I’ve being writing and updating the Moon British Columbia guidebook for almost 20 years, with the most recent edition (10th) being published in spring 2014. In this time, I’ve come to know the province inside out, having traveled through every region for each update, and along the way to almost every town, park, and wilderness area. One thing that will quickly become apparent when you start planning your trip to the province is its vastness. In my guidebook I divide British Columbia into the following manageable regions, each summarized below with its highlights.
Let your mind fill with images of dramatic, snowcapped mountains rising high above a modern city clinging to the coastline. A downtown core of century-old buildings and steel-and-glass skyscrapers overlooking the busy waterways. Manicured suburbs fringed by sandy beaches and rocky shorelines. Protected areas of magnificent old-growth forests and brilliant flower gardens overflowing with color. An outdoors-loving population, keen to take advantage of its magnificent surroundings. The Museum of Anthropology as well as the Vancouver Maritime Museum, dedicated to the region’s nautical history.
Victoria, the elegant capital of British Columbia on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, couldn’t be more different from its neighbor, Vancouver. Victorians will be quick to tell you that the weather is nicer and the pace is slower than over on the mainland. And they are right on both accounts. But the city also projects an intriguing mixture of images, old and new. Beyond city limits, the rest of Vancouver Island beckons, with an array of outdoor experiences that range from hiking the rugged West Coast Trail to whale-watching at Telegraph Cove.
Southwestern British Columbia
Exploring the southwestern portion of mainland British Columbia is like taking three very different vacations. From Vancouver, the Sunshine Coast spreads out to the north, attracting families, scuba divers, and sun-loving Canadians. North of Vancouver, the Sea to Sky Highway leads to Whistler, a hip, outdoorsy resort town of epic proportions. Traveling east from Vancouver, the road forks<\#209>head through the scenic Fraser River Canyon to central British Columbia or follow the U.S. border along a winding mountain highway that passes through mountainous Manning Provincial Park.
Tucked into the south-central portion of the province is the gorgeous Okanagan Valley. Around 180 kilometers (112 miles) from end to end, this super-fertile area is dotted with orchards and wineries, the latter a major attraction. But if the only thing you know about wine is that you like it, no worries<\#209>wine-tasting in the Okanagan Valley is a completely unsnobby affair. The entire valley positively brims with bustling tourist towns, world-class golf courses, marvelous resorts, and enough fun parks to keep the kids busy for an entire vacation.
Named for the native people who were the original inhabitants of the southeastern corner of British Columbia, the Kootenay region is overwhelmingly beautiful<\#209>in a monotonous mountain-and-lakes kind of way. Alpine snowfields feed mighty rivers and massive lakes, creating a recreational playground for anglers, canoeists, and kayakers. Throughout the mountains many parks merit special attention: White Grizzly Wilderness for the opportunity to view grizzly bears, Kokanee Creek to watch fish spawning along a shallow creekbed, and Akamina-Kishinena for its solitude.
As you make your way east from the Kootenay region, the mountains become more dramatic<\#209>welcome to the Canadian Rockies. I leave the famous national parks you’ve heard about<\#209>Banff and Jasper<\#209>for another day, concentrating on the British Columbia side of the mountains, a vast area of wilderness where wildlife is abundant and hiking trails reach all the most scenic locales. The region<\#209>and in my opinion, Canada’s wilderness<\#209>is at its most breathtaking at Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park, while adjacent Kootenay National Park offers up more magnificent Canadian wilds, along with hot springs.
Central British Columbia
Cutting a swath across the province, the central region of British Columbia is extremely diverse. In the east is a series of glaciated mountain ranges where the highest peaks are protected by Glacier and Mount Revelstoke National Parks, where wilderness adventures are extremely accessible and the commercialism of the Canadian Rockies is nonexistent. For westbound travelers, the scenery changes dramatically west of Salmon Arm, as mountains make way for sagebrush-covered hills. In the heart of this desert-like landscape is Kamloops and the ranching country of the Cariboo.
Northern British Columbia
The northern half of British Columbia is for the adventurous. For starters, it’s a long way from anywhere else. Secondly, you won’t see any famous attractions or scenic wonders. Instead, you’ll find lakes and forest and lots of both. The many small towns provide excellent access to outdoor activities, as well as a little bit of pioneering history. The coastline of northern British Columbia is mostly inaccessible from land. But where highways do push down to the ocean, such as at Prince Rupert and Stewart, scenic rewards for driving to the end of the road abound. For a real adventure, jump aboard a ferry at Prince Rupert for the Haida Gwaii, where totem pole villages abandoned by the fearless Haida are slowly being reclaimed by nature.