In Victoria, BC’s capital, you can explore a rich British and First Nations heritage. Or in the Thompson Okanagan Valley you can discover the winery regions boasting internationally award winning wines. House-boating. Who doesn’t love spending a few days on the lake, especially in Shuswap where the sun is hot and the countryside is lush. And of course there’s the islands, where orcas are abundant and the most amazing surfing is – Tofino. Vancouver island is also home to some of the oldest growth forests in BC, like the Carmanah Valley and Clayoquot Sound.
SKIING! Did we mention that Whistler is an hour’s drive from Vancouver. Most of the world now knows BC for hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics, and no trip to BC would be complete without a visit to Whistler – winter or summer. There are so many great activities to do in British Columbia, and there’s at least one you can find yourself fitting in nicely with.
Places to Visit in British Columbia
- Gulf Islands: Saltspring, Pender, Gabriola
- Okanagan: Summerland, Naramata, Kelowna
- Kooteneys: Radium Hot Springs, Kimberely
- Haida Gwaii, Tofino, Queen Charlotte Islands
Unique Things to See and Do in British Columbia
- Walk across the Capilano Suspension Bridge
- Storm watch in Tofino
- Ski in Whistler and Blackcomb
- Explore the wine region in the Okanagan
- Explore a the First Nations Xat’sull Heritage Village
- Ferry through the Gulf Islands
- Take a floatplane to Victoria
Travel Tips before you go!
British Columbia is BIG! If you plan on traveling throughout the province, make an itinerary and plan out your stay. There are many cute little towns throughout the province, some of which may only warrant a day or so if you are trying to fast track your trip. If, however, you are planning on doing some rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking, skiing, camping, sightseeing and more, then you need time and LOTS of it. Just driving through BC is spectacular and a short trip from Vancouver to the Okanagan Valley will give you a glimpse into the beauty this province has to offer.
BC’s hiking is unbelievably breathtaking and people from all around the world come to see and hike our mountain ranges. Depending on your physical abilities you can always find a suitable trail to climb.
And if you’re not a hiker you can even find a gondola or two. Grouse Mountain, Hell’s Gate, and now Squamish all have gondolas for those wishing to see best vantage points!
Most ski resorts offer hiking and trail walking during the summer months in which you can ride the chair lifts up and the walk down or ride back. Be sure to check out Whistler’s Peak2Peak mountaintop gondola. There is no better feeling than standing at the top of a mountain, overlooking the incredible scenery, and feeling the strength of knowing you just completed that hike. Truly magical.
If you’re not a seasoned hiker you can enjoy many of BC’s trails, but if you plan on camping overnight or doing longer hikes then please read more about hiking and take an experienced guide.
BC is beautiful and people often forget that mountains can be just as dangerous as they are inspiring. The most popular mountains to see for the average tourist are:
- The Kootenays – the foothills to the magnificent Rockies
- The Coastal Range – the North shore in Vancouver
- The Westcoast Trail – get on the waitlist! This trail is regulated.
Did you know…?
That there are 198 distinct First Nations in B.C.
Did you ALSO know…?
That a moose voice is a long, quavering moan that can be heard for up to 3 km.
Best time of year to travel to British Columbia
This really depends on what type of activities you plan on doing and where you plan to travel to. Most of the climate depends on the Pacific Ocean and the mountain ranges. During the summertime, the days are warm and some parts downright HOT. All the roads are accessible, the wildlife is abundant, and there are a ton of activities to do. Spring time the weather is warmer along the coast and in Vancouver you can experience the cherry blossom trees in full bloom.
Up in the interior of the province, springtime is still on the cusp of winter and temperatures are cooler and you just never know if it’s going to snow! The coast line is fairly mild throughout the year. BC is exceptionally green and that means lots of precipitation – either in rain or snow. Along the coast it can be very wet. In the southern coastal areas, for example Vancouver, the winters are mild and nowadays experience very little to no snow fall in the city. Over 50 years ago, Vancouver would get one or two big dumpings of snow in the winter, but these days it’s mainly rain that comes our way.
The interior and center regions, like the Okanagan and Kootneys, experience hot summers with temperatures reaching higher than 30°C. In Kelowna city the temperatures can reach highs of 40°C during some weeks (this is what makes the wine so good!). Winters here are snowy, and it’s probably some of the best snow for skiing the province has to offer. Snowmobiling, cross country skiing, snow shoeing, and dog sledding are all activities you can enjoy in the winter in these regions.
Up north, part of the Great Plains, the winters are long with lots of snow. It feels like there are two seasons, snow and no snow, but they experience more sunshine throughout the year, even if it’s -20°C . The summer months are warm but there are often cool winds that blow through, so you’ll want to bring appropriate clothing if you’re heading up this way.
Getting around British Columbia
By Airplane: Within the province you can fly between most major cities and towns. The type of plane ride is an adventure within itself. For example, if you arrive at Vancouver International Airport, you could make your way to the south terminal and take a float plane over to Victoria or the Gulf islands. You can even take float planes directly from downtown Vancouver. Flights going farther up north, say Vancouver to Fort St. John, are quite expensive and can be more than traveling across the country to Toronto. They do cut down on travel time since a trip like that is about an 18-hour drive via Hwy 1. Here are some airline companies that travel around the province:
- Major Airlines: Air Canada, WestJet, and other airlines that are passing through may stop in major towns
- Float Plane Co.: Harbour Air, SeaAir Seaplanes, Saltspring Air, Pat Bay, Pacific Coastal, and Tofino Air.
By Train: This is a great way to see British Columbia. There are 2 main companies, Via Rail Canada, and Rocky Mountaineer. The network of railways is a huge part of British Columbia’s history. Train travel isn’t cheap, but it does give you access to scenery you wouldn’t see from the highways if driving. If, however, you are pressed for time you could take a day trip ride up to Whistler and back for about $300 with Rocky Mountaineer.
By Bus: The Greyhound bus lines and other coach services, travel throughout BC all year long. In winter, there can be delays due to snow conditions or closed sections of the highways, but those are usually for only short periods. The main bus terminal in Vancouver is located downtown, and from there you can go throughout the province. You can even catch a bus that will take you from downtown Vancouver to downtown Victoria including the ferry. This is a great way to travel if you have quite a bit luggage, and want to roam around the ferry.
By Ferry: Ferry rides in BC can be an epic experience, particularly if you are lucky enough to catch a glimpse some Orca whales, sea lions, or dolphins! The BC Ferry service runs from the main island, Vancouver Island, and then over to all the Gulf Islands, like Saltspring, Sunshine Coast, Pender Island, and more. If you travel further up Vancouver Island you can ferry over from Campbell River to Powell River which is back on the mainland of the province but only accessible by ferry.
Renting a Car: If you plan on visiting many areas of the province, this is the best way to travel for ease and flexibility. The main tourist tracks involve driving through Vancouver Island, Whistler to Pembrooke, through the Kettle Valley and over to the Shuswap region. Then to the outer edges of BC and swinging back through the Kootneys into the Okanagan on the way back to Vancouver. It could be done in about 10 days but that would mean you’re in the car everyday for hours at a time. If you have a few weeks to spare then it’s worthwhile. There are many car rental companies, like Hertz Rent-a-car, National, Thrifty Car Rental, Budget, and Enterprise. Rentals can cost anywhere from $270 a week for a compact car, all the way to $750 for large SUV.
Weather in British Columbia
British Columbia experiences so many different weather systems depending on where you travel to; it is a good idea to map out the time of year and the city/towns you are going to be in. Overall the summers along the coast are mild with average temperatures ranging from 20C to 26C. The nights can get a little cool due to the ocean breeze. In the interior the temperatures will reach the higher temperatures during the day, around 32C and the nights will stay warm. Up north, the summer temperatures can reach highs of 25C . Winters along the coast are mild, but the further inland you go, they get colder. The coastal regions may dip below zero but not for long, however the coast is damp and the cold is bone chilling, so layering your clothing can help with that. In the interior, the winters are snowy and cold, but dry. You’ll need winter coats, hats, and boots. And if you didn’t bring enough, there are plenty of places to buy them. Springtime is gorgeous in Vancouver and Victoria. The temperatures are mild, average 14C and are warm enough to do almost all outdoor activities. Victoria is known for its flowering plants, especially at the Butchard Gardens, so if you’re springtime lover this is a great time to visit. Not to hot and not too cold.
Ready to plan your visit to British Columbia? Check out these popular guides and trips.