootenay National Park
Kootenay National Park, in southeastern British Columbia, adjoins the more famous Banff National Park and Yoho National Park, and takes in the magnificent western flank of the Canadian Rockies. The main mountain range in Kootenay National Park reaches heights of over 3,000 meters, and the landscape features rugged rocky ridges and sawtooth peaks, snow and ice-covered mountains, cirques, glaciers, hanging valleys and narrow gorges cut deep into marbled limestone. There are numerous day hikes in the park that pass some of these unique sites. Key highlights in Kootenay are the narrow gorge of Marble Canyon, hiking around Sinclair Pass, and Stanley Glacier.
Nelson lies in a beautiful spot on the western arm of Kootenay Lake, surrounded by the snow and ice-covered peaks of the Selkirk Mountains. This former mining town grew up at the end of the 19th century and quickly developed into a tourist center. The town still has many carefully preserved Victorian buildings, which give it a charm all of its own. Nelson is also known for attracting artists and young adults interested in alternative lifestyles.
Nearby is the wild country of Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park, containing numerous picturesque mountain lakes. Most of this pristine mountain region lies at a height of more than 2,100 meters above sea-level. Kokanee Peak, at 2,774 meters, towers majestically above the rest of Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park. Also nearby is Kokanee Creek Provincial Park with sandy beaches and campsites.
12 Victoria's Inner Harbour
Victoria, located on Vancouver Island, is the capital of British Columbia and one of Canada's most scenic cities. Removed from the mainland, this city has the feel of a small town, but is home to a wealth of attractions. At the heart of the city for both locals and tourists is the Inner Harbour, dominated by the grand Empress Hotel, built in 1908 for the Canadian Pacific Railway. This area is always alive with visitors and locals enjoying the waterfront, particularly in the summer when restaurants open their patios for outdoor dining and street performers take to the sidewalks.
13 Mt. Robson Provincial Park
Near the BC-Alberta border, north of Jasper, Mt. Robson Provincial Park is home to Mt. Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, at 3,954 meters. The remoteness of this park means that it does not see great numbers of tourists. This magnificent mountain landscape with its waterfalls and glacier-capped peaks was designated a provincial park in 1913. Even in those days, mountaineers and tourists were drawn to the area, undeterred by the distances involved.
One of the most popular hikes here is the 25 kilometer trail through the "Valley of the Thousand Falls" to the lovely turquoise lake at the foot of Mt. Robson. On rainy days, the name "thousand falls" becomes obvious as the streams of water pour off the cliff walls.
14 Barkerville Historic Town
Barkerville Historic Town has an interesting history. In 1858, when news spread that gold had been found in the fluvial sand of the Fraser River, there were soon thousands of men panning for gold all along the river and its tributaries. In the summer of 1862, Billy Barker made his sensational find here at Williams Creek and a typical gold-digging town of simple wooden huts, tents, saloons, and shops sprang up almost overnight. Until it burned down in 1868, Barkerville was the "largest town west of Chicago and north of San Francisco".
Although the town was immediately rebuilt, the end of the gold boom was already apparent. The introduction of machinery meant there was a need for fewer men. Following the end of the gold-rush, Barkerville continued, but was inhabited by settlers and lumberjacks.
Today, visitors will find a restored gold-mining town with about 75 historic buildings. In summer, costumed interpreters dressed in period costume act out "living history," making it possible to visit a printing-works or smithy, a typical general store, a barber shop, or the "Barkerville Hotel" and feel completely transported back to the times of the gold-rush.
15 Hell's Gate Airtram in the Fraser Canyon
A three-hour drive east of Vancouver is one of Canada's most impressive gorges. Here, the raging torrents of the Fraser River force their way through a narrow pass, known as Hell's Gate, between rocky walls towering almost vertically above the river. The Hell's Gate Airtram is the best way to view this part of the Fraser Canyon. In days gone by, the Indians found a perilous way across by using ladders. Today, a funicular railway, with impressive views of the wild gorge below, leads down to the lower bank 150 meters below. At the base, are souvenir shops, a restaurant, and a small information center. A climb of a few minutes takes visitors down a reasonable path to the white, foaming river below. The opposite bank can be reached by means of a swaying suspension bridge.