16 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in British Columbia
British Columbia's mountains, lakes, islands, rainforests, beautiful stretches of coastline, picturesque cities, attractive towns, and world-class skiing make it one of the most popular destinations in Canada.
Most visitors to BC begin in Vancouver, which makes a great starting point for touring the province. A short flight or ferry trip from here will take you to Vancouver Island and the provincial capital, Victoria. Less than a two-hour drive from Vancouver is the resort town and ski destination of Whistler. In the interior of BC, the Okanagan Valley is another year-round hot spot, with the beaches on the shores of Okanagan Lake, golf courses, and numerous ski resorts.
For a more complete overview and to help plan your itinerary, see our list of the top tourist attractions in British Columbia.
At the foot of the Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, Whistler is the center of the biggest winter sports area in Canada. In 2010, this world-class ski resort attracted much international attention when it hosted the downhill ski events for the Winter Olympic Games.
While it is closely associated with skiing and snowboarding in Canada, Whistler is a year-round destination with hiking trails, mountain biking trails, golfing, and beautiful scenery to explore in the summer. 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.
Whistler Village is a modern, upscale town with luxury hotels, high-end shopping, and fine dining. Although, you can still find casual restaurants and regular retail and grocery stores.
The town's close proximity to Vancouver, only a two-hour drive from the city, means it is also easily accessible. The drive to Whistler from Vancouver along the Sea-to-Sky Highway is beautiful. Popular stops on this route include the community of Squamish and Shannon Falls.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Whistler: Best Areas & Hotels
2. Yoho National Park
Yoho National Park is home to some of British Columbia's most rugged and scenic mountain terrain. Snowcapped peaks, waterfalls, rivers, and crystal-clear lakes, including spectacular Lake O'Hara, draw large numbers of visitors to this park during the summer months.
Incredible hiking trails allow easy access to the backcountry, but even a drive through the park offers enough exposure to appreciate the landscape. If you are touring Yoho National Park by car, one of the highlights is Takakkaw Falls, one of the highest falls in North America.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Yoho National Park
3. Vancouver Island
On Canada's far western coast, Vancouver Island is home to some spectacular coastal scenery, mountains, lakes, and other natural attractions, as well as lovely small towns and the provincial capital of Victoria. Coastal beaches provide year-round surfing, particularly near the popular tourist town of Tofino and nearby Pacific Rim National Park.
Vancouver Island is the largest island on the Pacific coast of North America. Much of it is very remote with limited access. If you take the time to explore the island, you'll find some incredible hiking trails, including the epic multi-day West Coast Trail. Campers can find a variety of excellent campgrounds spread around the island.
Vancouver Island is located west of the city of Vancouver and reached either by a short flight or a ferry ride. Ferries or flights will take you to the Victoria area or into Nanaimo, another popular town on the Island.
Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts on Vancouver Island
4. Okanagan Valley & Kelowna
Found in the interior of the BC, 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 is the 120-kilometer-long Okanagan Lake and the city of Kelowna on the eastern shore of the lake. Other popular towns in the area include Summerland, Peachland, Penticton, and Vernon.
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.
In winter, many people come here to enjoy some of the best ski resorts in British Columbia, including Big White Ski Resort and SilverStar Mountain Resort.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Kelowna: Best Areas & Hotels
5. Tofino and Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
This tiny tourist town on the edge of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is the perfect place for nature lovers looking for a coastal retreat. Endless stretches of beach attract surfers year-round, but most people come here simply to stare out at the waves, storm watch in the off season, or walk for miles on the hard-packed sand.
Couples often come here for a romantic getaway and to relax at one of the luxury seaside resorts and charming lodges. A variety of tours are also offered in the area, from kayaking on Clayoquot Sound to whale watching.
Tofino has an extremely remote feel to it, but it's relatively easy to access from places like Victoria or Nanaimo. Nearby, Ucluelet is another small town that makes a nice day trip from Tofino.
- Read More:
- Top Things to Do in Tofino
6. Vancouver and Stanley Park
Stanley Park is one of the great 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 for visitors and locals.
The park is home to ancient cedars and huge Douglas fir trees. The seawall is one of the main attractions, offering miles of scenic paved path for walking, jogging, or biking. Trails also run through the forest. Within the park is the Vancouver Aquarium, as well as various other attractions, including totem poles, gardens, and beaches.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Vancouver: Best Areas & Hotels
- Read More:
- Things to See and Do in Stanley Park
7. Victoria & the Inner Harbour
Located on Vancouver Island, Victoria 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 and things to do.
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.
If you are looking for things to do, take in the incredible mountain and ocean views from hiking trails in and around Victoria. For something a little less strenuous, consider High Tea at the Empress Hotel or wander by the Parliament Buildings.
8. Butchart Gardens
Set in an old quarry, Butchart Gardens 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, when the spring blooms come out and the fabulous display of summer color peaks. Fall brings the changing leaves of autumn. Themed gardens and water features extend over the 20-hectare property.
Official site: https://www.butchartgardens.com/
9. Haida Gwaii
Haida Gwaii is one of Canada's undiscovered treasures. These remote islands provide a wealth of culture and natural beauty, but are often overlooked by tourists. Formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, Haida Gwaii is an isolated group of more than 150 islands in the Pacific Ocean 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, the Haida people, 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.
Today, 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
10. Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park, along with Mount Revelstoke National Park a few miles further west, is a 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 are some of the wildlife that 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.
Official site: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/bc/glacier
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Glacier National Park
11. 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 this scenic island are artists' studios and farms selling cheese and homemade products. Funky shops sell clothes and trinkets you might expect to find in Southeast Asia.
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).
Accommodation: Where to Stay on Salt Spring Island
12. Kootenay National Park
Kootenay National Park, in southeastern British Columbia, adjoins 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.
Numerous day hikes in the park pass some of these unique sites and natural features. Key highlights in Kootenay are the narrow gorge of Marble Canyon, hiking around Sinclair Pass, and Stanley Glacier.
Official site: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/bc/kootenay
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.
14. 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 magnificent mountain landscape is dominate glacier-capped peaks and huge waterfalls.
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.
The area was designated a provincial park in 1913. Even in those days, mountaineers and tourists were drawn to the area, undeterred by the distances involved. Today, the remoteness of this park means that it does not see the great numbers of tourists seen by parks to the south.
Official site: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/mt_robson/
15. 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.
In winter, visitors can participate in snow and cold weather activities, like skating and tubing, or simply enjoy a hot chocolate and some time outdoors.
Official site: http://www.barkerville.ca/
16. 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.
Official site: http://www.hellsgateairtram.com/visit/