Home to snow-dusted mountains, temperate rainforests, wild beaches and thousands of offshore islands, British Columbia is a vast natural wonderland just waiting to be explored. From the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, it’s packed with larger-than-life landscapes set to knock your socks off.
Nowadays, the secret about British Columbia’s beauty is out. Across all four seasons, adventure-hungry travellers arrive in their thousands, eager to hike, kayak, ski and cycle through the staggering scenery. However, at almost four times the size of Great Britain, there’s space for everyone. BC is home to fewer than five people per square kilometre, so despite the tourism boom, it’s still possible to find your own private chunk of wilderness.
Here’s our list of extraordinary things to do in British Columbia beyond the popular hotspots:
Tucked away on the northern tip of Vancouver Island Cape Scott Provincial Park is somewhere that most tourists to British Columbia don’t reach. Hugging the Pacific coastline, it’s a rugged wilderness of salt marshes, rocky headlands, old-growth spruce forests and lagoons. If you’re road tripping in Canada, it’s worth the detour.
The highlight of Cape Scott is, without doubt, San Josef Bay. About 2.5 kilometres from the trailhead, it’s an abandoned stretch of entirely white sand dotted with sea stacks that appear at low tide. There’s nowhere quite like it. Stay for a while, and you might see river otters and mink in the river and estuary, as well as Canada geese.
If you’re road-tripping on Vancouver Island, swing by Coombs Old Country Market and meet the famous goats on the roof. This family-run market is home to a handful of mouth-watering bakeries, restaurants and shops, all sheltered beneath a green roof full of goats. It’s a brilliant place to stock up on treats for hiking in Tofino, and it’s certainly somewhere that you’ll never forget!
While most people have heard of the luxurious Rocky Mountaineer, the more modest Skeena Train falls under the radar. Run by VIA Rail, Canada’s national passenger network, it’s a route for residents as well as tourists, allowing you to meet the locals as you cross Canadian wilderness from the Rockies to the Pacific Coast. The Guardian calls it ‘one of the most quietly spectacular journeys in the world’, and rightly so.
The Skeena Train runs from Jasper to Prince Rupert, stopping at Prince George overnight, so that you don’t miss the scenery in your sleep. The train passes through 30 stations during its 1,160km journey, and you’ll be treated to breath-taking views from the Panoramic Dome Car along the way. Authentic and comfortable, it ticks all the boxes.
Great Bear Rainforest is a lush green wilderness measuring roughly the size of Ireland. Home to temperate coastal rainforests, glacial fjords and hot springs, it’s a stunner. What’s more, Great Bear the only place on the planet where you can spot the Spirit Bear (Kermode Bear). There are thought to be just 400 of these endangered bears left in existence, so seeing one first-hand is a real privilege.
Great Bear Rainforest is about as off-the-beaten-path as it gets and well worth the effort. To get the best out your experience, stay at Nimmo Bay Wilderness Lodge, composed of nine cosy cabins sitting at the foot of Mount Stephens. It’s a magical setting and an excellent base for bear viewing tours, kayaking trips and helicopter rides.
Also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, Haida Gwai is an archipelago of remote islands that forms the heartland of the tribal Haida Nation. Here, the 4,500 residents see themselves as an ancient community on the edge of the world, living off the land and sea. See totem poles scattered across the wild beaches, watch the local fishermen in action and feel a million miles from home.
One of the highlights of the islands is Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, one of the last real wildernesses left on the planet. With no road access, no stores, no mobile phone coverage, it’s as off-grid as it gets. Kayak alongside killer whales, see pods of humpbacks breaching from the beach and explore the moss-covered 1,884 islets of the reserve.
Accessible only by boat or plane, Hot Springs Cove is one of BC’s best-kept secrets. Nestled deep in the Clayoquot Sound, it’s a series of piping hot geothermal pools carved into the rocky coastline. Talk about a tub with a view!
You can visit Hot Springs Cove on a day trip from Tofino, stopping to spot black bears, otters, whales and bald eagles along the way. When you reach the dock, it’s a 1.5km walk through the dappled rainforest to reach the springs and thermal waterfalls.
A floating lodge on the longest fjord in British Columbia, set against a backdrop of mountains, Knight Inlet Lodge offers a wilderness experience like no other. The fjord is home to one of the highest concentrations of grizzly bears in Canada, and it’s common for up to 40 bears to be seen around the lodge during the salmon run. Autumn is the best time to spot grizzlies, but it’s possible to see both black and grizzly bears from April onwards, as they emerge from hibernation.
For more, read our blog post ‘Two amazing lodges for grizzly bear watching on Vancouver Island’.
If you’re driving through the Rocky Mountains from Calgary to Jasper via Banff and Lake Louise, try veering into British Columbia for a stay in Yoho National Park. While it’s no secret, it’s a little less touristy, giving you a chance to catch your breath before rejoining the route.
Set on the western slopes of the Great Divide, Yoho National Park is a place of serene alpine majesty. Criss-crossed by scenic hiking trails and scattered with emerald lakes, it’s nothing short of breath-taking. If you get the chance, follow the path to Takakkaw Falls and feel the spray of the 830-foot waterfall on your face. It’s guaranteed to make you feel alive.
A tiny community of about 20 residents, Telegraph Cove provides a fascinating window into the past. Once a one-room telegraph shack that loggers, fishermen and pioneers used to stay in touch with the outside world, it’s a jumble of colourful buildings with a dreamy waterfront setting. The backdrop and the atmosphere are both pretty hard to beat.
Nestled in a sheltered inlet of Vancouver Island, across from the Broughton Archipelago, Telegraph Cove is a brilliant starting point for wilderness eco-tours. Whale watching season runs from May to October, with practically guaranteed sightings of migratory orcas, humpbacks, dolphins and sea lions. Bear tours to Knight Inlet and the Great Bear Rainforest run during roughly the same period, so you’re spoilt for choice.
Our Skeena Train: Remote British Columbia by rail itinerary includes a handful of the experiences mentioned in this blog, bringing you the best of British Columbia. The trip can be tweaked to make it the perfect holiday for you.
We are experts in planning tailor-made holidays of all shapes and sizes, as well as multi-destination trips and round the world flights. We can build you British Columbia itinerary packed with unforgettable wilderness experiences. To get started, call us on +44 1273320580 or request a quote by email.